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‘Ocarina of Time 3D’ – Good Game Design Doesn’t Age

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“Time passes, People move. Like a river’s flow, it never ends.”

Everything shows its age, but good game design is good forever. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time could release in any generation and still resonate with a massive audience. An epic spanning the course of seven years, audiences become the Hero of Time as they fight to save Hyrule from an apocalyptic future. Ocarina of Time’s design philosophy is timeless, to the point where virtually all modern 3D games build off the foundation that the first 3D Zelda set. It was Super Mario 64 which ushered in the advent of high-quality 3D gaming, but Ocarina refined 3D to near perfection. Critics in 1998 heralded The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as the future of gaming, and rightfully so. Nostalgia has a way of making us misremember the past as greater than it was, but Ocarina of Time really is that good– a sentiment embodied perfectly by the game’s 2011 3DS remake. 

In reference to Ocarina of Time 3D’s development, Shigeru Miyamoto– Ocarina of Time’s original producer– specifically wanted to avoid remaking the game too soon. Considering the impact Ocarina of Time had at release, it was only understandable Nintendo wanted to ensure any remaster or remake was given similar fanfare. Of course, Ocarina of Time was never going to break new ground twice, but it had earned a level of respect where any attempt at fixing what wasn’t broken would need to be well justified. For Miyamoto, it was only until the Nintendo 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D was a reality where he felt comfortable producing a proper remake. For Ocarina of Time to be revisited, it would need more than just a modern coat of paint. Stereoscopic 3D allowed for Ocarina of Time 3D to not only recapture the thrill of stepping foot on Hyrule Field for the first time but make the experience all the more immersive.

Although even Shigeru Miyamoto now considers the original game’s graphics rough-looking, there is an inherent stylization to Ocarina’s visuals that keeps it aesthetically pleasant two decades after the fact. There has always been a charm to the early 3D aesthetic, and Ocarina of Time’s is right up there with Final Fantasy VII as a noticeably vintage game that looks nice to the trained eye. At the same time, the Nintendo 64 could only showcase so much detail, and Yoshiaki Koizumi’s environmental concept art makes it abundantly clear what was always supposed to be a part of Hyrule but couldn’t be included due to technical limitations.

A washed-out color palette helps convey the Great Deku Tree’s age in-game, but his N64 model lacks the detail of his concept art– the brighter color palette and the livelier expression. Place Ocarina of Time 3D’s Great Deku Tree next to Koizumi’s original art, and it’s as if the Kokiri Patriarch has leaped right off the page. Likewise, Link’s original N64 model doesn’t quite match Yusuke Nakano’s character art for him– as a child or an adult. Between his lack of earrings and missing bandolier, in-game Link is really an approximation of what Nakano envisioned for the character. In contrast, Link’s 3DS model isn’t missing a single detail. Ocarina of Time 3D’s CG aesthetic is a natural translation of Koizumi & Nakano’s art direction. In-game models resemble their concept art shockingly well, and the upgrade in visuals helps give Hyrule & dungeons the greater detail they were always supposed to have. 

Without stereoscopic 3D, there’s no justification in remaking Ocarina of Time. Entering Hyrule Field for the first time was a momentous occasion in 1998, and through the 3DS, Ocarina of Time 3D is able to recapture a modicum of that feeling. As Link makes his way to Hyrule Market, those who have 3D enabled will make witness to a video game sunset unlike any other. The sun’s glare slowly pierces through the screen, a beautiful ripple of light descending as night falls. The Stalchildren come out to play soon after, but those who look up will be greeted to a sky peppered with bright stars. It’s not exactly comparable to experiencing a world like Ocarina’s for the first time in 1998, but the 3D ensures there is still a unique weight to leaving Kokiri Forest for the first time. In reinforcing the game’s atmosphere, Ocarina of Time 3D honors the importance of Hyrule Field in the context of the medium. 

The sun’s glare on the screen puts it all into perspective why Miyamoto wanted to wait to remaster Ocarina. By framing the remake through the immersion added by stereoscopic 3D, Ocarina of Time 3D keeps its original game design intact while avoiding a superficial remake that simply updates the graphics. 3D is an optional feature, but everything in-game plays off 3D remarkably well– to the point the uninformed might even assume OoT’s was designed with stereoscopic 3D in mind. The 3D effects smooth out the visuals and make them crisper, giving Hyrule even more visual detail. Colors pop all the better, making areas like the Sacred Realm and Great Fairy Fountains stand out. NPCs more prominently fill their physical space, lending them a more real presence that incentivizes the player to speak to them more often. Doing so reveals that Ocarina of Time leaves nothing to dumb-luck, filling the script with subtle direction throughout. 

Stereoscopic 3D makes Ocarina of Time more immersive, and deeper immersion allows for us as an audience to piece together what exactly makes the game tick. Complete freedom to explore, caring attention to detail, and strong level geography serve as reminders to the timelessness of good design philosophy. Play through any dungeon with 3D enabled and see just how well-implemented verticality is in the level design. Diving through the Great Deku Tree’s web has a greater impact. Scaling Ganon’s Tower as organ music plays is even more foreboding. Even combat looks better in 3D, with Z-Targeting’s letterbox effect creating visually dynamic battles that are basically theatre in motion. 

Ocarina’s freeform gameplay loop is reflective of its era without showing negative signs of age. If anything, Ocarina of Time’s relative age makes it look better next to modern AAA games. Comparatively small as it may be, Ocarina’s approach to game & level design is almost a lost art. Dungeons paced entirely through visual direction and rhythmic combat that virtually all action games owe their existence to make Ocarina of Time a compelling playthrough in any context. OoT 3D simply trims what rough edges there were to make the game’s strengths all the more noticeable. 

“A feeling in the heart that becomes even stronger through time…”

Ocarina of Time 3D allows us to appreciate what made Ocarina revolutionary in 1998, with game design that’s aged like wine, but OoT did have its own technical and graphical hiccups. As mentioned, the limited power of the Nintendo 64 meant that Hyrule couldn’t be as visually detailed as the environmental concept art depicted. More pressingly, the game ran at a rather uneven 20 frames per second, which is as playable today as it was in ‘98, but slowdown naturally hurts any game. Ocarina of Time 3D stabilizes the frame-rate to a smooth 30 fps without making any major gameplay changes. Or any noticeable changes whatsoever. On a design level, Ocarina of Time and Ocarina of Time 3D are basically 1:1. When taking into account how many remakes tweak combat, it’s worth noting. 

This is game design not only indicative of when OoT was developed but of Nintendo’s talent at the time. There are innovators & geniuses in every generation and to brush off a work of art based on when it was created ignores this very universal truth. Ocarina’s dev team was arguably at the collective height of their careers, at an incredibly important turning point for video gaming as a medium. The level of thought and design work that needed to be put into Ocarina of Time was frankly unprecedented, but it’s the sheer quality of the final product that actually makes it timeless– not the fact Ocarina of Time was once one of a kind. Regarding the nature of Ocarina’s success, Miyamoto said, “The heart of Ocarina of Time lies in what the individual designers composed with the elements produced by the person in charge of writing the story.” Ocarina of Time 3D respects this fact and doesn’t change the core design as a result.

At the same time, OoT 3D naturally comes with its modernizations– particularly when it comes to control. Super Mario 64 was designed with the Nintendo 64 controller in mind, to the point where using an N64 controller is still the definitive way of playing through the game. Mario’s mobility is specifically designed to be as comfortable as possible with the N64’s standard controller, whereas Ocarina of Time’s controls are a bit more forward-thinking. They were still clearly designed with the N64 controller in mind, but controlling Link isn’t half as involved as Mario, allowing OoT’s controls to translate to newer platforms with greater ease than SM64. Ocarina of Time is actually strengthened by leaving the N64 controller behind. 

Thanks to the 3DS’ touch screen, Link can now equip four items at any given time– not including his Ocarina which now has its own dedicated item slot. This naturally allows for more combat variety as players don’t have to waste a slot on the Ocarina, but it’s easy to take for granted just how well the 3DS’ face buttons replace the N64’s C-Buttons. Placed above the A and B buttons on the N64’s face, the C-Buttons keep the transition from swordplay to Link’s other equipment not as intuitive as it should be. Not so with OoT 3D where the face buttons are home to Link’s sword and two of his item slots. It might seem like a superficial difference, but it can’t be denied how much more fluid combat is without the restrictions of the Nintendo 64’s controller. 

Considering Ocarina of Time 3D is the kind of remake that goes so far as to retain bugs present in the original N64 release, one might be correct to assume Grezzo’s MO when developing the remake was to simply add a deeper layer of immersion without compromising the game design. All the same, sensible changes were made in two key areas where Ocarina of Time was arguably always needing them: aiming and the Water Temple. Now, it’s important to clarify that OoT’s first-person aiming isn’t bad, but it’s also not that intuitive. The blue strip on Link’s bow is a fine enough indicator of how to aim, but first-person controls were always too stiff. 

Although stereoscopic 3D was meant to fundamentally change how we play Ocarina of Time, gyroscopic aiming arguably fulfilled this goal for a broader audience. 3D is off-putting by design (to the point Nintendo released a 3D-less 2DS,) but Ocarina of Time 3D’s gyroscopic aiming is too fluid to ignore. The gyroscope gives players access to perfect aim based entirely off their own physicality. One could even argue aiming goes from too stiff to too smooth, allowing Link to snipe enemies from afar with ease– but that goes hand in hand with being the Hero of Time. 

In regards to the Water Temple, needing to equip & unequip the Iron Boots via the menu slows the pacing of an otherwise strong dungeon, which makes it difficult to remember important visual details. The Water Temple is fixed as simply as the Iron Boots being made into a regular item instead of a piece of gear like Link’s Tunics. Now mappable to buttons and equippable in-gameplay, the Iron Boots allow the Water Temple to move at a much faster pace. What was once Ocarina’s low point arguably becomes one of its highs. 

Designed around a water-raising & lowering gimmick, the Water Temple stood out as Ocarina of Time’s most notorious dungeon. Without a clear indication of where Link could toggle the water level, the Water Temple could very easily become confusing– in turn obscuring its mindful level design. The 3DS release remedies this by color-coding the three places where Link can adjust the temple’s water, making navigation far more instinctive. The dungeon’s layered floors are no longer a nuisance, now one of Ocarina’s better setpieces. Water bridges a gap within the Temple’s level geometry that no other dungeon can lay claim to, and turning on 3D helps those important details stick out– the second floor alcove above where Ruto is met, the hidden basement under the central room, Link’s reflection vanishing from the water’s surface right before your showdown with Dark Link. It’s hard not to appreciate the Water Temple now. 

As far as hardware specifics go, the 3DS’ dual screens clean the hud considerably. Ocarina of Time’s hud isn’t cluttered, but moving everything but the mini-map and the action button to the bottom screen is a fantastic touch. It’s almost necessary to make the most out of stereoscopic 3D, but even without the 3D enabled, it’s just nice to get a fuller picture of Hyrule. Being able to access Gear, the Map, and Link’s Item screen with the tap of a thumb is also a godsend compared to the Nintendo 64’s rather slow menu. There’s certainly a charm to Link’s old-school equipment screen, but the practicality of the 3D remodel is too good to pass up. 

“I’ve been waiting for you, Hero of Time…”

Ocarina introduced concepts new for the time, but refined to a point where its roughest edges are well obscured. There’s often a notion in games criticism that the first try is just that, and all subsequent attempts will naturally improve on its predecessor. Taking technological advancements in mind, that makes sense for graphics, but not much else. A reductive way of looking at the medium, this mindset ignores not only the timelessness of strong game design, but that limitations often bolster art. It’s a train of thought that suggests the progression of art is linear, where new pieces of media are better than old– but classics are classics for a reason. No one writes Greek epics anymore, but to deny The Iliad’s literary merit and quality would be silly.

Ocarina of Time was Nintendo’s first real attempt at making a 3D epic, and it understandably isn’t as expansive as later entries like Twilight Princess or Breath of the Wild– but it’s something better: focused. Every aspect of Ocarina’s game design blends together to create one of Nintendo’s finest gameplay loops blending dungeon-crawling, sword fighting, & exploration with a master’s touch. Between solving puzzles and finding secrets, the gameplay is always fulfilling. Another large component of Ocarina of Time’s everlasting success stems from Miyamoto’s rejection of cutting edge graphics being a cinematic boon for the medium. “At the time, the phrase ‘cinematic game’ was used mostly in regard to graphics, but to me, that wasn’t what cinematic really meant. I thought what we should really be learning was how to use camera techniques to explain situations.” 

Even if it doesn’t take a trained eye to see what Miyamoto is saying here in regards to in-game cinematography, Grezzo shines a spotlight on Ocarina of Time’s strong visual storytelling. Hyrule’s creation myth, in particular, is downright mesmerizing. The Golden Goddesses live up to their namesake as they soar through the skies with a heavenly grace; Hyrule’s geographic depth makes the region truly come to life alongside the Deku Tree’s legend; and the Triforce, in all its divine glory, looks just barely out of reach– as if it can truly be possessed by mere man. From every facet of the remake’s design, it’s evident how much attention to detail was given to ensuring stereoscopic 3D was more than just a gimmick, actively benefiting the experience. Yet the most remarkable takeaway is how fun Ocarina of Time remains. 

Still, Grezzo deserves credit for making the most out of a feature few developers seemed to truly care for. The final boss fight has even had its skybox redesigned to better suit stereoscopic 3D, fundamentally changing the atmosphere, but allowing Ocarina of Time 3D to end on its own unique highpoint. More importantly, everything surrounding the final battle has been remade magnificently well. Link’s initial confrontation with Ganondorf looks spectacular in 3D– from the added depth found in the redesigned boss arena to more-detailed character models. Their clandestine tennis match is far more thrilling with tangible depth. 

Between Ganon knocking the Master Sword out of Link’s hands and the Hero of Time landing the finishing blow, it’s amazing to note just how much depth perception can add to a scene, let alone a game. Ganon’s mindless thrashing during the final battle has more weight when his model is coming out the screen, as does Ganondorf’s magic. The redesigned pink sky has its own value, lending the impression Link has been fighting through the night, dawn only breaking at the tipping point. It’s imagery that plays off the dark sky players see before entering the dungeon. Grezzo has offered a new perspective on a classic finale that in no way changes what matters– a philosophy Ocarina of Time 3D proudly embodies from start to finish. 

Rewrapping a Timeless Masterpiece for a Modern Audience

There’s no right or wrong way to remake a game, but Ocarina of Time 3D makes a compelling case for remaining as faithful as possible on a skeletal level while only tweaking what needs to be tweaked. Of course, this methodology only works because OoT 3D’s source material is already so high quality. When it comes down to it, what does the remake really change? Stereoscopic 3D makes Hyrule more immersive, but the core gameplay is fundamentally the same. Gyroscopic aiming is admittedly a bit of a game-changer, but what makes Ocarina of Time 3D legendary is rooted in the 1998 original. 

That said, the fact Grezzo rebuilt Ocarina of Time from the ground up so lovingly– all while improving upon it– mustn’t be ignored. Ocarina of Time 3D is a humbling reminder that even the greatest classics often leave room for improvement. There will always be value in returning to the original Ocarina of Time, just as there will be in returning to Ocarina of Time 3D when another remake inevitably replaces it. One can only hope that whichever dev team tackles the legendary game next approaches it with as much passion & vision as Grezzo did in 2011. Ocarina of Time 3D heightens what was already great about OoT, rewrapping a timeless masterpiece for a modern audience, all while standing as a testament that good game design doesn’t age.

An avid-lover of all things Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, and The Legend of Zelda, Renan spends most of his time passionately raving about Dragon Ball and thinking about how to apply Marxist theory to whatever video game he's currently playing.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Phillip Redman

    May 17, 2020 at 10:51 pm

    This is not an example of good game design. Its aged poorly and it only gets a pass because it is a Zelda title or due to nostalgia.

    • Renan Fontes

      May 18, 2020 at 7:39 am

      Anyone who actually believes this needs to study up on game design.

      • William Eldridge

        May 18, 2020 at 10:27 am

        Anybody that believes you need to “study” to understand game design, needs to stop writing articles on the Internet. Some of the best games ever made were done by people with no formal education regarding game design and a lot of times no education on programming either. Stop acting like understanding games is like some elite club. Anybody can understand games, that is part of their appeal.

        Ocarina of Time was hot garbage when it came out, it was hot garbage when it was remade, and it’s still hot garbage. It can’t hold a candle to the likes of Link to the Past and Link Between Worlds. Also…Marxism? Really? Please move to China so we don’t have to hear from you any more.

        • Renan Fontes

          May 18, 2020 at 12:51 pm

          Credit where credit is due, reading “Anybody can understand games, that is part of their appeal” only for you to immediately follow it up with “Ocarina of Time was hot garbage when it came out” is the most a comment has ever made me laugh.

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Games

‘Oracle of Seasons’: A Game Boy Color Classic

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Oracle of Seasons

“It is an endless cycle of life… the changing seasons!”

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages & Oracle of Seasons are very much two halves of the same grand adventure, but they’re both worth examining on their own merits. Seasons in particular brings with it quite an interesting history. The game that would eventually become Oracle of Seasons began life as a remake of the original Legend of Zelda. This remake would be accompanied by five other games– a remake of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and four original titles– all developed for the Game Boy Color. These games would not be developed by Nintendo themselves, but by Flagship– a subsidiary of Capcom that was also funded in part by Nintendo and Sega.

These six games would eventually be trimmed into a trilogy slated to release in the summer, autumn, & winter of 2000, before settling as a duology that would launch simultaneously in 2001. Where Oracle of Ages was the sole survivor of the four original games, Oracle of Seasons was a brand new game morphed out of the Zelda 1 remake. Considering director Hidemaro Fujibayashi’s own reflection on Flagship’s Zelda proposal, much of what would define Seasons was always present;

 “The core of the game was pretty much decided. That is to say, the fact that it would be on the Game Boy Color, the use of the four seasons, and the decision to retain the feel of the 2D Zelda games. It was also decided that it would be a series.”

Not only was this remake never intended to be a standalone entry, it would kick start its own sub-series while featuring seasons at the forefront of the gameplay. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto likewise asked Fujibayashi to pen a new story for the original Legend of Zelda, suggesting a fairly comprehensive remake as the end goal. With so many inherent changes, however, The Hyrule Fantasy ended up leaving the region altogether. 

“I believe the Zelda series really only started to have scenarios after the hardware specifications improved. The original Zelda was a pure action-RPG and didn’t have much of a story to begin with. I wanted to combine both those aspects (action-RPG and an actual scenario) this time around. At first, we’d only planned on creating a game one-tenth the size of the final version. But it just kept growing as development progressed and gradually turned into an original game.” 
– Hidemaro Fujibayashi, Director/Planner/Scenario Writer

Oracle of Seasons takes after Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask by setting itself away from Hyrule– the kingdom only ever shown during the opening cinematic. Holodrum has one of the densest worlds in a 2D Zelda game, if not the densest after A Link to the Past & A Link Between Worlds. A kingdom geographically similar to Hyrule as seen in the original Legend of Zelda, Holodrum has its own northern mountainside, a final dungeon in the northwest corner, and dozens of old men hidden amongst the land. This all makes sense since Seasons is rooted in a remake of the first game, but it isn’t as if Holodrum is without its novelties. 

Holodrum is distinct from Hyrule where it counts. The kingdom itself is quite large, sprawling when compared directly to Koholint Island. Progression often feels like a puzzle, especially when working around roadblocks early on. Holodrum’s four seasons are out of order, with the weather changing on the fly between regions. Link has to work around snow banks, overgrown trees, flooded fields, and petrified flora to overcome Holodrum’s chaos. As easy as it is to get side tracked in the vast kingdom, it’s only because there always tends to be something around the corner. Getting lost isn’t a problem when the overworld is so secret heavy. 

Old men are frequently found hiding under trees, actually giving players a reason to burn them on sight now, but new systems are in place to make exploration even more rewarding. Link will come across patches of soft soil throughout Holodrum where he can plant Gasha Seeds. Owing their name to gashapon– Japanese capsule toys not too dissimilar to blind bag toys– Gasha Seeds grow into Gasha Trees which bear Gasha Nuts after Link has defeated 40 enemies. Gasha Nut contents are randomized, but they incentivize players to return to previously explored areas. 

Not everything a Gasha Nut drops is worth the effort of chopping down 40 enemies– the worst being five regular hearts and a sole fairy– but the best rewards make it all worthwhile. While the Heart Piece tied to the Nut is probably the best overall get, Gasha Seeds naturally feed into the Ring system. Rings add an inherent RPG layer to the Oracle duology’s gameplay, offering the earliest instance of genuine player customization in the Zelda franchise. Rings, like Gasha Nuts, are completely random. Link will find many in his travels, but he needs to appraise them at Vasu’s ring shop in Horon Village before they can be used. Except in a few rare instances, Vasu’s appraisals are randomized.

There are 64 rings altogether between Seasons and Ages, all with varying effects. Which rings Link obtains can influence how players go about their game. RNG also ensures that each new playthrough is unique from the last. While this poses an obvious frustration for any completionists, it’s a fantastic way of adding another layer of replay value to an already fairly replayable experience. The Expert’s Ring allows Link to punch enemies if he unequips his weapons, the Charge Ring speeds up the Spin Attack, and the Protection Ring makes it so Link always takes one Heart of damage when attacked.

With so many rings to choose from, the gameplay is kept in balance by Link’s Ring Box. Once appraised, Link can equip his rings into his box. While he can only equip one initially, players can find a Box upgrade on Goron Mountain. With RNG already influencing which rings Link has access to, it’s unlikely two players will have the exact same experience in Oracle of Seasons– rings offering more personalization than is still usual for Zelda. Besides Gasha Nuts, Rings can be found in the overworld and dropped by Maple, a young witch who makes further use of RNG. 

Maple is Syrup’s apprentice, the recurring witch who runs the potion shop in A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. Riding in on her broomstick, Maple will appear after Link has killed 30 enemies. Should players bump into her, both Link & Maple will drop their treasures, prompting Maple to race the player for them. It’s almost always worthwhile to focus on what Maple’s dropped rather than what Link lost. Not only does Maple drop her own unique set of rings, she’s a convenient way of getting potions early on and will eventually drop a Heart Piece. Maple also gets progressively faster, upgrading her flying broomstick to a vacuum after enough altercations.

So much RNG can be off-putting, but Holodrum is such an extensive overworld that randomness isn’t much of an issue. Gasha Seeds drive exploration and Maple’s appearances reward it. These systems also encourage players to fight enemies head-on rather than avoid them when it’s convenient. If gameplay ever feels more involved in Oracle of Seasons than the average Zelda game, that’s because it is. This goes double when taking the very seasons into account. 

The four seasons influence overworld progression significantly and most non-dungeon puzzles center on Link using the Rod of Seasons to restore seasonal order to whatever region he’s in. Most of these puzzles solve themselves since seasons can only be changed on stumps, but concessions need to be made when an overworld features four unique versions of every region. Incredible use of the Game Boy Color’s hardware helps in this regard as well. The handheld was designed with making in-game colors pop and Oracle of Seasons– as an extremely late-life GBC game– stands out as one of the most vibrant titles in the system’s library. 

Each season has its own defining color palette– blue for winter, red for summer, green for spring, yellow for autumn– but there is always a wide range of colors on-screen. Winter matches its light blue with shades of white & gray; spring features an almost pastel color tone where gold & pink flowers bloom against soft shades of green; summer deepens most colors for a bolder effect; and autumn offsets its yellow with orange, red, and in some instances purple. Oracle of Seasons might very well have the best atmosphere on the Game Boy Color, each season stylized & recognizable with their own distinct tones. It’s a phenomenal presentation that outdoes OoS’ contemporaries. Seasons outright has better art direction than most early GBA games. 

The fact Oracle of Seasons commits to its premise in such a large overworld as strictly as it does is praiseworthy, but it’s even more impressive that there’s another world lurking underneath Holodrum. Subrosia is a bizarre underworld, easily the most eclectic setting in the franchise other than Termina (and in many respects more so.) Subrosians are culturally impolite, bathe in lava, and deal in Ore instead of Rupees. The Subrosian Market undersells a Heart Piece, volcanic eruptions are a welcome norm, and Link will be moving between Holodrum & Subrosia multiple times over the course of his journey. Players can even go on a date with a Subrosian girl, Rosa, that’s a clear play on his date with Marin from Link’s Awakening. Subrosia is so alien that it’s hard not to love every moment beneath Holodrum.

Beyond the four seasons and the dichotomy between Holodrum & Subrosia, what differentiates Oracle of Seasons most from Oracle of Ages is its focus on action. Seasons is a puzzle heavy game, but it lets combat drive the gameplay more often than not with a very action-centric tool kit. The Slingshot makes its 2D debut, replacing the Bow in the process, but its 250 seed capacity outdoes any of Link’s quivers. Its upgraded version, the Hyper Slingshot, even fires in three directions at once. The Roc’s Feather returns from Link’s Awakening to once again make jumping an important part of Link’s mobility. Not only is platforming far more frequent this time around– with the Ancient Ruins featuring quite a bit of jumping for a 2D dungeon– it upgrades into the Roc’s Cape which allows Link to glide.

The Boomerang now upgrades into a guided Magical Boomerang which players can control themselves; the Magnetic Gloves are ostensibly a better version of the Hookshot which can pull Link to & from magnetic sources, along with magnetizing certain baddies; and most enemies are designed with a combination of the sword & shield in mind. Oracle of Ages has its fair share of action as well, but not with quite the same focus as Oracle of Seasons.

In general, Seasons is a focused video game in the best ways possible. OoS always gives players a general direction to go in, but otherwise leaves Link to his own devices. There are little to no interruptions, and the gameplay loop emphasizes freedom in spite of the game’s linearity. There’s always something to do and you’re always making progress, whether that be narratively or checking in on some Gasha Nuts. The pace is perfectly suited for handheld gaming and quick burst play sessions. Only have a few minutes to play? Kill some enemies to trigger Maple. Got some time? Scope out the next dungeon and work towards saving Holodrum. 

There are also a number of side quests to round off gameplay. The main trading sequence ends with Link finding the Noble Sword in Holodrum’s Lost Woods; players can forge an Iron Shield in Subrosia by smelting red and blue ore together & bringing the refined ore to the Subrosian smithy; and Golden Beasts roam Holodrum, each appearing during a different season & in a set region. Once all four are defeated, Link can find an old man north of Horon Village who will give him the Red Ring– a ring which doubles the Sword’s attack at no expense to the player. 

All these side quests are worthwhile, especially since Oracle of Seasons is a bit on the tougher side when it comes to difficulty. Dungeons are very fast-paced, full of puzzles that are often deceptively simple. Dungeon items are used in increasingly clever ways, from traversing over bottomless pits with strategic use of the Magnetic Gloves to using the Hyper Slingshot to activate three statues at once. Notably, most bosses in Seasons are actually remixes of boss fights from the first Legend of Zelda

Aquamentus, Dodongo, Gohma, Digdogger, Manhandla, and Gleeok all return with a vengeance. Gleeok in particular puts up a serious fight, forcing Link on the offensive. Not only do players need to be quick enough to slice off Gleeok’s two heads before they can attack themselves back on, the dragon will persist as a skeleton for round 2. Explorer’s Crypt is a difficult enough dungeon where getting to the boss room with full health isn’t a guarantee, so Gleeok offers a surprising but welcome challenge as a result. 

Oracle of Seasons deserves a bit of credit for having one of the harder final bosses in the series, as well. Onox doesn’t have much in the way of personality, but he’s a tough boss to put down. His second form requires Link to use the Spin Attack to deal damage while making sure he doesn’t hit Din in the process, and Onox’s dragon form is a gauntlet of dodging, jumping, & surviving long enough to finally kill the General of Darkness. Players are bound to die once or twice, but the final dungeon is short enough where getting back to Onox takes no time at all. 

If Oracle of Seasons has one glaring flaw, however, it’s the story. The script reads like a massive step back coming off the heels of Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time, and especially Majora’s Mask. Link is summoned to aid the Oracle Din, already a seasoned hero and implied to be the same Link from A Link to the Past, but very little time is spent fleshing out Din as a character & giving players a reason to care about her. Her role is more akin to Zelda in A Link to the Past than Marin in Link’s Awakening. Similarly, Onox is an undercooked villain who shows up to kidnap Din and does nothing for the rest of the story. Of course, this light story stems from Seasons’ origin as a remake of The Legend of Zelda

Early press of the game– when it was still going by the name Acorn of the Tree of Mystery– indicates that the story was originally set in Hyrule and the seasons went out of order when Ganon kidnapped Princess Zelda, the guardian of both the Triforce of Power & the four seasons. Hyrule was changed to Holodrum, Ganon became Onox, Zelda turned to Din, and the eight fragments of the Triforce presumably became the eight Essences of Nature. While underwhelming, the plot’s structure if nothing else makes sense. 

It’s worth pointing out that Oracle of Seasons seems to recognize that story is its weakness and lets the gameplay drive the experience. Unlike Oracle of Ages which takes its plot seriously and has a clear thematic arc, Seasons really is just a remix of Zelda 1’s plot. Which is perfect for the kind of game OoS ultimately is: a fast-paced, action-packed adventure through an ever-changing world. When played as a precursor to Ages instead of its ending, Seasons’ story comes off comparatively better. The stakes aren’t that high or defined, but that’s more than okay for the first half of an adventure that spans two full-length games. 

In a departure for the franchise, Oracle of Seasons actually features a proper post-game, marking the first time any Zelda acknowledges that the main threat is over. NPCs will comment on how they haven’t seen Link in a while, the weather has stabilized as spring has set in Holodrum, and you’re free to wrap up any side quests left unfinished. This is especially noteworthy because players can link their progress from Seasons over into Ages and transfer any rings they have on hand. 

An epilogue makes for a charming send-off to one of the most charming games on the Game Boy Color. Oracle of Seasons underwent a strange development, intended to be little more than a suped-up remake of the original Legend of Zelda. Instead, Flagship ended up developing one of the finest games on the GBC– a vibrant adventure filled with personality and some of the best action on the handheld. Oracle of Seasons isn’t just one half of a greater game; it’s a classic Zelda in its own right.

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Games

PAX Online: ’30XX’ and ‘Cris Tales’

Our coverage of PAX Online continues with a Mega Man-inspired roguelike and a charming, time-hopping RPG adventure.

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30XX and Cris Tales

Our coverage of PAX Online continues with a Mega Man-inspired roguelike and a charming, time-hopping RPG adventure.

30XX

30XX

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam
Release: TBA

I’ve already given some of my thoughts on 30XX back when I took it for a spin at PAX East. To catch those who didn’t see that report up to speed, 30XX is a 2D side-scrolling roguelike with a hi-bit art style and gameplay reminiscent of many Mega Man games. It’s generally more forgiving than Mega Man in the sense that there’s a distinct lack of instant-death spikes and pits, but the tradeoff is that when you do die that’s the end and you have to start the whole game over from the start. Classic roguelike rules for ya.

This PAX Online demo was very similar to the one I played at East. I chose between the blaster Nina or swordsman Ace then I went on my merry way throughout the two levels. One key difference is that I did not start out with any specials this time around and my maximum health was much lower. This is probably in-line with what it would be like to start a new game completely fresh as opposed to some upgrades as the East demo had. As a result, I actually failed my first attempt at this demo.

That’s where the first additional aspect of this build came into play, though, in the form of global character progression. Beating bosses in 30XX not only grants you a new weapon ability but also a currency called Memoria. Memoria can be spent at a shop in-between playthroughs to obtain permanent upgrades for Nina and Ace for every subsequent attempt. The pickings were rather slim for the demo, such as increased health and energy, but a wider variety is promised for the full release, and if anything it’s exceptionally clear how useful they’ll be to fully clear the game’s ten planned stages in one go. I also await the inevitable “no upgrade” runs that will assuredly come out of this, though.

30XX

The other neat addition to this demo is Entropy conditions, which are essentially modifiers. You can make it to where shop items cost more Nut currency to purchase per run, impose a time limit, and/or increase the amount of HP enemies have. Enabling these options also increases rewards gained from runs, adding a nice risk vs. reward factor that will probably keep things engaging even after you master the game’s earlier stages. More Entropy conditions are promised to be added into the full game that will allow you to fine-tune your experience even further.

The one concern I have for 30XX at this point is the number of dead ends I encountered with no reward to show for it. This is probably a result of the procedurally generated nature of the game, but the number of times I thought I was so clever for platforming up to a hard-to-reach area only to be greeted by a wall was more than I cared for. This is the “30XX Very Pre-Alpha Demo”, though, so it’s a flaw that can still be fixed in future development and with everything else that is being done right so far — the tight platforming, varied progression, and delightful aesthetics — it’s not hard to be hopeful for 30XX‘s future.

Cris Tales

Cris Tales

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Steam, and Stadia
Release: Nov 17th, 2020

I went into the Cris Tales demo after hearing nothing but its name in passing here and there. After finishing the demo, I’d recommend you do the same. If you’re a fan of turn-based RPG’s just download the demo and see it for yourself.

Cris Tales managed to constantly surprise and delight me throughout the entirety of its 45-minute long demo, firstly being the visuals. Playing through the game is like watching stained-glass art come to life with its hyper-stylized character designs that emphasize general shapes rather than specific details and environments chock-full of geometrical sharp edges. I was in awe from the word “Go”.

The story follows Crisbell, a chipper young orphan girl who spends her time happily doing chores for the orphanage and her dearest Mother Superior. After chasing a dapper young frog to a church, Crisbell inadvertently awakens the powers of Time Crystals hosed there and gains the power to see both the past and future at the same time. This manifests as the screen fractures into thirds with the left side showing the past, the middle the present, and the right the future at all times.

It was a trick that took a minute or two to register with me, but once it did I immediately set about traipsing all about the town I had just chased the frog through in order to see how it has and will change. It was a positively fascinating experience that put a big stupid grin on my face the entire time.

Crisbell can use this knowledge of that past and future to make decisions in the present such as locating a missing potion label or creating a concoction that will prevent wood from rotting and leading to dilapidated houses. Choosing which house to restore is also an irreversible choice that will lead to different outcomes depending.

Cris Tales

Time manipulation also plays a major part in Cris Tales‘ turn-based combat in extremely novel and creative ways. Enemies attack Crisbell and co from both the left and the right, and you can attack them with your standard RPG basic attacks and skills. Enemies on the left side, however, can be forcibly sent to the past while enemies on the right to the future by expending Crystal Points. This means reverting a big brawny goblin into a harmless little child or aging it into an elder that can barely move.

That’s not all, though. Douse an armored enemy in water then send them to the future to cause it to rust and shatter their defense. Poison an enemy that has already been sent to the past then brings them back to the present to force them to take all that poison damage at once. Plant a damaging mandragora that would normally take a few turns to sprout then send it to the future to cause it to sprout instantly. These are the examples demonstrated in the demo but it’s abundantly clear that this is only the tip of the creative iceberg. It’s genuinely thrilling to imagine all the possibilities such a system is capable of. The best part is that we won’t have to wait long to find out as Cris Tales launches on all major platforms in just two months.

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.

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AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch


In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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