Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Retro Review - The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

We're in the middle of the summer slump, and a lot of the games you'd think would be hot holiday titles are getting pushed back to 2010. So what's a guy to do? Answer: play really old games he somehow missed.

And I can tell you exactly why I missed this one: I thought I didn't like Zelda games. Everyone talks about Ocarina of Time and how it's like the "Best game EVAAAHHH!" Yeah, I actually didn't like it. Not even a little. And I skipped Majora's Mask entirely. I seriously tried to like The Wind Waker, because I really did like the art style, but I was just bored with it. I gave Twilight Princess a shot too, and I kinda liked it, but not as much as everyone else seemed to.

But I recall that the reason I didn't like those games was because they didn't really seem like Zelda to me. This might be blasphemous to the "Best game EVAAAHHH!" crowd that didn't play a Zelda game prior to Ocarina of Time, but I grew up with an NES. My first Zelda game was the original, which I loved. While we're on the subject, I remember a big blizzard closing school when we were supposed to be going back to school from Christmas break... in a sense, extending our break. It was the year I got my SNES, and I remember spending that break playing A Link to the Past almost exclusively. In the newer games, sure you play as a fellow dressed in green exploring dungeons on his quest to rescue Zelda, but the similarities end there. The atmosphere of the game was changed.

Which brings us to Oracle of Seasons. At some point in time, Capcom and Nintendo partnered to explore the idea of remaking the original Legend of Zelda for the Gameboy color. That project expanded into what was going to be three games, then eventually scaled back to the two that were eventually released. And it was an ambitious release... completing one game would give you a pass code that you could use to alter the second game. In the altered second game, characters would give more codes to go back to the first game and get the best items, including the Master Sword. Of course, they don't do you a lot of good in a game you just finished, so you'd actually get codes from the people who give you the items to take them back to the altered second game. And the true ending to both games could only be found in the altered version.

I decided to start with Oracle of Seasons. After some initial introductory scenes and a quest to get a sword, I set off for the first real dungeon. In that first dungeon, as I killed some bats, went down some stairs to get the dungeon's treasure, and checked the dungeon's layout on the map screen, I felt a surge of nostalgia. This game, more than any of the fancy 3D ones that have been on Nintendo's home consoles, truly evoked the atmosphere of the original game and the SNES sequel. This feeling was further cemented when the boss of the dungeon turned out to be an updated version of the first boss in the original game.

I'm not sure what else I could tell you about the game that says more than that, but the plot revolves around Din, the Oracle of Seasons. She gets captured by a guy named Onox, and Link is pulled from Hyrule to the realm of Holodrum to rescue Din. In typical Zelda fashion, he has to collect 8 things, in this case Essences, before he can confront Onox and rescue Din. As he quests through the dungeons to retrieve the Essences, he collects a variety of items to aid him on his quest. This includes series' staples like the boomerang and the power bracelet, as well as adding new ones like the magnetic glove and seed satchel.

The most significant new item Link collects is the Rod of Seasons. Link can use the Rod of Seasons at certain tree stumps to change the current season into another. Vines grow up cliffs and rivers dry up in summer, flowers that allow Link to bounce grow in spring, some water freezes and snow drifts form walkways in winter, and (oddly) some rocks become pickable mushrooms in autumn. Manipulating the environment by changing the seasons helps open up areas of Holodrum that were previously inaccessible.

The enemies in this game seemed a tad on the easy side. The original one isn't particularly difficult either, but I recall that I didn't go into any dungeon past maybe the fourth one without a stock of healing potions, while Onox himself was the first and only point I needed a potion in Seasons. The ease of combat is perhaps off set by the difficulties in the puzzles. There were a few times I had to consult GameFAQs before I could figure out how to proceed, and I'm not ashamed to admit that every time I read the answer I was thinking, "There is no way I'd have figured that out on my own."

Gameboy Color games are becoming a little trickier to find with Gamestop dumping them, and of course your Nintendo DS doesn't play Gameboy Color games, so you'll have to have hung onto a Gameboy Color or a Gameboy Advance (or grab an emulator on your computer). But however you wind up doing it, you really should play Oracle of Seasons, as it turns out to be one of the best Gameboy Color games, one of the best Zelda games, and an all-around good game, even by modern standards.

Final Score: B+

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