In 2001, Zelda games couldn’t get any higher. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Masks had arrived the 12 months prior, a fantastically melancholic follow-up to Ocarina of Time — the sequence’ gorgeous 3D debut, which was additionally instantly acknowledged as one in every of the finest games ever made. Nintendo had as soon as once more blazed a brand new path with its acclaimed fantasy journey sequence. The way forward for games was right here, and there was no trying again.
In 2023, Polygon is embarking on a Zeldathon. Be part of us on our journey by means of The Legend of Zelda sequence, from the unique 1986 sport to the launch of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and past.
Besides, there was. That 12 months, Nintendo’s wildly in style Recreation Boy Colour would get a pair of recent Zelda games, driving the wave began by their Nintendo 64 predecessors. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons had been dubbed “an adventure too big for just one game,” and, shocking everybody, they delivered on that promise.
Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons had been novel for a number of causes, the greatest being that they had been the first games in the franchise not made by Nintendo. Developed by Capcom (which might additionally go on to make the fantastic Minish Cap), the twin Oracle games took after prior Recreation Boy entry Hyperlink’s Awakening, with equivalent artwork belongings and controls — besides, with colour. Whereas the games had been visually just like what Zelda followers had seen earlier than on Recreation Boy, they had been jam-packed with new concepts as soon as gamers dived in.
Each games begin the identical means: Hyperlink, summoned by the Triforce to a distant temple, is magically whisked away to a brand new land. Which land depends upon the sport: Oracle of Seasons takes place in Holodrum, and Oracle of Ages in Labrynna. Every sport facilities round the eponymous Oracles, Nayru in Ages and Din in Seasons, who’re then kidnapped by their respective sport’s villain, plunging their land into chaos.
From there, the games diverge wildly. Seasons takes a extra action-oriented focus, with its central mechanic centering on the Rod of Seasons, a magical employees that permits Hyperlink to vary the present season in Holodrum, revealing secrets and techniques or opening new paths relying on the modifications to the map (A lake, for instance, may freeze over in winter, permitting Hyperlink to cross.).
Oracle of Ages is centered extra round puzzles, with a time-travel gimmick akin to Chrono Set off, albeit extra localized in scope. Utilizing the Harp of Ages, Hyperlink can journey forwards and backwards between the previous and current of Labrynna, which is represented in two distinct maps. Hyperlink’s actions in the previous can change the map in the current, and particulars in the current can provide the participant clues for methods to navigate the previous.
The Oracle games being totally distinct adventures was novel then, and nonetheless is at this time. Most twin releases — for the few franchises that do them — nonetheless observe the Pokémon mannequin, the place the sport is basically the identical and minor variations pepper every model. (The Fireplace Emblem Fates trio is a notable exception.) Oracle of Ages and Seasons weren’t simply two full games; additionally they mixed to make one big journey. Completion of 1 would give the participant a password to enter into the different, which might unlock a bonus act that exposed the occasions of each games had been orchestrated by a mysterious villain acquainted to longtime followers.
Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons made 2D Zelda really feel actually grand at a time when the sequence leap to 3D had fully rewired what everybody thought “big” meant in a sport, starting a sudden shift in sport design traits from abstraction to verisimilitude. The Recreation Boy Colour, nevertheless, was able to none of this, and the crew at Capcom discovered a solution to make a 2D Zelda really feel simply as big, however uniquely intimate.
The Oracle games’ password system didn’t simply append a climactic remaining act to the duology, it was additionally a solution to ship choose objects forwards and backwards; whichever of the two games you performed second had further plot particulars seeded in. These connections had been small, however significant — they made Ages and Seasons really feel like a journey, the place the act of transferring from one sport to the subsequent, bringing little bits of knowledge scrawled down in passwords with you, allowed the games’ journey to bleed into the actual world oh so barely.
At their perfect, Zelda games are performed on screens however actually skilled in the participant’s thoughts. They construct out a fantasy kingdom in your unconscious, with characters and tales depicted with vibrant minimalism, each particular and common. The Legend of Zelda is probably the closest factor the medium has to a fairy story of its personal, and its particular person entries succeed once they make the participant really feel like they’re each writing and taking part in a single. Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons are fantastic as a result of the concept of a Zelda “too big for one game” hinted at a deeper elementary motive for why gamers join with Zelda games so strongly: They’re too big for any one sport, but additionally sufficiently small to never really feel intimidating. You might say, then, that they’re the uncommon games that really feel simply as big as we’re.