Should 'Ocarina of Time' Be Called the Greatest Game Ever?

As the N64 classic turns 20, it's time to ask what truly makes a great game.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time hit North America 20 years ago this month. It was a generation-defining video game that pushed the boundaries of graphics and storytelling.  But the Nov. 21 anniversary comes just weeks after another landmark for gaming — with Red Dead Redemption 2 already generating the sort of lavish praise that credibly raises the question … is it the best game of all time? 

The notion of "best video game" is perhaps more complicated than talking about the greatest movie of all time, even. Sure, you couldn't have made Avengers: Infinity War with 1970s technology, but you could make a Star Wars movie people like better than the one that came out in 2018. And Citizen Kane or The Godfather certainly didn't require 2018 technology. 

Video games are different. The technology changes so drastically, so quickly, that comparing games from the 1980s or even early 2000s to RDR2 just doesn't seem fair. 1985's Super Mario Bros. was revolutionary and is certainly in the conversation for best game, but can it compete in a real way with Ocarina of Time, released just 13 years later? They aren't even the same species. Games, even more than movies, need to be graded on a technological curve. Below — in chronological order — The Hollywood Reporter staffers take a look at their own favorite games, keeping in mind that grading curve.

Patrick Shanley (1997's Final Fantasy VII): It's a bit strange to think now, but I actually did not play this game until years after it was released. My older brother got it for his birthday and I remember watching him play through what was, at the time, the most beautifully rendered game I'd ever seen. When I finally sat down to play it myself some years later, I was hooked halfway through that first bombing mission on Midgar's Sector 1 reactor. The music was unlike anything I'd ever heard before and the story, which starts off as an ecoterrorist group targeting the sinister Shinra Corporation and evolves into a literal struggle for the planet, is among the best I've ever experienced, regardless of medium. Coupled with unforgettable characters, a huge open world to explore, the incredibly deep Materia system and inarguably my favorite villain in any video game, Final Fantasy VII is a game that I literally play every year — and I still tear up every time I see Aerith die.  

Aaron Couch (1998's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time): Before this game came out, Super Mario World and A Link to the Past and GoldenEye were the games that had gotten most of my attention. But Ocarina upped the ante so dramatically — even when compared to GoldenEye. It was easy to believe this 3D world was real; the sun rose and set and its characters changed their behaviors based on the time of day. You could travel through time and try to set things up that would pay off years later, and at times I was convinced I'd screwed up the timeline in irreputable ways (I hadn't … and I don't think that's possible, but those worries were part of the fun.) This is also sort of where gaming stopped for me; I bought a GameCube but never got deep into it, and I haven't owned a more advanced console since.   

Jen Liles (1998's Ocarina of Time): First off, let me preface by saying I haven't played a video game in 20 years. My skills never ascended far beyond Mario Kart. That said, I do remember playing ZeldaOcarina of Time was a game for kids like me. You want me to solve a puzzle? Oh, I can advance in the game by playing a song? Now this I can do. I'm almost entirely positive I never beat the game, but that's never what it was about for me. I can still hear the song as I type this. Anyone have an N64 I can borrow?

Shannon O'Connor (2002's The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker)Growing up having a GameCube meant having a very limited amount of battle-centric games to choose from. Luckily whenever the itch to play something with a little action and adventure came around The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was there to scratch it. Definitely a graphical upgrade from some of the earlier Zelda games, Wind Waker was one of the first story-based games that I actually wanted to follow (though I did skip through most of the dialogue). Sometimes, I would go off-mission and just run around the island exploring, jumping, trying to master those crazy sword combinations they try to teach you in 10 seconds — console coordination was never my strong suit. However, the storyline was always engaging, easy to follow and — for the most part — easy to complete, there were a few levels that took 10 to 100 tries. It was one of those games that you would play for as long as you could in the morning before school, think about all day and then immediately return to once you got home. Sadly, I was unable to complete the game before I parted with the GameCube, but for a very infrequent gamer Wind Waker was one game that managed to pique my interest for years.

Natalie Heltzel (2017's Breath of the Wild) is easily the best video game I've ever played. The graphics and open-world design alone are beautiful and deserve the utmost respect, but for me, it boils down to how much I constantly find myself wanting to play it. This is the first game I've ever beat but couldn't stop thinking about it and so still continued to play it. Besides the sheer beauty and design, BOTW lets your curiosity lead to reveals that feel wonderfully earned and satsifying. There's the perfect amount of puzzles as well as fights and battles. The mood and tone are the perfect balance I want in a game: it's not as dark as Dark Souls but it's more serious than the Mario series. At the end of the day, it makes me feel like this could be an actual world that I want to live in. Which is probably why I've logged over 300 hours and I'm still not ready to put the controller down. (I'll find every last Korok seed even if it kills me!!)

Ryan Parker (2018's Red Dead Redemption 2): I am a kid of the '80s and played many a video game throughout my life. And I am saying here and now Red Dead Redemption 2 is my favorite. There are many oldies that hold a special place in my heart. But as far as total entertainment value and "wow" factor, RDR2 takes the cake — or would that be pistol? You do not play it, you experience it. It has all the aspects from other games I have loved — including the first-person mode of N64 Goldeneye — all rolled into one. And Western is also my favorite genre, so there is that. The open world is mindblowing and the story is as good as any film focusing on the era. It is tops for me.

Pete Keeley (20XX's Final Fantasy VII Remake): Look, what Pat said. I pre-ordered FFVII despite not owning a PlayStation (it took me a few more months of saving). When I was finally able to pop in disc 1, and after I'd recovered from the mind-blowing (for '97) opening cinematic, the game met or exceeded every expectation I'd ever had. FFVII really does have it all: Swearing, cross-dressing, the permadeath of its most annoying character halfway through (sorry Pat; Tifa 4evs), animal husbandry, a robotic plushy cat who uses a megaphone to control the robotic Moogle whose shoulders he rides on, who is himself controlled remotely by an executive at evil fossil fuel conglom Shinra who uses the cat to spy on your party but eventually becomes a double agent who uses the cat so your party can spy on Shinra. If that all sounds extremely cool and badass, that's because it is. But yeah, I mean, I'm not gonna sit here and say that the 20-year-old graphics still look great. Luckily, Square Enix is going to handle that at some point with this HD remake, the first trailer for which made me literally run out of saliva. So yeah, I'm extremely confident in saying that whenever it hits, I can go ahead and pencil it in as the fav for the next 20 years at least.