Having joined forces with Capcom, Nintendo’s early concepts for the Oracle series saw it begin life as three interconnected adventures, that as a whole were destined to become known as the Triforce trilogy.
Each game was to represent an individual piece of the Triforce, yet troubled development saw difficulties in creating a password system that enabled the company to link the three together. Recognising such woes, Nintendo made the decision to cut the project down to just two titles, with the third being flung on the proverbial scrap heap.
Whilst we may never know how the Triforce trilogy would have shaped up, any assumption that the setback had an impact on either Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons does a huge disservice to the abundant quality that remains when each stands alone.
Under the eagle-eyed supervision of Nintendo stalwart Shigeru Miyamoto, each delivered on entirely separate foundations: Ages was geared toward being a more puzzle-orientated experience; whereas Seasons saw fit to thrust you into combat more readily throughout.
Whilst my Nintendo Insider compadre will be covering the former, I’ve now bested Link’s more seasonal quest and lived to tell the tale. For this harkens from the bygone age where Nintendo games were far tougher to beat, the company all too eager to leave you utterly perplexed, left at wit’s end as to how you surpass that bit in a dungeon. But boy is the adventure well worth it.
Placed between A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening in the series timeline, Seasons opens with Link being summoned to Hyrule Castle by the Triforce itself. Approaching the sacred relic he is soon teleported to the land of Holodrum, momentarily stumbling upon a travelling group led by an evocative dancer called Din.
After a fleeting conversation, the skies darken and Onox, the self-proclaimed General of Darkness, beckons to the gathering and kidnaps Din in a tempestuous wind, unbalancing the land’s seasons and generally proving himself to be a pain in the behind.
Link is soon pointed toward seeking guidance from the Maku Tree, who explains that he must retrieve the eight Essences of Nature if he is to save the kingdom in its hour of need. All too enthusiastic to be given a new quest to conquer, and one that doesn’t see him having to save Zelda yet again.
Seasons’ overworld is a key highlight, the whimsically colourful landscapes of Holodrum proving a stark contrast to the volcanic, subterranean Subrosia with its accompanying lumbering melodies. Your surroundings have plenty of personality, from Horon Village to Mt. Cucco, to a Pirate Ship with its skeleton crew and a Moblin Keep that continually barrages you with bombs if you wander too close.
Exploration, a key staple of the Zelda formula, is unendingly joyous here, Holodrum being a wondrous place to wander around. Regularly switching up the visuals is the game’s key item, the Rod of Seasons. As can be expected perhaps, Link must gather charge the rod with each individual season’s spirit before he can truly utilise the item.
Having done so at intervals during his quest, Link can give a masterful swing of the rod atop any available tree stump to alter the season between spring, summer, winter, or autumn. These don’t serve to simply provide rather enchanting aesthetic changes either, altering the surrounding environment in ways to help Link’s progression. Winter could see heavy snow layer deep pits or avalanches build paths to otherwise inaccessible entrances, whereas spring sees flowers bloom that launch you into the air onto higher ledges.
Oracle of Seasons naturally shines when it is at its creative best. Whether performing the synchronised Subrosian Dance to secure yourself the Boomerang or using Magnetic Gloves to attract and repel yourself across deadly chasms, or using one of three animal companions to trek across Holodrum.
Mystical Seeds are another new addition, either sprinkled from a satchel or flung at foes through using a slingshot. Each have differing effects on whatever they strike: Ember Seeds bursting into flame on impact; Pegasus Seeds that heighten speed; Gale Seeds that transport you between locations; and Mystery Seeds that cause unknown effects.
Dungeons themselves are intricately complex, and will often leave you scratching your head for solutions if you haven’t got a GameFAQs walkthrough to hand. Bosses equally remain as monstrous as ever, either simple to defeat or intensely gruelling experiences that’ll threaten to see you throw your Nintendo 3DS at the wall. The final boss fight is but one instance of this, although earlier encounters with Manhandla, Gleeok and Digdogger can all be equally listed on the same page.
If there’s anything to criticise, then item management soon becomes a chore. Now used to the luxury of Nintendo utilising an additional touch screen, players will soon find having to regularly open the start menu relatively frustrating – especially on later dungeons that require multiple items to conquer. A ring collecting side quest is also unnecessary, regardless of what benefits it brings.
Concluding Seasons doesn’t necessarily call an end to your Zelda experience either, your victory rewarding you with a unique secret code that can be entered in Ages or vice versa. Entering such code not only sees players greeted with expanded plot devices that allowed the second game played to link more deeply with the first but more beneficially unlocks a secret playable ending that sees Link face an old rival.
When Seasons is at its most inventive, it easily ranks among The Legend of Zelda series handheld greats. Whilst long-serving fans will all too eagerly make a purchase, it provides a worthwhile glance to newcomers at just how well-oiled the Zelda series became during the Game Boy’s golden era.