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Sunday, April 24, 2016

SUPER GAME - Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Ages

I have always been a fan of the Zelda franchise. I started of course with the original 1986 title on the Nintendo. Even though I was not necessarily in to RPG or Action-Adventure games, the original game still captivated me. It was unlike anything else I had seen before. I primarily remember a few really boring text adventure games from the Atari home computer, and as such adventure games generally didn’t appeal to me. I remember hearing friends talk about Zelda, and eventually saw it firsthand at a friend’s house. To be quite honest, it wasn’t until years later that I would really come to truly appreciate what that original Zelda was, and what it did for the video game franchise as a whole.

The success of that original game of course led to an NES sequel, the Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. With a few more RPG elements thrown in, I was never really as captivated by this one as I was the original, but I digress. What followed next were Zelda titles being developed and released on every subsequent Nintendo console that would be released thereafter. This included games for each of the portable handheld consoles. The Gameboy, Gameboy Color, and Gameboy Advance systems all had Zelda titles released on them.

I remember borrowing and playing Link’s Awakening on the original Gameboy when I was in Jr. High, but never got much of a chance to complete it. With the game not being in full color, I never really had enough of a desire to play it after returning it, and as a result I never bought it for myself.

Years later I learned about the two games that had been co-developed released for the Gameboy Color (GBC). I didn’t realize, mostly due to the fact that I never owned a GBC system, that these two games were, in fact, designed to be played in succession, and that they could be linked together using a system of passwords. This means that the two games themselves were actually connected, and could technically be considered one single mega game. Certainly this would be the first time in my memory that something like this had ever been done. Making it even more intriguing is the fact that it didn’t matter what order you played the games in. In fact, the replay value for them was that much higher when you consider that you would experience a slightly different game experience depending on whether or not you chose to play Ages or Seasons first. In all, these two games provided up to 4 different gameplay experiences depending on your choices.

So what kind of gameplay experience does one get with these two games? To be completely honest, I haven’t played through all four of the possibilities, so I cannot speak to every single aspect. I have played through both games, however, starting first with Oracle of Seasons, and finishing with Oracle of Ages.

I didn’t expect much from these games in terms of storyline or depth. After all most games developed for the handheld consoles were shorter, and less developed than what was available on the original NES or Super Nintendo consoles. I always attributed this to the lack of physical memory available on the smaller cartridges. 

Boy was I ever surprised to find out just how deep and rich these games ended up being. Seriously, there are some very complex and sophisticated dungeons found in both, although I would argue that Ages has the most. When you consider that both games not only include overtly impressive overworlds (Holodrum and Lynna), plus their own additional storyline worlds (Lynna past, and Subrosia the underworld), you end up with a very deep, enriched, and highly fulfilling game. I am very, very impressed with just how much there actually is to these two portable games. They would honestly give a good run to quite a few of the “bigger” games found on the main NES and Super Nintendo consoles.

Like most Zelda games, these two games feature non-linear exploration and puzzle solving in order to advance the storyline, and open up new areas of the world map. The added wrinkle of having to traverse the same world in different seasons or timelines in order to unlock or complete a puzzle just makes it that much deeper in terms of exploration. Sometimes you cannot access a doorway, cave, or dungeon, unless you have first travelled back in time, or changed the season to aid you in gaining an advantage. Examples include planting a seed in the past that in turn sprouts in to a climbable vine in the present, or using snow drifts in winter to bridge an otherwise impassable gap present during any of the other three seasons. A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo included a few of these types of puzzles, where you would first need to traverse an area in the dark world, in order to surpass some immovable obstacle or boundary in the light world. The major difference between a Link to the Past and these two games is that these kinds of problem solving are a lot more prevalent in these games design. Meaning the game was designed with these added wrinkles being a bigger part of the overall game play and storyline.

If you are still not sold on just how large and expansive these games are, then please consider the fact that both games also include what is affectionately referred to as the trading game or fetch quest. Some people dislike this aspect of these games, as well as the one found in the GBA title The Minish Cap. While they are somewhat time consuming and vague, they add an additional level to the overall experience, and there is usually a nice reward at the end. Besides, it’s a lot more satisfying and fun to complete these games knowing that you have gotten 100% of the items and have also completed all of the additional side quests.

To sum things up: The two Zelda games found on the Gameboy Color provide a surprisingly deep, enriching game experience, and when you play them linked together, the game gets even deeper. Anyone who is a fan of the Zelda series is strongly encouraged to play them. Hell, even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of the franchise itself, you do owe it to yourself to play through what is probably the best game(s) found on the GBC.