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‘Ocarina of Time’: The Merits of Master Quest

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Master Quest Ocarina of Time Legend of Zelda

Ura Zelda: A Brief History

Following the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, series creator Shigeru Miyamoto tasked his development team with remixing the game’s dungeons for Ura Zelda– an expansion set to be released for the ill-fated Nintendo 64DD. Eiji Aonuma, one of Ocarina’s Game System Directors, was personally chosen to repurpose the dungeon design into a proper game, but quickly hit a roadblock. In particular, Aonuma felt that Ocarina of Time’s dungeons weren’t in need of improvement as they were already made to the best of the development team’s abilities. Aonuma only “hesitantly obliged,” carrying a lack of enthusiasm into the project. 

In an Iwata Asks focusing on Spirit Tracks’ (and by extension the franchise’s) development, Aonuma reflected on how his role as a dungeon creator for the series kept him from being “excited over making a flip-side,” specifying that he couldn’t “see it turning into a new The Legend of Zelda, either.” As Eiji Aonuma went on to direct Majora’s Mask alongside Yoshiaki Koizumi in place of Ura Zelda, it’s safe to assume what exists of the game– now formally Ocarina of Time Master Quest– was Aonuma’s impassioned brainchild. But this isn’t quite the case. In that same Iwata Asks, Aonuma clarified that his feelings on the matter were in spite of another team ultimately handling development. 

As it stands, it’s unlikely Aonuma contributed much to Master Quest’s dungeon design other than what was already present in Ocarina of Time. All the same, it’s important to note his hesitations– especially since he would later leave his fingerprint on MQ when choosing to include it alongside Ocarina of Time 3D. Likewise, it should be stated that Master Quest wasn’t reworked into Majora’s Mask. Rather, both games were in development alongside one another as Ura Zelda and Zelda Gaiden respectively. The former would continue development on the N64DD while the latter would become a proper cartridge-based game. 

Since both titles share quite an intimate & close development history, it’s easy to assume Ura Zelda was worked on up until the development of Majora’s Mask started, but Ura Zelda was actually completed sometime in 2000. In a pre-release interview with IGN for The Wind Waker, Shigeru Miyamoto specified how he sought opportunities to release Master Quest, but couldn’t find one until the GameCube began using discs over cartridges. Ported over with Ocarina of Time, Master Quest’s GameCube release marked the first time Ura Zelda was available for audiences. 

When it came time to remake Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 3DS, Eiji Aonuma interfered in regards to Master Quest’s inclusion. Perhaps reflective of his initial feelings, Aonuma saw OoT 3D as a chance to make MQ harder. Master Quest 3D isn’t a port of its GameCube release, instead, implementing double damage to better capitalize on more aggressive enemy variety and a mirrored map to throw off series veterans. More curious, however, is how working on Ocarina of Time 3D changed Aonuma’s perspective on Master Quest. In regards to the merits of Master Quest’s enhanced challenge; 

“The main game is the main game and the Master Quest is the Master Quest. Clearing each one results in a completely different memory. Being able to brag is important. I realized all over again how important that is for a video game.” – Eiji Aonuma

It of course makes sense that Aonuma’s enthusiasm for Master Quest would improve now having left his fingerprint on the project, but something does need to be said for how well MQ 3D’s contributions bolster Ura Zelda’s original design philosophy. Miyamoto’s decision to develop Ura Zelda was rooted in a desire to incorporate cut ideas and offer another layer of challenge. The fact enemies did so little damage was always a flaw in Ocarina of Time’s otherwise well-designed combat. It only makes sense to round off harder dungeons & puzzles with harder combat. The base Master Quest does do this to an extent through revamped enemy placement & variety, but MQ 3D’s double damage only strengthens the core design. 

There’s value in a challenge for challenge’s sake, and it’s why Master Quest exists at all. In many respects, Aonuma was right to push back against Ura Zelda. Majora’s Mask is not only a far superior game, Master Quest’s dungeons admittedly don’t match the same level of quality present in Ocarina of Time. At the same time, Master Quest is not a failed experiment by any stretch of the imagination. More than a remix, Master Quest serves as an opportunity to make fuller use of Ocarina of Time’s items, puzzle concepts, and mechanics. The game’s final staff ultimately approached the title with a different mindset than that of Ocarina’s. 

With exceptions, dungeon items are now found relatively early– often featuring a greater volume of puzzles centered on said items. Ocarina puzzles are abundant, with players needing to play music rather frequently in order to create makeshift pathways. Master Quest requires a level of lateral thinking unfound in Ocarina of Time, even going so far as to abandon conventional and (mostly) sensible level architecture in favor of cows that act as switches, Dodongos nesting deep inside the Water Temple, and the Spirit Temple defying all logic by having Link’s actions in the future influence the past. 

Master Quest lacks Ocarina of Time’s sophistication when it comes to dungeon layouts or even just puzzle pacing, but the level of creativity at play is admirable. Even at its most obtuse, Master Quest makes some degree of sense. There are a number of frustrations throughout and set pieces that border on unfair– a problem OoT doesn’t have– but the “ah-ha” moment is almost always worth it. If anything, Master Quest pushes its puzzles to such extremes that conquering every revamped dungeon & defeating Ganon is arguably more rewarding than in Ocarina of Time. At least superficially. If nothing else, diving headfirst into Master Quest’s dungeons makes for a refreshing return to the Hero of Time’s Hyrule. 

The Child Dungeons

The Deku Tree is quite the iconic introduction through concept alone. Link braving the interior of an ancient tree on the cusp of death is a powerful set-piece, but what elevates the dungeon is how it uses vertical space to teach players how to navigate 3D level design. Every room of the Deku Tree helps convey the core concepts that define Ocarina of Time’s level design– from one on one combat to eye switches, block puzzles, and torch lighting. The Fairy Slingshot is the player’s first major item, and its first-person aiming is a staple that’s shared with Link’s most essential tools. 

The first dungeon in the game, Inside the Deku Tree is naturally quite easy, but its atmosphere & level design keep it engaging even for veterans. Master Quest instinctively plays off this, capitalizing on the opportunity to offer a surprising degree of challenge out the gate. The Deku Tree can feel like a sucker punch, especially in MQ 3D where Link’s initial three hearts can be drained in seconds. As Master Quest expects you to have played Ocarina of Time beforehand, the Deku Tree’s design goal pivots from conveying easy-to-parse level design nuances to instead focus more closely on combat and “outsmarting” the player. 

Enemies are found in abundance, with Keese swarming Link almost immediately. Gohma Larva appears both in greater numbers and in greater frequency, leading to potentially hectic encounters for those caught off-guard. A Big Deku Baba even guards the entrance down to Gohma, serving as a mini-boss of sorts. It all lends to a fuller, less tutorial-esque dungeon. Notably, the puzzle leading into Gohma’s boss door no longer has a referenceable code in Master Quest. Players need to now guess which order to hit Gohma’s three Deku Scrub guards in. The simplicity of the puzzle makes this a non-issue, but it’s an interesting trick to play on a design level. It’s almost Master Quest’s way of formally tossing traditional design conventions aside. 

All things considered, MQ’s Deku Tree makes a strong first impression. The fact it’s more dangerous than its Ocarina counterpart alone makes it quite a compelling reintroduction. That said, the precedent the codeless Deku Scrub trio set is something of a double-edged sword and exactly what holds Master Quest’s dungeons back. Information is often conveyed poorly, or not at all. Players are tasked with examining their surroundings on an incredibly intimate level, with quick scans usually punished. There’s certainly value in such thorough exploration yet frustration comes quicker in Master Quest than the average Zelda. It’s meant to, of course, but it’s hard not to miss well-telegraphed puzzles at times. 

Dodongo’s Cavern doesn’t follow up the Deku Tree with much grace, reorganizing the order in which Link tackles the floor and in turn stunting the original dungeon’s fluid progression. Bombs are found far earlier and see more puzzle-use, but exploring the cavern simply isn’t as fun as it once was. The Deku Tree’s meticulous touch is all but absent, with enemies scattered throughout the dungeon with no rhyme or reason. The presence of Gohma Larva, Poes, and Mad Scrubs should all offer combat variety, but they’re included for the sake of it– not to offer greater challenge and not to accentuate the dungeon. 

Jabu-Jabu’s Belly follows a similar approach– notably swapping out switches in favor of partially digested cows– but this plays off the already absurd nature of Lord Jabu-Labu’s labyrinthine body. Master Quest also shows restraint with the belly of the beast that it lacks with Dodongo’s Cavern. The only notable enemy inclusions Master Quest makes are Lizalfos, Keese, and Like-Like– all of which do an excellent job at challenging players in tight corridors, making use of the boomerang, and catching the unattentive off guard respectively. These are fairly important additions as Jabu-Jabu’s Belly actually takes a back seat as far as complexity is concerned. 

The original Jabu-Jabu’s Belly notably features Link escorting Princess Ruto around, using her to push down switches and make headway through the dungeon. The layout itself actually isn’t that complicated, but it can be difficult to navigate and understand how to properly proceed. Master Quest only uses Ruto when absolutely necessary, progressing like a more traditional dungeon where Link linearly solves puzzles and defeats waves of enemies. Jabu-Jabu is less ambitious in MQ than in OoT, but between cow switches & plenty of action, the dungeon still serves as a compelling send-off to the child portion of the game. 

The Adult Dungeons

Acquiring all three Spiritual Stones and pulling out the Master Sword is a major turning point for Ocarina of Time. Link awakens seven years in the future and is immediately tasked with saving a now Ganondorf-ruled Hyrule. Although players are free to explore at their leisure, Sheik points out Kakariko Village and the Forest Temple as hotspots worth getting around to sooner rather than later. Ocarina of Time’s Forest Temple might very well be the best-designed dungeon in the game, balancing thoughtful puzzle design with a consistent stream of action, detailed oriented exploration, and some of the best 64-bit atmosphere of its generation. Just the hunt for the Poe Sisters makes the Forest Temple a series standout. 

Like in Ocarina of Time, the Forest Temple is when Master Quest takes the training wheels off. There’s a considerable spike in puzzle difficulty coming from Jabu-Jabu’s Belly. Puzzle cues are very much present, but they’re far more subtle. Players have to be careful to spot hidden torches, and incredibly well-hidden switches. Lowering the water inside the courtyard’s well now requires peering into the well to spot an eye switch, something few players will instinctively think to do. MQ’s Forest Temple is unforgiving when it comes to conveying information, perfectly content to let players wander until they stumble upon the solution themselves. 

The Forest Temple also marks the first major time Link needs to create a makeshift staircase by playing the Song of Time. These puzzles show up a few times throughout the adult portion of Master Quest, but they’re not always handled gracefully. The Forest Temple’s implementation of the puzzle is novel & well handled, but the more it’s used throughout Master Quest, the worse it becomes. Unlike block-pushing puzzles, song staircase puzzles require quite a bit of busywork. Link needs to position himself properly before playing his ocarina, a process that often has to be done multiple times before the puzzle is over. This naturally takes uptime, and a single mess-up can be costly. 

The Forest Temple is a strong opening to the second half of Link’s journey, but it’s actually one of two possible starting points once players reach the future. In Ocarina of Time, you can start with either the Forest Temple or the Fire Temple– the Fairy Bow only needed in the latter for the dungeon map. In Master Quest, however, the Water Temple takes the Fire Temple’s place as an alternate first dungeon, no longer requiring the Bow to proceed. Notably, even the Ice Cavern has been remixed, a mini-dungeon Link needs to complete before tackling the Water Temple. 

The Ice Cavern sees a recognizable change, but it’s not particularly memorable outside of the final fight and a switch hidden under the ice. Master Quest’s Ice Cavern doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from its original counterpart, and if the rooms present are evidence of Ocarina of Time’s cut Ice Temple, Nintendo was clearly in the right to switch gears towards designing the Water Temple. At least the Stalfos at the end of the mini-dungeon makes for a great surprise. Wolfos were always a bit too easy, and Master Quest cleverly holds off, often replacing the beasts with skeletal warriors. A one-on-one duel against a Stalfos for the Iron Boots is a great cap off, and even serves as some impromptu training for the battle against Dark Link. 

Master Quest’s Water Temple isn’t better than its Ocarina of Time counterpart but is certainly more palatable. The Water Temple can be confusing, demanding a level of attention OoT seldom does. It’s by far the hardest dungeon in the game, and while it has a reputation, on a design level the Water Temple is also one of the series’ best. With less emphasis on lowering & raising the water level, Master Quest chooses to focus on Longshot related puzzles, challenging how well players can use their new toy. Likewise, there’s a greater emphasis on combat– and not underwater. 

One room in particular features Link fighting three Stalfos at once where they were once non-presences in the Water Temple. Dodongos also serve as enemies, defying a bit of logic but offering a surprise in the process. While simpler, Master Quest’s Water Temple is still well designed and would actually fit in well enough in the base Ocarina of Time. Like with Jabu-Jabu, easier navigation doesn’t necessarily make the dungeon better, but it’s an important change that helps keep the Master Quest dungeons distinctive. For many, MQ’s Water Temple will have undeniably greater appeal for that very reason. 

Master Quest’s Fire Temple isn’t as well-put-together as the Forest or Water Temples, but its design shines a fascinating light on a Master Quest quality that’s easy to ignore: the Gold Skulltula Tokens. Master Quest goes crazy when it comes to Gold Skulltula placement. They are consistently harder to find than their Ocarina of Time counterparts and often make use of tougher puzzles than those forced for progression. In fact, only the first three and a half floors of the Fire Temple are mandatory in Master Quest. The rest of the dungeon is reserved for hunting down Tokens. 

Interestingly, this is a concept The Legend of Zelda would go on to play with in later 3D titles. Majora’s Mask features optional Stray Fairies, The Wind Waker has Treasure Charts, and Twilight Princess hides away Pieces of Heart. Granted, Ocarina of Time’s dungeon Tokens were already similar in concept, but the majority lack the constant hunting present throughout Master Quest’s dungeons. There are two keys in the Fire Temple specifically tied to finding Gold Skulltula Tokens, along with a Flare Dancer mini-boss players outright miss if they go straight to Volvagia. 

It should be pointed out that the mandatory path through MQ’s Fire Temple actually introduces an early Iron Knuckle. Appearing as soon as Link reaches the Spirit Temple in Ocarina of Time, Iron Knuckles are the hardest mini-bosses in the game. They have a considerable amount of health, get a speed buff when they’re near death, and can cut through Link’s hearts. In Master Quest 3D, a single axe strike will do eight hearts of damage, offering a nice spike in difficulty as players prepare to take on Master Quest’s final set of dungeons. 

The Final Dungeons

As was the case in Ocarina of Time, Master Quest’s Shadow Temple can only be accessed after the Forest, Fire, and Water Temples are cleared. New, however, is the quality time players must now spend inside the Bottom of the Well, the Shadow Temple’s mini-dungeon lead-in. In the original Well, players could make a beeline directly to the Lens of Truth if they knew what they were doing. Experienced players can easily plow through the Well in minutes, which Master Quest naturally wants to prevent. The majority of puzzles now have to be done, and anyone looking to get out fast best get comfortable. The Bottom of the Well is much denser now, closer in length to young Link’s introductory dungeons than the average mini-dungeon.

The Shadow Temple was Ocarina of Time’s most action-oriented dungeon, to begin with, so it would make sense to switch gears and instead focus on puzzle solving, but Master Quest curiously doubles down on the Temple’s core level design to the point of being almost identical to its Ocarina counterpart. On one hand, the familiarity makes the even greater emphasis on action easier to appreciate, along with what new puzzles there are. On the other hand, what new puzzles there are tend to be incredibly simple and Master Quest’s non-enemy related additions clash rather jarringly with the Shadow Temple’s otherwise untouched design. The Deadhand fight inside the torture room which requires Link to use the Lens of Truth & bombs to fight back is genius, but it’s out of place amidst the rest of the dungeon. 

Master Quest’s Spirit Temple doesn’t have this problem, one of the most remixed dungeons in the game, but it introduces an issue the original Spirit Temple had enough foresight to avoid. Ocarina of Time requires Link to visit the Spirit Temple three times. The first is in the future as an adult– during this visit, players discover there’s nothing they can do inside the Temple and learn the Requiem of Spirit. The second time is in the past– by playing the Requiem of Spirit as a child, young Link can visit the Spirit Temple and find the Silver Gauntlets. The final visit once again takes place in the future– now equipped with the Silver Gauntlets, Link can access the meat of the Spirit Temple and complete the dungeon in one, uninterrupted go. 

Notable is that the first visit requires no effort on the player’s part while the second makes use of the game’s signature time travel mechanic for puzzle solving. Master Quest demands a minimum of five visits from the player, greatly lengthening the Spirit Temple. Anyone who instinctively leaves the Temple right away will similarly be punished as MQ makes use of two-way time travel– what Link does in the future also affects the past. The back and forth quickly becomes frustrating, especially since the remixed puzzles and set pieces are some of the best in Master Quest. If the Spirit Temple followed the same structure as in Ocarina of Time, only with new challenges, it would stand out so much better. 

As is, it’s admittedly difficult to appreciate everything MQ’s Spirit Temple has to offer when you’re trying to make sense of when to travel back in time and why. This is especially a pity since the Spirit Temple’s new set pieces are consistent highlights. Young Link has to fight a Stalfos on a spinning gear surrounded by fire & bottomless pits, making for a nailbiter of an encounter. Dinolfos who were previously exclusive to Gerudo’s Training Ground & Ganon’s Castle now wander the Temple and can throw off players mistaking them for Lizalfos. A Club Moblin and a Giant Leever serve as environmental mini-bosses in the player’s path. There’s even a Wallmaster cruelly waiting for Link to kneel down in front of the Goddess’ statue with his Mirror Shield. 

It’s understandable why Master Quest would want to amplify time travel in this regard– it is the Spirit Temple’s defining gimmick, after all– but the dungeon goes too far and sours its finer qualities in the process. Not to the point where they aren’t enjoyable, but there’s a fair amount of tedium between all those high points. Bizarrely, the Gerudo Training Ground (Ocarina of Time’s optional mini-dungeon) is substantially easier. There are only three small keys, the puzzles aren’t nearly as hard, and the only real challenge comes from the new enemies. It makes nabbing the Ice Arrows a much easier task, giving a rarely used weapon more opportunities to shine. 

Ganon’s Castle makes for quite a final exam, going all in to test how well players understand Master Quest’s obtuse level design. Players even need to find keys in the Forest, Shadow, and Spirit in order to gain full access to the Light Sage’s chamber. Those who see the Castle’s many wings as a one & done deal are in for a rude awakening. Likewise, the Golden Gauntlets have been moved from the Shadow to Spirit room– now hidden amidst a wall of sun panels. In terms of puzzle quality, however, the rooms are hit or miss. 

The Forest & Fire rooms are mainly unchanged, and they suffer for it. What few additions they have served in making their parts of the dungeon all the more frustrating. Beamos now litter the Forest room, ready to zap Link into a bottomless pit, while the Fire room now challenges how well players can control Link to the point of frustration– throwing hazard after hazard at the poor Hero of Time, ready for him to plummet into the lava. The Water Room is technically different from its Ocarina of Time counterpart, but the changes are so minor and really only exist to force players to empty another bottle. 

The Shadow room is likewise fairly similar to its OoT variation, but mandatory use of the Fire Arrows makes for a nice curveball for anyone who chose to ignore the weapon after clearing the Water Temple. The absence of the Golden Gauntlets can also be quite a shock to those who still haven’t wised up to Master Quest’s tricks. Thankfully, the Spirit and Light rooms close out the first half of Ganon’s Castle on a high– the former is filled with great action and a very cheeky Mirror Shield puzzle at the end, while the latter explicitly plays on how well you can read Master Quest’s absence of visual cues (which in itself has become a cue of sorts by Ganon’s Castle.)

As disappointing as it is strange, the staircase climbs up towards Ganondorf’s chamber is completely unchanged. So much effort is put into revamping Master Quest– to the point where the game almost serves as Ocarina of Time’s dungeon antithesis– only for the last stretch to just give up. Perhaps this is Master Quest’s designers respecting Ocarina of Time’s iconic finale and leaving it as is, but with all the added focus on combat, the fact the second half of Ganon’s Castle doesn’t have any more Iron Knuckles or Stalfos to get in Link’s way is underwhelming. Doubly so during the Castle escape and the same old Stalfos show up in Link’s path. It’s a great moment in Ocarina of Time, but an Iron Knuckle would have been appropriately Master Quest

But this is where double damage and the mirrored map come in to save the day. As right as he was not to touch Master Quest, Aonuma’s desire to fortify MQ 3D with some “artificial” difficulty does go a long way. There aren’t any new enemies leading up to Ganondorf, but they hit much harder– the Iron Knuckle tag team liable to kill careless players. Flipping the map also makes descending Ganon’s Castle a bit tougher, stepping all over muscle memory while bringing back some tension to Link & Zelda’s escape. The base Master Quest may not stick the landing, but Master Quest 3D certainly does. Or at least comes very, very close. 

Recontextualizing Ocarina of Time’s dungeon design to offer a fresh experience for series veterans, Master Quest is not a standalone adventure nor is it a replacement. MQ is an extra challenge, a little bonus for franchise fans yearning for more difficulty. Master Quest lacks a considerable amount of grace, faltering and failing to truly improve upon Ocarina of Time. But the level design present is philosophically different enough where Master Quest does feel like its own experience– albeit framed through Ocarina’s skeleton. There’s merit in the franchise taking a look back at Master Quest to see what worked and what didn’t. 

The Legend of Zelda could stand to handle enemy placement & variety like Master Quest. Not all new enemies were included sensibly, but those that were added to their dungeons. It’s thrilling running into Stalfos and needing to suddenly fight for your life. Likewise, there’s merit in playing Master Quest, if only for those bragging rights. MQ was a challenge specifically catered towards those who had felt they had conquered Ocarina of Time. It isn’t a better game by any means, nor does it offer a truly comparable experience to that of OoT’s, but why should it? More importantly, MQ 3D actually manages to bolster the original design with a deeper layer of difficulty, selling the idea of Master Quest as a gauntlet for Zelda experts. Master Quest is no Ocarina of Time, but it’s a challenge worth embarking on.

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.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Mikael

    August 12, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    Fantastic article! I had just started my first playthrough of MQ since it first came out on Gamecube.. Back then it was exciting to finally get Ura Zelda, but also disappointing it didn’t add/change more. Of course, it was still a blast to play originally, but I find myself appreciating it more this time around.

    Maybe now that I’ve seen more of the Zelda series over the years, and have read more insight into Aunoma wanting to make a new Zelda instead, I’ve since gone back and see Ocarina of Time as being complete the way it is. Just like the recent Beta Dungeon being leaked, it’s cool to see something new (even if it’s technically old) in OoT, but it’s not quite as exciting as what my childhood imagination dreamed up staring at the same area in old Nintendo Power screenshots. I think it’s the same with Master Quest, anything they added to Ura Zelda would have fallen short of my imagination. OoT is a masterpiece the way it is.

    With that in mind, revisiting these classic Ocarina dungeons with newly remixed puzzle contents is fascinating and exciting more from a gameplay perspective. Deku Tree was an improvement, and rather frantic at times with the Gohma larva jumping at you. Dodongos Cavern wasn’t as good, but there were some moments that stumped me, so I certainly enjoyed the play through. On to Jabu Jabu today with those infamous cows!

    To be honest, I wouldn’t mind more Zelda games remixing content this way.

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‘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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