Welcome to the first in a sporadic series of retrospectives I’m planning on doing. Considering that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild releases today, it seems only fitting that I start with the Zelda franchise. This is, by no means, a complete look back on the entire series. While I do plan a follow-up in the future to round out the remainder of the series, as of right now I’ve only played through many but not all of the Zelda games. In addition to the ones listed below, I’ve also managed to play Skyward Sword and A Link Between Worlds. So, given the fact that I’ve played what could potentially be considered the first half of the Zelda franchise – a bit less, honestly – I figured I might as well cover my thoughts on the franchise’s early days in honor of its latest release.
The Legend of Zelda
I’ll be honest, I considered this game overrated garbage before I actually went and played through the entire thing for the first time. While I still think it’s somewhat overrated in the long run, I must confess that it wasn’t as bad as I originally envisioned. Still, this game’s greatest asset was its potential, rather than its execution.
I’m pretty sure anyone who cares about video games has at least a rudimentary understanding of the plot to this game. The evil lord of darkness Ganon stole the Triforce of Power in an attempt to take over the land of Hyrule. In order to stop him from gaining access of the Triforce of Wisdom, Princess Zelda splits it into 8 pieces and hides them across the land before she is captured by Ganon’s dark forces. The young hero Link is enlisted by Zelda’s nursemaid Impa to recover the Triforce of Wisdom and save Zelda from Ganon.
The gameplay itself at its base wasn’t exactly all that different from action-RPGs of the time. Players guided the young elven hero Link across the mysterious land of Hyrule from an overhead perspective, slashing your sword in real time. Your goal is to conquer 8 dungeons: picking up new tools, abilities and power-ups and defeating various boss monsters along the way. However, the emphasis in this game is less on attacking monsters and more on exploration. Uniquely for the time, there was an element of non-linearity to the game: you could tackle most of the first 8 dungeons in any order you wanted, though it’s probably easiest to beat them in sequential order.
More importantly, the game had a certain cryptic tone to it. In-game hints were often written in a very confusing way, normally resembling riddles. Puzzles would often require seemingly random triggers to complete: a recurring inside joke among one of my usual haunts involved “burning the bush”. The most famous example of this, however, was more than likely the Lost Woods: don’t get me started on that segment of the game. Likewise, many of the dungeons had hidden or otherwise obscured entrances, and many of them contained secret passageways that would reveal secret power-ups. Of course, this coupled with the aforementioned freeform design of the game to create a world that really felt like a mysterious land, ripe for exploration. Kind of fitting, given the fact that Miyamoto based the game’s entire concept on his childhood and the natural areas he’d explore. (When was the last time someone discussed Zelda without bringing up that old chestnut?)
I think that my major criticism of the game before having played it was inaccurate, but not for a lack of trying. Many people generally claim that this game was the clear predecessor to A Link to the Past – that is, the gameplay of ALttP itself was nearly identical to the earlier title, with a few improvements. It’s not unlike the original Metroid: while the games themselves do resemble their popular successors, a lot of evolution had to take place between games – and as such, both A Link to the Past and Super Metroid owe a lot to the second games in their respective franchises.
Having said that, the game is still definitely enjoyable – I’m just not sure that I’d place it at the status of being an outright “classic”. Of course, there’s little to be ashamed of in that regard: I could say the same for the first entries in many of Zelda’s contemporaries: Super Mario Bros., the aforementioned Metroid, MegaMan, Castlevania – all games that definitely benefitted from the polish that came when developing their various sequels. At the same time, the original Legend of Zelda also managed to do things that future games wouldn’t touch upon for quite some time: only now with the impending release of Breath of the Wild are we getting another Zelda game that focuses as much on an open-world, essentially running with the concept and expanding it to its logical conclusion.
As for my overall opinion of the game, I’d say that while the gameplay is a little stiff, it’s definitely among the best of what was available for the NES in 1986. The graphics look good, though the limited amount of assets do make the act of exploration needlessly difficult: navigating various areas on the overworld map require either an external map or precise memorization to navigate properly. Of course, this was likely what the game itself was trying to achieve – a sense of mystery and feeling lost among the pixelated game world. I did, however, choose to avoid the Second Quest: I’m told that’s where the game gets rather insane with its difficulty and cryptic “puzzles”. Music and sound were good as well, many classic tunes originated in the first Zelda. In the end, the Legend of Zelda was a fitting start to such a beloved franchise – but if I’m going to be honest, the best was yet to come.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Zelda II has gotten a bad rap in its time. Generally considered among the worst entries in the Zelda series, I’d honestly say that I consider it a lateral move when compared to the original, for better or for worse. Whether you consider that praise for Zelda II or an insult to its predecessor is up to you.
The Adventure of Link’s story is both interesting and confusing. Link (from the original game) is sent on another quest – to rescue the princess Zelda (not the one from the first game, but rather her ancestor) from an eternal sleep. The Zelda in question was the only one who knew the location of the third and final Triforce: the Triforce of Courage. When her brother attempted to find this Triforce to rule the land, Zelda refused to tell her brother. Incensed by her refusal, a wizard in her brother’s employ cast a sleeping spell on Zelda and, in the process, accidentally killed himself due to a loss of control. With Zelda trapped in an eternal slumber, her brother mournfully places her in the castle tower and decrees that all princesses born in the royal family would be named “Zelda” in her memory. Thus, Link begins his journey to find the Triforce of Courage and awaken the princess. Meanwhile, the former minions of Ganon seek to kill Link: sprinkling his blood upon their deceased master’s ashes will bring him new life.
The Adventure of Link is generally considered to be a heavy departure from the formula of the original Zelda, and by extension, future games in the franchise. It relegated the top-down overhead perspective of the original game to exploring the limited overworld, favoring a side-scrolling view not unlike contemporary platformers for combat segments and dungeons. Link can level up his offensive strength, defense and magical efficiency, in addition to being able to collect magic containers and the traditional heart containers. Link is also capable of casting spells, including a healing spell, one that increases his defense, another that increases his jump height and even a spell that turns Link into a fairy – allowing him to fly and bypass locked doors. Likewise, Link is also granted multiple lives in a single continue, not unlike Simon’s Quest, although I’d argue that this feature is to the game’s detriment.
At the same time, however, Zelda II managed to establish many of the tropes that we’ve taken for granted in future Zelda titles. The inclusion of towns has influenced most future Zelda games up to this point, expanding the civilization beyond the few stragglers you found in caves in the original Zelda. Likewise, Zelda II also had the first appearance of “Dark Link”, a shadowy doppelganger of the main protagonist who appeared as the final boss in Zelda II and as a boss character in many other games, as well as a palette swap for Link in various spinoffs and games where he’s made cameo appearances. Likewise, the difference in the exploration phase and the battle phase on the overworld foreshadows the way that enemy encounters in the same context were handled in the later 3D Zeldas, with distinct controls and camera angles for both phases.
This creates a far more linear adventure than the original Zelda: to progress through the game, Link must complete objectives in a set order, as opposed to the freeform non-linearity in the first game that allowed players to complete the dungeons in whatever order they wanted. This move towards linearity had a major influence on pretty much every other game in the franchise, up until A Link Between Worlds and especially Breath of the Wild. While the order in which the game was completed wasn’t exactly as pronounced in most future titles as it was in The Adventure of Link, progression is generally prescribed in certain ways: advancing in specific ways is generally rendered impossible without either specific items found in “earlier” areas or by exploiting glitches. This is perhaps the most prominent legacy that Zelda II has rendered on the entire franchise.
Like I said earlier, I enjoyed Zelda 2 about as much as I enjoyed the original. The side-scrolling gameplay created some interesting in-game events, but the lives/continue system was annoying – especially when it came to the experience points system: dying resets accumulated XP? No thanks! What I liked the most was that, despite the overworld map resembling that of a traditional turn-based RPG, enemy encounters weren’t randomized. Instead, iconic representations of the enemies would appear on the map and there was a chance that they could be evaded. Really made me angry at how for years, people had used “the NES could only handle random battles” as an excuse for why they had become so ubiquitous in the genre itself.
Zelda II’s combat was far more advanced than that of the original and the addition of the magic spells made allowed for a greater emphasis on both strategy and resource management: using magic to heal would often drain most of it, so deciding whether to forgo healing so the other spells remain at one’s disposal was always a smart move. The graphics weren’t much of an improvement over the original, though the change in perspective made for an equally interesting in-game world. Music and sound were also pretty much the same as the original. Honestly, I’d say that I probably like the first two Zeldas equally: probably my least favorites in the series out of everything I’ve played thus far, but definitely still enjoyable.
A Link to the Past
Next, we come to the first game in the Zelda franchise that can truly be considered “iconic”. A Link to the Past may not have started the franchise, but this game refined the formula that would shape the series in a way that the earlier two games simply did not. Among one of the best games of what was arguably the greatest generation of video games, A Link to the Past is among the first games that come to mind whenever most fans of the series hear the name “Zelda”, and for good reason.
In a move that would’ve been considered absolutely baffling to gamers in 1991, A Link to the Past wasn’t a follow-up to either of the NES Zelda games: it was a prequel. Likewise, this was the first time that the series utilized a new iteration of main character Link. Likewise, befitting the jump from 8-bit to 16-bit, ALttP had a much more complex story than its predecessors:
Long ago, there were legends of an incredible power – the Triforce – that resided in a hidden realm. Many would seek this power, capable of granting its wielder’s truest wish, but none would succeed. One day, however, the evil king of thieves Ganon would corrupt both the power of the Triforce and its hidden world, forcing the King of Hyrule and seven wise men to seal the land. Many centuries would pass, and the legend of the Triforce would fade from memory. Until one day, calamity struck the peaceful land of Hyrule. The King of Hyrule offered a reward to anyone who could save their kingdom. The great wizard Agahnim overcame these problems and as a reward, he was named chief advisor to the King. Using his new position, Agahmin usurped the king, brainwashed his soldiers and captured the heirs of the fabled seven wise men. One night, a message from Princess Zelda would awaken a young boy named Link and send him on the adventure of a lifetime…
I’d say more, but I wouldn’t want to give anything away for those who have yet to experience the game. Admittedly, my first experience with ALttP was both negative and embarrassing in retrospect. I popped the game in and started it just fine. Unfortunately, after rescuing Zelda near the beginning of the game, I made the mistake of leaving the same way I came, which led to Zelda telling me to “return to the castle”. Frustrated by my inability to do so, I gave up the game, ignoring it for many years to come. Boneheaded mistake, I know. At least I managed to rectify it and play through the game eventually. Better late than never, right?
Many people I’ve heard from seem to think that ALttP is strictly a refinement of the original Legend of Zelda’s gameplay, but frankly I think it’s more like a combination between that of the first and second games. Sure, Link’s back to an overhead view, with gameplay evocative of top-down hack-and-slash action-RPGs. However, the gameplay is far more linear when compared to the original game. Likewise, there are entire segments of the map dedicated to towns, which didn’t show up in the original Zelda, but were a significant element of Zelda II.
Likewise, there’s a linearity to Link to the Past that seriously differentiates it from the original Zelda. While the NES classic allowed you to tackle the first 8 dungeons in non-sequential order – with some talented gamers even bypassing seemingly mandatory power-ups for most of the game – ALttP is much more straight-forward about how it should be completed. Having said that, it’s also not quite as strict as Zelda II: there are certain segments in the game where you can complete dungeons out of order, though I can only really think of two parts of the game where a full-on sequence break is possible.
Of course, Link to the Past didn’t simply retread elements of its progenitors. It introduced Kakariko Village, a recurring location that would show up in many future Zelda games. It also introduced several items that would eventually become Zelda staples – most importantly, the Master Sword, which would become ubiquitous with the franchise as a whole. The Zora’s Flippers allowed Link to swim through bodies of water. The hookshot would allow him to travel across long distances, as well as attack enemies from a distance. Link could also collect bottles that would allow him to store potions to restore his life and magic, as well as fairies which could revive him if he falls in battle. Likewise, the Power Glove could be used to lift and throw large stones he normally couldn’t lift. Finally, Link also had the ability to upgrade his shield into the Mirror Shield, capable of reflecting certain projectile attacks and offering a level of defense no other shield could match. Of course, there were many other weapons in the game, which while they didn’t have as big of an impact on the Zelda franchise as a whole, were still beloved in their own right and would make sporadic appearances in future games in the franchise. These include the Pegasus Boots, which allowed Link to run at breakneck speed; the Fire and Ice Rods, which allowed Link to shoot fire and ice blasts respectively; the Magic Hammer, which could be used to remove obstacles and attack specific enemies and the Shovel, allowing Link to dig up various buried objects.
Everything about this game felt bigger than the NES games. The world of Hyrule in A Link to the Past was also quite staggering, dwarfing the overworld maps of its predecessors. Likewise, it also boasted more dungeons than the original Zelda – 12 or 13 in total, depending on how you count them. The later GBA re-release of the game would add an additional dungeon, but considering I played through the game on SNES and unlocking the bonus dungeon required completing an entirely unrelated game mode, I never actually played through it. By the same token, the world of Hyrule felt completely different from its portrayal in both The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II. Befitting its status as a prequel, ALttP depicted Hyrule as a vibrant place full of life, seeing only the beginning of its misfortune after several years of pieces – a stark contrast to the desolate wilderness it would become in the first two games. Personally, I prefer the former and it appears that I’m not alone: further Zelda games, regardless of setting, would generally feature at least one village area, housing several minor characters who would better flesh out the game’s setting. This change in setting would be further contrasted by ALttP’s unique Dark World mechanic: Link must navigate between both Hyrule and its twisted mirror image – a desolate wasteland littered with enemies and perilous hazards.
Likewise, the gameplay is impressive for its time. While I think it’s been surpassed by its successors, no other game achieved as large a leap in quality as ALttP did when compared to the NES games. The added diversity of items led to much more complex strategies when navigating the various dungeons. Boss fights resembled those from the original Zelda – most bosses were weak to whatever item was hidden in the dungeon, though the addition of less directly offensive power-ups made some boss fights more complicated than “spam item for maximum damage”. The fights with Agahmin themselves introduced the concept of the “Dead Man’s Volley” – relying entirely on reflecting boss attacks with well-timed attacks for damage in what resembles a hellish tennis match. Likewise, who could forget the battle with the Giant Moldrom, with its bouncy body and arena lined with pits that would send you plummeting to an earlier part of the dungeon, forcing you to restart the entire battle from scratch? Using the hammer or bombs to smash the defensive mask of the Helmasaur King, removing the Arrgi minions shielding the Arrghus boss with the hookshot, using the Fire and Ice Rods in conjunction to defeat Trinexx: A Link to the Past was a clear starting point for the puzzle-like boss fights that would dominate future games in the Zelda franchise, though still perhaps just the first inkling of this evolution.
When I finally went back to A Link to the Past several years after my original blunder, I ended up enjoying it. As such, I would definitely count it among the best titles the Super Nintendo had to offer – an impressive feat given that it was released in the first year of the system’s lifespan. There is a good reason why this game is considered among the best in the series, though in retrospect, most of it appears to come down to it being the first Zelda game many long-time series fans played. Keep that in mind once we move on to the next game in the franchise.
Link’s Awakening, specifically the DX re-release on Game Boy Color, was my first Zelda game. One Christmas Eve, my little sister received it as a gift – and being a young kid, she wasn’t exactly interested in the game itself. So, I decided to mess around with it for a bit and I enjoyed what I was able to play. That’s really saying something, considering at that age, I detested RPGs and anything that resembled them. Of course, my time with the game was short: you know how it is with kids – they don’t care about anything they own until someone else shows an interest, then they become incredibly possessive.
Having said that, I’ve seen other games in the franchise surpass it in quality, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. Nestled between the Zelda franchise’s two largest heavy-hitters – the previously-mentioned A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time – I’ve always felt that LA always got a bad rap. Sure, it was a portable Zelda, but that’s part of what makes it so impressive – they managed to achieve an adventure almost as large and expansive as a SNES game on the Game Boy. Likewise, I’d say that future games in the Zelda series owe Link’s Awakening a great deal, because it’s truly the first game in the series that cemented the focus on complex puzzles that would entertain the masses for years to come.
One of the more interesting elements of this game would have to be its storyline. While A Link to the Past was a far-flung prequel to the first two NES games, Link’s Awakening was – at the time – a direct sequel to ALttP (but more on that later). More importantly, it was the first game in the franchise to take place outside of the land of Hyrule. Sometime after saving both the kingdom of Hyrule and reclaiming the Triforce, Link starts travelling in search on new adventures by ship. One night, a tropical storm leaves our young hero shipwrecked on the mysterious Koholint Island, a tropical paradise. A young girl by the name of Marin finds Link unconscious on the beach and nurses him back to health. After recovering his shield from her father Tarin and his sword from the wreckage of his ship, Link is approached by an owl who informs Link that, to escape from the island, he must awaken the Wind Fish – Koholint’s guardian deity – from his deep sleep. This task can only be accomplished by using the eight Instruments of the Sirens – which are scattered across the island in various dungeons and guarded by Nightmares.
When I mentioned that future Zelda games owed much more to Link’s Awakening than ALttP, I was mostly referring to shift in gameplay compared to earlier title in the series. While the previous Zeldas did have a slight emphasis on puzzle-solving, the bulk of the game focused on exploration and combat. LA turned puzzles from a garnish into something far more substantial. By extension, the puzzles themselves have become more advanced. In the early days of Zelda, the most complex puzzles you’d generally encounter were using the ladder to cross gaps, pushing random blocks out of the way and bombing unmarked walls. Awakening completely overhauled this. Sure, many of these elements would find their way into the Game Boy installment, however, by this point, to consider these puzzles compared to the other offerings this game had would be laughable. Take, for example, the seventh dungeon – Eagle’s Tower – where Link had to reach the top of the fortress to do battle with its boss. In most games, Link would be forced to climb endless staircases. Link’s Awakening did things a little differently: sure, there were still multiple floors to explore in this dungeon, but Link also had to escort a wrecking ball to knock out various support pillars to progress. An earlier dungeon, the Bottle Grotto, forced players to kill enemies in a specific order to obtain the Boss Key – your only clue being a riddle found later in the dungeon. I don’t want to completely spoil the game, but I am going to recount one last puzzle. To reach the third dungeon, Link had to collect 5 golden leaves. One of these leaves was in the possession of a bird out of Link’s reach. By throwing a rock at it, the bird would become startled and attack Link, putting the bird in range to be attacked.
Because most dungeon items in Link’s Awakening were directly lifted from ALttP, it’s fair to assume that these items helped the game evolve into a more puzzle-oriented affair simply due to their familiarity. However, there is one notable exception: the all-new Roc’s Feather, which allows Link to jump over pits. One of my favorite dungeon items in the entire series, I cannot understate how important the Roc’s Feather becomes throughout the game – it’s to the extent where I set it as one of my default items. This becomes even more important as Link’s Awakening brings back those underground side-scrolling segments seen in the original Zelda, but with a new twist. Yes, many of these segments have been transformed completely into simple platforming segments. Yes, platforming in a Zelda game – crazy, right? This just feeds into the varied gameplay styles present in LA, further differentiating it from its “big brother” ALttP.
The game’s tone was also a departure from previous titles. While most Zelda games treated its setting and story with the gravity one might expect from a legendary epic, Link’s Awakening had many more light-hearted moments as well as comedic elements. This gave LA a unique flavor all its own. The comedic tone also lent the game to numerous cameos from other Nintendo games and franchises. While these elements would become more commonplace in future titles, no other game in the franchise had Link meet up with Mr. Wright from SimCity, stomp Goombas in underground caverns, duke it out with evil Kirbies and collect a Yoshi doll as an integral part of a sidequest. The game was funny, which makes its bittersweet ending all the more poignant.
Another addition that had an impact on the series as a whole was the greater emphasis on the game’s overall setting. In most previous Zelda games (especially Zelda II), Hyrule Field felt like it was simply your path from getting from dungeon A to dungeon B. ALttP was the first step toward developing the overworld into something meaningful, but Link’s Awakening took it to a whole new level. You actually get to interact with many of the minor characters to a greater degree than earlier games, thus making Koholint feel much more organic and alive. This is probably best illustrated through LA’s Trading Sequence, the first in the franchise’s history. Starting with the aforementioned Yoshi doll – won in a mini-game – which can be traded for a ribbon, which can be traded for dog food and so on. Trading sequences would become fairly commonplace in future Zelda titles, but the original was unique in the sense that it was necessary to progress in the game, as opposed to simply rewarding players with an optional power-up.
As I mentioned before, I’m mostly familiar with the DX re-release on Game Boy Color, which was probably an improvement over the original, simply due to the fact that it included some enhancements, including a full-color palette and some fixes to various glitches in the game. There was also bonus content expanding on an already great game. You’ve got the addition of the Photo Shop – a bonus feature that introduced a mouse photographer that would take pictures of Link throughout his adventure, depending on whether or not you perform specific actions. These pictures could be printed out using the Game Boy Camera peripheral, though this feature was disabled in future re-releases for obvious reasons. Of course, the most important addition to the game was the Color Dungeon. A fitting name, given the fact that it relies upon the GBC’s color screen. Your reward for conquering it is your choice between the red and blue tunic, offering enhanced attack or defense respectively. Of course, the best part about these additions is that they’re totally optional, so you can choose to either play the game as it was originally made or enjoy the new content.
In addition to being the first Zelda game I ever actually sat down and played, Link’s Awakening was also the first game in the series I managed to beat. Sure, it wasn’t until years later, when the game hit the Virtual Console on the Nintendo 3DS, but maybe it was for the best. By the time I actually sat down and started playing it for real, I was older – more mature and possessing an attention span greater than a goldfish – so I guess I could better appreciate the game for what it was, as opposed to just considering it among one of the games I’d continue to shuffle through, hoping to make progress but lacking the focus to actually buckle down and improve my skills, instead hoping that I could just proceed through sheer dumb luck.
Link’s Awakening was definitely a turning point for the series, effectively acting as a safe title to experiment with modifying some of the series’ pre-established conventions. Its status as a Game Boy game was both a blessing and a curse in the long run. Being released on a portable meant that if the changes it made to the Zelda formula had been considered a failure, it could have easily have been swept under the rug and forgotten with little consequence. Unfortunately, this built-in obscurity was a double-edged sword, so the game is generally forgotten by many mainstream observers of the series: the next game in the series getting the credit for some of the innovations LA introduced. It’s a shame that so many Zelda fans ignored this game’s brilliance for so long, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised: this has been the fate of pretty much every Game Boy “spinoff” of major Nintendo franchises. Fortunately, these days Awakening is looked upon more favorably – but its reception still pales in comparison to the games that directly preceded and followed it.
Ocarina of Time
Now we come to the biggest game I’m going to cover in this entire article. I don’t think there’s a person alive today who had even a passing interest in video games and doesn’t know what Ocarina of Time is. Probably the most relevant game in the series by way of pop culture, OoT was, for the longest time, considered the be-all and end-all, not just in terms of Zelda games, adventure games or even Nintendo as a whole – it was clearly considered one of the most important video games of all-time, and it’s hard to argue that it has since lost that distinction.
My own personal history with Ocarina of Time is probably far more confrontational than one might expect. For the longest time, I considered it to be a part of its very own Triforce – specifically of overrated games from the 5th generation of video games, you know, the PlayStation 1, Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn’s era. Alongside the original Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII, OoT was one of the games it seemed like everyone loved and by extension, it seemed no one couldn’t love. This in turn, made me resent their existence. In recent years, I managed to play all three of these games – and to be frank, Ocarina was the only one I actually managed to enjoy.
Once again, we’re looking at a prequel – this time, taking place even before A Link to the Past. Deep in Hyrule lies the Great Deku Tree, guardian spirit of its forest. Living amongst the tree were the Kokiri, the children of the forest. Each child had a guardian fairy, except for one: a young boy named Link. Early one morning, Link was having a nightmare – a nightmare that he had had many times before. He was in front of a massive castle during a thunderstorm, watching as two riders on horseback departed at breakneck speed. The first was carrying a young girl who looked at him with fear, as if she was trying to tell him something. The other was an imposing figure dressed entirely in black. This figure would loom forebodingly over Link before he would awake from this nightmare.
This particular morning, however, Link was awakened by something else: a stray fairy had found its way into his home. Her name was Navi and she was sent to summon Link to the Great Deku Tree. The tree had been cursed and summoned Link to restore himself to his full strength. Showing great courage, Link conquered the Deku Tree’s trial and dispelled its curse. For the bravery and fortitude he showed, Link was granted the Spiritual Stone of the forest and told to venture to Hyrule Castle, find the other two spiritual stones and protect the sacred Triforce from those who would seek to use its power for evil. Thus begins Link’s grand adventure.
Ocarina of Time’s gameplay is a living paradox. While it borrows a great deal from Link’s Awakening, it does so with an entirely new dimension – the third, to be exact. Yet, somehow, that made all the difference in the world. The power of the Nintendo 64 allowed the game’s development team to build a truly living Hyrule, the likes of which the earlier games in the series could never have matched. The new perspective allowed for a much more intimate view of the game’s setting. While this would leave far less to the player’s imagination, it also had the added benefit of further immersing the player, making the game’s world feel more real than the overhead perspective of old ever could. Link’s movements changed as well, going from simple representations to full animations – animations that make Link seem more real and by extension, allowing the player to better fill his role.
By and large, the greatest addition the jump to 3D gave the Zelda franchise was to the game’s overworld. So many new aspects of Hyrule were added in this game and became staples in Zelda’s lore to this day. The Zoras were reimagined, from the antagonistic gillmen from the 2D games into a noble seafaring race, appearing almost like deconstructions of the mythological mermaid. New creatures such as the Deku Scrubs and the Gorons were added, effectively becoming commonplace in future games in the franchise. Likewise, the 3D environments in Ocarina showcased Hyrule’s biodiversity in a way that earlier games couldn’t, with the plains of Hyrule Field easily leading into Lake Hylia, the civilized town surrounding Hyrule Castle, the oceanic cove of Zora’s Domain, the harsh deserts of Gerudo Valley, the treacherous Death Mountain and the lush Kokiri Forest.
Ocarina’s setting is also unique in the sense that it relies on a time-travel mechanic. While this wouldn’t be uncommon in future releases within the series, the way it’s handled within OoT is unique – as it directly impacts Link himself. Upon retrieving the aforementioned spirit stones, Link is able to enter the Temple of Time and gain access to the legendary Master Sword. However, as a child, Link is too young to wield the sword. He is sealed away for seven years, until he is old enough to use its full power. In this time, Hyrule has fallen at the hands of the evil Ganondorf. The interesting thing about this is that you’re able to move forward and back through time at will, upon entry to the Temple of Time. The child and adult incarnations of Link both have their own unique items and time travel can be used to change events and is even necessary to complete one of the later dungeons.
Speaking of which, as I mentioned earlier, Link’s Awakening began the shift towards more puzzle-oriented dungeons in Zelda games, but Ocarina of Time was the game that brought that shift to the masses. Likewise, the shift from 2D to 3D allowed for much more captivating dungeon design – and to an extent, much more engaging puzzles just due to the new perspective. Just as OoT had a seamless world, its dungeons likewise felt more cohesive within themselves. This added a new perception of just how puzzles could exist throughout the entire area, as opposed to being individual room-by-room affairs. In the Forest Temple, Link must literally manipulate the structure of the dungeon itself to complete it. The infamous Water Temple relies upon raising and lowering the levels of water within constantly to make progress. Then you’ve got the case of the Shadow Temple, where Link must literally complete a mini-dungeon as a child to complete it as an adult.
Another interesting aspect of the game’s design approach is that the overworld itself gets in on some of the action. There are a few stealth segments that Link must complete to access new areas. Players are also introduced to Link’s trusty steed Epona for the first time, which allows him to easily traverse the now enormous overworld – and with a new horse comes new racing segments, both on foot and horseback. There are also many sidequests: tracking down 100 Gold Skulltulas to save a miserly family from a curse, selling masks to various people across Hyrule, various shooting gallery-style mini-games, and of course the intense Biggoron’s Sword fetchquest.
The bosses themselves also deserve commendation: compared to previous Zeldas, the boss fights in Ocarina of Time just seem substantially more epic in scale. In the 2D Zeldas, there was very little difference in how mid-bosses and the major bosses of each dungeon were handled. While mini-bosses are still present in OoT, they feel similar to both types of bosses from earlier games in the franchise. Major dungeon bosses, on the other hand, appear on a much grander scale. They’re given these almost cinematic introductions – with their names and titles given before the fight even begins. The addition of 3D graphics also grants them a much larger sense of scale: bosses in Zelda games pretty much always dwarfed Link in size, but OoT achieves this feeling in a way that’s hard to recreate outside of its 3D setting and became a mainstay in the series in general. For example, early on we see the return of the Gohma and Dodongo bosses from earlier games, but at a scale that clearly expands upon their original appearances. Likewise, this also allows for more unique strategies. For example, Phantom Ganon relies on an assortment of portraits to misdirect the player and attack them off guard. You fight the Shadow Temple guardian Bongo Bongo who attacks with its two giant hands on what appears to be a giant bongo drum surrounded by a pool of poison. Don’t even get me started on Twinrova, my favorite boss fight in the entire game. Everything just comes together so well to create something so satisfying.
It’s a shame that, as with ALttP, my first experience with Ocarina of Time was fairly negative. I must have been around 10-12 years old and I saw a Nintendo 64 kiosk at a big box store (I’m almost certain it was a Target) with OoT set up to intrigue buyers. Now, at that point, all I really knew about Ocarina was that pretty much all of my sources (i.e. the gaming magazines I’d read) had told me it was one of, if not the, greatest video game of all-time – so of course I’m going to try my hand at it. Unfortunately, whoever had played the game previously decided to make it to Kakariko Village before giving up on it and without any knowledge on where to go next, I kind of just got bored after a while. A tiny slight, in retrospect, but even small transgressions seem enormous when you’re that young. I decided the game was overhyped nonsense and didn’t end up trying it again for over a decade.
When I did end up trying it again, it was with the 3DS’s enhanced port, aptly titled: Ocarina of Time 3D. A fascinating little port, with incredibly touched-up graphics and some slight quality-of-life modifications. What’s so impressive about the game is just how little they managed to change. Part of the reason I decided I’d try the modern re-release, despite the N64 original being ubiquitous, was due to one specific QoL improvement. The Iron Boots, a necessary part of the infamous Water Temple, had been changed from an equippable to a standard item – one that could be turned on and off with the push of a button (or touch screen, if you were so inclined). They even managed to leave in many of the glitches that were rife for abuse with speedrunners and their ilk – because the developers of the port had grown up with the game and determined that any glitches that weren’t gamebreaking simply “made the game more fun”. I love hearing statements like that.
After I first played Ocarina of Time to its conclusion, several years after its original release, I have to admit that it definitely lives up to its title of true classic. Eiji Aonuma proved himself to be a worthy steward of the Zelda franchise with this, his first project in the series. Perhaps the only major downside to this game was that Nintendo would then spend several years trying to recapture OoT’s magic in many of their future releases. I suppose not even the Hero of Time could catch lightning in a bottle, though I would probably argue that the impact Ocarina had on the series was a net positive overall. While it didn’t have quite the same impact as Super Mario 64 had on its own emerging sub-genre, Zelda’s first outing on the N64 would eventually spawn its own imitators – a few examples include Capcom’s Okami, THQ’s Darksiders and Rare’s Kameo: Elements of Power.
I think Majora’s Mask is best described as the “hipster” Zelda. Nowhere near as popular as its predecessor Ocarina of Time, but in recent years, it’s become something of an underground hit. Since then, its status as a “cult classic” no longer applies – much like any popular-unpopular game, its popularity seemingly hinges on the concept that it’s alternative. By this point message boards, blogs and even fan sites are chockful of rants declaring that Majora is superior to Ocarina in every conceivable way. At this point, even I’ve become numb to it – and as I mentioned above, I hated OoT for well over a decade for some of the lamest reasoning imaginable. The whole following behind MM just strikes me as contrarian at its core, which is a shame because the game itself is actually very good. I guess it’s just another one of those cases where a small but loud minority gives an entire fanbase, and by extension the focus of their fandom, a bad name.
The second and final Zelda on the Nintendo 64 originally began its life announced as Zelda no Densetsu Gaiden, or “The Legend of Zelda Side Story”. Considering the final product, it was a pretty good indicator of the concept. After the release of Ocarina of Time, Shigeru Miyamoto planned to release an improved version with remade dungeons on the short-lived Nintendo 64DD – a concept that would eventually see fruition in later re-releases as the “Master Quest”. Aonuma disliked this idea, so he decided to work on original dungeons in secret. He then pitched the idea of creating a new game to Miyamoto. He agreed, on the condition that he could complete the game in one year. Considering the game’s main theme, it’s a fitting genesis for Majora all things considered.
Majora’s Mask takes place a few months after Ocarina of Time. The young hero Link is searching for Navi, his former fairy companion. While riding his trusty horse Epona in a forest, Link is ambushed by Skull Kid and his two fairies, Tatl and her younger brother Tael. Something is different about the mischievous youth, however: he’s donned a strange mask and contorting his body in unnatural ways. After knocking Link unconscious, Skull Kid steals Epona, Link’s Ocarina of Time and his other items and runs off deep into the forest. When Link awakens, he chases the naughty trio into a dark cave where Skull Kid puts a curse on Link – transforming our young hero into a Deku Scrub – and runs through a door in the cave, leaving behind Tatl. Tatl demands that Link give chase so she can reunite with her brother, but instead of Skull Kid, they find the Happy Mask Salesman. He offers to dispel Link’s curse in exchange for retrieving Majora’s Mask: the source of Skull Kid’s madness.
Upon emerging from the cave, Link and Tatl find themselves emerging from a clock tower in a strange land named Termina. The citizens in the surrounding village, aptly named “Clock Town”, are preparing for their annual Carnival of Time, set to take place in three days. Upon exploring the village, Link and Tatl discover that Skull Kid is hiding within the Clock Tower, which only opens on the day before the festival. They also discover that the Moon is falling and will land on the day of the festival. When Link confronts Skull Kid, he regains his Ocarina but finds that he lacks the power to fight Skull Kid or stop the moon’s collision. As a last-ditch effort, he plays the Song of Time – sending Link and Tatl back three days, the day they first arrived in Termina, with their memories intact and the Ocarina of Time still in Link’s possession. With Tael’s cryptic words still echoing in their thoughts, Link and his new companion set out to save this new land from its terrible fate.
This game was built on Ocarina of Time’s engine and it shows. The basic control and gameplay are pretty much identical to the game’s predecessor but that’s not really a bad thing, all things considered. Only Child Link appears in this game, though the game decides to grant him the bow and arrows, as opposed to saddling him with the slingshot. Some items from OoT return, but there are also quite some omissions. The game world itself is also a stark contrast to Ocarina: the game is entirely hub-based, with Clock Town in the center of the game world and four additional areas in each of the cardinal directions. Needless to say, if you love the exploration element of Zelda, this is clearly not the game to play.
Having said that, for what the game lacks in exploration and key items, it more than makes up for with two gameplay mechanics that makes MM feel like its own beast. First off, there’s transformation. In Ocarina of Time, Link could shift between ages – from child to adult – though this was more of a consequence of time travel. In Majora’s Mask, Link can transform into 3 different species. As I mentioned, at the start of the game, Link is transformed into a Deku Scrub. Quick, but small and weak – Deku Link is capable of spitting bubbles as an attack at the cost of magic, propelling himself high into the air by burrowing into a Deku Flower, skipping across bodies of water (for a limited number of jumps) and performing a spin attack that also grants him a speed boost. Next, Link can turn into a mighty Goron. In this form, he’s impervious to lava, attacks with a mighty punch combo, can destroy objects with a ground pound and perform what I can best describe as a “spin dash”. Finally, Link’s able to turn into a Sea Zora: granting him full mobility in the water. He can also slash with his fin blades, which can be charged to perform a boomerang attack. As for Hylian Link, he’s capable of using the major of items in the game and is granted greater jumping abilities. As a unique twist, each transformation is also given their own musical instrument, as opposed to the standard Ocarina of Time – though, for the most part, their utility is identical.
There’s also the Mask system. While masks first appeared in Ocarina of Time, they were mainly used in a sidequest and didn’t really grant Link much in the way of special abilities. This is clearly not the case in Majora’s Mask, where each mask collected grants Link some ability. For example, those three previously mentioned transformations? They are all achieved by putting on a mask. There are other more mundane masks as well. For example, the Postman’s Hat allows Link to check the contents of mailboxes. The Mask of Scents, sporting a pig-like face, allows Link to sniff out certain items. The Mask of Truth returns from Ocarina, allowing Link to listen to Gossip Stones and read the minds of animals. Of course, I have my personal favorites, which I’ll detail below:
- Captain’s Hat – honestly, it was a toss-up between this and the Gibdo’s Mask, because they’re similar in function: preventing certain enemies from attacking you. The Captain’s Hat won out, simply due to all the extra goodies you can obtain with it.
- Great Fairy Mask – attracts stray fairies. This thing is a godsend if you’re trying to get all of the game’s bonuses.
- Blast Mask – allows Link to produce bomb-like explosions by attacking. This can usually damage Link, unless he’s got his shield up.
- Stone Mask – renders Link invisible to enemies. Great for any of the game’s stealth sequences, though you get it about partway through the most complex of them (at least in the 3DS version).
- Bunny Hood – there’s no question, I would always wear this mask by default. It increases Link’s speed by a great deal, which makes some things far less tedious.
Of course, one downside to the game’s new format would be the lack of dungeons. There are 5 in all, and that’s if you include the optional final “dungeon” – which is more of a set of challenge rooms. The meat of the game is focused on sidequests. Given the cyclical nature of the game – every reset resets everything – this can often lead to starting quests that you’re not yet able to finish. Of course, the 3-day cycle usually means that you’ll have to focus on beating a few quests at a time anyway. Completing each quest grants Link a reward: usually a mask, but sometimes it’s a piece of heart or a bottle. If your favorite aspect of the Zelda games are the dungeons or you think sidequests are a waste of time, this is not the Zelda for you.
As with OoT, the first (and as of right now, only) time I experienced Majora’s Mask was with the 3DS remaster. Unlike Ocarina, however, MM3D made several changes to the game – and controversial as it may be, given the fact that I looked into what was changed, I’d have to say it was all for the better. The in-game clock – originally depicted with a sun or moon, depending on whether it was day or night, slowly making its way around a semi-circle – was replaced with a digital readout of the exact time slowly moving from left to right across what resembles a timeline. Link can now make permanent saves at any Owl Statue, though now the Song of Time no longer saves the game. Likewise, the Song of Double Time now allows players to jump to specific hours in their current day, as opposed to just jumping to the nearest dawn or dusk.
Perhaps the biggest changes were made to 4 of the 5 dungeon bosses. While the game’s final boss is left more or less intact, the preceding 4 have been modified. The second boss, Goht, had the most minor change: the boss fight still involves attacking him with the Goron Roll – you’re just trying to trip it in order to reveal its weak point which needed to be hit by fire arrows, as opposed to just smacking it into submission. Odolwa’s significantly easier – just drop Deku Nuts on his weak point from the air to stun him – but simultaneously more satisfying, the old boss fight was essentially an unbalanced Stalfos fight. Gyorg’s fight now contains two phases – one where you shoot ice arrows at it from a platform, the other where you fight him entirely underwater as Zora Link – effectively splitting the two methods for fighting him in the N64 original into separate boss phases. Finally, there’s Twinmold: the original boss fight was just a random hackfest against the two worms with Giant Link. The new boss fight involves two phases – the first involving firing arrows at the blue worm to obtain the Giant’s Mask; the second requiring Link to don said mask to meticulously defeat a much craftier red worm, constantly burrowing underground and resurfacing to attack. When it resurfaces, you have to attack it fiercely in order to stun it, which gives you the opportunity to damage it. I’ll admit, in my own playthrough, I almost ran out of time while fighting the second phase of Twinmold.
Perhaps the weirdest complaint I’ve heard in regards to the 3DS version is the fact that improving the graphics “ruined them” and “made the game more kiddy”. I guess it’s just one of those cases where I lack the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia necessary to understand this viewpoint. I’ve taken looks at the graphics in the N64 version, and if you want me to be honest, there were times where I laughed out loud. I guess it’s just one of those things where you had to be there – I like the new graphics and I feel that they convey Termina’s setting properly, being just slightly off to the point being unsettling, as opposed to the horrific tone most diehard fans appear to associate with the game.
While the majority of changes made to Majora’s Mask 3D were clearly made with “quality of life” in mind, the bosses themselves, at least in my opinion, were changed to bring them more in line with modern Zelda bosses. The new bosses require solving a puzzle, much like bosses in Ocarina of Time. The old bosses required, for the most part, straightforward brute force to defeat. I guess I just find it a bit odd that the defenders of the original N64 version put so much fervor in their defense of it. Maybe Majora found its fanbase due to the fact that, in many ways, it was the antithesis of Ocarina of Time and Zelda as a whole. A sort of “anti-Zelda” and the remake, in addition to making the game “more casual” (read: “less inexplicable”), also brought it more in line with the rest of the series – a cardinal sin to its fanbase.
Majora’s Mask is, by no means, a perfect game. It is, however, incredibly interesting. I’m sure that if I had picked up the game back when it was brand new – back when it was worth $50 bare minimum – I’d have been ticked off. Considering all the refinements that were made with the new version plus the cheaper price, I think it was worth it though. Plus the original game’s available on Virtual Console for $10 these days, so the point is probably moot. More than anything, this game’s definitely worth checking out, for the sake of how it experiments with the just-established formula for 3D Zeldas.
The Oracle Series
Seems like all of the Game Boy Zeldas get a bad rap. At the very least, they seem to be easily forgotten. The Oracle games are no different in this regard. Released shortly after Majora’s Mask on the 3DS, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages both attempted to bridge the gap between all of the new storyline elements added in the Nintendo 64 games with classic 2D top-down gameplay akin to that from A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. In that sense, these games definitely surpass LA, though they somehow seem to be even less memorable.
The really interesting thing about these games is that they were originally intended to be part of a larger series of games. Developed by Flagship – a development team within Capcom – the project was originally intended to be a remake of the original Legend of Zelda. This was to be followed by a remake of Zelda II, then four original titles for a total of 6. This would be quickly simplified to the initial remake and a trilogy – before dropping the remake entirely. These games would become known as the “Triforce Series” or the “Mystical Seed Trilogy”, but even at this point, the games were intended to have a link between them from this stage in their development.
Due to the intricate link between these games, some people – myself included – generally treat them as a single title. It’s one of those weird cases, lying somewhere between Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Pokémon Red and Blue – each game technically stands well enough on its own, but to fully experience it you need both games. Having said all that, I will be discussing each title individually under in their own segments but I’ll also be going into detail about the connectivity between Seasons and Ages, as well as comparing and contrasting the two games themselves.
Both games came out on the same day in North America. As such, it’s possible to play them in any order. However, it’s generally accepted – both by the fanbase and Nintendo themselves in their official timeline – that Oracle of Seasons takes place before Oracle of Ages. Therefore, it’s only fitting that we cover that game first. Considering this was the first of the two I played, it’s only fitting that Seasons is covered before Ages. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that the Oracle duology takes place between A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening – a surprising move, considering the popularity of Ocarina of Time.
Oracle of Seasons
Oracle of Seasons begins with Link riding on horseback to a Castle. Upon entering the castle, he finds the three pieces of the Triforce, which converge and teleport him away. Link awakens in the land of Holodrum, a land reliant on the four seasons. Upon exploring his new surroundings, Link happens upon a dancing troupe and is intrigued by their leader, a young girl by the name of Din. After sharing a dance, the mood is ruined by the arrival of General Onox, a colossal man clad in heavy armor, who kidnaps Din and seals her in a giant crystal within his fortress. It turns out that Din was the Oracle of Seasons and her absence has sent the entire land of Holodrum into disarray: each region is permanently stuck in a random season and the Maku Tree, the guardian of Holodrum, loses his strength and is reduced to a withered, narcoleptic state. In order to save Holodrum from destruction, Link must recover the legendary artifact, the Rod of Seasons – which allows its wielder to change the seasons at will – and recover the eight Essences of Nature to reawaken the Maku Tree and rescue the Oracle of Seasons.
Of the two games, Oracle of Seasons is the more action-oriented of the two. Effectively taking inspiration from ALttP in many ways, this game is more focused on combat. That’s not to say that there aren’t puzzles, but compared to its sister game, they’re fairly simple. Likewise, the dungeon layouts themselves are reminiscent of the SNES classic. For example, Snake’s Remains – the game’s second dungeon – has both a main and secondary entrance, the latter initially only accessible from an alternate exit, not unlike ALttP’s Snake Woods. Of course, to complete the game’s later areas, one must rely upon both their quick reflexes and a precise understanding of the dungeon’s layout.
An interesting callback to the games’ original “Mysterious Seed” designation is the use of seeds. Throughout the land of Holodrum are trees that grow one of five types of seeds. The ember seeds cast fire when dropped, allowing Link to light torches or burn shrubs. The mystery seeds can be fed to Owl Statues found in the overworld and dungeons for hints, as well as act as a stand-in for the magic powder from earlier Zelda games. Scent seeds can be used to lure enemies. Pegasus seeds give Link a temporary burst in speed, not unlike their namesake: the Pegasus boots. Finally, there’s the Gale Seeds – arguably the most important in the game – which allows Link to warp around the overworld, back to any tree where he previously collected seeds.
While many items are shared between the Oracle games, there are a few unique to each game. For example: while the Roc’s Feather from Link’s Awakening returns, Seasons is the only game that offers an enhanced version, the Roc’s Cape. This allows Link to effectively glide by holding down the assigned button, allowing for better platforming. Link can also come across a slingshot, which can fling any of the aforementioned seeds for a great distance. It can be upgraded to the Hyper Slingshot, which can fire three seeds simultaneously in different directions. Link can also upgrade his Boomerang to the Magic Boomerang, which players can guide using the D-Pad. Finally, there are the Magnetic Gloves, which allows Link to attract or repel giant metal spheres or cross chasms using magnetic poles found in various areas.
The season-changing mechanic is interesting: to change the season in an area, Link must stand atop a tree stump and swing the Rod of Seasons. The seasons themselves cycle in their traditional order – though each of the four seasons must be obtained separately. Depending on which area Link is currently in, each season can bring about two advantages that can make the area easier to traverse. Winter freezes certain bodies of water which allows Link to walk over them, can cause trees to lose their leaves and become thinner and can create snowbanks that allow him to reach new areas. Spring activates Blast Blooms – which can be used to access high ledges – as well as changing water levels in some areas and allows Link to slash away at flowers that are rock-hard every other time of year. Summer dries out certain riverbeds and causes vines to grow over certain cliffs, allowing Link to climb them. Finally, Autumn allows Link to lift and toss Rock Mushrooms with the Power Bracelet and many pits are covered with leaves, which allows Link to simply walk over them. However, if he stands on the leaf piles for too long, he’ll fall right through.
Link can also don an assortment of rings. This system is poorly implemented in my opinion, but the concept behind it is interesting. Rings can be found throughout the overworld, as well as within dungeons. Upon finding these rings, Link must take them to the Ring “shop” (which doesn’t actually sell rings) in the main village in order to have them appraised – which costs 20 rupees per appraisal, though duplicates are automatically sold to the shopkeep for 30. They are then added to a list, which can then be selected to enter Link’s Ring Box – which in turn will allow him to equip them. The Ring Box starts out only being able to hold a single ring, though it can be upgraded to hold as many as 5 – allowing players to switch from their current selection on the fly. These rings can offer many abilities, like the ability to walk on cracked floors, increase the damage of various items and even transform into a variety of strange forms. As I said: interesting concept, poor execution.
There’s also the Gasha Seed system. Basically, throughout the game, you can find these items called Gasha Seeds which can be planted in various patches of open earth found throughout the overworld. As time passes in game and Link defeats enemies, the seed slowly grows into a tree which will eventually bear fruit in the form of a Gasha Nut. Once the Gasha Seed has been retrieved, it can be opened to reveal a new item. These can be anything from rupees to rings, even a Heart Piece is hidden within this system. Most of the people I’ve heard from have said that this was the most difficult one to achieve, but in my experience, I got it pretty much immediately when I actively went out of my way to obtain it. Results may vary.
Oracle of Ages
Oracle of Ages begins with Link riding towards a castle on horseback…again. He finds the three pieces of the Triforce, which converge and teleport him to a new land. Link awakens in the land of Labrynna, immediately stumbling upon Zelda’s nursemaid Impa, being attacked by a pack of Octoroks. After saving her, the two stumble upon Nayru, a young woman singing a beautiful melody, and her friend Ralph, a young swordsman. Soon after, Impa’s demeanor changes from kind to downright evil – she’s been possessed by Veran, the evil Sorceress of Shadows. Using Link as a pawn, she then overshadows Nayru, revealed to be the Oracle of Ages. She then slips through a time portal to the past, creating havoc in the present. Link then meets with Labrynna’s guardian, the Maku Tree, who informs him that to defeat Veran, he would need the Essences of Time – which themselves are hidden across different time periods. Worse still, in the past, Veran is manipulating the once benevolent Queen Ambi to build a giant tower for unknown yet sinister purposes. Can Link save both the past and the present?
Oracle of Ages is the more puzzle-oriented of the duology. Clearly taking more inspiration from both Link’s Awakening and the Nintendo 64 games than its counterpart, Ages can be downright cryptic at times. For example, the Moonlit Grotto requires Link to collapse the top floor onto the bottom floor in order to progress, not unlike the Eagle’s Tower in Link’s Awakening. Likewise, the seventh dungeon Jabu-Jabu’s Belly takes inspiration from Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple, as it requires manipulating water levels to progress and complete the area. The puzzles in Ages are among the most cerebral in the entire series up to this point, requiring a lot of foresight and unconventional thinking to complete. There’s also a stealth sequence not unlike those found in OoT and Majora’s Mask.
Oracle of Ages also has its own assortment of unique items. The Cane of Somaria returns from A Link to the Past, still capable of manifesting blocks from thin air. The slingshot is eschewed in favor of the Seed Shooter, which allows Link to fire seeds in 8 directions with the ability to ricochet on walls a few times. The power bracelet appears in both games, but can only be upgraded into the Power Glove in Ages: capable of lifting heavy objects. Finally, there’s a Switch Hook, which allows Link to switch places with specific objects he can grab with it. The Long Hook is an upgrade that increases the Switch Hook’s range. There’s also the Mermaid Suit, which increases Link’s ability to navigate underwater, far outstripping the Zora’s Flippers.
The time travel mechanic in this game is not unlike the Dark World mechanic in A Link to the Past, though the time travel mechanic in Ocarina of Time is also a clear inspiration. The past and the present have different layouts, which means that sometimes Link must travel to either the past or present to progress on the game map. Likewise, events performed in the past can have effects in the present. There’s even a dungeon that requires entering in both the past and present to complete. Link’s ability to time travel is dependent entirely on the Harp of Ages, a relic found in Nayru’s possession near the beginning of the game. Throughout the course of the game, Link can learn 3 songs – each with their own unique limitations. First, there’s the Tune of Echoes which opens various time portals that can be found across the overworld which send you to the past or present, depending on whichever time period Link’s currently in. The Tune of Currents simply sends Link to the present from the past, but also generates a return portal to the past. Finally, the Tune of Ages allows Link to switch times at will, while maintaining the previous song’s return portal to whichever time he played it. Of course, when time travelling with the latter two songs, player must be cognizant of their locations: if Link spawns in an area where something else exists, he’s promptly sent back to whatever time he tried to travel from.
There’s also a trio of animal companions that can be found in the game. While all 3 must be encountered to complete the game, one of them will grant Link a flute in order to call them at his whim. There’s Ricky the Kangaroo: capable of jumping pits and cliffs, as well able to clobber his way through enemies and throw tornado punches. Next is Dimitri the Dodongo: able to swim up waterfalls and devour both bushes and enemies. Finally, Moosh the Bear who can fly over pits and ground pound enemies. Due to the differences in each animal helper’s abilities, certain sections in the game will be rearranged to suit Link’s permanent partner’s specialties.
After defeating a set number of enemies, Link has the possibility to encounter Maple, an apprentice witch riding by broomstick. If Link manages to collide with her, both character will drop random items on the overworld. Players are then forced to race Maple to collect as many items as possible, before she can recover everything. Maple also occasionally drops rings, health potions and even a Piece of Heart. Unlike the Gasha Seed, I had a really difficult time with getting Maple’s Heart Piece, to the extent where I didn’t even bother with it in Oracle of Ages.
Of course, the most unique feature of the Oracle series was the ability to link games. After beating one game, players are given a password which, if input in the Secrets section on the other game’s title menu, changed some elements of the following game, effectively making it the previous game’s sequel. There was also a second password obtainable from the Ring Shop, which allowed players to transfer their collection of rings from the first game to the second, which is great if you managed to get some decent jewelry during your first adventure. Players also had the option to transfer their data over via link cable, but considering the logistics necessary to allow for that – you’d need a second Game Boy Color and a link cable – the password had much wider utility.
The linked game would also add various elements to the original game. For example, Princess Zelda appears in the linked game, getting kidnapped relatively early in, allowing for a rescue mini-quest, which varies based on which game is played second. In my case, I played Ages second, so I was offered a mini-dungeon based loosely on the original Donkey Kong. Characters encountered in both games will recognize Link from his previous adventures. This includes one specific side-quest involving a married couple – Bipin and Blossom – whose child grows throughout both games and has his development affects by various decisions made by Link across both games. Likewise, whichever animal Link chose to make his permanent companion in the previous game will maintain that position in the Linked Game.
One of the more important elements of the Linked Game would have to be their use of Secrets. In the Linked Game, various characters that would not have appeared otherwise spawn in various points in the overworld. Each has a secret – a short password – which Link can share in the previous game in order to unlock various power-ups. These powerups will come with a second secret, which if shared with Farore – the Oracle of Secrets – who resides within the Maku Tree. She also collects any secrets you’ve previously collected, giving them descriptions that hint at their purpose. These secrets allow for such things as fully powering up Link’s sword and shield, increasing the capacity of items like the bomb bag and even granting Link the use of items otherwise unobtainable, such as the Biggoron’s Sword and Bombchus.
Of course, the most important aspect of the Linked Game would be the fact that it contains the true ending of the Oracle series. After saving the game’s corresponding Oracle, Princess Zelda is kidnapped by Koume and Kotake, the Twinrova witches. The witchy duo also manipulated both Onox and Veran for their goals, to light the flames of Destruction and Sorrow and intend to sacrifice Zelda to light a flame of Despair. With these three flames, Koume and Kotake intend to resurrect their evil lord Ganon. Both Oracles use their strength to transport Link to the Room of Rites, a new dungeon, where the ritual is to take place. Completing this final quest offers players the Hero’s Secret, a password that allows players to maintain their inventory, while playing the original form of their Linked Game in a new save file. This in turn creates a new password which will allow players to play the Linked Game version of the game they started with in the first place, thus allowing for a complete cycle of both Linked Games with the same inventory.
This feels like a good point to stop, mainly because I have yet to play the Wind Waker and that game seems to signify another shift in the series. Once I’m able to play the remaining games in the series (Breath of the Wild included), I’ll likely write a follow-up to this article, detailing the remainder of the series. At this point, I’d have to say that of the games I’ve covered, the Zeldas on Game Boy and Game Boy Color were my personal favorites. I would have to say that I legitimately enjoyed everything from A Link to the Past onwards, while the NES games were definitely interesting experiments that would eventually yield great results. Having said that, I’ve got a few other retrospectives for other series planned, so look forward to those in the future.