Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages

Almost a year after its release, buying a Nintendo Switch is not a casual process. After several months of questing, I was finally able to find one on Amazon. I decided that it was worth the hefty price markup, so I went ahead and bought it. And now I have a Switch!

One of the reasons why it took me so long to bite the bullet and order a console is because I have a long backlog of games I’ve purchased and downloaded but never finished. Part of my annual New Year cleaning ritual is to delete these games and then forget about them, but one of the games it seemed like a shame to just get rid of was the half-finished copy of Oracle of Ages I had downloaded onto my Nintendo 3DS. Although I’ve played the game several times before, I began this playthrough of Oracle of Ages over the summer in a state of postgame euphoria after finishing Link’s Awakening, and I needed something to take with me on a trip to Europe.

So I boarded the plane, turned on my Nintendo 3DS, and launched the game…

…and this is when I remembered that Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages are my least favorite Zelda games.

The primary reason I dislike Seasons and Ages is that they both include multiple gameplay elements hinder the player’s sense of flow. In most Zelda games, Link becomes increasingly capable of overcoming the challenges presented by his environment as he acquires more tools and knowledge. By the end of the game, Link is free to go anywhere and do anything, which gives the player a sense of empowerment and mastery. Moreover, since the player is no longer stymied by small obstacles, she is free to embark on a deeper level of exploration. This is unfortunately not the case in Seasons and Ages.

Let me give a specific example from Oracle of Seasons. Fairly early in the game, on the way to the third dungeon, Link befriends a boxing kangaroo named Ricky, who can hop over large holes in the ground and leap up certain cliffs. Immediately before the specific cliff Ricky needs to scale, there is a lone house containing a woman who forms a link in the chain of the game’s trading sequence. If Link jumps out of Ricky’s pouch and enters the house, however, Ricky will be gone when he comes out. Because several pits lie between Link’s location and Ricky’s grove, Link can’t simply return to the screen where he originally encountered Ricky. Instead, he has find a way to change the season to winter so that snow drifts will have piled up over the otherwise impassable holes. According to several walkthroughs I’ve consulted, this apparently gives many players (including myself) trouble because the snowdrift mechanic has not yet been introduced and is only really useful in this particular series of screens.

Both games are full of arbitrary overworld puzzles like this, and the player must repeatedly make her way through the same ones if she wishes to navigate their maps on foot. A quick travel mechanic (in the form of Gale Seeds) is available, but this discourages exploration and has made my own experiences with the games resemble a series of chores to check off a list.

I also find the (mostly) randomly generated rings that Link can collect to be not only useless but also a taunt to the player’s sense of progress, as it’s impossible that any sane person unwilling to devote dozens of extra hours would be able to obtain more than a small fraction of them, even with the rings from one game linked over to the other. As far as “replay value” gimmicks go, this type of randomized collection is particularly obnoxious.

The two Oracle games strike me as a cash grab on the popularity of the Pokémon franchise right as the Game Boy Color was at the tail end of its life. I get the feeling that Capcom didn’t have a lot of oversight from Nintendo, especially with the main Zelda team enmeshed in the development hell that ultimately resulted in The Wind Waker. Although they contain clever references to the original 1986 The Legend of Zelda game, I find Seasons and Ages to be lacking in the smooth and ergonomic game design that characterizes the series. I used to wonder why there aren’t more Zelda clones out there, since it seems as if the mechanics would be fairly easy to duplicate, but Seasons and Ages proved to me that mechanics alone do not make a Zelda game.

Still, I will admit to being moved by the scene proceeding the final battle of the linked game, in which Ganondorf’s adoptive mothers, the witches Kotake and Koume, sacrifice themselves to resurrect him. According to Hyrule Historia, the ritual is improperly performed, and Ganon is “resurrected as a mindless beast.” Aside from the tragedy of Ganon’s situation, however, I’m not a huge fan of the stories of the Oracle games, and none of their characters are particularly memorable. To be honest, I vastly prefer the humor and worldbuilding of Akira Himekawa’s manga adaptations to actually playing the games.

Perhaps the best thing about Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages is that they served as a training ground for their director, writer, and scenario planner Hidemaro Fujibayashi, who would of course go on to serve as the director for Breath of the Wild. I guess the moral of this story is that, even if you produce something that has major problems, you can still learn from your mistakes and keep going. After about twenty days of owning a Switch, I’ve already put more than a hundred hours into Breath of the Wild, and it’s still hard for me to believe that this game was created by the same person responsible for that Game Boy Color game on my Nintendo 3DS that I suppose I will eventually be able to bring myself to finish at some point.

( Header image by Sarlisart on Tumblr )