In the olden days before internet was reliable and widespread, game developers and distributors generated hype for big titles by handing out VHS tapes full of footage and info. It wasn't an elegant method of previewing games, but it was generally effective. Today, some of those promotional VHS tapes are cherished as relics of an age gone by—and as a recent find demonstrates, the tapes are sometimes treasure troves of beta footage.
Hard4Games [cough], a YouTube channel dedicated to exploring rare games and systems, posted a preview video for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that has some surprising footage that implies major changes were made to the game at the last second.
The video, initially distributed in Brazil by Blockbuster, shows off a game that's clearly bordering on "done." All the locations and enemies are recognizable, and there are even some end-game spoilers. However, a few notable differences in the footage crop up. Most of them are small: a color change here, a refined character model there. Princess Zelda's face is frankly an angular horror show in the VHS footage, whereas she's childlike and expressive in the final game. VHS Ganondorf also has a creepy smile that ultimately went unused.
There are noticeably big changes, too. The VHS shows us Link was initially going to call Epona with a reed whistle instead of the Ocarina. (The reed whistle would wind up being Link's means of summoning Epona in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.) Moreover, the VHS displays the beta version of the fountain fairies, which were much more angelic than the rowdy Ladies of the Lake that we see in Ocarina of Time. The angel fairy wound up in some commercials for Ocarina of Time, so her existence is well-known. That said, the VHS provides one of the clearest views of her yet—or as clear a view as an ancient VHS can provide, anyway.
What's most noteworthy is how it seems Link's method of fighting was very different up until the last minute. In the final game, Link can't move while he swings his sword. However, he moves and swings freely in the beta footage. He also jumps at will in the beta, whereas he can only auto-jump in the final game.
Everything moved slower in the analog age, so it's safe to assume the Brazillian production company that put together the preview tape received its footage months before Ocarina of Time went gold. Again, the VHS is no proof-of-concept. It shows us a Hyrule that's fully constructed. Anyone who's played the game can recognize the scenes that flash by. That means Ocarina of Time was pretty much a done deal by the time Nintendo decided to overhaul its entire battle system. That's no small trick, and it's worth wondering what kind of problems the team encountered that made them say, "OK, we need to reconsider this."
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is over 20 years old, and it remains one of the most influential adventure games of all time. It's pretty cool that there are still secrets to dig up about such an important title.