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The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages [3DS VC] Review: Nostalgia is Timeless

Posted on June 7, 2013 AT 11:10am

The last top-down portable Zelda game was probably Minush Cap, and it certainly wasn’t the best. Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks were some sort of weird mix of isometric top down and 3D Zelda game, but they weren’t the portable top-down Zelda games of old. The first Zelda game, The Legend of Zelda, set the benchmark, and the cult favorite A Link to the Past was the last one on a console before top-down Zelda games moved almost exclusively to the Game Boy, starting with Link’s Awakening. But then on the console side, Ocarina of Time happened, which then went on to become the most remade and ported Zelda game to date (even though there are far better Zelda games, but I digress), so then the question was asked, what could possibly follow the epic of Ocarina of Time and its sequel, Majora’s Mask? 2001 answered that with not one, but two games on the Game Boy Color, Oracle of Ages and Seasons. On their own, the games were both equally amazing, but what really made these portable Zelda games truly unique in the series was the fact that after beating one, a password was given, that when entered at the start of a new save on the other, turned the games into sequels of each other, depending on the order the player chose to play them in, which even changed some story elements and added an additional final boss for both games. This is a feature that hasn’t been repeated since in any Nintendo franchise. So it’s pretty understandable why fans like myself were very happy to learn that the Big N had decided to re-release the titles on the 3DS Virtual Console.

I never did get a chance to play Ages back in the day. I only ever played Seasons as both a normal file and a linked file, using a friend’s Ages end game password. So playing through Ages on the 3DS VC was a brand-new experience for me. I had always heard that Ages was slightly better then Seasons because of the increase in puzzle elements, and of course, all the blatant references to Ocarina. First of all, before anyone asks, the VC emulator pretends you’re playing on a Game Boy Color, which means the the extra GBA content such as the GBA Shop are unavailable in this re-release. It is a direct port, like with any other VC game, so no updated graphics, or other enhancements of any kind have been made. The only advantage the VC release has over the original is the addition of Restore Points, which are available on any 3DS VC game. Restore Points are what the 3DS VC calls Save States for those familiar with emulators. I may have abused these things a little too much during boss fights. Literally beat the final boss with only half a heart because of Restore Point abuse BUT THAT’S NOT IMPORTANT.

If you’ve never played Ages, the story is pretty simple, as portable Zelda game plots usually are. The story takes place in the land of Labrynna. Link is visiting the land, or rather forced to go there against his will by the damn Triforce. Upon arrival, he finds a portly woman claiming to be Impa, Zelda’s nurse who is having a bit of trouble moving a stone. Link obliges and helps the woman out by moving the stone. The two of them then hear the sound of a girl singing, they go towards it and meet Nayru, the Oracle of Ages and her best buddy, Ralph. It is then revealed that Impa has been possessed by the evil sorceress Veran. Veran leaves Impa and takes over Nayru’s body, abusing its power to travel back in time and wreak havoc upon the past, drastically changing the future in the process. Link is able to follow Veran into the past where his first act as a hero is to save the land’s protector, the Maku Tree from Veran’s clutches. After returning to the present, the Maku Tree tells Link he must travel around the world of both the past and present and find the eight Essences of Time in order stop Veran from completely destroying the future.

As is already implied by the title, Ages is another Zelda game involving time-travel, switching between the past and the present. Actions in the past can alter the story in the future. An excellent example of this would be the Maku Tree. When you first visit the Tree, she disappears right before you eyes, after Veran’s henchmen kill her in the past. By traveling back in time and killing the henchmen before they get the chance, the Maku Tree lives on in both time periods, able to offer you hints on where to go next to progress the story. Another example would be the sixth dungeon, Mermaid Cave, the only dungeon that is visited in both the past and present. The dungeon is first visited in the present, where there is a single floor, and only so much progress can be made at first. However in the past, the dungeon has two floors, and by bombing certain walls, more parts of the dungeon are opened up back in the present, allowing for further progress to be made. The time travel element added an extra tool to for solving puzzles. Areas inaccessible in the present, may be open the past and visa versa. Helping certain characters in the past gives great rewards in the present as Link is apparently being constantly written in Labrynna’s history books. I’d even go far as to say the time travel in Ages was far better and more an integral part to puzzle-solving and plot development then it was in Ocarina of Time.

Another excellent element to Ages was the puzzles and use of dungeon items in said puzzles. Ages did something with the various tools and items gotten over the course of the game that few Zelda games do: constantly use each item about equally in the dungeon puzzles. The only exceptions to this was the Shield and Shovel. The Shield in this game was an optional item and NOBODY CARES ABOUT THE SHOVEL. I absolutely loved that about this game. Items that were received at the start of the game, such as the Roc’s Feather, were used in some way in every dungeon. Items that were gotten towards the end still saw substantial use, even if it was just to get some optional chests. Very few modern Zelda games, if any at all even attempt such diversity in item use during their puzzles. The more recent 3D Zelda games are notorious for not spreading the love around with their items. So it was really quite refreshing to see that once upon a time, Zelda level designers took such things into consideration.

There were however a few things that level designers didn’t consider, because no game is without flaws. First of all my number one pet peeve with this game was the Mermaid Suit item. The Suit allows the player to swim in deeper water, which really opens up a lot of the world and makes for some rather creative level design. My problem with it though was that after getting the upgrade, swimming controls changed. Instead of just moving the CirclePad around to move as was done with the Flippers and every Zelda game ever, the Mermaid Suit requires a double-tap in the direction one wishes to move in order to keep moving. I honestly thought the game was glitched. I read on forums that this method was somehow faster and “better”. While it may have been a little faster in a technical sense, I could never get used to it and ended up regretting ever getting to stupid upgrade, even if it was required to complete the game. Additionally, I wish Nintendo hadn’t re-released this game in its current state. As some of the more savvy fans know, some time after the GBA was released, a Limited Edition of Ages and Seasons was released which included both games in one GBA cartridge. This version allowed for a much smoother transition of data between the games without the use of passwords and was obviously far superior. I really wish that this had been the version they re-released on the VC, and at the very least players would have been able to access the GBA store in it, which, as was previously mentioned, is inaccessible in this GBC re-release because the VC emulator makes the game think it is in a GBC not a GBA. I also found some parts unnecessarily tedious and challenging, but it was nothing a quick look at GameFAQs couldn’t fix.

Challenge aside, the game was still damn good, even after all these years. The plot was simple, but compelling. The game shows the old formula of Zelda games with 8 dungeons, 8 dungeon items, one final dungeon and an epic final boss worked back then, and while it may have lost a bit of luster in modern games, it does give hope that perhaps Nintendo can bring it back, especially if that upcoming top-down 3DS Zelda game is any indication. There was some glaring flaws, and it would have been better to re-release the Limited Edition GBA version, but that’s life.

Summary: An excellent Zelda game from the golden days of portable top-down games.

  • Pros: The puzzles had this thing called challenge, something many game designers have forgotten existed. The puzzles in the dungeon forced the player to make use of most, if not all tools given to them throughout the game, something many modern Zelda games don’t do so well. The concept of linking two games to become sequels of each other is a novel and unique idea, and it’s a real shame it hasn’t been repeated since.
  • Cons: Some of the puzzles include elements are a little overly tedious and unnecessarily challenging, but it wasn’t enough to induce a rage quit. Also, f**k the Mermaid Suit.

Score: A+

James Conrad is a Pokemon fanboy, lover of the arts and is forever broke.
Tweets: @JRCnrd
Artwork: jrcnrd.artworkfolio.com
Email: jrconradATdigitalnoob.com

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