The Game Boy Color couldn’t have asked for two better games to end its illustrious career on than The Legend of Zelda: Oracles of Seasons & Ages. While both compelling 8-bit adventures in their own right, the Oracle duology is perhaps best defined by its use of the Linked Game. Upon completing either Seasons or Ages for the first time, players will receive a password that they can then input into the sister game in order to continue the story– a necessity as unlinked playthroughs end on sinister “to be continued” screens. Taking in the full Oracle experience means committing to two wholly unique games.
Of the two titles, Oracle of Ages is arguably better suited for the Linked Game, at least on a first playthrough. Not only is Ages a harder game than Seasons, the stakes are simply higher. Where Holodrum’s seasons were in disarray, the very fabric of time is being tampered with in Labrynna. People are ceasing to exist, aging rapidly, and in some cases turning to stone. Holodrum’s residents treated their chaotic weather as a livable nuisance. Labrynna’s NPCs are in a near-constant state of existential dread. The script is still as light as Seasons’ when it comes down to it, but Ages milks its drama for all its worth.
Ages’ higher stakes transition nicely into a Linked Game, with each key part of the Oracle experience building upon the last. Seasons is a light introduction, Ages brings the drama expected of the franchise, and the Linked Game caps things off with one final confrontation with Twinrova. As Ages is also a more story-driven game than Seasons, the added plot from the finale feels more at home in Labrynna than in the narratively sparse Holodrum. That said, the Linked Game is a solid means of giving Seasons’ plot some meat to chew on.
Regardless of which Linked Game players choose, their efforts will have been in vain narratively. At the start of an Ages Linked Game, Twinrova relishes in Onox’s death. Link may have defeated the General and saved Din, but the Flame of Darkness is lit nevertheless– playing right into Twinrova’s plans. Twinrova themselves are interesting antagonists in the context of the greater franchise. Introduced in Ocarina of Time as Ganondorf’s surrogate mothers, Koume & Kotake’s reintroduction in the Oracle duology silently builds to Ganon’s revival. The Oracle games go from feeling like side games to genuine Zelda epics.
Transferring progress over from Seasons to Ages requires the Secret to Labrynna obtained at the end of the former. On authentic Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance hardware, you’re free to use a Link Cable between both games (so long as you have two Game Boys) to transfer data. Otherwise, the Secret can be input as a password while naming your file. Along with starting Link off with a sword and 4 Heart Containers, players can pick up all their old rings at Vasu’s Shop. You do start out more or less back at square one, but simply having access to collected rings (some of which even otherwise exclusive to Seasons) makes any Linked Game a highly personal experience.
Beyond extra in-game goodies, NPCs from Seasons will not only periodically appear throughout Labrynna, they’ll remember Link and comment on what they’ve been up to since. Rosa, a Subrosian pop-star, spends her time in Oracle of Ages finding herself as she travels the world, no longer interested in dating Link. Similarly, the Piratians and their Captain will recognize Link when they cross paths in the Sea of No Return. Bippin & Boppin’s son has grown up, your animal companion will happily reunite with you, and Maple learns from past mistakes by ditching her broomstick for a flying saucer instead of a vacuum.
Perhaps the largest benefit of a Linked Game is the Password system. NPCs in the overworld will give Link passwords to bring over to Oracle of Seasons, where he’ll be given another password to bring back to Oracle of Ages. These passwords can then be told to Farore– the Oracle of Secrets– in exchange for items exclusive to Linked Games. Link can upgrade his Iron Shield into a Mirror Shield, snag the Biggoron’s Sword from Ocarina of Time, expand his Ring Box to 5 slots, and even get a full Heart Container.
Farore herself was set to have a more important role when the Oracle games were slated to be a trilogy, but she was relegated to the game’s side content when Capcom settled on a duology. While Farore has no narrative relevance, keeping track of the game’s secrets is a fitting role for her and players will interact with Farore fairly often if they make the most of their Linked Game.
Where an unlinked playthrough is relatively self-contained in each game’s individual setting, Linked Games play up connections to the franchise’s lore. Princess Zelda is kidnapped a third of the way into the game, remaining a relevant NPC from then on; the Master Sword is the reward for one of Farore’s secrets; and Ganon even serves as the final boss. Introducing Hylian lore ends up overwhelming Seasons’ own plot & themes, but this isn’t the case for Ages. Because Ages’ story actually has meat to chew on, the added narrative doesn’t take away from what’s already present. In many respects, they play off each other well. Both Zelda & Nayru make decent narrative foils and all the manipulation at the core of the story justifies Twinrova pulling the strings all along.
Story isn’t either Oracle games’ strong suit, not really, but Ages’ melancholic tone does the Linked experience a massive service. Labrynna is a sad, moody land– the color palette at times garish, bordering on gloomy– where time itself is losing all sense of human understanding. Characters in Ages also play a more important role in the main plot than Seasons. Nayru, the Oracle of Time, isn’t absent for the entire story like Din was and gets to actively contribute to the main plot in the last act. Ralph, Nayru’s sworn protector, fashions himself as a rival to Link while often pointing players in the right direction. Queen Ambi is ostensibly a side villain yet easily the most memorable character to come out of the Oracle duology. No one has the depth of Marin, but no one’s as bland as Onox either.
Ages’ supporting cast on a whole deal with more trauma than anyone in Seasons. The Maku Tree has her existence undone, Nayru is possessed for over half the game, Queen Ambi dedicates her life to building a Tower for a lover who never comes home, and Ralph’s willing to extinguish his own bloodline if it means saving Labrynna. The main antagonist, Veran, is a massive step-up from Onox both in terms of depth and relevance. Veran possesses Nayru’s body at the start of the game and makes frequent appearances from then on, leading to some of the best set pieces between both Oracle titles.
Link and Ralph break into Ambi’s Palace at the end of the second act to save Nayru, stealth past her guards and actually succeed in rescuing her. This is all undone after the seventh dungeon when Veran possesses Ambi & doubles down on her corruption of time, but it’s hard not to revel in the victory. Oracle of Ages is a very satisfying game to get through in general and in large part due to its higher difficulty curve. One of the most notable ways Ages is harder than Seasons is when it comes to overworld traversal.
Like Ocarina of Time, Link can control the flow of time. Unlike Ocarina of Time, there isn’t one fixed point to travel through past & present: there are many. The Harp of Ages allows Link to alter the flow of time outright. The Tune of Echoes activates portals between time periods, the Tune of Currents immediately sends Link back into the present wherever he’s standing, and the Tune of Ages allows Link to travel through time wherever, whenever. The Harp of Ages is vital for thoroughly exploring Labrynna, and progression is very much like a puzzle.
Initially, players need to be on the lookout for time portals to activate with the Tune of Echoes, eventually building up the wisdom to know that portals are often hidden under blades of grass or rocks. Hit a dead end? Search the surrounding area for a portal. The Tune of Currents offers a convenient way of returning from the past back to the present, but it’s also vital for getting around the lack of time portals in certain areas. Come mid-game, traveling to the past through a portal and then finding the right place to play the Tune of Currents becomes routine. By the time the Tune of Ages is unlocked late-game, it’s mainly as a concession to make this process both easier on the player and more immediate– evolving the possibility of time travel from just specific locations to the entire overworld.
The trade-off for such a complicated overworld is that Labrynna is noticeably smaller than Oracle of Seasons’ Holodrum. Of course, the trade-off there is that exploration is more demanding. Along needing to manipulate time to see the whole region, over a third of the map is made up of large bodies of water. Players first travel the sea by raft before obtaining the Flippers which then become the Mermaid Suit, an upgrade controlled by button mashing the D-Pad instead of the A button. Link can still use weapons and even dive underwater (complete with their own areas to explore,) bringing concepts pioneered by 3D Zelda back into a 2D space.
This is best seen in Oracle of Ages’ dungeon design, which is consistently more sophisticated than Seasons’. The Ancient Tomb is almost like a dungeon within a dungeon. The upper & lower layers are filled with puzzles designed around the dungeon item– in this case the Power Glove– while the middle layer requires Link to find four tablets to descend even deeper into the Tomb. Puzzle concepts from every single dungeon make a reappearance, resulting in the single largest 8-bit dungeon in The Legend of Zelda.
Revolving doors need to be maneuvered & manipulated carefully, as they only ever let Link move in one direction. Block puzzles are now more complex than in the 3D games, each push flipping the block on its side and representing a different color. You need to understand the space you’re in, the block you’re pushing, where it’s going, and how it moves. Color puzzles are a constant throughout Ages, with Link needing to make tiles the same color without stepping on the same one twice & matching blocks to the right color. It’s all the depth of a 3D Zelda game in 8-bit.
This mechanical complexity extends to Ages’ item design as well, with the game’s standouts being the Seed Shooter and the Switch Hook. The former replaces the standard Bow & Arrow with seeds that can ricochet off walls– making switch & torch puzzles more than just shooting a target straight ahead– while the Switch Hook is a variant of the Hookshot that makes Link swap places with whatever he targets. The Switch Hook kills small enemies as well and can be used to reposition enemies or help Link cross large gaps.
Veran’s boss fight is an excellent showcase of these tools in action. Because Veran’s possessed Nayru at this point, Link can’t attack with his sword or he’ll risk killing her. Instead, players need to stun Nayru with the Seed Shooter, often at an angle, before ripping Veran out of Nayru with the Switch Hook and stabbing her. It’s not only a perfect representation of Oracle of Ages’ design philosophy– thought provoking gameplay above all else– but a strong way of setting up the game’s last act.
By the time Link scales the Black Tower to defeat Veran, the people of Labrynna have lost so much hope that the Flame of Sorrow is lit, bringing Twinrova one step closer to reviving Ganon. The Black Tower is a dungeon built up to (and literally built) all game, and it’s made all the better by the Linked Game’s added consequences. Veran’s warped Labrynna so much, players are left fighting an uphill battle.
The Tower itself is home to hordes of virtually every single type of enemy in the game and Veran’s second fight builds off her first conceptually, making for a well thought out final dungeon. Compared to Onox’s four room Castle, it’s almost embarrassing how much better the Black Tower is. The only downside is that Veran is a bit easy, but that’s where the Linked Game saves the day.
Oracle of Ages presents itself with a gravitas Seasons doesn’t, making the transition into the Room of Rites almost seamless narratively. Facing off against Twinrova to prevent the King of Evil’s revival is just the logical next step in a game of rapidly increasing stakes. Link may have defeated Veran, but Impa arrives to inform him that Zelda was abducted while he was inside the Tower. Zelda’s sudden kidnapping by Twinrova snuffs all hope from the world, lighting the Flame of Despair and readying Ganon’s resurrection.
The Room of Rites isn’t a long dungeon– only made up of two mazes and three boss fights– but it’s a memorable finale. Staircase mazes tend to be some of Oracle of Ages’ best puzzles, requiring players to study level layouts to make coherent progress, and a boss gauntlet is a strong way to cap off any Zelda. The Twinrova battle’s music is better than the fight itself, but she doesn’t have so much health where players will be drained for the final boss. Even though Link manages to stop Twinrova before the revival is finished, they give up their body to bring Ganon back to life.
The battle against Ganon is a final boss fight 30 hours and 19 dungeons in the making, the confrontation both Oracle games were building up to from the very beginning. Due to Twinrova’s own sacrifice, however, Ganon returns a mindless beast, barely even sentient at this point. Ganon can only be damaged with a Spin Attack, Master Sword, or Biggoron’s Sword, and hits considerably harder than most enemies in the duology. Taking Ganon down is a test of patience, skill, and sheer determination to save two kingdoms in one unforgettable quest.
In typical Zelda fashion, killing Ganon sets everything right with the world. The seasons are no longer troubling Holodrum, Labrynna is free from time’s unrelenting grasp, and Hyrule is in no immediate danger. All that’s left is for Link to set sail for new adventures, silenting hinting that the Linked Game transitions into his shipwreck at the start of Link’s Awakening. Regardless if you see the ending as a connection to LA, the Oracle games stress that there is always a new adventure around the corner. Link’s reward for saving Holodrum is saving Labrynna and from there he goes on to save the Wind Fish.
It’s the thrill of the adventure that matters most in Zelda, which is arguably the whole conceit behind the Oracle duology to begin with. The Linked Game is a genius concept out the gate, but Oracle of Ages masterfully blends its new endgame content with a genuinely great 2D Zelda that’s home to some of the best puzzles in the franchise. The duology is worth playing both ways through at least once, but Oracle of Ages’ Linked Game is a Legend of Zelda epic unlike any other and the Game Boy Color’s finest hour.