Oracle of Seasons was a game my brother and I got for a long car trip one day when we were kids. I can’t say I remembered much about the game except I know we got pretty far in it, and that it was all around a fairly good game. I went back to it recently since I thought it might be worthwhile to clear out my short list of handhelds on the backlog (anything for motivation, of course).
“Fairly good” is selling it short, though. Oracle of Seasons is downright amazing. It takes all of the great things about the previous 2D Zelda titles, sprinkles in a few elements from the 3D titles, and presents itself as a worthy addition to the Zelda franchise. That’s why it comes as a surprise to many people that the game was even developed by Nintendo. It was developed by Capcom.
Now, most gamers remember what happened last time Nintendo trusted the Zelda franchise to a third party (or more like they try not to remember what happened). But Capcom apparently knows their stuff. Together with Nintendo, they stripped the Zelda franchise down to its core mechanics – puzzles and combat – and then split each element into a separate game. Oracle of Seasons emphasized puzzle-solving, while Oracle of Ages emphasized combat. Together they would form two halves of a whole game, with a secret final ending for those who played and beat both (a third game was planned, but never developed).
At the center of Oracle of Season’s puzzle solving is its exploration, which is probably why I love it so much. Games where you are required to keep track of your location are like crack to me. I love exploring. I love reading maps and deciphering where I need to go next. Sometimes I’ll play and game and do nothing but explore for the sake of exploring.
Not surprisingly, Oracle of Season’s map is exceptionally well done. Each area is tightly laid out so that whenever you are exploring a new area, there is only ever one path to follow given Link’s abilities. Later in on the game, once you’ve acquired new items and abilities, you can revisit old areas to find hidden areas and extra heart pieces. Whereas before the map felt restricted, by the end of the game it feels very easy to traverse, so that travelling does not feel like a nuisance once you’ve successfully mastered all of Link’s abilities.
The Rod of Seasons, which enables you to change each area’s season at will, is a big part of this exploration. Each season opens or closes different paths depending upon the circumstances; winter will make trees wither and die, allowing Link to pass by , while summer will dry up lake beds and open new areas. At first you only have the power to change the season to winter, but each acquired season opens new paths that progress the game.
Of course, while the focus of the game is on puzzle solving and exploration, the combat is also quite tricky. The dungeons can be especially challenging, and more than a few times I found myself stuck on a mini-boss or boss battle. The seventh temple specifically proved to be a big obstacle. And the final boss? An absolute nightmare.
Speaking of the final boss, here’s a funny story to go along with this: A few weeks ago I went back to my parent’s house for a quick visit. While I was there I dusted off my long forlorn DS Fatty (for Scribblenauts, which I will be beating shortly) and then quickly checked my basement for our old Gameboy. Our basement used to be our old haunt back when my brother and I were in high school, and it was where we kept all of our consoles and gaming related stuff. I found our old Gameboy Advance SP in the bottom drawer of our game center, Oracle of Seasons still inside, as if one day we unexpectedly put the game down and then never touched our SP ever again.
I flipped it on out of curiosity to see just close we came to beating it. Where did we stop? Yep, the final god damn boss. In fact, compared to how far I was in the emulator at the time, it would have been quicker to continue my old game off the cartridge.
Unfortunately, booting up the SP also made me realize modern handhelds have rendered my eye site nearly useless at such archaic resolutions. The screen felt so small I thought I was going blind from squinting so hard. How did we deal with this stuff as kids? Now I understand why my parents constantly asked me how I could even see my Gameboy screen as a child. I thought they were simply to old to understand. Now I know that they were old and smart enough not to hurt their eyes simply trying to play a game. So I stuck with the emulator and all of its modern conveniences and called it a day.
I think it’s fair to say that one day I will probably play Oracle of Ages, but just not now. You need to take a break between games when you play too many of one type. It simply becomes too cloying and tiresome. But that’s okay, because I have a crapton more finished games I still have to get writing about (Duke Nukem 3D and Call of Duty coming soon). Check back soon!