Review by Anclation
"Another fantastic Zelda game that will have you hooked from beginning to end."
If you were ever going to proclaim a period of time the golden age of the Zelda series, 1998-2002 would seem like the obvious choice. Not only did these five years produce five brand new Zelda adventures, it was also the period when the series established itself in 3D and which produced some of its most beloved installments to date. This golden age of Zelda began with Ocarina of Time, the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed Zelda game ever, and it ended with Wind Waker, which overcame early controversy to establish itself as another extremely successful piece of software. However, three of the games from this period of time went somewhat overlooked when they first came out: Majora's Mask, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons. They all had the unfortunate fact in common that they were released on dying systems (the N64 and the Game Boy Color respectively) and were thus met with limited interest, despite their sublime quality. Majora's Mask has pretty much been vindicated by history since then, but the Oracle games are also definitely worthy of wider recognition and greater acclaim.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons is a 2D action/adventure game for the Game Boy Color, developed by Capcom and released in 2001, on the very same day as its counterpart, Oracle of Ages. This sort of simultaneous release is hardly unprecedented, especially from the perspective of Game Boy owners (think Pokemon Red/Blue), but the big twist here is that Oracle of Seasons/Ages are actually two completely different games with only a handful of things in common (characters, weapons, gameplay mechanics) beyond the standard Zelda ingredients. The two games can be played separately, or be connected via a password system to experience the whole story.
We begin the story with Link, the Hero of Hyrule, traveling to the shrine of the Triforce to see if something is amiss. However, when he arrives at the shrine the Triforce itself wisks him away to the mysterious world of Holodrum, which right now needs Link a lot more than Hyrule does. Once in Holodrum, he encounters Din the dancer and her traveling troupe of performers. They dance, drink and have a good time...well, at least until Onox, the General of Darkness crashes the party, tosses around Link and the others as if they were ragdolls and then kidnaps Din. Turns out Din is no ordinary dancer, she is actually the Oracle of Seasons, and as such she is a big time VIP. Onox reveals that by imprisoning the Oracle of Seasons, as well as burying the temple housing the Season Spirits (which he promptly proceeds to do), the seasons of Holodrum itself will be cast into chaos, making the world uninhabitable for all living things and eventually killing them all. Nice guy, huh? Anyway, the only way to stop Onox is to unite the 8 Essences of Nature, each Essence being hidden within a dangerous dungeon. Time for Link to get to work.
Though this first part of the game features some very cool cut-scenes and does a great job setting up the conflict, Oracle of Seasons is all in all much more of an action-driven game than its counterpart Oracle of Ages, and as such the story takes a backseat after the introductory sequences are out of the way. In this sense the storytelling in Seasons sticks closer to the classic 2D Zelda adventures rather than the N64 Zeldas, the story here being explained and developed through optional conversations with NPCs rather than numerous cut-scenes. It's an interesting contrast, and the approach certainly works well for Seasons, though I found the story in Ages more interesting overall.
In terms of gameplay though, Oracle of Seasons is near-perfect. The standard Zelda formula remains intact, but a lot of new elements have been added as well. Like all good Zelda games Oracle of Seasons is an epic quest that offers something for everyone: If you're into exploration, know that Holodrum is a huge and fascinating world, lovingly designed and full of secrets. If you're seeking action and adventure, know that Link's adventure is a long one, very fun and varied, with a lot to do even between dungeons. You also have plenty of people to meet and help (including a lengthy trading sequence), a number of mini-games to play and plenty of other stuff to experiment with. There's platform stages, underwater stages and definitely plenty of interesting puzzles, despite what you might have heard from other sources.
The 8 dungeons in this game are everything you could hope for, big, diverse, full of dangerous enemies as well as smart, imaginative puzzles. In fact, while Oracle of Ages is considered the puzzle-heavy game of the two, I actually enjoyed the puzzles in Seasons more, finding the variety better and the puzzles themselves less time consuming (while still remaining challenging). The mini-bosses and bosses were very enjoyable as well. And of course, you find plenty of cool items in the various dungeons, both old standbys and brand new ones you can play around with. The new items are all great fun, especially the Magnetic Gloves which get so many cool uses and are among my favorite Zelda items of all time.
Apart from Holodrum and its dungeons, you also have the subterranean lava world of Subrosia to explore. While not as big as Holodrum or even Labrynna from Oracle of Ages, Subrosia is still an interesting enough place, boasts a very distinct atmosphere and even has its own currency (your Rupees will do you no good there). The reason Subrosia is important is that this is the place where the Temple of Seasons has been buried, and you will need to visit that temple multiple times in order to fully restore the powers of the Rod of Seasons.
The Rod of Seasons
The Rod of Seasons is key to progressing in this game. As previously mentioned, Onox's actions have plunged Holodrum into chaos and completely messed up its seasons. While parts of Holodrum are stuck in the winter cold, other are experiencing summer heat, and other again are stuck in spring or autumn. However, with the Rod of Seasons you can actually change around the seasons as you wish, just stand atop a stump and wave the rod to change the season. You don't immediately get the power of all seasons included with the rod, you start off with the power of winter and then at different points of the game you get the rod imbued with the other season spirits.
Each of the four seasons affect the world differently, they all remove some obstacles and place new ones in your way. For example, during winter the snow will block many of your normal paths, but piled up snow will also give you access to brand new paths. Also, water will freeze over during winter, allowing you to walk over what would previously drown you, and the winter also causes many obstructing trees to shrivel up and lose their leaves, enabling you to pass through. As you can imagine, this season-changing system opens up the door for a ton of cool new puzzles, and it essentially means you have to explore Holodrum four times over in order to discover all its secrets. It's a great concept, superbly executed, and unlike the time traveling in Oracle of Ages it actually brings something brand new to the Zelda series.
Rings, animals, seeds and other craziness
The Rod of Seasons is not the only new idea Oracle of Seasons brings to the series. Among other innovations you have the magic rings. During the course of your adventure you will find different rings, and by visiting Vasu the jeweler you can have them appraised and rendered usable. There are dozens and dozens of different rings to be found in this game, and they have all kinds of crazy abilities: Some rings can transform you into different creatures, others affect your power and defense while others again give you different (and often very neat) abilities. To begin with you can only carry around one usable ring at a time, but you get to remedy this later in the game.
You also have the Gasha Seeds, which you can plant in different spots of soft soil. Come back later and the seed will have grown into a tree, which you get a Gasha Nut from. Gasha Nuts can contain all sorts of different stuff, rings, rupees, even a piece of heart. Another addition to the series is the use of animals other than the horse Epona for traveling around the world. At different points of the game you will come across several different animals (a boxing kangaroo, a flying bear and a swimming dodongo) which you need to use to get past certain obstacles. The different animals are only really useful once or twice though, so while they are fun to control, they don't really add a lot to the experience. However, they represent an exception to the general rule, which is that the new additions come together incredibly well and make an already fantastic game even better.
Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages can be connected in a clever, yet simple way: After you have completed Oracle of Seasons you get a password. Now start a new game on Oracle of Ages and choose to type in that particular password to continue the story you began in Seasons. Of course, this also works the other way around. The enhanced version of Ages/Seasons will in many ways be identical to standard quest, but there are some important twists. Old friends from Seasons/Ages will pop up from time to time, princess Zelda will travel to Labrynna/Holodrum and the story will be fleshed out to account for Link's earlier exploits in Seasons/Ages and the evil forces behind Onox and Veran. There will also be an extra, optional dungeon added, truly testing your abilities to their limits. Note that this extra dungeon is different depending on whether the adventure is being continued in Seasons or Ages.
You can also now trade passwords between the two games, giving you more heart containers, providing you with new mini-games, letting you upgrade your items and even get brand new ones. The enhanced game will basically feel like the second part of an epic adventure, rather than just a standalone quest. Most importantly, this adventure will not end after you've beaten the supposed final boss, but will instead continue a little bit longer, finally giving you the chance to take on the real big bad and see the ultimate ending.
Keep in mind, even without the Linked Game feature Oracle of Seasons is still a wonderful game and a very satisfying experience. Still, linking up Seasons with Ages does definitely make both games even more fun and interesting. As such, you being unable to track down Ages is in itself no reason not to buy Seasons, however, the Linked Game feature is a very good reason to start searching for Ages after having finished Seasons.
Oracle of Seasons arrived late in the life of the Game Boy Color and took full advantage of the system. The game really looks great (even when stretched out on a bigger GBA screen), full of very strong, vibrant colors. It's definitely a whole lot prettier than Link's Awakening DX. Variety is extremely good thanks to the four seasons, each one giving Holodrum a completely unique and beautiful look of its own. Subrosia looks like you'd expect of an underground lava world. Overall, Seasons is definitely a very pretty GBC game.
Music & Sound
Sure, the GBC's sound capabilities are very limited, but Oracle of Seasons nonetheless manages to produce plenty of nice tunes. Some are taken from Link's Awakening, but there's enough original music here for that not to be any kind of problem. However, I will admit that I preferred the soundtrack in Ages over the one in Seasons. The sound effects meanwhile are pretty much as they were in Link's Awakening, which is quite alright considering the hardware limitations and the fact that LA had very satisfying sound effects.
The main adventure is pretty long, considering there are 8 dungeons and how getting to them can be little adventures of their own. There are also plenty of secrets to discover, heart pieces and rings to collect, not to mention the rewards from experimenting with the Rod of Seasons all over Holodrum. The replay-value also goes through the roof thanks to the Linked Game feature and all that it brings with it. However, even without any link-up with Ages, Oracle of Seasons will still last you a good while.
Oracle of Seasons is an absolute blast to play, brings with it plenty of fresh, news ideas and proves to be an excellent addition to the Zelda series. Out of the two Oracle games Seasons is also my person favorite, though there isn't much separating these two amazing adventures. And as great as the two games are on their own, they become even better once linked up. Seriously, both of these games are absolute must-buys and well worth searching out. Buy them!
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/12/09
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons (EU, 10/05/01)
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