History of Zelda: Part 08 – Oracle of Ages

The History of Zelda – Part 8

The Legend of Zelda. Indeed, this name is as recognisable in Video Game fame as Mario, and even Final Fantasy. Close to thirty years ago, Nintendo hired a man who would, of all things, design concepts for toys. Little did anybody know that this man would write history, influence hundreds of games, oversee the development of even more and define an entirely new genre. Shigeru Miyamoto devised the first iteration of The Legend of Zelda in the mid 1980s, and since then, The Legend of Zelda has become one of Nintendo’s very best properties.

This series of articles will look at each Zelda title in chronological order of release, describe the groundbreaking achievements and show the essence of the Action Adventure RPG.

Chapter VIII – Oracle of Ages (GBC)

An Oracle is described as a person serving as infallible though mysterious guide, test or indicator, whom is authoritative, profoundly wise and is a judge or prophet in that respect. The people of Labrynna where seen over by Nayru, the Oracle of Ages. She commanded the power to alter the flow of time and here power was invaluable for the resurrection of the evil Ganon. After a deceitful trick foreseen by the Triforce to capture her, Link travels to a once again new and intriguing land in search of the power of the sands of time.

Time disturbances began to wreak havoc in Labrynna. People began to turn to stone while others were just disappearing. Buildings suddenly vanished as if never built, and a dark, threatening tower neared completion. Veran, the Sorceress of Shadows was the cause, as she inhibited the ability to disrupt the flow of time and posses the bodies of others in order to fulfil her darkest, most sinister of desires. The Maku tree had requested that our hero, Link, search for the eight Essences of Time in an effort to defeat the forces of shadows and return calm and normality. Once again, the element of time is revisited and to exceptional success.

The kingdom of Labrynna is riddled with time sensitive events and puzzles such as premature trees, vines and seeds, canyons, mountains that are yet to be excavated and floating islands that move in the course of hundreds of years. The process to gain tunes to allow Link to travel through time is revised from past titles in The Legend of Zelda and in this adaptation, involves new items and tools to deliver an extremely well executed design that requires the gamer to think and act in creative ways that eventually would lead them through one of the most challenging Zelda adventures yet.

Graphically, and mechanically, Ages looks and feels like Link’s Awakening, even using the same sprites for Link and some of his weapons. But the likenesses end there. Incorporated with the items of past outings such as the boomerang, Power Bracelet, Roc’s Feather and shovel are a mix of new and exclusive items, including the Seed Shooter, Switch Hook and Harp of Ages. Also notable not to forget were the sword and shield.

Nintendo and Capcom had elaborated on the tiered system built by A Link to the Past that generally saw two very different worlds. A Link to the Past had the Light and Dark worlds, Ocarina of Time had Hyrule and its future in the form of a 7 year transformation. Oracle of Ages extends on that with two parts. The first was also an extension of the main mechanic in Ocarina of Time, time travel, while the second was a submerged watery world under the sea. This underwater world was inhabited by Zoras. The real ones and not the ‘River Zoras’ as they so clearly point out! This incorporation of an additional world gave a larger, roomier feeling to the already massive map, with many events taking place within the Zora’s town. It wasn’t just an addition to give such a feeling, but was demonstration of how Nintendo, and Capcom, implemented a brand new place to explore, creating such curiosity that had you hooked for many, many hours delving deep within these new areas.

Time travel played an invaluable role in the progression of this quest, with a time gap of some hundreds of years. Sometimes, an event in the past would directly affect an event in the present. Or sometimes, a result that was needed from a key NPC in the past had to be influenced by what would be their eventual creation in the future. Confusing, no? Well, as an example, a raftsman is working on rope that won’t decay in water in the past. In order to bring his creation into reality, Link had to bring the rope from the present that the raftsman would have eventually created. Hmm, technical. And the tool to open the gates of time? The Harp of Ages. Progressing through the adventure yielded new songs that gave light to new paths.

However, time travel also saw the unravelling of other events, such as the excavation of a mountain, the receding ocean, the very, very long time for a seed tree to mature and the exploration of buildings that were much more stable in the past than the present. For this reason, Ages was more of a thinking game filled with puzzles in comparison with its adventure driven Seasons counterpart. Because of this, it is slightly more challenging, but just as enjoyable experience none the less.

With Majora’s Mask, there was a new shift in the series to a heavy interactivity with NPCs. Oracle of Ages continued the trend, with a long trading sequence as well as fulfilling requests of villagers or animals. A focus point of such interactivity is with Bipin, a Gasha seed farmer and his wife, Blossom. They each had a son, of whom you got to name in the first quest. His personality was dependant on the way you played the game. Furthermore, Bipin gave you a Gasha seed, explaining their importance, and how and where to plant them. Eventually, a Gasha nut would grow on the trees, and inside would be some type of treasure. This treasure was influenced by your actions in the world around you, providing anything from rings to potions. It was a reward for hard work, a continuing trend of past adventures with revitalizing new touches.

These two titles had a very special bond; the ability to link to one another to continue the quest either by Link Cable or a password system. Doing so changed events and opened new paths. Such an intuitive design is amplified by the secret passwords collected from NPCs along the way. These are kept safe by Farore, the Oracle of Secrets, so they could be used in the other quest to give item upgrades and rewards. This is a part of the trading technique to collect all the rings as described earlier, and as only a true hero will find them all, adds many hours to the adventure at hand.

The traditional Zelda gameplay was present with enemies of past including Moblins, Octoroks and River Zoras. The traditional button configuration remained as did a revamped quest status screen and map. To lend a hand along the way were new friends as well as old including Zoras and Gorons. There was never a dull moment, with many sequences to fulfil as well as many mini games reaping rewards for champs.

On the musical note (pardon the pun), Ages stretches the limits of the Game Boy Color to new heights with updated and familiar midis while also adding a very personal touch. A personal favourite was the redone Zelda theme for the past, which was composed as an olden day rhythm in comparison to the traditional tune. Sounding very similar to Link’s Awakening in terms of sound effects and background themes, Ages is able to deliver them in a new adventure without tiring them out.

Overall, Ages is evidence that Nintendo made the right investment when entrusting the series to Capcom for the portable outing. Ages focuses on the puzzle solving and strategic elements of the series, with block pushing and pulling and ways to activate switches. The exceptional effort displayed in the title isn’t experienced until both Seasons and Ages are linked up and only then have you played the ultimate adventure. This element of linking and transferring data for a new quest is what makes these titles so unique from other Zelda adventures, while providing the same feel and look of the series. But what is so astounding about the two is their ability to remain so unique and different from each other. Such an effort sets the standards for ages to come.