Developer: Capcom / Publisher: Nintendo / Played on: 3DS / Price: $5.99 each / ESRB: Everyone [Mild Violence]
Editor’s Note: The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages review does not include a score. Because these two games have not fundamentally changed since their release on previous platforms, scoring didn’t seem appropriate.
Nintendo’s Virtual Console is a brilliant platform that provides today’s generation of gamers access to video games from yesteryear. One of the best aspects of this service is the privilege to play some of Nintendo’s classic games, and now, gamers have access to two of the better games in the timeless Legend of Zelda series: the Game Boy Color titles Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages.
The two games are unique to the Zelda franchise. Both games are great individual Zelda adventures on their own, but together they form a much bigger title that rivals the experience you receive playing one of the console games (Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, etc.).
Originally released on the Game Boy Color in 2001, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages aren’t as complex as current iterations of the series. The top-down perspective is reminiscent of the very first Legend of Zelda on the NES. You explore the land screen by screen, discovering useful items like the slingshot and feather to aid you in your journey, as well as unraveling the secrets of eight dungeons that must be conquered if Link is to emerge victorious. In terms of gameplay it’s everything you’d expect from a portable Zelda game, Link’s Awakening DX as the most recent example (which also happened to receive a 3DS Virtual Console release).
The story of Oracle of Seasons has Link on a quest to rescue Din, the actual Oracle of Seasons, who has been kidnapped by the mysterious Onox. In Oracle of Ages, Link discovers that the sorceress Veran has possessed Nayru, the Oracle of Ages, and intends to use the oracle’s powers over time to rise to power. Both plots feature unique dungeons, enemies, characters, bosses, and in some cases, items, making the two games individually enjoyable. However, if you choose to play both you’re given a special code at the end of whichever game you finish first that you then enter at the beginning of the next game. By doing so you unlock extra items as well as discover the true ending to the games. Thus, by linking these two games together, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages form a special entry unlike any other in the series, handheld or otherwise..
There are special items unique to each game: the Rod of Seasons and the Harp of Ages. Naturally, the Rod of Seasons appears only in Oracle of Seasons and grants Link the ability to change from one season to the next. Switching seasons greatly alters the landscape and environment: a previously impassible lake may freeze and become traversable in the winter, vines and flowers rise up in the spring leading to new areas, and so on. I was surprised by how well these puzzles held up today, and caught myself scratching my head multiple times trying to figure out where to go next. The Harp of Ages (only available in Oracle of Ages) works in a similar vein, but instead transports Link back and forth between the past and present. Akin to the light and dark world gameplay of A Link to the Past, the two versions of the land feature unique terrain that Link can use to his advantage. For example an entrance to a dungeon may seem unreachable in the present but traveling to the past reveals its entrance. These two elements are core to the Oracle series and remain the best parts of the game that Zelda fans will surely enjoy, whether it’s their first time playing or not.
The Oracle games have a great deal in common with Link’s Awakening, or more specifically the Game Boy Color enhanced remake Link’s Awakening DX, given the borrowed art direction. Many of the character animations, backgrounds, enemies, items, and even Link himself are lifted from the previous game. I’m not going to sit here and knock a 12-year-old game’s visuals, instead I’ll point out the beautiful-for-the-Game-Boy-Color cutscenes in each game. The stylized graphics are a departure from previous Zelda games, but the excellent use of the limited color palette gives each character personality.
The controls for each game are great, which they damn well better be since it’s just two action buttons and the d-pad. The only portion of the game that takes some getting used to are the occasional side scrolling levels (again first seen in Link’s Awakening) which shifts the camera from a top-down perspective to a side view. In these sections Link has to jump across gaps and onto platforms; a drastically different scenario from the rest of the game. It can be awkward to adjust to the shift in gameplay but it’s a minor fault to another unique aspect for the whole series.
The soundtrack is a wonderful rendition of old school beats and MIDI files that resemble familiar Zelda tunes. The overworld music and a handful of the brooding songs that play in the dungeons (more so in Oracle of Seasons I found) are a joy to listen to. Most sound effects like sword slashes and that incessant beeping when you’re low on life are par for the course with the other Zelda titles.
Being a 3DS port the games did go through a few changes. The 3DS’ Virtual Console allows the use of save states, meaning you can save the game through the 3DS’ memory, turn off the console or play another game entirely, then load your game back up at the exact point you created the save state. This is a tremendous alternative to using the in-game save feature, which starts you back at a designated location. That said, there is disadvantage that comes with the port. When the original games were played on the Game Boy Advance a special GBA-only shop would open up that allowed Link to purchase a few special items. As far as I can tell this shop is not present in these newer versions. Considering this additional shop serves no purpose other than providing Link with nonessential items it can be largely omitted as a fault of the game, but it’s worth noting.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages are two of the Zelda series’ more interesting titles, but I feel that their release late into the lifecycle of the Game Boy Color skewed some gamers from thoroughly enjoying them. All of that ends now that the duo of games is available on the 3DS’ Virtual Console. Old and new Zelda fans alike have little reason not to download these two games; even twelve years after their release I’d happily play these games to hold me over until the next installment of the series arrives.