One day, Link finds himself drawn to the Temple where the Triforce is kept. Upon approaching it, he hears a distant voice: “Accept our quest, hero.” Then he finds himself in a new land, far away from Hyrule. There he meets the Oracle, a young woman masquerading as a performer. But while he’s enjoying her performance, a villain appears to whisk her away. Link fails to save her, and Impa blames herself. So Link seeks the Maku Tree, who sends him out to find the Eight Essences and save the Oracle…
I could have been describing either of two games in the Legend of Zelda series just now: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons. They’re the closest pairing of games since Pokemon Red and Blue, and yet unlike most other games released in that way, they’re more than just the same game with some minor changes along the way: they’re two entirely different adventures.
In Oracle of Ages, Link meets Nayru, a singer with the ability to travel through time. But when the sorceress Veran possesses her, the past is suddenly under attack. She gets in with a queen named Ambi, and convinces her to build a tower up into the sky, 400 years in the past. (Somehow this tower grows over the course of the game even in the present. Don’t ask me why.) After the first dungeon, Link will obtain the Harp of Ages, allowing him to travel through time himself and fight Veran throughout the two ages of the game.
Of the two, Ages comes across as the “smarter” of the two games. It has a more involved and complex storyline, and the dungeons are more puzzle-based. It features rising and falling walls, rooms in which you must find the perfect path in order to walk on every tile exactly once, and other big stumpers. In fact, even the boss of the fifth dungeon is a puzzle! Outside the dungeons, you’ll still have to put some thought into when to switch between past and present, as the lay of the land changes and you may have to get items to bring over to the other age. Everything you do in this game is dependent on your brain work. (That is, if you’re not busy with one of the many minigames.)
Oracle of Seasons, as you might guess, offers Link the ability to change the seasons. This ability comes from the Rod of Seasons, an item once possessed by the dancer Din. She’s kidnapped and trapped in a crystal (sound familiar?) by the hulking, armored General Onox. You’ll have to use snow drifts, fallen leaves, special flower blooms, and dried-up lakes as paths. The season-changing mechanic isn’t quite as heavy as the time-travel one—you’ll never use it mid-dungeon—but it’s still a major theme in the game, and each season has a distinct feel to it. Also, where Ages has a separate map for the Past era, Seasons features an alternate world called Subrosia located in the crust of the earth. It’s filled with lava and inhabited by the robed Subrosians, who in my personal opinion are some of the most lovable creatures in the series.
In contrast to its buddy, Oracle of Seasons is more action-oriented. You’ll spend more time running, jumping, and fighting enemies. There are a lot of timed challenges in the game, and the bosses are tougher. That is to say, tougher versions of old bosses. Except for the 8th, every dungeon brings back a boss from an older game, but most are equipped with new attacks and new weaknesses. It fits in with this game’s tendency to reference older games in the series. Heck, you can hardly walk out of town without finding a tree to burn that hides an old man—who will either give you Rupees or steal them from you, just like old times.
The one game that both are most reminiscent of, though, is the other Gameboy Color title, Link’s Awakening DX. Both carry on its basic graphics, gameplay and music–I suspect they’re even built on its engine. Visually they can seem nearly identical to it, although each game does have a variety of color palettes for different variants of screens—past, present, and the four seasons. Basic tunes, such as the overworld, houses, and caves, are recycled, while the boss theme has been converted for miniboss battles instead. On the other hand, every city, dungeon, and special region in each game has its own unique song (Lynna City, the hub of Oracle of Ages, even has two).
Of course, part of the charm of the games is the ability to link them. You can play in either order, but once you’ve finished one, you’ll get a password that allows you to start a special file on the other. From that moment on, your games will be linked. The story of each game changes slightly to pick up right where you left off, and you’ll meet characters that decided to travel between the realms. Some extra characters will give you “secrets,” more passwords that you can take back to the first game you played. At that point you’ll be given some special reward, like a Heart Container or major upgrade, sometimes upon completing a minigame. You can then transfer that reward over to the other game and continue on your quest.
There are special events that come up throughout the story, too. Although Nintendo did hint at this part of the plot in the reveal of the two games, it’s still a SPOILER, so if you’d like to read about it please highlight the rest of this paragraph.Zelda will show up in the second land you come to save, and get herself kidnapped once or twice along the way. When you go to meet the normal final boss of the second game, she’ll be taken for real–this time by Twinrova. The classic witches have been using Veran and Onox all along in order to light their dark flames and revive Ganon. After defeating the original boss of the game and saving the Oracle, you’ll see both of them, and they’ll send you on your final quest to save Zelda. END SPOILER
Needless to say, neither game can truly be complete without the other. Even switching the order you play the games in can give you a new experience–a huge boost for replay value. If you beat one game and don’t continue on to the true ending in the other, you’ll find that things are clearly unresolved. But what if you absolutely, for some horrifying reason, can only play one? Which one should you choose? Well, for lack of a better answer, both games are amazing and they defy comparison. I suppose, if I had a gun to my head, you might hear me whisper, “Seasons…” But I’d probably regret saying that, because Oracle of Ages really is equally good.
Some of you will get the chance to grab these games for the first time on May 30th when they come to the Nintendo 3DS eShop. I definitely suggest you do, because for the rest of us they hold a lot of memories. Since I couldn’t give you enough of those memories in the review alone, I’d like to offer some of them through these last few screenshots.
Review copy supplied by the author.