Notes on Ocarina of Time, Part 11: Side Quests

This is a continuation of our Ocarina notes project. You can see all the parts here.
Part 11: Side Quests

Perculia: With only the final dungeon remaining, I’ve found myself looking for all sorts of diversions…even going so far as to fish. I was initially upset, upon becoming Adult Link, that the minigames from the child world were now cut off forever, but upon discovering I could simply replace the sword to warp back (Hamlet: another story element that doesn’t totally make sense, that I think we just don’t think about too hard), I found myself frequently taking breaks between dungeons to clean up all the storylines. From what I understand, I’ve ended up poking at most of the side-quests, so it’s interesting to see both what interested me initially, and why I wasn’t interested in pursuing a select few things.

Magic Beans: When I first met the Magic Beans vendor by Zora’s River, I wasn’t interested in buying any of them–not even for 10 Rupees (H: Heh, I suppose it is true that “magic beans” are something people are usually skeptical of. With a bit of genre savvy though, you can guess the in-game ones are probably not as useless as the real-life variety). However, when I couldn’t access the vendor as Adult Link before learning the Prelude to Time, I suddenly had to know what the beans did.

In between the Forest and Fire Temples, I planted most of them, noticing that the level of difficulty ramped up as the price of the beans increased. While I remembered the early locations from harvesting Skulltulas from soil patches, the later patches taught me to take advantage of the Prelude of Light mechanic and that areas first visited as an Adult weren’t offlimits to Child Link. The first example of this I remember is finding the soil patch outside the Fire Temple–after learning the melody, I was able to warp back as a Child, plant the seed, harvest the Skulltula, and warp back to the Cathedral before I died of heat exhaustion.  This mirrors the order in which you’ll visit the Spirit Temple later on in the game.

The ways to reap your Magic Bean rewards also increased in difficulty over time. I noticed that they increased in speed and required more elaborate jumps to reach their rewards, especially the final two beans in Gerudo Valley in the waterfall and stone archway. However, the rewards were also proportional to the challenge–earlier rewards were just rupees, while later rewards were heart pieces. The side-effects of the later beans were also useful–some provided shortcuts, or access to Skulltulas or Fairy Wells. It was definitely a sense of accomplishment not only to find all the soil patches, but also to discover all of their benefits.

P: Skulltulas: I started off very interested in collecting Skulltulas, because I liked seeing how the House of Skulltula tracked my progress through freed humans, as well as the rewards every 10 items. However, I lost more interest in this when the rewards tapered off after 50–even though I have returned to early out-of-reach Skulltulas with items like the boomerang or longshot to acquire them. Currently, if I come across a Skulltula that requires some planning to collect, finding out how to acquire it easily is the puzzle, not trying to seek them out on my own.

I did have some fun with the Shard of Agony though–the reward for turning in 20 Skulltulas. I sensed a pattern that there was one bombable hidden area per zone and tried to unearth each area. In some areas, the Shard seemed a bit imprecise–such as pulsing by the Magic Bean vendor or activating a neon flying ClockRock, but it was still fun to figure out why exactly it was flashing. I also enjoyed how the rewards were varied and that some were guarded by monsters–currency isn’t an issue in Ocarina and if all of the hidden areas simply had uncovered gold chests, I would have been bored quickly.

H: You hit it on the head with the Skulltulas–they grow uninteresting because the rewards are meaningless. Little rewards for exploration are key in a game like this. Without constant small benefits for poking in every nook and cranny, exploration gets tedious because every wrong turn is just wasted time. Giving you something shiny before you turn around ensures you don’t feel bad about the detour. But Skulltulas prove to be kind of illusory because they just don’t amount to much in terms of rewards. The Stone of Agony (changed to the Shard of Agony with slightly different function here since 3DS does not have a rumble feature) is the only unique reward, and it comes very early. Beyond that, a Piece of Heart (good but not special), two Wallets (would matter more, but money never is important in this game), Bombchus (another mostly-failed idea because places where you even use them are very few and far between). And from 50 to 100, nothing, ensuring that you stop caring about them entirely at 50. I know you’re unlikely to ever bother getting 100, and I’ll tell you the reward is not exciting anyway.

The underlying issue here is that Zelda games don’t have the wide and deep item libraries of an RPG, and so optional rewards are hard to come up with. There are a few good ones in Ocarina: the Biggoron’s Sword, Pieces of Heart, and the spells. But in a game that doesn’t have stats and the like, they can’t just keep throwing upgrades at you for every little thing you do, because there aren’t that many ways to improve your character and most of them are scripted into the game’s progression. Pieces of Heart work perfectly because their benefit is tangibly valuable but not necessary, and 36 is enough of them to make finding them a reasonably common exploration reward. But Skulltulas, and similarly Rupees, just have nothing to offer that feels like a meaningful reward.

P: Fishing: I’m currently debating fishing as Adult Link because I think it may be tied to one of the three remaining Heart pieces I have yet to discover, as I was rewarded one for fishing as a child. However, I can only take fishing in small doses because it tries my patience and it’s a fairly passive activity. I have noticed that larger fish lurk in the center, and that periodically small fish cause a commotion, but it’s a bit too stagnant for me (as I think fishing games are in general).

Poes: Similar to fishing and Skulltula collecting, I’m glad I tried this and received an initial reward, but I have less interest in seeing the project to completion. I did make an effort to learn how to shoot while riding so I could capture a Great Poe, and upon turning in, rode around Hyrule Field to discover the spawn points for the remaining nine, but I haven’t collected any others. I find the shooting angle a bit clumsy, and some of the Poes appear to have weird pathing glitches. I was happy though to find all of their invisible spawn points–I guess in my mind, that was the real challenge of exploration.

H: This just all depends on your completionist tendencies. As a kid I’d always polish off all the random little tasks in a game. Even now I still feel a strong pull to do so, but am more used to the idea that if I don’t, I’ll stop caring as soon as it’s over. There’s always something fun about the totally filled-out character sheet, but especially your first time through a game, the journey where you go through and then see what all you found and didn’t find is rewarding in its own right. When you’re done playing I’ll tell you what you get from collecting the Poes and where the last 3 Heart Pieces were and all that stuff; you just have to decide how much fun it is for you to try to complete things like that before you move on.

P: Town Games: I wasn’t a huge fan of these initially–the games were easily accessible in plain view and half the fun was discovering the actual games for me. (Similarly, I was more interested in trying out the Gerudo Training Grounds instead of the Archery Contest, when I became neutral (H: heh) with them.) I ended up trying some of these games after the Spirit Temple, when I wanted to make sure I had at least experienced all the optional content, if not completing it. I did enjoy how the Treasure Game turned from a casual cheap luck-based gamble into a cheatable game with the Lens of Truth, and how the Bombing Alley rotated both rewards and target challenges. I still haven’t completed all of the games in Hyrule and Kakariko, but I’m glad I collected the hearts and defeated the ones I tried.

H: By and large, the minigames are worth doing. Most of them, like Bombchu Bowling and the two Shooting Galleries, only take a couple minutes to master and you get the reward and stop. They all have minor control issues since they work outside the game’s usual Z-targeting system, but are casual enough to not be too frustrating that way. Horseback Archery is the hardest one (not sure how this all may have changed going to 3DS), but Link shooting arrows from horseback is so cool that you’ve got to try it a few times. It’s a really great visceral gameplay feature and the only times you get to do it are this minigame and hunting Big Poes.

One minigame that was previously pointless but then turns out to be cheatable with the Lens of Truth is a great “aha” moment, totally worth including.

P: Masks: I initially struggled with the idea of turning in masks, even though I’m generally drawn to costumes and disguises. Between trying to complete Dampe’s tour and travel to Gerudo Valley as a child to plant Magic Beans though, I did come across the remaining characters I needed to finish the chain. It was neat how the final buyer was running around the western part of Hyrule field–a part you wouldn’t naturally stumble across, unless you were specifically looking to discover something or on your way to Gerudo Valley. I’ll probably take some time before the final dungeon to try out the Mask of Truth, although it would have been convenient if it could have been used as an adult.

H: That’s how a “trading game” sidequest is supposed to work, every now and then you just come across the person who needs the item you currently have. This we’ve talked about before–the Masks don’t amount to much here but anticipate a really great game-wide motif in Majora’s Mask. Also that the more interesting and rewarding trading game, the adult one for the Biggoron’s Sword, is rendered kind of pointless in the 3DS remake since it just tells you where to go next. That’s one of the more clumsy changes I’ve heard about in talking to you about the game so far.

P: Heart Pieces: After discovering some pieces between the Shard of Agony and my initial round of planting Magic Beans, I grew a lot more interested in this. I started to make a mental checklist of various characters and buildings that hadn’t served a purpose yet. My list paid off as I did find a decent amount this way–examples that come to mind are hookshotting to the guy on the roof at Kakariko Village, OCD digging up all the graves in the cemetery, looking at architecture underneath the Gerudo bridge, and investigating games in Hyrule Castle Town.

H: I’ve had a lot of criticisms of the game’s side quests and miscellaneous collection tasks in this segment, but this paragraphs shows how the basic Zelda outdoor exploration formula can be a lot of fun when done correctly. Readers might contrast this to Skyward Sword which couldn’t have been more different: the only overworld was a featureless expanse of clouds and the exploration areas were scripted and linear–virtually none of the “I wonder what’s over here” that is the heart and soul of the early games in the series.

P: Some of my favorite heart pieces:

  • Hopping across the floating ice pieces by Jabu-Jabu’s Belly as an adult to reach the one on the final iceberg. I liked how this was made easier by equipping the Iron Boots to prevent sliding on the icebergs (which needed to then be constantly unequipped to allow jumping).
  • Buying a heart piece from the Business Scrub by Lake Hylia. Business Scrubs are notorious for terrible deals, so getting this for a steal was amusing (H: well, the plant probably doesn’t do much adventuring, so he doesn’t need it).
  • I’ve mentioned acquiring a heart piece through playing the Ocarina for the Skull Kids before, which was definitely fun. However, gaining the two heart fragments from the frogs in Zora’s River was an even more complex musical puzzle. The frogs loved all of my Child Link songs, giving me one heart this way.  I had previously played some songs for the frogs before I learned the Song of Storms, which was useful as I’d play a song for the frogs and then spend it on another Magic Bean. The next part of the puzzle also taught me to rely upon the button controls for playing the Ocarina, instead of the touch-screen that seemed more intuitive as a musician but was too slow to register the frogs’ animations (H: Just like the torch-tossing game in Orgrimmar every summer teaches people to mouse turn. Not seriously in this case since of course it doesn’t actually matter, but I’m always happy when people reaffirm that good old buttons tend to be better for most purposes than new-fangled interfaces like motion and touch screens).
  • I initially wanted to return to the graveyard as a child to see if I could finally go on Dampe’s Hair Raising tour–which was harder than expected as the Sun Song only takes you to 12 am and 12 pm. However, digging along the way and receiving a heart piece was an unexpected nice bonus to learning how to manipulate the time of day.
  • Bombing the vase in Goron City was frustrating, but definitely helped my bomb-aiming skills. At first I just wanted to see if I could consecutively land several bombs inside the vase, but after I realized that each side of the vase had a different face, I had to find out what each side’s reward was. This required some additional trips to the bomb vendor, but I was very happy when I finally got this heart (H: The feeling of figuring something out is a reward that needs no explanation once you’ve gotten a taste of it).

Looking at the above examples and others mentioned in the blog, a common thread seems to be that finding the Heart Piece was tied to developing another skill–bomb aiming, jumping, playing the Ocarina. Receiving the heart pieces from planing early Magic Beans was nice, but it didn’t have the same effect as learning how to jump onto the Spirit Temple arch to collect the reward from the last bean. Likewise, finding the heart in the Treasure Game by using the Lens of Truth was nice, but not as exciting as the moment when I realized that I could cheat in general. And heart fragments that I randomly found, like falling into an alcove by the Fire Temple, were not as satisfying as heart pieces that were tied to more elaborate puzzles that had an element of failure (H: see my comment on the last paragraph. I have a feeling you’ll be playing more of these games).

H: Now that you’re done playing (as of this writing), here are the 3 Pieces of Heart you missed:
–Beat Dampe’s racing minigame in under 60 seconds. After you have a Longshot there’s a little shortcut at the end where you can use a torch to shoot across a gap, which makes it easy.
–Light all the torches simultaneously in Zora’s Domain. I know you tried for a while to figure out what to do with these. You probably never found the two behind the waterfall.
–Win the adult fishing game to get the Golden Scale, which you can use to get the Heart at the bottom of the pool in the lakeside laboratory. This is the only thing in the game the Golden Scale is used for, which is kind of silly.

Also, if you’d finished hunting all of the Big Poes out in the field, you would have gotten the fourth bottle.

The prize for getting all 100 Skulltulas is unlimited money, which is, as discussed above, something of a letdown.

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