The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

Introduction

In the early eighties, a programmer named Yoshiki Okamoto began his career working for Konami. His most notable works during his tenure with the company were Time Pilot and Gyruss – both of which provided ahead-of-their-time takes on the shoot ‘em up genre. Despite the success he brought to the company, Mr. Okamoto’s employer was not satisfied, as he had allegedly been asked to create a driving game instead. The disagreements that resulted from this eventually resulted in his termination. Mr. Okamoto proceeded to join Capcom in 1984 where he proceeded to direct the creation of more classic arcade games such as 1942, Gun.Smoke, and Hyper Dyne Side Arms. At the end of the decade, he began overseeing development of Capcom’s games as a producer. During this stint, his greatest accomplishment was when he recruited character designer Akira Yasuda. Together, they ended up developing two of Capcom’s biggest hits: the 1989 beat ‘em up, Final Fight, and the 1991 revolutionary fighting game, Street Fighter II.

In 1997, Mr. Okamoto founded an independent company known as Flagship. Two years later, he proposed an idea to Shigeru Miyamoto, one of Nintendo’s most prominent figures. Partially owing to the success of Nintendo’s new Game Boy Color console, which included a port of the original Super Mario Bros., Mr. Okamoto wished to remake The Legend of Zelda for the platform. He was eventually asked to create six games: two based on earlier installments with the remaining four being original entries. However, problems arose when the team led by Hidemaro Fujibayashi wanted to skip developing the remakes and start developing a new Zelda title straight away. Furthermore, The Legend of Zelda was deemed too difficult for a new generation of enthusiasts, and the Game Boy Color’s screen couldn’t scale its resolution; they would need to have rooms scroll in order to display them properly. To accommodate these limitations, they ended up making more and more changes until they inadvertently created an entirely new world map. This led to a fruitless cycle wherein the scenario had to be reworked constantly to match the modifications.

Dismayed by the fact that they had been spending money for a year with no meaningful results, Mr. Okamoto asked Mr. Miyamoto for help. The latter came up with the idea for Flagship and Capcom to develop a trilogy of Zelda games. This hypothetical trilogy would be dubbed the “Triforce series” – named after a relic that fulfills an integral role in the series’ setting and backstory. The artifact is composed of three triangles, representing essences of power, wisdom, and courage, and each installment was to be associated with a component. The first of the three games was unveiled at Nintendo’s SpaceWorld trade show in 1999 under the tentative title of The Legend of Zelda: Fruit of the Mysterious Tree – Chapter of Power (Mystical Seed of Power for the Western release). In this installment, the reoccurring antagonist, Ganon, kidnapped Princess Zelda and stole the Rod of Seasons, throwing Hyrule into disarray. The second of the games, Chapter of Wisdom, was intended by the developers to focus on color-based puzzles. Finally, Chapter of Courage would make players use the times of day to solve puzzles.

This project too hit a stumbling block, and as per Mr. Miyamoto’s suggestion, the team scaled back with the goal of creating a duology instead. The two remaining games were released in February of 2001 – shortly before the launch of the Game Boy Advance. Its Western releases followed later in the year. The first of the two games was released under the name The Legend of Zelda: Fruit of the Mysterious Tree: Chapter of the Earth. Overseas, it was retitled The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. Did Capcom live up to Nintendo’s high standards and create something worthy of bearing the Zelda banner?

Analyzing the Experience

WARNING: The following review will contain minor spoilers.

One day, the hero of this story, Link, was beckoned by the essence of the Triforce. Upon entering the shrine in which it is housed, the sacred relic transports him to the distant land of Holodrum.

He awakens to the sound of lively music. Nearby, he happens upon a travelling troupe of performers enjoying the dance of a woman named Din. He also meets an older woman named Impa, who introduces herself as the troupe’s cook. Din asks Link if he wants to dance.

Though hesitant at first, he eventually gets into it, and before long, he is enjoying himself. Unfortunately, the festivities don’t last for long. The sky darkens and a mysterious being introducing himself as Onox, the General of Darkness, appears. He reveals that Din is really the Oracle of Seasons, a descendant of a long line of mystics who have the ability to change the seasons in Holodrum.

Though Link tries his best to defend Din, the general conjures a magical storm, which he uses to abduct the oracle and cast everyone else away. Din is then imprisoned in a crystal cage as Onox sinks the nearby Temple of Seasons.

These two actions throw the seasons of Holodrum into chaos, causing untold destruction to the land’s ecosystem. Coming to in the care of Impa, he is informed of the current situation. For Link to defeat Onox and restore order to Holodrum he must speak with the land’s guardian, the Maku Tree. Realizing that he is the only one who can accomplish this task, he heads for Horon Village where the tree resides.

Those who have been following the series up until this point will notice the gameplay of Oracle of Seasons looks identical to that of Link’s Awakening, copying basic controls, sprites, graphics, and sound effects from its distant predecessor. The series returns to its familiar 2D, top-down presentation the series rode to success before breaking into 3D with Ocarina of Time. You use the directional pad to control Link, and he is able to move in eight different directions, retaining his ability to walk diagonally. There are only two buttons to work with on the Game Boy Color aside from “SELECT” and “START”, which are used for opening the map and pausing the game respectively. As such, there is no button dedicated to Link’s primary means of defense: the sword. Normally, you would assign an item to the “B” and “A” buttons so you could use them.

However, as you begin the game proper, you may notice that little of this information matters, for you don’t even begin with a sword. A savvy person would assume that you obtain a sword before you’re put in any kind of dangerous situation. This assumption, though understandable, would be entirely false. In order to reach the Maku Tree, Link must find a symbol of courage. When he explores the land to the west of Horon Village, he will discover the Hero’s Cave. This area serves as a loose tutorial for how dungeons work in this game.

The most noticeable difference between dungeon rooms and overworld screens lies in their size. While touching the edge of the screen on the overworld results in a transition to the next area, the every dungeon room exceeds the scope what can be displayed on the device. In plainer terms, rooms now scroll automatically as you approach the edges of the screen. As is standard for the series at this point, dungeons define themselves by having puzzles to solve. The Hero’s Cave introduces you to the basic puzzle elements. There are switches on the floor that cause something to happen when stepped on. Some stay down when depressed while others require a heavy object to be placed on them first. Furthermore, there are specific blocks in some rooms that can be pushed once. Doing this will usually cause something to happen as if you stepped on a switch while other times, it’s just to gain access to what lies beyond them.

One property that makes Oracle of Seasons stand out from Link’s Awakening is how certain dungeons have multiple floors. This comes into play several times throughout, as you are required to drop into lower floors from higher ones. Some puzzles take advantage of this property as well by allowing you to drop important objects. You will know if it’s safe to drop down a pit if you vaguely make out a floor below. When you make it to the end of the Hero’s Cave, the treasure chest contains the Wooden Sword – your first weapon.

After obtaining the symbol of courage he needs, Link meets the Maku Tree. Holodrum’s guardian tells Link that his withered form is the result of Onox’s actions. In order for the Maku Tree to regain his full power, Link must retrieve the eight Essences of Nature, mysterious items containing the pure energy of growth and change. Knowing that the first essence is nearby, the guardian gives Link the key to the dungeon in which it resides so he may begin his quest in earnest.

Oracle of Seasons began its development cycle as a remake of The Legend of Zelda. Though it ended up being an original game, trace elements of what it was intended to be remain in the final product.

To wit, the exterior of this game’s first dungeon bears more than a passing resemblance to the one that started it all fifteen years prior. Exploring the dungeon reveals even more similarities between the two.

Though possessing a different layout as well as featuring new enemies and obstacles, it too is shaped like an eagle. Moreover, halfway through the dungeon, you will be made to fight Brother Goriyas, monsters well-known by fans of the first game. They even attack in a similar fashion – by throwing boomerangs at you.

Once you vanquish your foes, a portal appears in the center of the room. As was the case with Link’s Awakening, stepping on it transports you to a previous room – the entrance in most dungeons, though this one provides an exception. The callbacks don’t end here; the next contains a familiar block pattern surrounding a staircase. Pushing one of them allows access to it. This leads to a side-scrolling area identical to the ones that would contain important items in the original.

If these parallels weren’t enough, the boss at the end of the dungeon is Aquamentus. Being the first boss, the fight against it is straightforward, but you’ll notice that as you strike its weak point, it will begin to speed up, forcing you to dodge its path. This was not something it did in the original, and sets the tone for the rest of the game. You may see familiar monsters guarding the essences in future dungeons, but you will typically need to employ more advanced tactics to take them down.

During your travels, you will find items known as Gasha Seeds and Seed Rings. Gasha Seeds can be planted in any patch of fertile soil. Some are out in the open, but you will need to dig or cut bushes down to find others. When you’re ready to plant the seed, you need only press the action button near a soil patch. Contrary to what you’re led to believe, the plant grows as you slay enemies. After killing forty enemies, the plant will have grown into a tree, bearing a nut. Inside the nut is a useful item; what you obtain depends on where you planted the seed in the first place. Generally, seeds planted in harder-to-reach locations will yield the best results.

In Horon Village, there is a jeweler owned by a man named Vasu. After speaking with him, he will give you a complimentary Seed Ring along with a ring box. He will also appraise the ring, which tells you its function or significance. The first one is for free, but it isn’t a high asking price to get them appraised. In fact, if you already possess the ring appraised, he will buy it from you, earning you a small profit. Once you have a ring, you can visit Vasu to place any of the ones in your collection in your ring box. The first one can only hold a single ring, but you can upgrade it twice, allowing you to hold onto three then five at a time. Either way, you can only equip one ring at a time. Rings are not required to complete the game, but it’s a nice feature, as some of them confer benefits that can be the difference between success and failure.

Hey, I didn’t know Holodrum had Doors fans.

As you explore Horon Village, you may find a man whose brazier has gone out, making it difficult for him to see clearly. By lighting it, he will give Link an informational book on Cuccos, creatures that resemble chickens in the Zelda universe. This begins a long trading sequence that has featured in some way since Link’s Awakening. Ironically, despite using similar graphics, it’s optional this time around, as the reward for seeing it through is a sword upgrade.

Though The Legend of Zelda isn’t exactly a series known for having random encounters, the concept does exist in this installment. As you travel Holodrum, you may literally bump into a young witch named Maple. Link’s collision with her will result in items from both parties being spilled out onto the ground.  Though it will mostly be mundane items at first, she will drop valuable items such as Heart Pieces and Seed Rings later in the game. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about losing your most valuable possessions; at worst, you will be out a few Rupees, which isn’t a debilitating setback. Similar to the Gasha Trees, her appearances are not entirely random; she only appears on certain screens after Link has vanquished enough enemies. You’ll know she’s about to show up if the music changes and a moving shadow appears on the ground.

What is perhaps this game’s greatest claim to fame is presented to you shortly after clearing the first dungeon. You will meet a short, hooded figure named Rosa. By following her, you will find a portal leading to an underground world called Subrosa. It is here that you will find the Temple of Seasons, having descended from Holodrum thanks to Onox. After venturing inside, you will receive the Rod of Seasons.

If you use it atop a tree stump, you can change the season of the immediate area. At first, you can only change the season to winter, but as you progress through the game, you will gain the power of the remaining three as well. This item is crucial to exploring Holodrum, as the landscape changes drastically between seasons. Rivers tend to dry up in summer while leaves can cover potholes in autumn. By learning what occurs in each season, you can gain access to hidden areas, and you may be rewarded for your efforts.

It’s easy when presented with Oracle of Seasons to dismiss it as a by-the-books sequel to Link’s Awakening. In the interest of fairness, I will admit the game is certainly not without its flaws. In fact, being cast from the mold of Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Seasons retains a few of its weakness. The most obvious issue is that having access to only two action buttons, you will find yourself pausing the game often to switch items very frequently. On a related note, progression in Oracle of Seasons is strictly linear, meaning that overworld exploration is a rigid process of backtracking to older areas whenever you get a new power-up. It’s not quite as bad as Link’s Awakening was in this regard, as the cave systems are decidedly less convoluted in addition to being fewer in number, but the way the world opens up feels more mechanical than organic.

I remarked in my assessment of Link’s Awakening that the simplistic maps made it difficult to navigate dungeons. This is one of the only problems that Capcom succeeded in making worse, as you now have to contend with dungeons featuring multiple levels. This makes it difficult to find where staircases are on the map along with the issue of being unable to discern a room’s layout from glancing at it.

Though not quite what I would call a flaw, there is one mechanic I find vaguely disappointing. There is one point in which you will gain an animal companion. The three available to you are Ricky, Moosh, and Dimitri, a boxing kangaroo, winged bear, and a dinosaur-like creature called a dodongo respectively. By riding in Ricky’s pouch, he can jump up unblocked ledges. Riding on Moosh allows you to hover in midair as long as you keep tapping the appropriate button. Lastly, Dimitri can transport Link across bodies of water – against swift currents and even up waterfalls. You meet all of them before the game ends, and they all possess a flute that can be used to summon them. Once you have it, the flute’s owner is the one that will help you for the duration of the game.

What makes this irritating is you’re never told that how you obtain the flute determines which one you get. Dimitri’s flute is obtained as a mini-game prize, Moosh’s is bought at a secret store, and Ricky automatically gives you his if you haven’t obtained either of the other two by the time you meet him. It’s not something the player would catch onto during their first playthough, though it’s a mistake that has no practical chance of ruining the game. The bigger problem with them is that you only need them to get past two points. One could make a case for Ricky being the best of the three, as his is the sole ability that isn’t replicated by an item you will find. Even then, the overworld’s restrictive design makes it difficult to use him reliably outside of the situations where his help is required to advance.

Link’s Awakening was released in a time when people were conditioned to accept Game Boy games as lesser versions of console titles – their primary advantage being, naturally, that they were portable. No one could have imagined that it would blaze the trail for the series to follow in the coming years, leading to the imaginative scenarios of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Coming off of these three games, Oracle of Seasons has a downright threadbare plot wherein Link must save a damsel in distress from a powerful villain. Said villain is content with not directly hindering Link’s progress, only ever appearing at two points in the game: in the beginning and once more for the final showdown. It’s something that wouldn’t feel out of place in the third console generation. There’s significantly more dialogue than in The Legend of Zelda, but the fact remains that when it comes to its story, what you see is what you get.

Even if Oracle of Seasons has its fair share of issues, they ultimately don’t detract from what is otherwise an overall good experience that actually manages to outshine the game from which it lifted assets. The main reason I can make such a statement is because I feel Oracle of Seasons has a leg up on Link’s Awakening when it comes to level design. On the surface, dungeon rooms being larger would seem like a superficial change that, if anything, has the potential to make the game more annoying to play due to an inability to view the entire area. In practice, this seemingly minor detail gave the designers a lot more freedom, allowing them to conceive more intricate puzzles due to not being limited to the small size of the Game Boy Color’s screen.

Another reason I feel Oracle of Seasons is the better title is because it was more successful at forging its own identity. Though Link’s Awakening was an admirable effort for its time, it still came across as a downscaled version of A Link to the Past. This reflected in how of all the dungeon items in the game, only one was completely new: the Roc’s Feather. It was found in the first dungeon and gave Link the ability to jump. Though many familiar items such as the Power Bracelet and Roc’s Feather make a return, they are balanced out by the plethora of new ones. One of my favorite items from this game is the Magnetic Glove. With it, you can either attract metallic objects toward Link or repel them, changing polarity with each use. When using it in the same direction as a heavy post embedded in the ground, you can have Link bypass bottomless pits or any other hazardous floor tiles. It’s such an interesting idea, it could have formed the basis for its own game, and it’s a something of a shame that it’s not introduced earlier.

Indeed, my favorite item in the game is the one found in the very first dungeon: the seed satchel. Scattered throughout the game are five different varieties of Mystical Trees: Ember, Mystery, Scent, Pegasus, and Gale Trees. They each bear seeds that have different effects when used. Ember Seeds can be used to light torches or set enemies on fire. Mystery Seeds have strange effects on enemies and can be used on Owl Statues to receive hints from them. Scent Seeds attract monsters when dropped. Pegasus Seeds allow Link to run for a short length of time, allowing him to gain more distance when jumping. Gale Seeds are used for transportation, sending Link to any Mystical Seed Tree he has found in Holodrum.

It’s easy to take for granted the presence of the Seed Satchel considering how early you obtain it, but the reason I can say it’s the best item in the game is because it and the five types of seeds by extension systemically address almost every issue I had with Link’s Awakening. It’s much more intuitive for Ember Seeds to light torches than the vaguely defined Magic Powder, yet the latter was repurposed as the Mystery Seeds, ensuring that neither function is lost. The Pegasus Seeds make the act of getting a running start for a long jump much easier than in Link’s Awakening wherein you had to equip two items to achieve the effect while also making the act itself far easier to time. Finally, Gale Seeds provide the ultimate utility by allowing Link to teleport while on the overworld at will. This is far better than the teleportation system in Link’s Awakening because you no longer have to tediously cycle between portals until you reach the right one.

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Good level design
  • Creative boss fights
  • Ability to change the seasons makes overworld exploration interesting
  • Reasonably challenging
  • Great music
  • Rings are an excellent addition
  • |Novel ability to link to sister title|
Cons:

  • Simplistic story
  • Maps are difficult to read
  • Limited buttons for advanced gameplay
  • |Switching games is a bit cumbersome|

It has been argued by many Zelda fans that Link’s Awakening is one of the best games ever made, and no installment since has matched its level of brilliance. This is evidenced by its placements on various “Greatest Games of All Time” lists. Speaking as someone who enjoys the series, I’m not entirely sure why it often places so high while Oracle of Seasons gets cast aside more often than not. I will yield its story is rather bland and forgettable compared to that of Link’s Awakening. However, I don’t think that matters; a few minutes of playing Oracle of Seasons reveals it’s the far more polished effort. It’s possible that fans rank it lower because Nintendo was not directly involved with this game’s development, but had it not been for the Capcom logo adorning the startup screen, I don’t think anyone would have been able to tell. Mr. Okamoto’s team knew perfectly well what makes the series so good, and they were able to use that knowledge to create a solid experience.

Oracle of Seasons works wonderfully as both a reinterpretation of The Legend of Zelda and a strong installment in its own right. To a greater extent than Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Seasons manages to escape from being fully overshadowed by A Link to the Past by pitching enough simple, yet clever ideas to prevent itself from becoming a token sequel. I was hesitant to give Link’s Awakening a straight recommendation, but I find myself having no problems doing so with Oracle of Seasons. Whether it’s by finding the original cartridge or downloading it on the 3DS’s Virtual Console, this is a game worth seeking out. Fans will like it and those unfamiliar with the series will find it to be a great introduction to what a 2D Zelda installment entails.

Then again, even with this review having been completed, I have yet to discuss the true experience this game has to offer. Next time, we will be looking into the reason why Oracle of Seasons was released in tandem with another game.

Final Score: 7/10

12 thoughts on “The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

  1. I really enjoyed reading this! Seasons and Ages are two games that I always cite as being some of the best of all time, and it would appear that opinions about the two are all over the place. I found Ages more difficult but the puzzles in Seasons were trickier. What always stood out to me about Awakening/Seasons/Ages was the music, too. That gorgeous Gameboy synth was just perfect.

    I’d love to one day see a dual-release remake of these two brilliant games, although a part of me knows better than to remaster games with distinct styles.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed reading this review.

      I myself feel it’s a shame this game and its sister title tend to get passed up in favor of Link’s Awakening because I feel both have quite a lot to offer even today. In the series overall, I’d rank the games 10th and 11th, which is still good considering what they have to compete with.

      It seems like Seasons is a little more gameplay-heavy whereas Ages has more of a story emphasis. Both have their fair share of difficult puzzles and good boss fights.

      Like

  2. To be honest, I don’t particularly see these games as being all that much better than Link’s Awakening. They’ve got a lot more good ideas, but I found that tempered by how frustrating a lot of them are to play with. Still, though, they are definitely among the better games on the Game Boy Color, and it’s pretty fantastic what they were able to do with what they were given to work with. Particularly with what had to be a pretty extreme stop/start development cycle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Using a similar interface as Link Awakening, the three games do indeed share a lot of the flaws, and while the earlier game is arguably boasts the most ambitious narrative, I feel the gameplay of the Oracle titles are an improvement in what I feel to be the most substantial ways. It was a pretty troubled production for a while there, so that they were able to create games this good is pretty miraculous. Having said that, I see where you’re coming from, and I will say that they rank the lowest of any Zelda game to receive a 7/10 or higher from me. The Virtual Console rereleases make it very easy to switch games, so at least that issue was eventually addressed.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I wasn’t expecting either review to be as long as they ended up being. I was considering combining reviews, but I wanted to treat them as separate games, so I ended up reviewing this game as a standalone title while mentioning the ability to link games in the next review.

      My experience with the combined games was interesting because the guide I was using proved to be handy up until the very final scenario. When I got to the Room of Rites, I was stumped on how to navigate it because the guide had no information on it for some reason. The only hint I got was something about the “Eye of Deceit”, but I didn’t know what that word meant as a kid. When I found out what the word meant, I then managed to figure out what I needed to do to get to the fight with Ganon.

      Ricky probably is the best of the three because his ability isn’t replicated by an item you receive in either game, and he is arguably the most powerful of the three animal companions. Conveniently, his is the default flute you receive in Seasons.

      Liked by 1 person

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