One year ago I wrote about unofficial fan sequels to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the most notable of them being The Missing Link. That mod was so well-done I felt like going back and replaying it recently. Then I thought of Master of Time, which was released one week later and instantly felt inferior by comparison. I glossed over the first moments of that game but never really went into any detail. After playing a bit more, I feel I must elaborate further. You need to know just how strange an experience this game really is.
Master of Time is worth playing. The overworld is large and has lots of secrets to find, while the dungeons are well-made and solid, even if they have no bosses (they're difficult to mod in, unless you want to reuse the old ones). BUT....
The Missing Link is so authentic to the G-rated yet melancholy feel of an N64 Zelda that you could almost believe it came straight from the Nintendo vaults. Master of Time gives off the exact opposite vibe. It's what would happen if Zack Snyder was ordered to create a Zelda series for HBO. That means everything you think it does. Buckle up!
I already covered the weirdness of the opening village in the first review, so jumping ahead from there, once you complete the dungeon nearby you are able to light some torches, remove a gate and continue on to the castle town. It's immense with many things to do and see, but before long, you get the feeling you aren't in Kansas anymore....
This would be the "edge" that makes the hack so notorious. In contrast to the relative peace in Hyrule where Ganon was the worst thing to watch out for, in Abello everyone is awful, and evil, and racist, and classist, and swears at you for no reason. The society is as ugly as the texture work.
There's also a butcher shop where a cow is hanging upside-down from the ceiling, with a never-ending stream of blood coming from its head, dripping into a disgusting pool of poison. But if you play the right song, the cow gives you milk like any other cow, cheery message and all. I think he'll be OK.
Who actually wants to see things like this in a NINTENDO game? Besides the guy who made this? His name is Don Camilo, and I don't know much about him, other than he must live in France, because of this:
One of the early dungeons is called Patrick's Manor, and you can find this face in it. The Patrick being referenced is a French politician who was sent to prison at around the time this game was made. There's another photo in the same room of his wife, who joined him behind bars.
You find out your mission from the castle: to clear six dungeons of monsters, thereby breaking the curse on Abello that prevents the sun from setting. The dungeons are big, the distance between them is vast, and there are several minidungeons and side quests to complete. Unlike most fan hacks, which are typically short, Master of Time takes tne average player over fifteen hours to do everything. And if you're really unlucky, you'll run into an area that looks like this:
Reportedly Don thought of getting under the hood and increasing the draw distance in the game. He didn't succeed, but he did introduce a glitch where everything near you is rendered as one solid color. It can occur in both emulation and on original hardware, and Don never came back to fix it. It doesn't happen every time, so if you get this, your best bet is to shut the game off and restart.
But let me confess this: I can't stand the version of Wallmasters that appear in Ocarina of Time. Some people are afraid of ReDeads, and I get why, but I can deal with them. Dead Hand? I laughed in his ugly face. But Wallmasters creep the crap out of me and I nope away from my console every time I see one. I'm not gonna say where, but Don put seven of these things in one room, made the floor ice, and topped it with two invisible ReDeads so I couldn't run. When I find out where in France he's hiding, I'm sending him my therapy bills.
There are five main dungeons in Master of Time, several hidden minidungeons, and three additional bonus dungeons that test your "agility, strength and wisdom." Agility is the very first dungeon you enter and unavoidable if you want to advance, but the other two are optional (though they offer useful items at the end). Strength just throws as many enemies at you as the rendering engine can handle (and probably shouldn't be tackled until you've found nearly all the hearts). Wisdom, on the other hand, is the most inspired dungeon idea in the entire game, and should not be skipped over.
After you've saved the Kokiri children from "Patrick," fooled around in the desert, explored the Temple of Death (scored by a remix of Wario's fortress theme from Super Mario Land 2), maybe climbed inside the Running Man's ear, and helped the Gorons murder the Moblin race and turn the survivors into their slaves, you meet the Zoras. And if you think this game did the Gorons dirty, whoa nellie, you haven't seen anythiug yet.
It's actually kind of a relief at first when you meet the Zoras because they're the first race in the whole game to not be evil (and this is pretty late in the game). They tell you they're the big suppliers of milk in Abello, and they do it free of charge for the betterment of the world. And it's already been revealed back in Castle Town that milk is the only thing these people drink, so it's a REALLY nice gesture. Then, after you beat the water-themed dungeon, the chief Zora decides to tell you where the milk is coming from.
THEY ARE MILKING JABU-JABU.
This is probably something the Abello citizens would like to know, but the Zoras demand Link keep it a secret, and since Link never speaks anyway, this isn't getting out regardless.
Your big goal is to beat enough dungeons to open the treasure chest containing Din's Fire, which will allow you the ability to light all the floating torches in front of the Big Mystery Door simultaneously. In reality, you can shoot all those torches with Fire Arrows if you're quick enough and you get Fire Arrows from Dungeon 1, so you could end the game that fast. But you don't want to.
Which brings us to the subject of the ending. "What? Don't spoil the ending for me!" you might be thinking right now. No, you want to know what the ending is like, trust me. If you ever even THINK about playing this game, your opinion on the ending will make the difference whether you truly go through with it or not.
It is that bad.
All impressions prior to opening the Big Door is that it will lead to the impressive and amazing Final Dungeon. But once you go through, a cutscene starts playing instead. Link is walking around minding his own business when suddenly two giant metal grates slide in front and back of him, boxing him in. You don't get the ultimate dungeon you were promised for the whole game, but it's worse than that.
Kaepora appears, revealing he was working with the Zoras this whole time to frame you. Jabu-Jabu milk has a secret side effect...it turns anyone who drinks it into a Zora. "Now you know our secret....we will transform every inhabitant of Abello into Zoras!" they confess, and then say they've arranged for your death because you know the secret they just told you now. The only creatures that Jabu-Jabu milk doesn't work on are monsters, so they manipulated you into performing the game's quest to kill them all, eliminating any opposition. Even your fairy was in on it, who tells you this as you rot in jail:
She...might have a point?
The final shot is Link hanging from a noose while the townspeople all watch, and then the message "THIS IS A BAD ENDING" appears. You don't say...
It's worth noting the ending in the demo version of Master of Time is different and shorter: Kaepora tells Link he can walk over a large gap because there are invisible blocks...Link promptly walks off the cliff and impales himself on gigantic spikes, and Kaepora says "NOW THIS JERK IS DEAD!!" Which is the all-time funniest thing Kaepora has ever said, officially or not.
A good chunk of Master of Time's negative reviews mention this ending as a big factor in their disappointment. There are actually two other ways to end the game, but they're unlikely to be found by casual players. The first cannot be seen without cheating and involves Link finding a UFO and blasting off into space. The other end, which is helpfully labeled "THIS IS A GOOD ENDING" like the other, will only play if you notice a Hookshot target that appears somewhere after all main dungeons are completed and the door is open. If you go up where it takes you and through a cave, Link will....simply walk away, abandoning his quest entirely.
That's correct, the good ending is to just leave, because Abello is such a messed-up place that it's beyond saving.
The game even hints in the Library that the true solution is to just give up, but it's very bad at communicating it:
This paper is pretty hard to find, and I doubt anyone who sees it will believe this is really the intended solution.
This hack tries so hard to be edgy that there's a debate over whether Don really meant all of it or if he was just being ironic. He ate massive amount of crow over that ending, especialy on the comments section of the Master of Time trailer....enough to make him come out of his hiding hole to say just one thing as a retort:
Yes, he meant all of it. He's a bona fide nihilist edgelord who wears black leather in the hottest weather (you can't imagine the smell!)
And that's Master of Time: the sort of off-kilter Zelda experience you would normally need to own a CD-I to have. But that's not all, folks....there are a few more Zelda 64 hacks in existence that I didn't cover the first time. Here's what else is out there:
|THE FATE OF THE BOMBIWA: If there were such a thing as a Kaizo Hack community for Ocarina of Time, this game would qualify. It's short, but very maddening. I feel very grateful now that the developers of the original game never thought up scenarios like two Iron Knuckles and a ReDead in the same room.|
There is something ELSE about this game that stands out besides its difficulty, but it's a very hidden secret. The entire game world is one village, with a castle throne room in one direction and a single dungeon in another. Hidden in the village and castle room are four Magic Beans. If you can collect them all and deposit them in their proper holes at the dungeon entrance, a gate will open leading to a locked door.
There is only one key in the entire dungeon and two places to use it. Most will use it to advance the game, but only a few will think to use it on the door upstairs (or even realize that door is there). Entering that door triggers the REAL ending, where Link finds the diary of the mystery criminal adversary behind the day's events, and then he turns around to see, for a split second, the mastermind himself before the game cuts to credits.
For those who don't recognize who this is, It's Bao Bao from the Cartoon Network series Mao Mao: Heroes of Pure Heart.
And that's when you realize why the castle room you were in earlier felt so familiar, as well as the music playing inside: both the location and the melody were from Mao Mao. Do both these intellectual properties mesh? Not really. Is this weird as hell? Most definitely. Is it NOT the weirdest thing I've seen in Zelda hacker-dom so far? Not by a mile.
|STARFOX SURVIVAL: A few months after The Missing Link came out, its programmer Zel released a trailer with some never-before-seen environments and eerie music from Majora's Mask. Everyone thought we were getting a second amazing Zelda from him, but it turned out to be an enemies rush game with all the monsters in Ocarina. The difference was that Fox McCloud had replaced Link as the playable character. It's impressive that Zel pulled that off but the whole reveal was kind of a bait-and-switch.|
|ZELDA 64 BETA REMAKE: What Zel is ACTUALLY working on. Remember a few months ago, when beta maps for an earlier version of Ocarina were found in the overdump of a development cartridge? This is an attempt to get as close as possible to what that beta might have been like, using all the information we have from the dump, the Gigaleak, and other sources. It's due out in a few months.|
|VOYAGER OF TIME: I can't get this one to work. That's probably because it needs to be patched to the EUROPEAN version of Ocarina of Time, which means it won't work on my American N64 and television anyway. So moving on.|
|ZELDA'S BIRTHDAY: The earliest known OOT romhack. It starts out with the cutscene where Navi first wakes Link up, only she's telling him that Zelda's birthday is in a few days, and Saria bought her a present, but then someone stole it. My game crashed when Link walked outside of his house.|
|NIMPIZE ADVENTURE: Only play this one if you've exhausted all the others and you're desperate. It commits every romhack sin: its story is incoherent and meanders on, its dialogue is nonsensical and full of typos, and it throws every late-game monster at you almost immediately for an "extra challenge." Very few areas are original; it's mostly a remix of existing locations with different foes and puzzles. Useless when Master Quest already exists.|
|LINK'S AWAKENING 3D REMAKE: Never released; the only evidence of its existence is this trailer released in 2019. I'm not sure why programmer Ty Anderson was working on this if Nintendo was about to release their own remake that same year. Maybe he felt the same way.|
All this had me curious...what's really involved in making your own illicit Ocarina of Time sequel, anyway? It turns out the barrier to entry isn't as high as you might think. There is more than one piece of software out there built for the sole purpose of hacking this game, but the current king has to be SharpOcarina, which was most recently updated in 2019. It not only allows you to import your own environments, but populate them with the game's NPCs and monsters, create new events and cutscenes, original dungeon map screens, and even your own title screen sequence to replace the original.
You can do anything to the game easily with SharpOcarina, as long as you do it with existing character assets. While you can dump in new environments to your heart's content, brand-new NPCs or enemies (called "actors" in game speak) are a bigger, hairier matter. SharpOcarina gives you the power to import custom characters, but stops short of creating them for you. That's a complex task that involves modeling, rigging, and coding in the dead language called MIPS Assembly. There's a reason not very many hacks use original characters, and to date, only one has pulled off an original boss. IT'S WORK.
But if you don't care about that part, all you need is SharpOcarina for new environments, SEQ64 for new music composition and Ocarina Text Editor (or this) for new dialogue (and the leaked Master Quest debug ROM, which isn't hard to find), and you're set. You can create your own Zelda 64 sequel without any programming knowledge...which begs the question: if it's so simple, why has barely anyone done it? Why is Master of Time currently the largest Zelda romhack there is? We can do better than THAT as a species, can't we?
I decided to download SharpOcarina and see how far I could get. The tutorials are in video form and cover everything you need to know quickly: how to load environments and set actors, how to build rooms in 3D modeling software and import them, how to create interconnecting rooms that load via doors, how to connect environments to one another, how to position the camera, how to create special conditions for completing a room, how to set separate effects for different kinds of surfaces, how to direct cutscenes, and how to import original characters should you ever become skilled enough to build them. And if you have further questions, the creators are reachable on Discord.
I could make a model, but I could also save time by trying one that already existed: Trawn's office building from Electric Wonderland.
I was not expecting SharpOcarina to take it...but it did. The colors, however, were missing because the model is flat-shaded and doesn't use any textures. (I'm pretty sure the N64 DOES support flat shading, but SharpOcarina doesn't seem to let it through.)
The game wouldn't take this model at all. It crashed the moment it attempted to load it. This means SharpOcarina won't tell you if a model is incompatible with the N64, it'll just take anything and you have to boot up your emulator to find out if it truly works or not. I had a hunch that this would happen -- N64 models tend to be very basic and chunky, and NOT have little bits sticking out like this does. If I wanted Trawn's office to appear in Ocarina of Time, I would have to build a simpler version. To the tutorials!
Here's where I hit the weak link (no pun intended). All the tutorials use Blender.
Yes, Blender is free and Blender is powerful. Blender is also needlessly confusing. It's fine for sculpting a model or creating an animation. But for architectural purposes -- like, say, building a low-poly village of boxy homes or a simple dungeon room -- Blender is a nightmare.
It is far easier to create buildings and low-poly stuff in Sketchup, the software I've always used for such tasks. This is how you texture-map an object in Sketchup: select Import, select your JPEG, hold the JPEG image over the object you want to map, adjust the image size, and you're done -- the texture is on the object. This is how you texture-map in Blender: split your screen into two halves by right-clicking in a specific spot and selecting "Split Area," select "UV/Image Editor" from the first bottom menu of the second window, change the first window to Edit Mode, change the view menu in the first window to "Texture," drag a texture onto the second window, shrink the texture by pressing A, then S, then entering the number 10, and finally hit Enter. It's so intuitive, a child could do it!
It gets stupider. The version of Blender used in the tutorial videos is already out of date, and in the latest version, EVERYTHING IS REARRANGED. Why would they do this? Solely to annoy people? I couldn't get past the FIRST STEP in Tutorial Video #1 without Googling where that particular function was now, and then Googling what the first answer was referring to. After having to do this five times in a row, I just found the version of Blender the video was talking about and started using the older one instead.
It was still frustrating. Whoever designed Blender's interface was not from this planet. You know that handy left mouse button, the one that can do so many things? It doesn't do anything in Blender. Surely, it could be used to select one of the model's sides, or pull them out, but no -- that would make too much sense. You have to pull a lever and set a dial and climb a ladder and slay a dragon just to do one simple thing that you should be able to do by JUST CLICKING ON THE MODEL LIKE YOU CAN DO IN SKETCHUP! I finally said "screw this, I'm using Sketchup to make the model. I can get it done in one eighth of the time."
I constructed a very simple version of the building, then exported it to the common .OBJ format, loaded it into SharpOcarina and injected it into the game. The map wouldn't load, and I had no idea why. Was the model still too complicated? Was it the new textures? (They were at 32x32 pixels, like the original textures were.) Was it some other thing I couldn't see? I had to spend the next few hours deleting some things, adding them back, and uploading variations on the model over and over and over in a tedious circle until I finally nailed something down through process of elimination: it was the windows the game didn't like.
Why the windows? I don't know. I may never know. I tried every alternate variation I could think of on a window, and it wouldn't take any of them. My building couldn't have any windows. Maybe Blender coud make a building with windows, but this article was late enough as it was. I was done fighting. I was tired. I had SOMETHING on the screen and I was settling for it.
This is my pathetic building rendered in Ocarina of Time. It'll have to do until I have the patience to spend months figuring out how Blender works. The point is I successfully made a custom environment for the game, and it even works on my N64.
Link can run against it, he can walk up the "stairs," he can climb up the ledges and jump off them. I'm playing something on my N64 that I made, and that's really cool. And I have no idea why that message is appearing there, but I don't care. For now, I consider my mission accomplished.
So the answer to "can anyone mod Zelda on the N64" is "yes, if they don't suck as badly as I do."
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