This review was shared by Zelda Informer with pictures, italics, and all-new unnecessary grammar errors!
In honor of next week’s re-release of the two oft-overlooked greats on the 3DS eShop, I’ve decided to write a full review of both to do my part to spread the love that these two games deserve.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages are one long game split into two chapters: One where Link is sent by the Triforce to protect the Oracle of Seasons, Din, and another where Link is sent to protect the Oracle of Ages, Nayru. Both games use largely the same game mechanics and art and music styles, so this review will shine some light on both the mutual points and the game-specific ones. As this review is written based on the Gameboy Color release of the games, I will not be discussing 3DS bonus features that may affect gameplay, such as restore points. I will, however, point out that the games use a nifty password system that comes in handy in a ‘linked’ game- one where you’ve carried over a password from a completed game to a fresh file of the other game to continue your story. The 3DS does provide one feature that those of us who enjoyed this game at release didn’t have: notes! When you receive a password from a game, you can simply press the home key and tap the little pencil icon on your menu there. You’ll be able to see the suspended game screen displaying your password and write it down on a note that will be on your 3DS until you decide to erase it. As someone who never seemed to have a pen and paper handy when I came across a password back in the day, I highly recommend using the note feature. With that out of the way, let’s get on with this review.
What started life as a remake of The Legend of Zelda ala Super Mario Bros. Deluxe was quickly changed to three individual titles, each representing a piece of the Triforce. Legend has it that when the code system became too complicated to work between three games early on, it was dropped down to two: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. Each game can be played independently or played consecutively for a true ending and a slightly-altered continuation in the second game of your choosing. For the full story, and some neat extra features, a linked game is a must.
Oracle of Seasons begins with our hero of Hyrule, Link, being mysteriously called to the Triforce room in Hyrule Castle. The Triforce then speaks of a terrible omen and sends Link to the far land of Holodrum with one mission: seek out and protect the Oracle of Seasons from the foretold danger. Link is found unconscious by a mysterious girl named Din, who’s the leader of a dance troupe traveling the land. After recovering and even showing off some awkward dance moves, danger strikes. A storm brews and blows everyone away. Link, protecting Din, stands in the way but is no match for what turns out to be Onox, the General of Darkness. He identifies the girl as none other than the Oracle of Seasons, and kidnaps her. With Din locked up and away from the land, the seasons of Holodrum are in chaos and it’s now up to you, Link, to save her and restore peace to the land by harnessing the power to change the seasons.
Oracle of Ages begins in a very similar way, only instead of sending Link to Holodrum, the Triforce sends our hero to the land of Labrynna to seek out and protect the Oracle of Ages. Upon arriving, Link quickly encounters Impa, Zelda’s nursemaid. Relieved to see Link, Impa tags along. A moment later Link encounters a boulder which Impa cannot move. She says Link is the only one capable of moving the stone, because of the mark of the Triforce on his hand. With the block out of the way, Link and Impa find themselves in a peaceful meadow filled with a beautiful melody and several critters gathered around to enjoy it. The melody is coming from a beautiful girl in blue, who later identifies herself as Nayru, who is accompanied by her childhood friend and bodyguard, Ralph. A tranquil moment passes while Link takes in the beautiful music, but it is soon disrupted by an evil laughter coming from none other than Impa. Impa had been possessed by the Sorceress of Shadows, Veran, who was unable to enter the sacred meadow due to the sealed stone. Once inside, she possesses Nayru and identifies her as the Oracle of Ages, and with a flash she uses Nayru’s power to travel four-hundred years into the past to bring about a never-ending age of sorrow. Link must travel to the past and work between the ages to rescue Nayru and put an end to Veran’s scheme.
Some Zelda games are very engaging with their stories, and some are a bit more dry than others. Seasons and Ages also differ greatly in this department. Ages has an amazingly engaging story that you’re following every step of the way, always wondering what’s going to happen next. With plenty of lovable supporting characters and plot twists along the way, the story of Ages is possibly one of the best in the Zelda franchise. By the time you’re ready to face the final challenge, you’re completely stoked and have plenty of motive to take Veran down. It’s not the best plot in the world, but certainly a very entertaining one that will keep you involved and engaged through to the end. Seasons? Not so much.
Unlike the slightly-complex plot of Ages, Seasons is a lot more straight-forward. Din is kidnapped and Link is on a quest to save her and restore the seasons in Holodrum. Along the way, Link encounters many memorable characters and goes on memorable adventures across the land, but from start to finish your ultimate goal is always the same: save Din. The story’s not as engaging as Ages, but it doesn’t have to be. Seasons places gameplay over plot while Ages walks a fine line between them. Seasons feels more like a classic Zelda game in that the story is quickly presented and simple, allowing you the freedom to enjoy your epic quest without too much pressure from the plot. Ages, on the other hand, feels like a more modern console Zelda experience that closely follows a story that’s being developed as you progress. Both have plenty of side-stories and other characters that add a lot of flavor to the experience and make the world seem more alive and help draw you in.
In a linked game, the plot will change ever so slightly but significantly. Whichever game you play second will have extra characters adding little side-quests that you have to take back to the first game to complete via passwords, which then gives you a password to take back to the second game for a reward. This includes a further upgrade for your sword and shield and even fan-favorite extras like the Biggoron sword and bombchus. Passwords are game-specific, based solely on what you named your player, what you named Bipin and Bopin’s son, and which animal you befriended. Unless you find a code generator or your friend uses the exact same names/animal as you, your secret item codes will not work on each others’ games, making these quests unique additions to your personal experience. These items and quests add little to the overall plot and are entirely optional. The main game plot also changes a bit. With one land saved, Zelda follows you to the second land to see if everything’s alright. Really early on you have to save her in a tongue-in-cheek, Donkey Kong-esque little quest, and she adds a little bit to the plot. Nothing else is generally different until the end, when the overarching plot between the games comes to its climax.
Throughout Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, Link will go through eight dungeons in each land to obtain the Essences of Nature and Essences of Time, respectively, to make it through the villains’ evil barriers and save the lands. Each dungeon is well-designed, and in classic Zelda style, contains an item to help Link through his adventure. Classic items from Link’s Awakening make a return such as the Roc’s Feather, and may later be upgraded depending on the game. For example, in Seasons, the Roc’s Feather can be upgraded to the level two Roc’s Cape, allowing Link to jump not just one space, but up to three. In Ages, you can still obtain the Roc’s Feather, but you instead upgrade the power bracelet. There are also game-specific items offering a variety of gameplay between the two, such as Seasons’ magnetic gloves, which allow Link to cross large gaps and fight creative magnetized enemies, and Ages’ switch-hook, which can make Link switch places with distant objects. The switch-hook also leads to some creative enemies and mind-bending puzzles. Enjoy getting through Jabu-Jabu’s Belly without a guide.
The Oracles offer a strange alternative to some classic Zelda items in the form of seeds. In the games are five different types of magical seeds that can help Link in various ways. Fire seeds can be used to solve puzzles, light torches, and even burn trees to find secrets like in the first game. Other seeds can warp link to any seed tree he’s found on the map or let him turn certain enemies into funny creatures. The pegasus seeds, which allow Link to run for a short time, can also be used in conjunction with the Roc’s feather to do longer jumps. Many puzzles in the games make use of these seeds, and they can also be used on enemies with varying effects. They don’t really add anything new to the franchise that hasn’t been done before through the use of items (aside from scent seeds), but they do make for a nice alternative and allow you to play the games as you like. If you want to run through the whole game from the moment you discover pegasus seeds, feel free.
The gameplay is otherwise very straightforward and very much an evolution of what was previously in titles like Link’s Awakening and A Link to the Past: tight sword controls, the ability to assign items to the A and B buttons as you like, enemies that require you to think of a tactic before jumping right into battle, and exploring every nook and cranny you come across. Aside from the game-specific items, the gameplay may vary between the two games in a few more ways. Seasons’ design takes after the original Legend of Zelda in its gameplay mechanics, making it more action-heavy. Seasons is typically regarded as the one that requires more skill, but it is only slightly harder than Ages. On the other hand, Ages takes more after Ocarina of Time, and not just in its time-traveling story or time-travel mechanics. Ages is what’s regarded as the ‘clever’ one- it requires you to think more. It’s more puzzle-based and really puts your mind to work. Again, I’m looking at you Jabu-Jabu.
On top of all of the version differences, there is yet another difference in gameplay that’s the same no matter which one you play: animal friends! In each game you have the chance to help three animals: the boxing kangaroo Ricky, the flying bear Moosh, and the swimming dodongo Dimitri. If you follow certain steps, it’s possible to gain the trust of one of the three and obtain their flute, which will allow you to call them at any time for help outside of dungeons. There is one section of each game that is geographically different based on which one you befriend, but it is a cosmetic gameplay difference only. The secrets and quests in the areas are still there no matter what animal you choose. Most people will likely obtain Ricky’s flute on their first playthrough, but learning how to obtain the others adds to the replay value. The friend you obtain in the first game you play will follow you to the second in a linked game.
A carry-over from previous Zelda games is that each game allows you to travel between two worlds: Seasons has the underground land of Subrosia, inhabited by hooded people called Subrosians. In this mysterious land are many sidequests and some hidden secrets to be found. Seasons also allows you to, you guessed it, change the seasons in the overworld, which can grant you access to secret areas in winter or get into a dungeon only accessible when vines grow in summer. The ability to change the season to four variations in each area of the overworld makes up for how small Subrosia is compared to Ages’ alternate world. It also adds to the exploration in that you may want to backtrack to find secrets in an area you previously couldn’t change to autumn.
In Ages, you travel between the present time and four-hundred years into the past to a completely mirrored version of Labrynna, like the Dark World in A Link to the Past. There are certain overworld elements and dungeon puzzle elements that require you to traverse both ages to progress. This also opens up the game for more sidequesting and exploration. As the game goes on, you progressively ease your ability to travel through time. This leads to more exploration, secret areas, and sidequests that require you to travel back and forth regularly.
Both titles also offer a variety of mini-games should you want to take a break from your adventure. Both have a rhythm-based dancing game that is slightly different between the versions, but the other games are generally the same. Ages has three more mini-games than Seasons to check out. A handful of them are required to beat the game, but they offer further challenge should you choose to return and play them again. Prizes can vary from gasha seeds to boomerangs, flutes, heart pieces, or even rings.
The last major bit of gameplay-changing fun comes in the form of many rings hidden throughout the land. They can be dug up at random, found in shops or special spots, obtained through side-quests and minigames, or even found in Gasha Nuts. These nuts are grown in hidden spots throughout the land from gasha seeds, and under the right conditions, can contain a special ring or even a heart piece if you’re lucky. The rings themselves alter the gameplay in slight ways. Some will allow you to do double damage to an enemy or not fall down cracked floors in dungeons. One will even change you into an octorok! Others are only commemorative, and do nothing when worn. You can only wear one at a time, and there are game-specific ones. You can ‘copy’ your ring list between games in a linked game, and carry over your whole collection and keep searching to find them all. Rings are entirely optional and can add some fun quirks to the experience. Some can help you and some can hinder. They’re just one more way to play around and experiment within the game and enjoy your adventure the way you want to. Remember, rings do nothing unless worn!
Both titles push the Gameboy Color almost to its limit in graphical effects that are sure to impress skeptics of the little-portable-that-could, and the music can range from simple and melodic to mysterious and emotional. There are also quite a few nostalgic nods thrown in for good measure. There are several memorable songs that really stand out and provide the perfect emotional backdrop for what’s going on in the plot, but a handful of dungeon tunes are completely forgettable. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but the majority of tracks fit well. The animations and graphic designs are nostalgic and new at the same time, and polished to the console’s limit. There’s even a cameo by everyone’s favorite beloved/hated fairy friend Tingle in Ages, and a certain song from Ocarina with the power to drive a grown man mad thrown into Seasons for good measure. On a personal note, I’m glad to report that these games don’t feature a rendition of Ocarina’s ‘indoor’ song. After hearing that in nearly every Zelda game since Ocarina’s release, I was relieved to find that these games have their own original generic ‘indoor’ music. Praise be the sound designers at Capcom.
Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages have a lot to offer any gamer, from the casual player to the hardcore Zelda fan. The newcomers will be engaged by the stories and fun gameplay, and the veterans will enjoy the pinnacle of 2D top-down Zelda game design. Each of these games easily stand alone as masterpieces, and combine to make one epic story with a nice fulfilling conclusion. They are two of the best games on the Gameboy Color, and two of the best Zelda games ever made. It saddens me that they are overlooked by fans of the franchise, whether that be a conscious decision or simply a matter of now knowing they were there. Each is worthy of a perfect ten out of ten rating if I had to give a score. I hope with the re-release on the 3DS virtual console these games can get the love and respect they deserve and find a new audience in a new generation. With the amount of content, quality, and replayability in these titles, you will not regret adding them to your library.