The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons Review
What can be said of Oracle of Seasons? Widely considered to be the better of the two Oracle games developed by Capcom, it actually started out life as a remake of the very first Zelda game. In fact, the first dungeon and boss character are almost directly taken from the first game. However, the Oracle games became something else in the end, something like Link’s Awakening spinoffs with unfortunate animal cameos (like a boxing kangaroo) and less interesting items. Designed to be more about combat than the puzzle-solving that Ages revolved around, Seasons is a solid Zelda game that also suffers from a few questionable design decisions.
A better world and characters
It’s impossible to resist comparing Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. Developed side-by-side, they share huge similarities and can be either played on their own or connected (using a password system) so that your deeds in one game are transferred to the next. This has a number of effects ranging from characters remembering or having heard of you to the end of the second game having the obligatory Link-Ganon showdown. I played Oracle of Ages vanilla without carrying over a password, so I made a point to connect the games together for this playthrough since I had never done so before. It’s really kind of remarkable how much impact this has, especially when you consider the limitations of the platform and how few other games allow your decisions in a previous game to make a noticeable impact.
Oracle of Seasons is often considered the better of the two games, and that’s really no surprise. Ages is an entertaining game with great puzzles, but the consistency goes out the window the moment you get the Mermaid Suit, and the rest of the game suffers greatly from that point on. Seasons, on the other hand, is a much more consistent game that doesn’t bother to bog itself down with puzzles in the first place. In fact, the dungeons in this game are more straightforward than any other Zelda game I can think of. Beyond that, I can’t help but feel that Seasons has a better world to explore, being designed in a way that reminds me of its predecessor, the still-superior Link’s Awakening. The addition of four changing seasons that can be cycled through once you unlock them and that affect the world in very noticeable ways (such as a snow drift bridging gaps, summer vines allowing you to climb to areas that were previously inaccessible, and leaves covering holes in the ground in the fall) makes for a much more involved and meaningfully-designed world than the half-baked time travel mechanic in Ages that simply drowns the color palette in sepia and changes one or two things between time periods. Additionally, you only change the seasons of a handful of screens at a time, so there’s little to no guesswork involved.
The characters are also much better in this game. If you played Ages, you no doubt hated Ralph. Good news—he doesn’t appear in Seasons, nor does the tree that talks with a bunch of hearts and constantly flirts with Link. Maple the witch (who occasionally flies through random screens and can be bumped into to spill items all over the screen) returns, as do a few other characters in minor roles, but the cast of characters is much stronger overall. Unfortunately, the talking animals with quirky personalities also return. This means the boxing kangaroo Ricky and the weird flying bear thing are present in the game. On the bright side, their appearances are rare and you won’t need them more than once or twice in the entire game, but I can’t help but wonder who decided that a boxing kangaroo was a good idea in the first place. A new contribution to Seasons are the underground-dwelling Subrosians who fit into the game’s setting perfectly and contribute a bit of levity to certain sections. You even go on a “date” with a celebrity Subrosian in a section that’s somewhat reminiscent of escorting Marin around in Link’s Awakening.
Why can’t the Oracle games get items right?
Seriously; all the great Zelda games have great items that are fun to use. Show me a person who didn’t go around using the Magic Rod to set cats on fire in Link’s Awakening and I’ll show you a liar. Part of the reason Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time are so loved is because the items seem so powerful and meaningful, even outside of the dungeons where you get them. Meanwhile, the Oracle games never give you a hookshot, or even a bow and arrow. The closest you get is the Long Hook in Ages, and Seasons’ items are even more pathetic. In fact, a late-game dungeon’s big innovation is—wait for it—a slingshot that shoots three seeds at once.
That’s right, the annoying seeds are back! You have the scent seeds which aren’t used a single time in Seasons, the Pegasus seeds that are used to jump over one or two large gaps in the entire game, the mystery seeds used primarily to get unhelpful hints from owl statues (and later on, to turn a fire boss into ice despite having nothing to do with coldness whatsoever), and the ember and gale seeds that set things on fire and teleport you around the map. Those last two are the ones you’ll be using the most of, but you’ll pretty much be done with seeds by the time you get the three-shooting slingshot. It exists solely to finish the dungeon you find it in, in fact, and its ability to shoot multiple seeds at once is never again useful.
The only other remotely interesting items you obtain are a controllable boomerang (which, like so many other things, is almost exclusively used in dungeons), a pair of magnetic gloves that can pull you toward or away from certain objects (and also manipulate metal balls; both uses are almost exclusive to dungeons), and a cape that eventually upgrades your Roc’s Feather so that you can double-jump. I found the cape to be the only consistently useful or interesting item since it allows you to jump over many attacks, making it extremely useful since Seasons more or less revolves around increasingly difficult combat encounters.
Of gardening and rings
Like in Ages, Link obtains “Gasha seeds” that he can plant in certain areas throughout the game. These grow into trees after you’ve defeated 40 or more enemies, and inside the fruit the trees produce one can find different types of rewards. Most of the time you’ll discover rings, though you can also find rare pieces of heart (same deal as other Zelda games: collect 4 and get a new heart container) and lesser rewards like rupees and heart refills.
Rings function exactly like they do in Ages, with you being given a ring box early on in which to store a single ring. Naturally, this box can eventually be upgraded to hold more rings, though you can only ever have one equipped at a time. Once you’ve acquired a ring, taking it to the ring guy will allow him to figure out what type of ring it is, and from there you can put it into your ring box and equip it to reap its benefits.
Effects range from increased damage to transforming you into NPCs or enemies (though this appears to be purely cosmetic and renders you unable to use items). They can also increase the damage you take while reducing the damage you do if you’re looking for a challenge, or double the hearts you pick up from fallen enemies so that you can restore your health faster. Rings are a nice little distraction, though to be perfectly honest, they’re ultimately insignificant enough that one could ignore them entirely and not suffer at all as a result. In fact, some rings are entirely symbolic and serve no actual purpose beyond signifying that you’ve accomplished something. I found that I was able to transfer my rings from Ages into Seasons, though, which was a nice touch that gave the game a certain sense of continuity that I appreciated.
Reused graphics and music combined with new stuff
Let’s be perfectly honest—just about everybody knows what they’re getting with a Zelda game in terms of graphics and music. The graphics are just a bunch of sprites, many of which borrowed from Link’s Awakening and given a splash of color, whereas the music borrows music in much the same way while combining it with original stuff that’s nonetheless limited by the Game Boy Color’s technology. The result is something decidedly sprite-y and bleep-y, but nevertheless Zelda-y at its very core.