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‘The Fear’ Lacks in FMV Frights, But Still Fascinates




Diving back into the world of PS2 Japanese exclusive horror games reveals quite a few hidden gems, which were understandably but disappointingly never localized. One such game, the 2001 FMV horror game The Fear, is a name that shows up a lot but is still quite hard to get a hold of.

FMVs (full motion videos) were commonplace in old school horror games, from the games built around it such as Harvester (1996), The 7th Guest (1992), and Night Trap (1992), to those who used it for cutscenes or trailers such as Resident Evil (1996). They allowed for a more movie-like atmosphere, even crossing into campy b-movie fun at times, and formed as an effectively playable horror film in titles like Night Trap. Japan was definitely into this trend, and continued into the Playstation eras with a few horror FMV games. By the PS2 era these sorts of games become a lot more scarce, and one of the last released for the platform came in the form of The Fear. Going back and playing through it shows that it’s still a capable and quite enjoyable experience within an interesting but certainly dated genre.

The Fear, released for the PS2 on the 26th of July, 2001 exclusively in Japan, was the last of the series of FMV games the familiar name Enix published. Enix, prior to their merger with Square in 2003, released quite a few FMV titles spanning several genres for Playstation systems. Whilst not the best received of this specific form of games, it may be the most well realized in its genre and I would consider it a personal favorite of these ‘interactive movies.’

The Fear was developed by Digital Frontier, a surprising name looking back. Digital Frontier Inc. is a film production company located in, obviously enough, Japan, that has a focus on their large scale CG production department. They have gone on to work on some big projects, from games such as the Yakuza series from 4 onwards (2010-) and Metal Gear Rising Revengeance (2013), to live action films Death Note (2006) and both GANTZ films (2011), even on some animation in Summer Wars (2009) and two Resident Evil films Degeneration (2008) and Damnation (2012).

The Fear - Girls

The Fear opens on the girls joking around, unaware of what lies ahead.

The rather simple setup to the game puts you in the role of a cameraman, who must find a way to guide a group of actresses out of a large mansion safely. Whilst you do things go seriously wrong, with supernatural occurrences threatening the lives of you and the actresses. This first person adventure game combines puzzle solving and interaction with the various actresses in order to progress and get them out alive. With an impressive selection of over 1200 FMV clips the game has a surprising amount of variance and content for what could be seen as an interactive DVD.

The starting cinematic gives us a brief introduction to the characters that will be featured, from the actresses to the managers and the driver. The girls, who give off an idol or talent group vibe similar to something like AKB48, are well aware of the mansion’s reputation and apparent haunting but most of them pass it off as just superstition. One of the girls, Yukari, is feeling sick, which leads to the viewer finding out just what sort of person Matsumura-san, their manager, is as he tries his best to shrug off her illness, and tells the girls to just take care of her themselves. It’s not long before the group arrives at the imposing mansion, outside of cell reception, and ventures inside for the shoot.

The Fear mansion

The ominous mansion The Fear takes place within.

The mansion was originally built as a Russian diplomatic office prior to the Russo-Japanese War, before a series of vicious murders left four dead in the location, just to pile on the ‘haunted.’ Even more to that point, the general statement of the place seeing many owners and many horrible events relating to ghosts and horrifying monstrous things is placed upon it as well, just in case the foreboding nature of the mansion wasn’t enough already. As we find out this, so do the actresses, and it sufficiently puts them on edge as they go and get ready for the shoot. This is when the player is put into the position of the cameraman, and the gameplay begins with the rather awkward decision of either installing a camera in the girls’ bedroom, or the make-up room. We also find out around this time of the spiritual powers that Yukari, the girl who felt ill as they approached the mansion and who is brought upstairs to rest when they arrive, possesses.

Gameplay is split into two distinct parts, one being the exploration with some nicely sewn together camera swings as you look around rooms and move about. You can only move and look in four directions, but the ability to look about and search, even in its simplicity, is a rather nice feature. When looking at certain things you also have the ability to zoom in and focus on specific items or people. This leads to both dialogue and also to finding important or hidden items and clues. The other gameplay aspect is the dialogue options when talking with other characters, from that first decision on where to place the camera, to how you interact with the girls as they talk about the creepy nature of the place. Different responses lead down different routes, not always ending up all that different but with the amount of shots in the game there’s a decent amount of variability. Depending on how you respond your trip through the mansion will be changed. Occasionally the choices aren’t super clear, however a good rule of thumb for dialogue choices when they’re simply O or X, is circle is agree, X is disagree.

The Fear - UI

The camera UI for gameplay segments, and the choice system visual.

On top of the exploration and dialogue aspects there’s also a ‘Flashback’ system which shows a glimpse into the past or present in order to give you hints on what’s happening or where to go. This power is given to you by Yukari, who has the strange ability to project herself and view events through time, but who is unfortunately confined by an evil presence in the mansion. Her ‘spirit’ goes with you to help you, and she acts as a sort of guide when it comes to the supernatural events going on. It all feels a bit campy here and the game doesn’t ever really hit genuinely scary, but the game does find a way to be genuinely unsettling at times between the gruesome murders and the darkness of the mansion as you explore. Immediately after leaving the room with Yukari, you can turn one way to find a terrifyingly well placed painting of a woman with an eye bulging out, or the other way and find what appears to be a disembodied ear pinned to the wall.

Gore and the practical effects side of things is handled quite well, with some great imagery (the bloody ear on the wall, dead insects splattered on another). This imagery and the sounds are particular strong points in The Fear, with some solid visual effects, especially those on things such as the title splash at the start, and a generic but still fitting soundtrack behind the horror. There’s also general sounds around the mansion that give off a creepy vibe as they always seem to be coming from somewhere around you. The DVD quality of the FMV is also very welcome, as the visuals look great for the time and it allows for much more detail in the practical effects to shine through.

Gore in The Fear

Some satisfyingly gross imagery in The Fear.

That being said, the special effects often look very dated and a bit too ‘off’ to be all that scary. Due to this, the fight sections late into the game look… well, awful, but it’s still enough fun, and looking back, campy enough to have a good time with. And whilst the visual quality is surprisingly good for the medium, the lighting is occasionally very dark (seemingly a stylistic choice), and though this adds to the atmosphere at times there are others where it needlessly obscures things. There’s also the small issue of the cameraman always looking through his viewfinder whether talking one on one with one of the girls or dealing with a demonic entity, and the others always looking straight into the lens as if it’s your face, but that’s all easy to overlook.

Despite a few moments of weakness, the acting is actually fairly solid throughout, nothing outstanding but still solid. Of course there are awkward moments where talking to someone brings them from standing still to moving into an action in a bit of a goofy looking way, but that sort of thing is common in FMV games. Matsumura is a consistent source of comedic relief early on, through his initial laid-back attitude when it comes to anything going wrong to his quick turn into self preservation, and each of the girls have their own personality that shines through when the troubles start. There are a few of them that don’t stand out much, and who seem to fill the same meek and scared boxes. But then there are those like Eri whose loud and fairly childish personality leads her to be a main voice between whining and being scared. The variety is nice to see, and your responses to certain characters can fill in the cameraman’s personality as well.

While most of the game is spent in first person, there are a few cuts here and there to a third person shot showing your character, the cameraman. It helps give a bit more context to your own character, and never feels too obtrusive to the almost ‘found footage’ style of the experience. There’s a clever filming tactic used whenever the cameraman is in a shot however, with the camera covering his face, effectively making him a camera on a body. This helps somewhat with immersion, being able to project yourself onto the protagonist. Cinematography is focused on in The Fear, making it feel more like a film experience during the somewhat well shot cutscenes. Even when talking with the various characters around the mansion the camera angles and the zoom changes. The camera always takes the place of your character but there’s a nice amount of movement as opposed to the static camera normally used for these sorts of things.

The Fear - Camera man & Yukari

The player character checking on Yukari, shortly before she projects her spirit before him.

The feel of the narrative calls forward to idol based horror films. From AKB48’s Densen Uta (2007) in how the idols interact and react to the strange goings on, to much more closely Momoiro Clover Z’s Shirome (2010). Shirome (White Eyes) follows a similar setup to The Fear, in that a group of idols (though they never seem to be referred to as such in The Fear, they most certainly fit the bill) are brought by their manager to a purportedly haunted location in order to film them. They also both come as ‘found footage’ style media. Shirome has the focus of having the idols appear on a television show based around celebrities entering and exploring haunted areas, whereas The Fear has the goal of simply filming the girls being scared within the location.

There’s a total of 6 endings, ranging from good to bad, depending on which routes you took and how you interacted with the other characters. The different answers and exploration of the house is interesting enough to warrant a few runs through, and the atmosphere of the mansion is quite alluring. This is the sort of game that nowadays would fit so well into VR, even if it was still just as railed in to 4 directions of movement, the addition of being able to actively look about in 360 degrees would be phenomenal. It’s a fairly cliche haunted house story, but the effective imagery and the unique format lend something incredibly significant to it. The Fear has those elements of camp that most FMV games do, especially later on, but ends up finding a place serious enough to leave an impact. While it’s now a decade and a half old, a newer VR horror experience could learn a thing or two from this game. Even if the product wasn’t a game but simply a film experience you could walk through, things from the general sense of movement to the great imagery and use of the first person camera could be translated to the modern day easily enough.

In the world of old school FMV titles, The Fear could be one of the best, with its J-horror elements, themes ranging from demonic possession to astral projection, and the very well done and atmospheric mansion area the story takes place inside. Out of Enix’s selection of FMV games from the late 90’s/early 00’s, The Fear would definitely take the crown, in spite of being slightly less well received by critics than the 2000 title Love Story. These games never made it over to the West for a release, not really appealing to the international market at the time, but delving back into the world of FMV games in Japan is quite an interesting experience. The Fear is a fascinating piece of media, in both its format and quality, and also just a fun time overall.

Shane Dover is a Melbourne, Australia based freelance writer contributing to Japanese punk news site Punx Save The Earth, punk publication Dying Scene, Diabolique Magazine and Goomba Stomp. Not just a fan of punk music, he's spent most of his life obsessed with the horror genre across all media, Japanese cinema, as well as pop culture in general. He plays music and writes fiction, check out his Twitter ( for updates on those projects.

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Indie Games Spotlight – Going Full Circle

We’re featuring five exciting indie games in our latest spotlight, including the internship roguelike Going Under and the cozy puzzles of Lonesome Village.



Journey of the Broken Circle

Indie Games Spotlight is Goomba Stomp’s biweekly column where we highlight some of the most exciting new and upcoming independent games. Summer may have come to a close, but that hasn’t stopped big announcements from rolling in. With events like PAX Online and the recent PlayStation 5 Showcase flooding the web with announcements, trailers, and gameplay footage, there’s been a constant deluge of news to keep up with. With so much coming on the horizon, we’re spotlighting five exciting indies that you’ll be able to play sooner rather than later. Whether you’re in the mood for a brutally addictive action game or a cozy adventure and social sim, there’s bound to be a game that speaks to you in this spotlight.

Moving Up Professionally in Going Under

Work is its own payment in Going Under. In this action game from developer Aggro Crab, you’re put in the shoes of an unpaid intern who must explore the endless ruins of failed tech startups while fighting off the monsters that spawn within them. It’s hard work to do without a single paycheck—but hey, at least you’re gaining valuable experience!

As a former unpaid intern myself, the writing in Going Under certainly resonates with me and it’s sure to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt underappreciated or overworked. Its vibrant and colorful 3D graphics, as well as its satirical story, only make it all the more enticing. It really should offer a great working experience when it hits all consoles and PC via Steam on September 24.

Animated GIF

Fill in the Gaps in Journey of the Broken Circle

Something’s missing in Journey of the Broken Circle. Like its name would suggest, this puzzle platformer follows a Pacman-like circle with a hole to fill. It wanders through a world that is whimsical and existential at once, searching for a companion to fill its gaps. As the circle rolls through ethereal environments, it encounters different shapes to use that allow for new gameplay mechanics.

Journey of the Broken Circle might be about an abstract shape, but in its quest to become whole, it strives to capture the human experience. It promises to be an intimate experience that clocks in at about five hours to complete. If you’re interested in getting this ball rolling, it’s already available now on Switch and Steam.

Prepare to Get GORSD

There’s a delicate balance between unsettling the player without being outright scary. GORSD treads the line here as a one-hit-kill shooter that stars humans encased in the skins of octopuses, dragons with human faces, and nightmarish environments. Something feels off about GORSD, but that’s exactly what makes it so interesting.

Brought to life with detailed pixel art, GORSD supports up to four players who can face off in chaotic matches in varied arenas. It also features a full-fledged single-player campaign with a vast overworld with dozens of unique stages. Its concept is inspired by its developers’ native Southeast Asian cultures, making for a unique gameplay and aesthetic experience. If you’re ready to dive in and see it for yourself, it’s available now on all consoles and PC via Steam.

Get Ready For a Foregone Conclusion

Saying Foregone is a 2D Dark Souls would be cliché, but accurate nonetheless. It’s a hardcore action game where you’ll fight against insurmountable odds to prevent monsters from overrunning the world. It has a brutally addictive gameplay loop—its difficulty may be excruciating, but because it offers a wide assortment of abilities to leverage, it’s immensely euphoric once you overcome the challenges before you.

This beautiful 3D/pixelated hybrid action game has been available on PC in early access since February, but at long last, it’s seeing its full console release in October. It’s been a promising title ever since its pre-release days, and now that it’s finally seeing its complete iteration, there’s never been a better time to dive in and give it a shot. It’s hitting all platforms on October 5, so there’s not long to wait!

Finding Good Company in a Lonesome Village

Mix Zelda with Animal Crossing and you might get something like Lonesome Village. This newly-revealed puzzle adventure game features Zelda-like adventure in a hand-drawn world populated by animal characters. Players control a wandering coyote who stumbles upon a strange village and decides to investigate its mysterious happenings by interacting with villagers, solving puzzles, and exploring its dungeons.

It’s more than a simple adventure game. In addition to puzzle-solving, you’ll interact with Lonesome Village’s eclectic cast of characters to forge relationships and unravel brooding mysteries. It’s showing plenty of potential with its cozy gameplay loop, and if you want to give it a shot, check out its official demo from its Kickstarter page! It’s already been fully funded in less than 24 hours, but if you want to help the developers out even further, consider contributing to their campaign.

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PAX Online: ‘Inkulinati’ and ‘Pumpkin Jack’

The PAX Online celebrations continue with the strategy game, Inkulinati, and spooky Halloween themed Pumpkin Jack.



Inkulinati and Pumpkin Jack

The PAX Online celebrations continue with a strategy game whose tales are writ in ink and a game sure to put you in an early Halloween mood.



Platforms: Switch and Steam
Release: 2021

Preview in new tab(opens in a new tab)

Competitive strategy games stress me out. Chess? Stresses me out. Checkers? Stresses me out. Star Craft? Stresses me out. Managing that stress as a form of stimulation is what makes the best strategy games shine, though, and Inkulinati is so far demonstrating all the facets of such a game.

The titular Inkulinati are masters of a craft that brings their inked creatures to life on parchment, including a caricature of themselves. The two Inkulinati do written battle with each other until only one is left standing. The battles are carried out in a charming medieval art style that looks like it was taken straight out of a manuscript you’d find carefully stored in a library. These aren’t the masterpieces of Da Vinci or Van Gogh, but the kinds of scribbles you’d find the layman making on the edges of pages either out of boredom or mischievousness. The playful art makes for a playful tone and jolly times.

The core thrust of the gameplay is that each Inkulinati utilizes ink points to conjure units, or “creatures”, onto the parchment in a turn-based manner and sends them into the fray. There were a fair amount of creatures available in the demo — ranging from a simple swordsdog with well-rounded stats to a donkey capable of stunning foes with its trusty butt trumpet. Many many more creature types are promised in the full game, but I found even with the limited selection of the demo the gameplay was still able to be showcased well.

Your primary Inkulinati also has some tricks up its depending on the type you’ve chosen to take into battle. Instant damage to or healing a unit were the two shown off in the demo, as well as being able to shove units. Shoving is particularly useful as you can push enemies into the hellfires that encroach the battlefield as the battle wages on, instantly defeating them.

Doing battle with an opponent it all well and good, but what’s the point if it’s not immortalized for generations to experience down the line? Inkulimati understands this need and will record every single action of the battlefield in written word. It’s infinitely charming, and the amount of variations in how to say what amounts to just “X unit attacked Y enemy” is astonishing. How can you not chuckle at, “Powerful Morpheus killed the enemy and may those who failed to witness this live in constant pain and regret”?

Pumpkin Jack

Pumpkin Jack

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam
Release: Q4 2020

Halloween may be a little over a month away but that didn’t stop the 3D action platformer Pumpkin Jack getting me in the spookyween mood. The human realm is suffering from the Devil’s curse and have elected the aid of a wizarding champion to save them from it. Not to be outdone, the Devil also chooses his own champion to stop the wizard, choosing the despicable spirit Jack. With the tasty reward of being able to pass on from hell, Jack dons his pumpkin head and a wooden & straw body on his quest to keep the world ruined. The premise sounds slightly grim but make no mistake that this is a goofy game through and through, a fact only emphasized by a brilliant opening narration dripping with sarcasm and morbid glee.

The demo took us through Pumpkin Jack‘s first stage, a dilapidated farmland full of ambient lanterns abandoned storehouses. The visuals are compliments by a wonderfully corny soundtrack full of all the tubas, xylophones, and ghost whistles one would expect a title that is eternally in the Halloween mood.

We got the basics of traversal, like dodge rolling and double jumps, before coming upon a terrified murder of crows. Turns out their favorite field has been occupied by a dastardly living scarecrow and they want Jack to take care of it. One crow joins Jack on his quest, taking the form of a projectile attack that he can sic on enemies. Jack also obtains a shovel he can use to whack on the animated skeletons with a simple three-hit combo. There’s nothing particularly standout about the combat, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be this early on. More weapons such as a rifle and scythe are promised in the full game and should go a way towards developing the combat along with more enemy variety.

Pumpkin Jack

Collectible crow skulls also dot the map and seem to be cleverly hidden as even when I felt like I was carefully searching the whole stage I had only found 12 out of 20 by the end. Their purpose is unknown in the demo, so here’s hopping they amount to something making me want to find those last eight in the full version.

After accidentally lighting a barn ablaze and escaping in a dramatic sequence we came across the scarecrow in question. Defeating it was a rather simple affair that was just a matter of shooting it out of the air with the crow then wailing on it with Jack’s shovel. We were awarded a new glaive-type weapon as a reward but unable to give it a whirl in the demo, unfortunately. All-in-all, Pumpkin Jack shows promise as a follow-up to action 3D platformers of yore like Jak & Daxter, so here’s hoping to a solid haunting when it releases later this year.

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‘Oracle of Seasons’: A Game Boy Color Classic



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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