How Have These Black Sheep Zelda Titles Aged?
2001 was a big year for Nintendo. The company was still hot off the release of the much-loved Game Boy Color and was preparing to release both the Game Boy Advance and Gamecube later in the year. The company faced an interesting challenge: With a new handheld coming up, how could they avoid the generational cutoff that is sometimes caused by new hardware?
Their answer was brilliant: Create two brand new Legend of Zelda titles for the GBC that also have special features when played on the GBA. Add in linked crossover features between the titles and you have a major fanfare to send off the GBC and connect fans to the GBA.
And so, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and The Legend of Zelda Oracle of Ages were born. Despite the fact that the two titles were the first first-party Zelda titles to be produced out-of-house (Capcom handled development), the result had the true Zelda imprint on its DNA. The stunning display was a fantastic nod to what the GBC still had left to offer and a great intro for the GBA.
History of the Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages
Development for Oracle of Seasons/Ages originally began as a remake of the original series’ title on the advanced GBA hardware. After many changes and delays, Shigeru Miyamoto proposed splitting development into three games, each with a different gameplay focus. Nintendo dubbed the resulting trio of games the “Triforce Series” during development as each title was meant to stand for a piece of the Triforce. The team eventually had to cut the third game due to development reasons, but the remaining two titles retained the emphasis on different gameplay elements.
Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages are very similar in many respects, but each have a unique focus. Seasons puts more emphasis on combat and exploration whereas Ages leans on puzzle-solving. The difference in focus helped distinguish what are otherwise two mechanically and visually similar games. Make no mistake though, both games have their fair share of both puzzles and combat. You can definitely feel the difference when playing the titles though, especially on some of the more difficult combat challenges of Seasons and puzzles in Ages.
Seasons and Ages were also some of the few Zelda titles that did not take place in Hyrule. Seasons was set in the geographically and ecologically diverse realm of Holodrum whereas Ages was set in the mysterious and ancient land of Labrynna. These two settings perfectly fit the high-adventure epic feel of the Zelda games and introduced sprawling worlds with secrets to discover and dungeons to traverse. Moreover, each game gave you a unique mechanic to interact with the overworld. Seasons featured the Rod of Seasons, which allowed you to change between the 4 seasons and change the layout of the map. Ages featured the Harp of Ages that allowed you to travel through the currents of time between past and present versions of Labrynna. These two mechanics further gave each game a unique identity that warranted players buying both versions to experience everything.
Both games have similar openings. Link is beckoned to the Temple of Time, and the Triforce flings him off to the far corners of the world. In Seasons, link must fight against the even general Onyx who has kidnapped Din, the so-called Oracle of Seasons. Link must find the 8 Essences of Nature to save Din and balance the flow of the seasons in the region.
In Ages, Link must rescue the Oracle of Ages Nayru from the clutches of the sorceress Veran, He must collect the 8 Essence of Time to correct the corrupted and shifting timeline which has plunged that nation into chaos.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because it fits the general structure of Zelda games. The stories of the two games fit the traditional Zelda narrative, while introducing a cast of colorful and memorable side characters.
Dungeons have been a Zelda series’ staple since the beginning and are often one of the main areas the games are judged on. Despite the relatively limited hardware of the 8-bit era, Seasons and Ages each had 8 unique dungeons which stood up to some of the level-design seen in the 3-D games. Despite the development team’s desire to make a more casual-friendly Zelda title, the 16 dungeons between the games have some genuinely difficult entries that will leave even the most experienced adventurer scratching their heads. Some of the more memorable instances of dungeons include traveling between the future and past to complete Mermaid’s Cave in Ages and navigating the towering Ancient Ruins in Seasons. Add in a bunch of cool new tools and items, and dungeon progression in Seasons and Ages is some of the most satisfying the series has to offer.
The linked features were another defining aspect of the titles.. You could play the games in any order and upon completing one game, the player would receive a special code they could input when starting a new game on the other title. The code carried over their file into the new game, introducing new plot points and new secrets/items to discover. A linked quest also introduced a new epilogue at the end of the second game that saw Link save Princess Zelda from the clutches of Twinrova and Ganon. The crossover of story elements and differences in secrets meant that players had to complete the games 4 times, twice each, to see the entire story. Talk about replayability!
20 years down the road and we have still never seen anything quite like Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons again. Nintendo has not done another double Zelda release, most likely due to the sheer cost and risk of developing titles in the modern age. Oracle of Seasons and Ages came out at a unique time: a time when game development was still relatively cheap; a time where developers were not afraid to create two brand new unique titles for a system that was nearing the end of its run. We will probably never seen another set of games like the Oracle duo in Zelda history, so it’s a good thing that these two titles have aged like fine wine and are still every bit as fun to play!