Ten years, that’s how long it’s taken me to see this game’s proper ending. I described in my Oracle of Seasons review how the two titles link together to unlock extra content including an alternate finale and how I missed them both on their initial 2001 release. I’m very happy to finally tick off another item from my video game to do list. So now it’s time for the verdict on Oracle of Ages, the better of the two games.
Like Seasons the story of Oracle of Ages sees Link being sent by the Triforce to a land in need, this time Labrynna. No sooner has he arrived than Nayru, the Oracle of Ages is snagged by the evil sorceress Veran. Pretty soon mischief goes on in Labrynna’s history, affecting the present as calamty befalls many of the people. It’s up to Link and Nayru’s overenthusiastic guardian Ralph to save the day, which means travelling across the mysterious land in search of the eight Essences of Time for which they require the assistance of Labrynna’s female Maku Tree.
Oracle of Ages does nothing to slter the Zelda formula, combining open-ended exploration with combat and puzzle solving in cleverly conceived dungeons. Ages takes a leaf out of Ocarina of Time’s book for its standout feature by representing the recurring light/dark world mechanic as matter of chronology, although here the two time periods are divided by four hundred years instead of seven. By playing the Harp of Ages you can travel from present to past and vice versa, an act that opens the way to some great puzzles. Landscapes change between the two ages adding strategy to where you choose to make the jump and your actions in the past have a marked effect on the present. One town you visit has been desecreated by a past calamity but travel back and avert said calamity and the place becomes peaceful and colourful in the present. It’s a trick that’s used again and again to staisfying effect.
Labrynna itself and the stories to be found there are more mysterious than Holodrum. The past is dominated by Queen Ambi whose sad story sees her building a tower in the centre of the map. While she’s not a bad guy there’s an unmistakble sense of menace surrounding her that the game slowly teases you with as you progress. Most locations offer some fairly memoraqble challenges from having to reclaim your pinched equipment at Crescent Island to exploring the watery depths of the ocean near Zora’s Domain and the maze of caves and passages at Rolling Ridge.
While Oracle of Seasons placed the focus on action and combat, Ages bombards you with puzzles and they are what really stand out about the game. In addition to the clever organisation of the overworld the dungeons are simply fiendish featuring one that sees you raising and lowering the water level rather like Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple. The eight dungeon in particulr is a real test of spatial awareness and complex thought. They’re a great set of dungeons, clearly better than Seasons’ somewhat forgetable offerings. Even the bosses feel like puzzles challenging you to work out how to beat them using the many items you gather through the quest.
Indeed the items unique to a Zelda game offer one way in which to judge them. Oracle of Ages does reasonably well in this regard. The game’s best new piece of equipment is the switch hoon a hookshot-like device that allows Link to swap places with objects and even enemies, again making for some clever puzzles. Other standouts include the mermaid suit which greatly increases your swimming ability and the seed shooter, a range weapon that lets you shhot at an angle and lets you bounce your seed projectiles off walls.
I have to make a confession and admit that neither of my Oracle reviews have been that good. This is simply because having missed them upon their original release I’ve never felt a very deep connection with the two games. I’m of the opinion that games can only be accurately judged at the time of release and although I rate both games highly I think my appreciation of them took a hit by not playing either for so long. What else can I say? These are two magnificent games full of things to discover. That’s all you really need to know and the strange block I seem to have about writing about them shouldn’t matter.
Presentation – 9
It’s a Zelda game and there’s a standard the entire series never falls below. The limitations of the hardware transcend the game’s ability to immerse you and the ideas are packed in.
Gameplay – 10
Like I said it’s a Zelda game and there’s a standard. This formula is timeless, deep, balanced, satisfying and rewarding. Ages’ puzzles lend it an edge over Seasons. Anyone who likes brainteasers will be in heaven.
Graphics – 8
It’s a mark of the quality of Link’s Awakening that the same design can still be full of charm years later. The use of colour really paints a vivid difference between the two ages.
Sound – 9
The same sounds as Link’s Awakening but haunting tunes like Nayru’s song make it really shine.
Difficulty – 8
The puzzles demand a a high level of concentration but the combat is much less punishing than Oracle of Seasons.
Longevity – 9
Just as long as it’s partner with an equal amount of secrets to explore. Zelda always gives you value for money.
The superior of the two games is a cerebral and mysterious affair with a deeper story, better characters vastly more engaging dungeons and a million different reasons to love it.
out of 10