The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (GBC) Review
I had foggy memories of The Legend of Zelda Oracle of Ages, which my experience with ended abruptly when my 10 year old self could not figure out how to get my possessions back from some cheeky Tokay on Crescent Island – an area that precedes the 3rd dungeon in the game. So I really had the pleasure of experiencing an overwhelming majority of the game fresh-faced and anew (and now with my ‘adult’ problem solving skills in tow).
Ages begins with Link being transported to a forest in Labrynna following a calling from the triforce, where the Oracle of Ages (hey, that’s the name of the game!), Nayru, is soon possessed and subsequently captured by Veran, the Sorceress of Shadows. Her abduction sparks an interference in the flow of time throughout Labrynna, and Link is soon tasked with collecting the 8 Essences of Time in order to defeat Veran, rescue Nayru, and effectively restore the flow of time to the land. Game on.
Ages, like previous Legend of Zelda titles, utilises a top-down perspective of gameplay with the addition of some side-scrolling rooms in various dungeons. Link is not alone in his quest, receiving assistance from some animal friends. Moosh the bear, Ricky the kangaroo and Dimitri the dinosaur all make an appearance, and help to solve puzzles and traverse some rough terrain at various points in your adventure. The Zora, Goron and Tokay races are each well represented, crowd favourite Tingle is back, and a swag of the NES era enemies reprise their roles.
With the help of Nayru’s Harp of Ages, Link is able to manipulate time in order to travel back and forth between the present day and the past using special time portal pads – and in a similar vein to the ocarina in OoT, he gradually learns new songs that enable you to traverse time with less locational restriction. Time travel can be a little tricky initially, if only for the fact that said portal pads are often hidden away beneath rubble or shrubbery, and also aren’t in a static location between past and present day. This does, however, provide some good motivation to power through to the point where you are granted a new song.
Link sets out on his adventure with his trusty sword, his primary attack weapon, and gradually gathers a small arsenal of secondary weapons (bombs and the like) and additional items throughout the course of the game. These assist with the completion of dungeon puzzles, and also tend to play a role in the boss battles of the corresponding dungeon. As Link progresses, some of these items are able to be upgraded – either in their capacity, reach or power. Unlike other games in the series, Link’s sword and shield are not automatically equipped – players are given two slots (A and B buttons) to which they can assign weapons and items. Perhaps one of my only complaints about Ages surrounds the process of switching active items, which can become quite tedious, particularly in dungeon puzzles that require the use of multiple item sets to proceed, and boss battles where a change in form requires you to switch weapons in and out repeatedly.
There are 8 dungeons in total, from graveyards to island hideaways, each taking you to a different region of the land. In each, Link must conquer enemies and solve puzzles in order to reach the boss monsters that guard the area. Each dungeon has a sub or mini-boss at roughly the half-way point, and a final end-point boss who stands between Link and the Essence. These bosses tend to be vulnerable to the weapon that you’ve pick up earlier in the dungeon, which provides a good chance to develop some proficiency with your new item, and let’s face it – it’s a welcome break from hack and slash.
There are also various side quests that you can choose to undertake. The first is the collection of rings. You can pick these up from random treasure chests around the land, or through the planting of Gasha seeds. Throughout your travels, Link will collect seeds that he can plant around the region. As time passes, a tree will grow (nature!) from which you can harvest a kinder surprise-like nut that yields a ring. The second side quest is best described as a trading quest, where Link receives quest items throughout his travels that he can trade back and forth with NPC’s. Neither is integral to the completion of the game, and admittedly the trading quest can be frustrating (it’s worth undertaking, however, if only to get to the point where you receive a ‘cheesy moustache’).
Graphically, Ages is vibrant and charming – it is definitely above and beyond the average for GBC. The maps (past and present) are well constructed, and the areas are spacious. The music is typical of the Gameboy era – it’s fun, it’s whimsical, it’s relaxing – but I was, admittedly, starting to turn it down towards the end of the game, simply due to my length of play (that being said, 15-20 hours of any game’s repetitive music will generally get to you).
The linking feature between Ages and Seasons is another great feature of the series. On completion, you obtain a password to enter when you begin Seasons – this unlocks some special features, which in turn provide you with more passwords to use in Ages on the completion of Seasons. The passwords send you off to complete some errands, and ultimately result in obtaining power ups for weapons and items.
At the end of the day, Oracle of Ages is hard to fault for its era, and I feel that it holds up to scrutiny even today – it’s fantastic in its own right, not just riding the nostalgia wave. The dungeon puzzles are (for the most part) challenging and fresh, NPC’s are delightfully quirky, and the environment and boss designs are equally fantastic. The quest to save Nayru is addictive, engaging and at its heart – it’s just plain fun. At $6.50 it’s a game well worth picking up – first timers and repeat players alike will not be disappointed. Oracle of Ages is truly timeless (badum tish).
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages landed on the 3DS eShop on the 30th of May this year, just short of 12 years after its original release on the Game Boy Colour in 2001. Ages and Seasons are on sale for $6.50 until June 20th, after which they’ll run you $7.80 for the download.