The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons Game Boy Color Developed by Capcom and Flagship Released in 2001
It would take another 2 years before Nintendo would release the next mainline Zelda game after The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. That game would be Wind Waker, an installment that would tear the fanbase apart as people accused Nintendo of pandering to kids instead of taking the series in a more adult direction. But before all of that, gamers had a chance to enjoy a more traditional take on the series that, while falling short in many fields, they at least couldn’t accuse of not being loyal to the franchise’s roots.
Two games, two adventures
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle Seasons and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages are two separate games that each tell a different story that can intertwine with the other if you have both games at your disposal. Both titles are follow-ups to A Link to the Past, featuring the same iteration of Link being warped to a new world by the power of the Triforce.
In Seasons Link finds himself in the land of Holodrum where a female dancer finds him passed out in the woods and takes him to her caravan of entertainers. In Ages a similar event occurs where Link is teleported to Labrynna and finds a singer inside of the forest. Both games then have a villain bust in and kidnap the girl, prompting Link to meet with a local guardian tree and go on an adventure to gather the equipment needed to rescue the maidens.
Both Labrynna and Holodrum are new territory for the series and never made a second appearance throughout. While this should be exciting, just like Majora’s Mask I feel too many elements are borrowed from Ocarina of Time, with familiar faces and settings like Guru Guru in a windmill or the Biggoron at the peak of a mountain cancelling out the fresh feeling that a new world should provide. Even so, there are many new elements in these games never seen before, like the dictatorial regime of Queen Ambi in Ages or the spirits of the elements in Seasons, but personally I feel these are best presented in Akira Himekawa’s manga adaptations that puts more focus on what makes the games different, rather than what stays the same.
At the very least it’s fun to see some new faces, like the main girls Din and Nayru who have a different kind of friendship with Link than any of the versions of Zelda we have seen. Oracle of Ages also has Ralph, who is sort of an ineffective rival to Link throughout the entire adventure and there are animal buddies who help him out on his quest.
Story score: 7/10
Puzzles or action
While the games’ stories are very similar to each other, the gameplay has been deliberately designed to create polar opposites. Both titles evoke the feeling of The Legend of Zelda (as in: the original NES game) and A Link to the Past, with Seasons focusing on action with small navigational puzzles for variety, and Ages prioritizing the puzzles with some light action thrown in.
Being on the gameboy, both games are presented as top-down, 8-bit action adventure titles with a map divided into segments and various dungeons where you must travel to in order to find new items and gather the pieces of the games’ respective plot devices. The controls are akin to Link’s Awakening, which itself was a more simplified A Link to the Past. You have two equipment slots for you A and B buttons that you equip an item in your inventory to; usually this will be your sword and whatever you may need for a puzzle at that moment. Your sword swings in a fairly predictable slashing motion and enemies are easy enough to deal with, though sometimes it can be finicky when enemies occupy a position diagonal to yours.
Items can help vary up the action or solve puzzles, with the most important items being the Rod of Seasons and Harp of Ages. You see, just like the last few console games in the series, these two sister games try their hand at dual-world gameplay where you need to switch between different versions of the same map. In Ages you go back and forth between Labrynna’s past and present, with your actions in the past carrying over into the future. Likewise, in Seasons you slowly unlock more seasons to switch between. While in Seasons the impact of the different seasons is smaller, like needing a lake to be frozen in winter or a flower to bloom, I still find it interesting to see how the world changes with each season. Labrynna gets a ridiculous amount of snow, so be sure to bring a good coat when winter hits.
Personally, I preferred Seasons over Ages, mostly because I have already voiced before that the puzzles in these top-down Zelda games don’t really scratch that Zelda itch for me. I find them lacking in any real complexity and despite the improved presentation compared to Link’s Awakening, I still find navigating these worlds not that interesting, though Ages does have some really nice segments to it, like an island of dim-witted lizard people that you shipwreck on and who steal all of Link’s items.
If you enjoyed the style of gameplay seen in A Link to the Past, then the Oracle games are the closest you can get to achieving the same style and feel while adding some new touches. For me, however, the games feel a little too simple and don’t hold my interest much, though it comes much closer than A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening in that regard.
Gameplay score: 5/10
Just like Link’s Awakening DX, both Oracle games are a celebration of the Nintendo GameBoy that show off just how much power is hidden within that tiny rectangular box. Both games have a sufficiently large world to explore and both Holodrum and Labrynna are geographically impressive, not to mention beautifully colored. Especially Holodrum really gets to shine with the different seasons lending many different atmospheres to the same areas. Besides having multiple states for the overworld, both games also have new types of layout, like the underground kingdom of Subrosia that lies underneath Holodrum, or the offshore Crescent Island for Labrynna.
While the areas you visit look splendid, the same can’t be said for the sprites. Most are either too simplistic or look messy. I was surprised by the quality of the music, though. It is a vast improvement over Link’s Awakening and though it rehashes some old tracks like the Windmill Theme, the new music is nice, though not on a level comparable to the console entries of course.
Presentation score: 8/10
Link it together
Both games feature a trading sequence side-quest to get a sword, similar to the trading sequence from Ocarina of Time. While a neat inclusion, more interesting is linking the games together by finishing one and acquiring a password that can be used to change up the second one. Aside from unlocking the true ending for your playthrough in the second game, it also makes significant alterations to the plot and adds a few nods, such as recurring characters recognizing you.
It’s a cool system that justifies getting both games, even if the business with the passwords is a bit tricky. Completing this “linked game” rewards you with another password that allows you to replay the game that you played a linked game on a second time, without plot-altering events, to also get the code to play a linked game on the other game, that you already completed to unlock the first linked game. Are you still keeping up here? Of course you can also just play the games, pull the passwords from the internet, and replay them both with the plot-altering events without the extra password getting involved at all.
Extras score: 7/10
Both Oracle games offer a different take on the Zelda series, but the simplicity of the format holds both games back in that regard. While their respective worlds are beautifully presented and the stories offer new, interesting twists and characters, I just can’t get over the fact that there is so little to the combat and puzzles. If you want your Zelda games on-the-go, then these are excellent choices. Otherwise, just stick with one of the console titles.