Nintendo preservationists Forest of Illusion recently got their hands on a Nintendo 64 development cart containing what appears to be the demo version of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time shown at the Space World ‘97 trade show. This early build includes maps, items, abilities, and even story beats that didn’t make it into the final release.
The cartridge, which Forest of Illusion obtained from a former Nintendo tester, was first assumed to just hold a development build of Nintendo 64 racing game F-Zero X. But re-examination revealed that data from the Ocarina of Time demo was also present, possibly because the F-Zero content wasn’t large enough to fully overwrite the data which previously occupied the cartridge (it’s been shown that Nintendo frequently reused development carts).
Upon finding this extra Ocarina of Time data, Forest of Illusion quickly dumped the cart and provided it to the video game community at large, prompting eager fans to pore over its contents. As such, the last 24 hours or so have seen a whirlwind of discoveries. Link, for instance, was originally able to transform into his fairy companion Navi, perhaps as a nod to a similar ability seen in 1987’s Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
Also found in the data were early versions of areas like Kakariko Village, the Temple of Time, and Hyrule Field, which YouTube channel z64me explores in the videos below.
Unused items include a grass whistle, which Link would have used to summon his horse Epona instead of the ocarina, a Shadow Medallion to avoid enemies à la the Stone Mask in Majora’s Mask, and a mine weapon that looks suspiciously like Mario Kart’s powerful Blue Shell.
Further translation of the text in the Ocarina of Time prototype also reveals significant plot differences. In early builds, the fairies were trapped within the Deku Tree thanks to (who else) Ganon, and it was up to the player to enter the dungeon and free them. This is how Link would become acquainted with Navi, rather than the divisive companion being summoned by the Deku Tree to accompany him on his adventure.
A few bits of dialogue also seem to indicate that players would have been able to visit Goron City and Zora’s Domain (and thus complete the early dungeons associated with them) in any order they wished.
Just as with last year’s “Gigaleak,” it’s great to see enthusiastic fans efficiently cataloging and contextualizing all the new info that’s emerging. These fascinating discoveries were produced by the combined effort of folks who get nothing out of the work other than ensuring video game history is preserved for the future. It’s admirable and more than a little heartening, especially as the major corporations that hold the rights to these classic games seem to grow increasingly disinterested in doing so themselves.