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Patrick Hope: A Link to the other game

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Patrick Hope: A Link to the other game
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If you’re a regular reader, it’s not going to be particularly surprising to you that I have a big weakness for the portable “Zelda” games. After all, including this column, I’ve written about them three times. But today we get to explore arguably the most obscure entries in the entire “Zelda” series. Yeah, I said “entries,” because there are two of them and you can’t do one without the other for reasons that will become readily apparent.

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It’s time for the “Oracle” series.

“Oracle of Ages” and “Oracle of Seasons” were released on May 14, 2001, as more or less the swan song for the Game Boy Color. These games are also notable for being co-developed by Nintendo and Capcom, with production being supervised by Capcom bigwig Yoshiki Okamoto, whose credits include games you might have heard of, like “Final Fight” and “Street Fighter II.” So it’s not like Nintendo just gave the keys to one of their Cadillac franchises to some schlubs off the street.

Anyway, the “Oracle” games play almost exactly like “Link’s Awakening,” albeit in color. But they have one absolutely crazy feature that, to the best of my knowledge, has not been attempted before or since. The two games were more or less one story and you had to play them both to get the true ending.

This isn’t like an episodic game or a “Pokemon” game, where the story is broken up or two variations on the same game. The “Oracle” games function perfectly well as standalone features. But when you beat one, you get a password that can be put into the other to continue your adventure as a new game plus kind of deal. And you can play the games in whichever order you want and certain events will be triggered in whichever one you play second.

Passwords are used get special items like really powerful rings (rings are a big deal in the games), the best sword or shield, an encounter with Zelda herself and most importantly, the true ending featuring Ganon, because it’s Zelda, so of course Ganon is here. Aside from the ending, which is the same no matter which game you play first, there are two entirely different sets of scenarios to get you there, which is kind of amazing.

But the password thing isn’t all that’s notable about the Oracle series. Following Link’s Awakening’s lead, neither game is set in Hyrule, with Link getting transported by the Triforce to the lands of Holodrum (Seasons) and Labyrnna (Ages).

Each of these lands is home to its titular oracle, each named for one of the goddesses that created Hyrule. Din the dancer and Nayru the harpist get kidnapped by the respective villains for each game and off you go. If you’re curious, Farore is in the game too as the Oracle of Secrets and she was planned to be the focus of her own third game in the series, but Capcom found the password system way too hard to implement among three games, so it got scrapped, leaving the poor green-haired oracle to sit in the Maku Tree (Deku Tree stand-in) and give you stuff for putting in passwords for all eternity.

Each game has its own distinct atmosphere, with Link using the Rod of Seasons to change the weather at will in order to reach new places in the world or the Harp of Ages to hop back and forth in time and engage in all sorts of shenanigans. Additionally, each game has a different focus, with Ages being much more puzzle-heavy like the Nintendo 64 “Zelda” games and Seasons being combat-heavy like the NES games or “Link to the Past.” Even the boss selection is a reflection of this, with Ages having some crazy puzzle bosses, like Smog the sentient cloud in a fight that is like a sliding block puzzle, and Seasons having no fewer than six bosses from the original “Legend of Zelda,” including a Dodongo who still dislikes smoke.

And any discussion of the “Oracle” games would be missing something if some of the items weren’t mentioned. Deciding to expand beyond your usual “Zelda” fare, Capcom gave us some really inventive items that haven’t been seen since. Examples include the Switch Hook, which is like a Hookshot where you switch places with whichever item you grab. Or the Magnetic Gloves, which repel or attract metal objects depending on their polarity. PROTIP for the fight against Digdogger where you have to use the Gloves: If you have a lot of health, just pull the big spiked ball that is Digdogger’s weakness towards you and ram him with it. You’ll take damage, but you can win the fight in about 15 seconds this way.

It’s hard to not recommend any “Zelda” game, considering the series has no bad entries, but even if you’re not a fan of the portable incarnations for whatever reason, you should make an exception here. The idea of linking the two games for one narrative is an incredibly creative and well-implemented idea and the games stand on their own very well regardless. They’re both available on the Nintendo 3DS e-shop for cheap, so you should probably get on grabbing them right now to experience the best of the Game Boy Color.

Hope is a local attorney and video game enthusiast. He thinks Jabu-Jabu’s Belly in Ages is a harder water dungeon than the Water Temple in “Ocarina of Time.”

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