It’s been a while since our last foray into Hyrule but I am back and eager to take more of the saga on. The Gameboy was a phenomenon unprecedented in gaming history and with the success of Link’s Awakening, it was proven that portable systems could carry a decent, if truncated, Legend of Zelda title. I confess that the Oracle games always felt disappointing to me and while I found that I was being a bit harsh to these GameBoy Color titles, it was only a bit. Those of you who bothered to read my thoughts on Link’s Awakening will discover that I had many qualms with the lamentable lack of buttons limiting active item space and the problem, unsurprisingly, carries over to the Oracle games. Of all the titles I have played for the Experience, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages are in the deepest need of a functional remake but also the least deserving of it. This is because the problems of the Oracle games unfortunately go beyond hardware limitations.
The gameplay experience of the much hailed, if a shade overrated, Link’s Awakening carries over to each of the Oracle titles. Oracle of Seasons focused on the action type gameplay established in the Zelda franchise but not in a groundbreaking or satsisfying way. Instead it heavily leans on the mechanics of Link’s Awakening and trusts that the combat in that game was compelling enough to build a whole game around. The two Oracle games to combine to tell one linear story but the problem is that linearity between the two games leaves you wanting for better pacing. To go from the swashbuckling hack and slash of Seasons into the more thoughtful and puzzle-oriented Ages feels savagely break-neck and the pacing problems of both are in sharp contrast so that no matter which you start with, the pacing of the second feels off. To remedy this, I started over and played each a dungeon at a time. This greatly improved the pacing but I was still playing two different games. No game should force players to settle for a mediocre middle ground. Nintendo popularized the idea of two concurrently released version of the same core game with Pokémon but Capcom botched the whole thing.
As much as I am savaging these two though, there’s much to be said for the lasting power of the Zelda formula and the quirkiness that Capcom brings to these two as they did for Link’s Awakening. There’s nothing overtly WRONG with the gameplay, it’s just not paced well between the two and the fact that other titles, before and since, have simply done it better. This is not to say that on some level I did not enjoy them, quite the contrary.
The story for the Oracle games are a bit of a plus when compared to the gameplay. Each game takes place in a place that is NOT Hyrule: Holodrum for Seasons and Labrynna for Ages. Each of them features a villain who is not Ganon, General Onox for Seasons and Veran for Ages. Unfortunately, while their design is cool, neither of them strike quite the chord of menace as Ganon does. Link (the same one from Link’s Awakening and Link to the Past) is teleported to these lands in order to free them from their respective tyrants. In each game you complete your typical eight dungeon magical McGuffin fetch quest and then confront Veran or Onox. The real antagonist, if you play a Linked Game and discover this, is Twinrova who are trying to resurrect Ganon. Oh wait, I suppose Ganon IS the bad guy. Guess those two couldn’t be interesting on their own. Ah well.
I love the Legend of Zelda Franchsie. This is a well-documented fact. However, the Oracle games highlight an often cited (and typically overblown for the franchise at large) flaw: they can be a tad bit formulaic. Playing this series in order, it’s clear to me that Zelda needed a cataclysmic change. Like God destroying the Earth for a wicked mankind, Nintendo would go on to create an ark of essentials to the franchise, and bury the rest in a global flood.