I have seriously mixed feelings about Zelda: Oracle of Ages. It’s a decent enough game, especially given that it was developed by Capcom, but midway through the sixth dungeon things take a turn for the worst and the whole thing becomes nearly unbearable. Playing through this game is like dating someone really attractive who gouges your eyes out for no reason sometimes. Oh yeah, and they have a nicer, more attractive sibling named Oracle of Seasons. Oh, the temptation.
Seasons is the better game of the two. There’s just something about Ages that never quite measures up, much in the same way that neither of the two ever come close to the forever-awesome Link’s Awakening that they both borrow heavily from. Still, Ages has plenty to love for anyone longing for an oldschool 2D Zelda experience. After all, the game starts with an “oh no!” moment before sending you to find eight magical items that are located in a bunch of different dungeons scattered throughout the world. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the plot to pretty much every Zelda game ever made. Apart from some creative new items (and some that are nearly worthless) and features, this is basically just a colorful ripoff of Link’s Awakening.
Some of the new features are actually interesting, like the ability to find and use “rings.” Rings have a bunch of different effects, from increasing your sword damage to keeping floors from crumbling under your weight. They never really come in that handy, but they’re an interesting new element nonetheless. Color-based puzzles that take advantage of the different colors that the (originally) monocrome Link’s Awakening never could are another new feature, and they’re one of the best reasons to pick up Ages and Seasons. In the interest of fairness, it’s important to mention one of the best reasons not pick up either game: the lack of worthwhile characters. There are some unique characters who play their roles well enough, but there’s no one like Marin from Link’s Awakening who you ever really get to know. Of course, Zelda games don’t typically revolve around the characters so that may be a non-issue, but it really does make the story less interesting and personal.
Most of the new stuff is just cosmetic; the core gameplay is almost entirely unchanged. You still have items that you can assign to A and B, bombs still open cracked walls, the feather still enables you to jump, and you’re still running around a bunch of dungeons having your chest-related enthusiasm deflated by the stupid dungeon map and compass.
That means that a lot of the puzzles are actually interesting and worthwhile, and most of the game is pretty cool. Here’s one of my favorite puzzles, one that struck me as very Lufia 2-esque:
Midway through the sixth dungeon, however, you acquire a new item that brings down the entire game: the mermaid suit. Of course, “mermaid” has a female connotation, so that’s probably a good sign that this item wasn’t very well thought out. Actually using it proves just how horrible the game would have been had Capcom not had Link’s Awakening to use as a template; midway through the sixth dungeon, this item changes how swimming works. Like, all of it. Normal swimming, deep swimming, everything. If you played Link’s Awakening, you’re probably familiar with how swimming works in that game. If you haven’t, then it’s basically like walking in that you just hold a direction and you swim that way, with A speeding you up and B allowing you to dive. Nice and simple.
Once you get the mermaid suit, that all changes. The control scheme you were using and had become familiar with up until the sixth dungeon? Screw it. After acquiring this item, swimming is accomplished by tapping the direction you want to swim in over and over and over. It’s faster, but much more awkward. There’s also this uncomfortable element of momentum you have to contend with, which has allowed Capcom to throw a bunch of random obstacles in your way. For example, you can fall into holes. Holes in the water. I’m not even making this up. The weirdest thing is that some holes hurt you (I fell down one in the sixth dungeon shortly after getting the mermaid suit), while others are fine to swim over (like a large hole you can swim right over in the seventh dungeon). There’s no internal consistency or logic behind any of this. It’s just something stupid Capcom thought would be cool and that ended up sucking. It would be less of a problem if swimming was kept to a minimum after the control scheme changes, but the truth is that it plays a huge role in the following dungeon. Very annoying.
Some of the new items that were added are kind of interesting, like the seed shooter, yet they never really come in that handy or have the same kind of allure that the Magic Rod of Link’s Awakening fame had. You can’t help but feel that they’re just there to help out in a couple puzzles and then be completely forgotten about, and when they come in handy it’s usually for something really contrived like “use these monster-attracting scent seeds to trick those monsters over there into running off of a ledge.”
That mirrors somewhat the boss fights, which often seem completely stupid and meaningless except for when they’re completely copying Link’s Awakening. Capcom just couldn’t figure these out for themselves, and it shows. For example, there’s a boss fight that plays out like a minigame where you have to combine the pieces of the boss before attacking it. It’s… really, really stupid. Other boss fights are either equally stupid or pitifully easy; there are no epic fights like the final fight against the Nightmare in Link’s Awakening to be found anywhere, and that’s really a shame.
The graphics are like Link’s Awakening, but in color! Okay, it’s not that exciting, but they’re still pleasant.
The music is a mix of original stuff and older songs from Link’s Awakening. None of the original stuff is particularly memorable or noteworthy, and the reused songs are typically the less-interesting ones, so there’s no “Ballad of the Wind Fish” kind of stuff to be found anywhere in the game.
Here’s what you should do: