There are a lot of great moments in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but the amount of backtracking players have to do in the early game isn’t one of them. It’s especially unfortunate since Nintendo already had a perfect way of delivering the same information to the player, but instead of utilizing a more common sense method they forced Link to retrace his steps in order to proceed the story.
After completing the very first dungeon of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Inside the Great Deku Tree) Link meets with his childhood friend, Saria, on the bridge leading away from Kokiri Forest. It’s a touching scene, and it is where players acquire the Fairy Ocarina item, an instrument that they will only hold on to for a brief while until Zelda later tosses the Ocarina of Time itself to Link. Players can learn all kinds of songs on the Fairy Ocarina before moving on to the more powerful version, but when Saria presents Link with the instrument originally she doesn’t teach him anything.
Link can learn Epona’s Song, the Sun’s Song, and Zelda’s Lullaby before ever thinking about Saria again. After venturing through Hyrule Castle and making their way towards Ocarina of Time’s version of Kakariko Village, however, suddenly Navi will begin to suggest it’s a good idea to go see Saria, seemingly out of the blue. Most players, especially those who are interested in meeting the Goron Leader and progressing with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s plot, likely ignored this message at first, and it’s an understandable reaction. The world of Ocarina of Time was growing larger and more accessible every minute, so why should they return to Kokiri Forest and talk to characters they already met? That doesn’t sound nearly as fun as seeing what’s going on with a volcano.
As it turns out, however, the leader of the Goron City is in a very bad mood, and players need to figure out a way to cheer him up. This is probably the point in Ocarina of Time where a new player who is still ignoring Navi will try a bunch of different things and look around for items to buy or secret areas inside Goron City which could hold the key to making Darunia happy. All the while, The Legend of Zelda’s second-most annoying sidekick will be saying “Listen!” and trying to tell players what they need to do – go back to the beginning.
When players return to Kokiri Forest, Saria is missing from the village proper. She’s hiding in The Lost Woods, and Link will have to follow the sound of her song to navigate through without getting lost and teleported back out. When Link finally reaches Saria she teaches him Saria’s Song, a tune in Ocarina of Time that has two uses: it allows players to contact Saria from far away, and it makes Darunia dance. Players then must travel all the way back to Death Mountain and play Saria’s Song for Darunia – something he gets far too excited about.
Saria could have easily taught Saria’s Song to Link right at the outset of his adventure past Kokiri Forest and none of this backtracking would have been necessary. Darunia getting so excited about Saria’s Song feels incredibly out of place (it’s one of the best songs in Ocarina of Time, but it’s not nearly as hot as he says) and the obtuse nature of having to play first Zelda’s Lullaby to access his room and then Saria’s Song to get him to talk feels misplaced. The entire Lost Woods section feels as if it was dropped in the middle of Link’s early journey with no regards to pacing or player agency, and it slows down the excitement of adventuring into new territory. There are a lot of great things about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but the forced early-game backtracking isn’t one of them.