I've covered Zelda 1, The Adventure of Link, Link to the Past, Link's Awakening, and Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. This post will cover the two Game Boy Color Zelda games, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons.
7. Oracle of Ages (2001)
I've never played either of the Oracle games before. Or at least, not enough to have experience with them or memories of them. I came close to owning them a few times when I was younger, but it never quite came together. This Zelda revisit was as good an excuse as any to finally make it happen.
Oracle of Ages definitely seems inspired by Link's Awakening, though some of that is more platform than design choice. Ages (and Seasons) share the two-button item system that LA introduced. The world map divided into grid squares from LA makes a return. Ages expands on the concept a bit, because there are two ages you can swap between and therefore two different world maps. The graphic styles of the two games are very similar, though I'm sure that's more due to them being two Game Boy Color games than anything else. It's a small thing, but Link's Awakening and the Oracle games also share a compass that announces when small keys are in a room. It's a welcome addition, and it's absent from every other Zelda game. It makes sense that the Oracle games would use Link's Awakening as a template - there's really nothing else quite as suited for the platform to base them on.
I really like the time-jumping mechanic in Oracle of Ages, and how it grows in power over time. At first, you can only travel through time by activating one-way portals and using them. You need to travel through time, so you're dependent on the portals and advancing in the game revolves around finding where they're located. Later, you're able to jump to the present whenever you want, but you're still dependent on where the portals to the past are, because you will have to go back at some point. This maps almost identically to the way jumping between the Dark and Light Worlds in Link to the Past worked.
I found in that game that I was motivated to try jumping to the present in weird places to see what would happen, and I found that helped me get around obstacles here, as well. Finally, you get the ability to jump from past to present and present to past whenever you want. It felt incredibly powerful, after spending most of the game being limited in when I could jump around in time. I went back to areas where I could only navigate in the past or only navigate in the present, to show off that now I could go wherever I wanted. I got to see what all the squares looked like in both eras. Getting across the world and getting missing collectibles was suddenly much faster, because I could just play the harp and get around whatever was in my way. The game still had a few surprises for me, though. You can't travel to the area around the last dungeon from the present - there's a weird effect on the screen, and you're sent back. I spent a bunch of time wondering what that was about after I tried traveling there. You're not free of puzzles as soon as you have a fully powered Harp, either. To get to Zora Village, you need the fully powered harp, because you have to travel back and forth through time across several islands. I'm glad the game still has ways to test you even after making you as powerful as you can be.
The NPCs in this game manage to add a lot of personality with very little dialogue. I felt compelled to talk to every NPC, because most of them would have a funny line or two. Many were part of the trading quest, and I'd talk to everyone to see if they wanted what I had in exchange for an entertaining cutscene and the next item in the trading quest. I'm no Tingle fan, but he manages to pack his entire goofy personality from Majora's Mask into a small sprite, and he brightens up his corner of the map. My favorite example, and favorite NPC, is Maple. You run into her once, and she's upset with you and does her best to pick up what she dropped. Her dialogue changes when you run into her again. After a while, she's used to bumping into you all the time, and it just becomes a game to see who can get more items. If she wins, she gloats; if you win, she swears revenge. There's even a bit of progression there - if she gets enough of your money, she'll upgrade from a broom to a vacuum cleaner. If you play a linked game, you can even see her upgrade to a UFO.
I like the Maku Tree in Ages, but only because she's the most anime character I've ever seen in a Zelda game.
The animal friends are a lot of fun. I really enjoyed interacting with them - I wasn't just waiting for their scenes to end so that I could move on. Each section with an animal friend was a few minutes where I got to feel invincible. They all make short work of enemies, and they all let you cross areas you'd have no hope of crossing on your own. I was really happy when the whistle I'd purchased on a hunch got me Dimitri as a permanent companion. I later learned that there are three different ways you can get that whistle, to match the three different animal friends, and that a part of the map changes entirely to match the companion you ended up with. This is really cool! Branching choices like this aren't really a thing you see in Zelda. It really makes it feel like you're driving the story when you can make a choice, and see it have a solid effect on the world.
I like the new weapons and items this game introduces. The seeds are kind of cool, and having them introduced slowly to the player builds up anticipation about what you're going to get next. The seed shooter makes them much cooler - it provides you with a fire rod and ranged stun weapon and ranged magic seed shooter in one weapon, assuming you've got enough ammo. I enjoyed it as a puzzle-solver in dungeons, especially when I had to make trick shots with it. I was taken completely by surprise with the switchshot, and it might be one of my favorite Zelda items. It creates so many interesting puzzles, including some immediately after you pick it up. Zelda games generally seem to recycle the "traditional" set of weapons (sword, shield, boomerang, bow, bombs, hookshot) with a few new ones thrown in from time to time (Wind Waker's Grappling Hook and Deku Leaf, the Bellows in Skyward Sword). I'm glad Oracle of Ages is a bit more creative.
The music in this game is fantastic. I think most of what I like about it is due to the Game Boy hardware, so I don't really have anything to add past what I said for Link's Awakening. I loved every track, even the ones that looped endlessly in dungeons.
There's a lot of inspiration from Zelda 1 here. The enemies, as always, date back to Zelda 1 originally, but in this 2D style they look a lot more like the originals. There's also enemies here that haven't made it to most games in the franchise, or show up in very different forms. Floormasters in this game look just like the Zelda 1 versions, not like the versions in Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask that move around and attack, or the longer-armed versions in Wind Waker. Ghini show up in this game, and are again identical to their Zelda 1 versions Lynels are in the two Oracle games, Zelda 1, Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds, and no other games. The Oracle games were originally meant as a remake of the first Zelda game, and directly pulling Zelda 1 enemies really helps sell that.
The cutscenes add a lot to the game, even if there aren't that many. They look very different from the rest of the game (being pictures, not sprites), but they still fit well in the style of the game. They tell interesting story beats. The intro cinematic looks really cool and got me excited to play before I had even begun. The credits scenes showing all the things people are doing now that you Saved the Day are fun and touching. I particularly like how the credits mix sprite animations and then still images of what's going on (though, unfortunately, I didn't think to grab pictures of the sprites in the credits).
I had a lot of fun playing Oracle of Ages, and I'm glad I finally got around to playing it.
8. Oracle of Seasons (2001)
This game, like Oracle of Ages, has a very heavy Zelda 1 heritage. It has most of the same enemies as Oracle of Ages, but has Goriyas as well, which show up in very few games. The first dungeon is basically a porting of Level 1 - "Eagle" - from Zelda 1, including the entrance, the layout, the old man with hints, the enemies, and even the boss. Porting enemies, like Ages does, is a pretty good way to do a re-imagining of Zelda 1, but porting a whole dungeon really drives the point home. I'm very glad I have Zelda 1 fresh enough in my mind to fully appreciate this.
This game matches Oracle of Ages' cutscene bar. Right at the start of the game I got a little picture of Din and Link dancing, bookended by little sprites spinning around, and it made me laugh out loud.
I was impressed with how, when I started a linked Seasons game, the changes from linking immediately took effect. There was an intro scene immediately with Twinrova, and the first dialogue I had with an NPC talked about how I had already saved Labrynna. The volume of little changes make it really feel like I was playing a proper sequel, and not something that had changed to pretend to be one, based on my actions. The secrets are wonderful. They're spread out nicely - not all at the beginning, and not all at the end. I'd find some random house in an area I hadn't been able to explore yet, and a random NPC would tell me "Hey, I have a secret for you". I swapped the game over, went to the place in Ages I needed to go, and got my reward. They weren't even all trivial rewards, either - the first secret I brought back gave me a heart container. I was sure I had all heart containers, so it was a really big (though pleasant) surprise to find out that I could get more. I'm glad that you get to bring every item-upgrade secret back to the linked game, as well. I also appreciate that they all get recorded, so that you can check your progress against a guide, or look up codes if you forget them.
Seasons, like Ages, has some clever new items. My favorite was the magnetic glove. Like the Switchshot, it was a total surprise to get, and immediately led to some really neat puzzles. It also felt really action-y - I didn't just have to figure out puzzles with it, I had to be a bit careful on the execution to not fall into pits. I fell into a lot of pits.
I like Subrosia as a region you periodically return to and explore more of. I was excited to explore it just because it was there, and I could, like the overworld. Tying season access to coming back to Subrosia with new items just gave me more reason to explore. I was never taken by surprise when I was getting a new season, because I would get stuck and then see a Subrosia portal, but it was still very exciting. It's not common in Zelda to have an area you have to return to over and over again, maybe because it's easy for that to become boring. I know Phantom Hourglass had an area you had to return to periodically, but my memories are too faint to really dig into it here. I wouldn't mind seeing this kind of area in another Zelda game.
The seasons-changing ability in Oracle of Seasons is definitely very different than the ages-changing ability on Oracle of Ages. Having to use a stump to change seasons is mildly annoying, but it makes for interesting puzzles, because you can't always just stand in front of obstacles and season-change them away. Ages had a half step upgrade for the Harp of Ages - you could go to the present whenever you wanted, but the game controlled when you could go to the past. Seasons can't really do that to you. Once you have Winter in the Rod of Seasons, you can make it Winter whenever you like. Maybe that's the reasoning behind putting the stumps in, to give the game some control over when you can use your powers.
After I played Oracle of Ages, and saw how dramatically areas could change when you moved from past to present, I wondered how that would translate to Seasons. The grid squares definitely don't change as much in Seasons. Ages squares could radically change when you went to the past - whole islands would move around, forests became open town, oceans dried up. There's just a few rules about what can change in Seasons - snow appears, water freezes, leaves fall. The changes are more subtle, but I think the four seasons to two ages balance well enough to make using your magic powers compelling in both games.
Two Zelda games in a row with the same tech and style is pretty cool. The two Oracle games have the same look - you could easily mistake screenshots between them, and they're meant to be similar and play off of each other. This isn't very common with Zelda games. Ocarina and Majora's Mask line up similarly, as do Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks borrow elements from Wind Waker's style, and Link's Awakening resembles the Oracle games, but that's not quite the same thing. Most Zelda games differ significantly from the ones before or after, so it's cool to see some that match more closely.
I enjoyed Seasons. It was a fun game, and I think it helped that I played a linked game and got to see the "full story" between the two Oracle games.
That's it for the two Oracles. As always, thanks for reading. Next post will be on The Wind Waker, and possibly The Minish Cap, depending on how things works out.