Make Time for Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons

By Robert Ward . June 16, 2013 . 3:00pm

The video that got me excited for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword back in November of 2011 wasn’t Link’s showdown with the Ancient Automaton Koloktos, or even the discovery of Zelda’s lullaby hidden in the game’s main theme; no, instead, it was a short clip featuring a curious creature named Batreaux.

 

Skyward Sword was making big promises—it was the biggest Zelda game to date, and the origin story for the entire series—but that clip of Batreaux reassured me that the iconic charm of the Zelda franchise was making a comeback. Skyward Sword would come to represent the best parts of all of its predecessors—just as the Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages represent the absolute best of theirs.

 

In today’s world of HD graphics and open, three-dimensional worlds, it’s easy to succumb to the thought that a two dimensional adventure game from the Game Boy era is inherently limited by its hardware.

 

The Oracle games had the misfortune of being the Game Boy Color’s closing act in the midst of a rapidly changing generation of consoles, and represented a return to the traditional, top-down, screen-by-screen format that Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask totally scrapped—ultimately leading them to fall beneath the shadow of their N64 predecessors. The first few minutes of Oracle of Seasons proved to me that it was the context of their release, and not the quality of the games themselves, that caused them to be overlooked.

 

Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages have been re-released on the 3DS eShop, now during a time where they can be both remembered by an older generation and discovered by a new one. I myself started with Oracle of Seasons, so let’s start there.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons begins when the triforce summons Link to Hyrule castle, sending him to the land of Holodrum where he meets Din and her eccentric troupe of performers. The game wastes no time setting up the plot—and one awkward dance later, Din is hastily kidnapped by the evil General Onox. Her true identity is revealed to be the Oracle of Seasons, who went into hiding with a troupe of Hyrulean knights after Princess Zelda felt a presence of evil looming over her kingdom.

 

In a matter of minutes, the introduction is over—no tutorial, no elaborate set-up to establish characters, and no needless hand-holding. Impa tells you that the Temple of Seasons has been cast into the earth by Onox, the seasons have spiraled into chaos – and that you must consult the great Maku tree for guidance regarding what you need to do to restore order to the world of Holodrum.

 

The originality of the seasons mechanic is staggering—as you make your way through the game, you’ll gain the power to change the seasons by visiting their respective spirits who are housed in the now subterranean Temple of Seasons. By swinging the rod of seasons upon a tree stump, you can call forth the biting chill of winter or nurturing winds of spring to unlock previously unexplored areas. Snow will pile up and let you access higher ground, while the summer heat will dry up creeks and cause climbable vines to grow rampantly. Oracle of Seasons gives you the power to access all four seasons by the end of the fourth temple—it devotes itself to the mechanic, and the results are extraordinary.

 

Even in a two-dimensional plane, the world of Holodrum feels rich and alive. Finding patches where Gasha seeds (which produce magic rings and heart pieces among other things) can be planted, or areas where heart pieces are hidden, are enough to inspire you to search every nook and cranny of Holodrum’s overworld. The seasons mechanic alone had me wishing that Nintendo went the extra mile to make the Oracles games 3D classics instead of direct ports. I’ll even go a step further and say that, more so than Majora’s Mask, the Oracle of Seasons is worth revisiting on a modern console. Game design like this, though, just wouldn’t fly in today’s market.

 

In order to restore order to the seasons of Holodrum, Link must collect eight different “essences of nature” to break the magic barrier protecting Onox’s lair to the north. After collecting an essence, Link will be contacted by the Mako tree and given vague direction on where to go next. How you get there, though, is left to you and you alone. It gives enough direction for the player to not feel overwhelmed by having four different seasons to venture through across a sprawling world map, but still enough freedom to avoid feeling like the game is holding your hand. The direction feels even more natural when, while traveling through Subrosia—a city inhabited by curious, hooded citizens underneath Holodrum—you’re given subtle hints about what’s in store for you future.

 

Although Oracle of Seasons is supposed to be more combat-oriented than Oracle of Ages, it’s still riddled with the kind of confusing puzzles that, when you solve, will have you grinning with satisfaction. One of the first places I explored in Holodrum was the shore, where I met a skeleton pirate (called a “Piratian”) guarding a mysterious wall of skull-shaped buttons that, no matter how hard I tried, I could not open. Discovering the cleverly hidden method by which to unlock the gate on Holodrum’s shore required an eye only weathered Zelda fans will have.

 

Another area that stood out was a booby trap that appears in the Ancient Ruins. After opening a chest containing just one rupee, the surrounding Armos come to life and chase you out of a small enclosure – then, in true Indiana Jones style, you’re cut off by two more armos and forced to enter a room filled with wizrobes. The only way you can get back to the previous room is by defeating them – and your victory yields no reward, only an escape route.

 

All of Seasons’ subtleties are intuitive puzzles wrapped in charm, and make it timeless experience—but the experience wouldn’t be complete without completing a linked game in The Oracle of Ages.

 

The password system has been preserved in the eshop version of the Oracle games, so if you beat one, you can move right on to the other. Taking the password you receive from beating either game to Farore will unlock a variety of new items, characters, and quests for Link to undertake in his second adventure. Some of these events will generate new passwords you can bring back to an old, or new, save file to expand the gameplay in another play through. If you want to bet the real “final boss” of the two oracle games, you’ll need to take full advantage of this password system, otherwise your final struggle will be a futile one.

 

While Oracle of Seasons is a heavyweight in the visuals department, Oracle of Ages focuses primarily on story delivery. In this title, Link is sent to the land of Labrynna to save Nayru, the oracle of ages, who has been possessed by the evil sorceress Veran. To do so, Link is given the harp of ages—a musical instrument that allows Link to travel between the present and the distant past. This concept, you might think, was played out in full in A Link to the Past—but like a fine seamstress, Oracle of Ages uses the thread of time to create its own unique tapestry.

 

The decisions you make in the past will impact the lives of characters you meet (or meet again) in the present. While Seasons had me exploring every corner of Holodrum’s changing wilderness, Ages sucked me into its narrative. It introduces a small cast of characters and sticks with them, so the journey through Labrynna is far less solemn than the one through Holodrum and Subrosia. I was eagerly awaiting jumps into the distant past to see how my actions would affect the story in the present.  Moreover, all of the item counterparts (like the seed launcher as opposed to the slingshot) always find a different way to be utilized.

 

Food For Thought:

 

1. To summarize, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons easily houses the most impressive mechanic of any to-down Zelda game to date. If Nintendo was brave enough, it might even be worth reviving in a future console installment.

 

2. Although I played Oracle of Seasons first, I recommend making Oracle of Ages your first adventure. The story of Seasons isn’t inadequate in any way, but, it is fairly more straightforward than that of Ages’. Playing a linked Seasons game will make the charming encounters you have with characters even more memorable.

 

3. Although Seasons takes place in Holodrum, a land thought to be foreign to Hyrule, the spirit of fall refers to the “great calamity” that’s befallen Holodrum as a “dark cloud over the land of Hyrule,” so maybe there’s some connection between the two?

 

4. The game makes several nods towards Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, and they never feel of place, even with a graphical downgrade. The Oracle games are a perfect example of how an idea can be more powerful than its presentation.

 



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  • Hinataharem

    This sums up how I feel about these games. Yeah, the flashy 3D games are great, but these are gems of their own.

  • Tom_Phoenix

    “Game design like this, though, just wouldn’t fly in today’s market.”

    I think you’d be suprised what kind of game design could fly in today’s market.

    • Robgoro

      That is not to say that I don’t LOVE what the Oracle games bring to the table! The market is certainly there to tap into, the problem though, I think, is that publishers don’t see those markets and developers know that trying to bring them to the spotlight is hopeless. I’d be the first to jump on the hype wagon if we saw a game that didn’t hold your hand through the first few hours, or a game that wasn’t afraid to completely and utterly stump it’s players!

      • Armane

        “a game that wasn’t afraid to completely and utterly stump it’s players!”
        Are we still talking about Zelda here? Because I don’t remember that happening outside of a few moments where saving and quitting in a dungeon could lead to frustration later (Forest Temple in OoT – key at the beginning up a tree is easily overlooked if you think you have it already; Eagle’s Tower in LA – you could place the wrecking ball in awkward to reach areas).

        • Robgoro

          I think that the comparison was meant to target the now ever-present trend of including an elaborated “guide” or “hint” system for players who don’t like having to figure out complicated puzzles themselves. Even when OoT came out in 1998, the gaming environment had more trust in the player’s ability and wasn’t thinking about how that might complicate marketing it to wider audiences. The quality of puzzles hasn’t gone down, but they have seemed remarkably less challenging than they were in Seasons or Ages. The way top-down solutions work, though, are much different than those of three dimensional one’s – so there’s that divide as well.

          • Armane

            I disagree that the quality of puzzles hasn’t gone down, but then I’d argue the challenge of a puzzle is part of it’s quality.

            I feel one of the main problems Zelda has is legacy. OoT had a bunch of new mechanics for the series and were creative with their usage. Firing arrows in 3D is pretty cool, but firing an arrow through a torch to light the arrow to start a fire is genius. I’d argue the Oracles were the last games that had that same inventiveness. Outside of a few moments of ingenuity, the series has suffered from redundancy and repetition since then.

  • dragoon_slayer12

    These two are hands down one of my favorites in the series (1st is LttP). I like Ages more because of the difficulty, but the season aspect of, um, Seasons is what really makes it memorable. When I got them day one back in the day, I beat them back to back in both orders so I could get the full experience. I think the eShop should have opened with these instead of Link’s Awakening

  • LunarKnite

    While I’ve really gotten nowhere with the 3D Zelda games, I absolutely adore the Oracle games. Link’s Awakening is my favorite, and these two just add to the legacy of great top-down Zelda games. I still have the original cartridges, but I bought them on the 3DS as soon as they were on the eShop.

  • Chim_era

    I remember them. They were my first real game. I first got Oracle of ages, and I recal being in total awe of the opening clip where nayru sings. I was 11 years old at the time and had never touched a computer so I really watched that clip a 100 times. I bought seasons just for the clip with Din :p
    However I never got to finish the games. I remember being stuck in a dungeon with a hidden wall. It wasn’t until Golden Sun that I became fanatic in playing games but now is a good time to revisit the oracles I think :)
    11 years later, double the age :D

    • Juan Pablo Fernandez

      are you me, pal? i feel in love with this game the instant i played them in my emulator!

  • Guilherme Matheus Silva

    I’m playing both Oracle games in my 3DS right now! Amazing games!

  • Ben Sylvia

    First Zelda’s I ever played, finally managed to truly beat them.

    Now to play them the other way around XD

    But truly, my favorite tool in either of them was the Magnetic Gloves, probably the one item I want more than any other in a console Zelda. And I wish they’d bring the Subrosians back for another game.

    And Ages’ 8th dungeon has sexy floor tiles. XD

  • brian

    I’m noticing some new names at the tops of these articles.
    Most recently that come to mind are Robert and Sato, though I’ve never seen anyone in the comments with those names.
    Could be remembering wrong, but I saw a page with all the staff members you guys had and now I can’t seem to find it.

    • M’iau M’iaut

      We have indeed brought on some new writers — yes the staff page needs updated, but trust me you don’t want to know a thing about me or Drakos.

    • Robgoro

      I do indeed represent some of the new blood on Siliconera. I believe I signed on just two months ago in April. It’s not a very valid substitution for a short bio, but you’re welcome to come on over to my Twitter (@robgoro), or check out some of the stuff I’ve done for Zelda Dungeon if you care to know more about me (their employee page is also lacking, but the bottom of each article should contain a brief bio for the writers) :)

  • kmantle

    Hey! I still have those games! My brother and I got them for Christmas when they were just released (my brother got ages, I got seasons). Excellent games, never knew they were overlooked.

    By the way, can someone explain me this? I have 14 hearts AND 3 pieces of heart. Is there a 4th piece/ 15th heart?

    • Bacon_n_Lettuce

      I’m pretty sure there’s 16 hearts total. If you’re playing a password linked game, you should have started with 4 hearts, and in addition to the 8 you get from bosses, there are 12 heart pieces (so 3 hearts) in addition to a full heart container you get in one of the password unlocked sidequests. I don’t know which quests you may have missed, but you’re not done yet!

      • kmantle

        Wow, 12 years later, and I haven’t completed those games.
        Well, I think I have a reason to play them again.

        *after a little trip to gamefaqs*

        “You receive the Hero’s Secret after beating a password “Linked Game.” Using a Hero’s Secret allows you to start a non-Password game with 4 Hearts instead of the usual 3.”

        Season: 1st save file: my 1st playthrough; 2nd savefile: my brother’s linked game; 3rd savefile: my father’s playthrough (non-linked)

        Ages: 1st save file: my brother’s 1st playthrough; 2nd savefile: my linked game; 3rd savefile: my father’s playthrough (non-linked)

        Damn

    • Robgoro
    • komiko12

      You have 8 badges. You can now face the Elite Four! Lol

  • KingGunblader

    I’ve been playing Ages… I still like Seasons better, although that might just be nostalgia. Either way both games are worth playing for $12.

    • Ben Sylvia

      Took me until I was replaying Seasons last week to realize Gnarled Root Dungeon has the same room arrangement as Eagle Dungeon in the original Zelda.

      That’s just sad.

      • Time Sage

        It was orignally going to be a remake of zelda 1.

  • anarchy_panty

    I hold Ages very dear to my heart and I think Seasons is a very solid game, but in what world can a pair of games that sold around 8 million units collectively be considered overlooked or overshadowed? Otherwise, this is a totally excellent article.

    • Robgoro

      Perhaps overlooked is the wrong word. Even though the game sold strong, I have to say that, even as a Zelda fan, I hardly hear Seasons or Ages come up in conversation – let alone Ralph, Labrynna, Holodrum, Subrosia, or any of the games’ elements in general. So, in a sense, perhaps it wasn’t “overlooked” by the critics or the community, but it’s been out of the conversation for so long and came out at a time when so many other conversations were being had that it faded into the dying generation it was born in, with no real chance to break out.

      • anarchy_panty

        That’s a good point, but maybe it’s just among my age group (I think I was in fifth grade when Ages/Seasons dropped), but people around me always bring the duo up whenever Zelda comes up in conversation — and I work at a used games store, so that conversation happens quite a few times each day haha. We can hardly hold on to a copy of either whenever we get them in.

        I can totally see people older than me overlooking the game in light of what was going on around it (PS2! Gamecube! GBA! What, Microsoft is going to release a console!?), but I, and most of my friends, didn’t have time to follow all of that shit, nor the money to buy it. The news on the playground amongst the nerdier crowd was, oh shit, two new Zelda games just dropped at the same time! Who’s buying which one? And then proceeding to play through whichever one you ended up with as fast as you could so you didn’t hold up the guy you were planning on swapping passwords with. Next to Pokemon gen 2, Ages/Seasons are probably the defining games of the GBC era for me and I imagine a lot of people close to my age.

        I’m rambling, but hopefully there’s some slight sliver of a point in all of that lol

  • piichan

    I remember getting Seasons when it was first released. Sadly, I was a kid and didn’t know the difference between a fake and original cart so after a month or so of playing, the battery just died. Never got to finish it so I’ll go ahead and grab it. I love all the handheld zelda games but there’s something about the oracle games that set them apart. Or maybe I was just amazed with the opening movie and event cg that made it special for me, always was a fan pixel art.

  • Krisi92

    The Oracle games are just jaw-droppingly amazing. Everybody should play them.

  • Brimfyre

    I’m loving all the references to the original Zelda games, not just OoT and MM. The first boss in Seasons is the dragon boss from the NES Zelda (yes for shame on me for not knowing his name off the top of my head).

  • James Enk

    never played them so the getting them from the e-shop is very appealing to me

  • https://twitter.com/Ni_Go_Zero_Ichi Project 2501

    Just downloaded both of these games today. If they’re anything like I remember them, they ought to be pretty good.

    …holy shit, the last time I played these games was in 5th grade.

  • Ben Sylvia

    Also, Oracle series Link for Smash Bros. 3DS.

  • fayt255

    Oracle of Ages was the last Zelda game I played. The newer Zelda games just never caught my interest for some reason.

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