There hasn't been much news in the way of unofficial The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time sequels since the last time I wrote about them...until very recently. Within the last month or two a bunch of new, noisy, buzzworthy hacks suddenly sprang up. Just like last time, they all arrived at once after years of nothing. What could have possibly motivated separate parties to arrive on this specific deadline --
-- oh, right. It was one of those "now or never" situations; the last chance to get their work out there before something official took all the attention away. For those curious, that's also why this article is so late. I am virtually in Hyrule as you're reading these words, gluing together logs and making shields out of meat.
But before then, I was keeping my appetite sated by visting the Hylian Modding Discord. It's the #1 community for anyone who hacks Ocarina of Time, and there are dozens of projects going on at any given time. All the photos and short videos of custom-built environments and weapons are neat to look at, but the problem is, most of them will never actually see release. A lot of modders just tend to give up after making a few things, so while there is something new posted to Hylian Modding nearly every day, the appearance of an actual, playable game (or at least a demo) is rare.
Which is why it was completely wild when a fully built, 100% finished, thorough hack suddenly appeared on the Discord with just one day's announcement prior. Three modders had been working in secret for the past two years on a fully new OOT sequel, The Sealed Palace. Master of Time is no longer alone -- there is finally another full hack floating out there with completely new environments and dungeons. Is it better?
Folks, it's not only better, it's what I wanted all along when I first started wading into these Nintendo-disapproved things. There were games I actually bought that month, but between The Sealed Palace and The Murder of Sonic The Hedgehog, I spent all of April playing games I got for free. Go figure.
Most N64 adventure games started you out in one fixed location every time you turned them on. The hacks do this too, so...I guess it can't be helped. This handicap necessitated the invention of the "hub world." The starting location of an N64 game must be well-designed with easy access to any destination the player might want to go toward, whether by warp song, magic painting or any other method. Sealed Palace starts you out in...jail.
You'll appear in jail every time you load the game up, at least while you're a kid, because the opening situation is that all the Kokiri have been arrested by the order of two mysterious advisors who are taking control of the castle. (It's Koume and Kotake -- the demo screen gives this away, and also it's not hard to guess). Won't the Kokiri die if they leave the forest? Well, not in this hack, and that's always been a suspect bit of information anyway -- the credits screen of the untouched OOT has them walking around Lon Lon Ranch fine and dandy.
It's in this scenario that Navi finds Link and tells him he has to save Hyrule. The opening area is a stealth mission, where you must find ways to open doors while staying out of the way of the castle guards' line of vision. Eventually, after about twenty minutes of that, you'll have ascended high enough to reach Zelda's room. She tells you she's worried about the future and teaches you your first warp song -- the only way out of there.
Once you warp, you'll be taken to a run-down Temple of Time that is half buried in sand. It's unclear when this game is meant to take place or what timeline it's under. Areas like this imply it's a century or two after OOT, but most of the characters are exactly the same. Some of the Sages already have their Sage status (like Impa, whom you never meet), while others are ascending for the first time (like Saria). Unfortunately, once you exit the Temple, you will find yourself in the single worst area in the entire game.
The second location the game tasks you with exploring is the Haunted Wasteland, ruins of an ancient city (implied to be the Castle Town from OOT). The sandstorm effect is on and turned to full blast. You can't see more than an inch in front of you the entire time you're here. You have no map, or any other means of navigating this horrid place. It was probably a bad decision to put this here. I recommended this hack to someone else, but he quit once he got to the Haunted Wasteland.
My advice is to just go in a straight line, where you can. Eventually the sand will fade and you'll find yourself in the modern-day Castle Town. The moment you get here, take a hard right and enter the Graveyard -- a talking statue will teach you a warp song that will make it so you never have to go through the Haunted Wasteland again, except for one other time late in the game. Seriously, ENTER THE GRAVEYARD first, and then save your game, or you'll be sorry.
Castle Town is immense. There are over 20 doors to enter and plenty of rooms to wander through. The makers confessed they were not expecting players to attempt to explore the entire town at once. It's possible to spend over an hour here, but the three most important things are to (1) get the bottle from the creepy church, (2) buy a Hylian Shield from the store, and (3) buy the Wooden Shield from the Kokiri selling things outside Castle Town at night.
There's a steep hill next to the Kokiri merchant that doesn't look like it should be scalable, but it is. Simply walk up it and you'll find the entrance to Pathways, the area that sends you where you need to go next. By now Navi should have bugged you about exploring a forest area "near the outskirts." This is where she means. Some careful platforming will take you to a curious cave with a giant mushroom. Believe it or not, the Fishing Pond is there. If you head to the back of the cave you'll find an obscured entrance where it's hidden. I'm pointing this out because.....the Fishing Pond is MANDATORY in Sealed Palace (boo, hiss)! You only have to play it as an adult, but the prize for a lunker is the Golden Scale, which you need to dive down deep enough to reach one of the adult mini-dungeons.
To the right of the fishing pond cave is another cave that contains the first dungeon -- Forest Grotto. This I'll never forget, because after I found a way to unlock the front gate and enter the lobby area, I spent at least five minutes just STARING at this place before I did anything.
The environments are the best part of Sealed Palace. Many of the locations in this game look better than in OOT, or in any other commercially released N64 game for that matter. Forest Grotto is gorgeous. It's the best-looking "forest" area I've explored in any Zelda game, official and non. The boss, by the way, is Gohma again. All the bosses are reused from OOT, since they have the excuse of telling the same story.
But Sealed Palace is more linear than OOT. It is always clear where you're supposed to go next, and it WILL lead to the next dungeon, sometimes right after you already completed one. My favorite element of the Zelda series is the exploration, and this doesn't really have much of that. It's mostly one dungeon after another.
The modders of this one say their goal was to preserve the "vanilla experience," meaning the plot and goals are the exact same as in Ocarina of Time -- presented as more of a remake. There may be a new Water Temple, but it's going to be just as much of a hassle as the previous Water Temple -- you WILL have to run around between three locations repeatedly raising and lowering the water level just to get to one or two out-of-reach rooms. They could have chosen NOT to build it this way, but they did.
Some of the more annoying parts of OOT have been made MORE annoying here. Any place that would traditionally have Keese flying around WILL have Keese flying around, and chances are they'll be the type that like to burn or freeze you. In OOT you only had to deal with the divebombing Guay birds in Lake Hylia and a couple other locations; here they're all over the place, and unlike Keese, Guays never go away. If you kill one, another will be generated somewhere in the area to bother you. This is why OOT used Guays sparingly!
Much of the NPC dialogue is recycled, and the few original lines are rather bland. But for every botched element, there's one that they nailed. I already mentioned how beautiful the environments are, but there is one sequence of events that was cited by most as their favorite moment. If you don't want to know about it, skip these next few paragraphs...
One of the scenes shown during the Sealed Palace demo is a pan over a large mansion in a snowy area while eerie music plays. The game never tells you where it is. After you complete the first two dungeons, you will unexpectedly come across the Ice Cavern high in the mountains. And once you've completed much of the Ice Cavern, you'll find a door that leads outside to a series of cliffs -- and, in the distance, the mansion. Getting to it is somewhat challenging; an obstacle course of ice physics, thin ropes and narrow cliffsides. But after you make it across, and fight a Wolfos, you'll finally be at the front door of the mansion -- to find it locked.
All the main doors are locked, in fact -- the basement door is the only one that's open. You might be expecting something spooky inside, but the interior of the mansion is just a house. There are a few treasures to collect including the Mask of Truth in the attic (you later learn a mask maker lived here, and that he was turned into that Wolfos you just fought). But there isn't much beyond that. You're wondering now what the point of this place is.
That's when you notice a door in the corner you overlooked. You go inside, and find a large room with a sleeping man slouched next to a glowing red painting. As you approach it, Link automatically runs INSIDE the painting....
...Nightmare? Where is this?
A pause menu check confirms that you have actually found the entrance to the third dungeon. But why? Isn't the third dungeon supposed to be inside a whale? How will fighting the same boss make sense? (Strangely, when you hit the walls with your sword, you find they have Jabu-Jabu physics and go "AWWWRGGGH.")
But answers come quickly. It will all soon make sense. Once you've journeyed midway through the area, the coolest thing happens...
This is the most creative use of existing assets I've seen in a hack to date. Half the Nightmare Dungeon is a remix of Ganon's Castle, and half of it is a fleshy mirror of the same layout. That's impressive.
A little less than two weeks before the release of Tears of the Kingdom (around May 1, thereabouts), a demo for an even more elaborate hack appeared. Its makers have still not decided on a title for the thing, so for now they are calling it "Indigo." Scope out this beautifully temporary title screen:
Indigo is a glimpse into the future of Zelda 64 hacks. It's the first (as far as I know) full hack made with the "decomped" version of the game. That means the Ocarina of Time source code has been recreated, allowing programmers to alter any part of OOT in C language. The power from this point is pretty much limitless, or at least within the limits of the N64 processor. Indigo has:
The Indigo demo, which contains the first third of the game, packs in hours of things to do and places to explore. The writing is the sharpest of any Zelda 64 hack to date -- major characters have distinct personalities and the dialogue sparkles with wit. Put simply, Indigo will blow your mind.
Indigo's story takes place at least ten years after Majora's Mask (Link's voice is pitch-shifted to sound older). After the events of the two canon games, Link left Hyrule and settled down in a place called Valana, setting up residence in a mountain cabin. At the start of this game, he's lived there a while when Tael, Tatl's brother, comes to find him. The fairy informs Link there's trouble afoot, and the pair sets off to vanquish it.
After thoroughly finishing Sealed Palace I had grown sick of the default enemies, so Indigo came at the perfect time. Half the monsters you run into are original, and the ones that aren't possess new twists that change the way you traditionally fought them. It is possible, for example, for a Deku Baba to not completely die after it becomes a stick -- the head could be lying there on the ground and it will snap at you again if you're not prepared for it.
ReDead Zombie: If you have problems facing ReDeads you probably aren't going to like certain areas of this hack. The ReDead Zombie is a variant that has the ability to chase after you at normal speed. They can't freeze you, luckily, but they also can't be killed through normal means. If you slash them with the sword or any blunt object they'll fall like normal, but will get back up mere seconds later and start chasing you again. If you're in an area with a ReDead Zombie you'll know because you'll hear their scream. They scream a lot, giving away their general location, but it's not enough of a hint to help you -- you'll be mostly looking over your shoulder paranoid until you can find a way to burn them, the only true method of killing a ReDead Zombie.
Elder ReDead: It's pale, and the worst ReDead of all (yes, even worse than the ReDead Zombie). It doesn't chase you like the previous one does, but it doesn't need to. If you get even slightly within range of its vision, the Elder ReDead will BLAST toward your location at warp speed with a SCREEECH and begin chomping -- no defense. Naturally, they stick this thing in mischievous locations where you'll be blindsided by it -- its only purpose is to jump scare people.
Snapdragon: Previously exclusive to Link to the Past, these walking giant mouths leap like jumping beans over Link's head and are hard to catch, though they can temporarily be paralyzed by the Boomerang (which, thankfully, the game gives you five minutes in).
Smalltula: Everything you need to know is in the name. Smaller than a regular Skulltula, but knocks you back just as hard.
Land Mines: I actually don't know their real name, because you only see them a half-second before they explode on you, leaving no time to pick up Tael's description of them. These are unfairly peppered around the entrance to the first dungeon and will be one of the first hassles you deal with.
Rock Crab: You can't even pick up rocks in Indigo without some kind of twist. Rock Crabs will just suddenly spring out at you, then start walking sideways in one direction.
Buzz Blob: The Buzz Blobs are also back, and behave much as they did in the games they previously appeared in. Slash them when they're sparking, get a shock. As in Link's Awakening, it's possible to turn a Buzz Blob into a Cukeman with the right item, and if you figure that out, there's even a side quest the Cukeman sends you on.
Tongold: A frog. If you get within range of it, it will lash its tongue out and drain your HP until you can struggle yourself free. It also "poisons" you if you touch it so that you can't use your weapon until the effect wears off.
Moldeku: A giant worm that seems impervious to most of your weapons. It will spit rocks at you from a distance; come closer and it will whirl its body to attack you. Dodge the whirl and strike when it's between attacks. You can watch programmer KentonM create the Moldeku, the Tongold and the Rock Crab in the livestream videos linked through this sentence. Neat!
Corrupt Scardeeda: Not really an enemy, unless you're dumb enough to directly run into one. Purple buzzing bugs that function the same way that Golden Skulltulas did in the original game. Collect the eyeballs they leave behind and give them to a weird-looking dude somewhere in Valana to get prizes. These items are much better than the upgrades and Heart Pieces you normally get, but the dev team says this is a demo-only feature, and those items will be in dungeon treasure chests in the final game.
With so many new enemies, you're going to need some fresh means of defending yourself. Indigo is not only the first game to give you unique weapons you can use outside of a dungeon, it gives you several, such as...
Rusted Anchor: Earned through exploring the second dungeon, it packs the punch of the Megaton Hammer yet can be thrown from a distance. Swirl it over your head and let the chain fly.
Lantern: Earned through exploring the third dungeon, it creates fire (this is the item you need to face the ReDead Zombies properly) and reveals hidden objects like the Mask of Truth does.
Shovel: Also earned through exploring the third dungeon, it allows you to dig wherever there's a soft mound with an X. You need the Shovel to enter the buried location where the Lantern is located.
Pegasus Boots: Earned by collecting ten Scardeedas. You'll want to track down ten Scardeedas as soon as possible because boy, are these fun. It's possible to get a horse in this demo, but you may feel it a bit redundant when you can just tear across the meadow wearing these things. The horse, though, doesn't consume magic rapidly -- the Boots do.
Zora Flippers: Earned by collecting fifteen Scardeedas. Allows you to swim through water much like Zora Link does in Majora's Mask.
Roc's Feather: Earned by collecting twenty Scardeedas. Gives you the jump ability missing from most pre-BOTW Zelda games.
Shock Arrow: Earned by collecting twenty-five Scardeedas. Allows you to add electricity to your arrow shots, which some enemies are vulnerable to. By the time you get this, though, you'll probably have beaten all the available dungeons.
Even the traditional sword and shield have been given new twists in Indigo: the sword is upgradeable throughout the game (though the demo just gives you one upgrade since the system isn't fully in place yet) and the shields each contain a special power you can activate with a button combo. The "forest" shield can sap enemy HP and heal you with it if you push R and B at the same time. The Kite Shield you get later will reflect the enemy's attack back at them with the same combo. These abilities are not free, though -- they require the use of magic.
There is far more to talk about than I have time to discuss, and this is just the demo. But I will mention one more thing: this bit of dialogue in the Milk Bar.
HAW HAW HAW! (If you're confused right now, you didn't read the previous article.)
Altogether the Indigo demo is an S-class experience...with one flaw.
It makes me sick.
I'm very susceptible to motion sickness in video games, but the Zelda series doesn't usually trigger it. This unfortunately does. Most cases of game nausea are triggered by an FOV (field of vision) that is too narrow, leaving out side details and confusing your brain. Modern games have been good at including accessibility options for disabilities like color blindness, but they NEVER address motion sickness despite it being so common. The only game I have seen include an FOV slider is the original Bioshock (Infinite didn't have one). I've been told the reason for that is because the wider the FOV, the more processing time each frame takes and the harder it is to run a clean framerate. So most game makers do not bother, and I suffer.
I figure when the modders were tweaking Indigo to support widescreen mode, they must have shrunk the FOV in standard mode and that's why it makes me want to puke after a minute. But when I brought this up with them, they denied any tampering had been done to the FOV and they weren't sure what my exact problem was. My nausea doesn't lie.
There IS a way to expand the FOV in this game: the widescreen mode. Unfortunately, insisting as I do that I play these on my original N64 with a CRT for maximum nostalgia value, this results in squished, blurry visuals. But it's this or nothing for me. There are no plans to adjust the FOV in the finished version of Indigo.
So that sucks. But overall, the future looks bright for Zelda hacking. Playing new direct sequels to games you grew up with, whether they're technically "real" or not, is a great feeling, and the possibilities for what they can be are widening. There haven't been sequels to Wind Waker or Twilight Princess yet, but folks are working on modding in custom actors, and that was how OOT hacking started. It's just a matter of time. Someone will eventually be devoted enough to break them down into malleable pieces.
One more note: if you do play Indigo, whether it gives you nausea or not, there is one moment where you will appreciate the following map, scraped from the Discord:
When the time comes, you'll know. And you'll thank me later.
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