In the Oracle of Ages, Link is sent to a faraway land called Labrynna, seemingly to save Nayru, the Oracle of time. Her body and abilities have been hijacked by an evil sorceress named Veran, who has gone back in time to turn Labrynna into a world of darkness. As you play through Oracle of Ages, and then Oracle of Seasons, a much bigger picture begins to unravel that will directly affect the fate of Princess Zelda, and all of Hyrule.
If you’ve played Link’s Awakening or A Link to the Past, you’ll pretty much know what to expect from Oracle of Ages because it plays like a cross between the two. While it uses a modified version of the Link’s Awakening engine, it retains many weapons and enemies from ALttP. On top of this, the game offers many of its own ideas and abilities to really freshen the experience for hardened Zelda fans.
The first major addition to the game is the use of rings. There are seeds you can plant which grow bearing nuts. Inside, there will be an item, sometimes a ring, and these rings grant various abilities, such as a regenerating health bar, or the ability to detect soft soil. A ring’s ability remains a mystery until you get them appraised, which can be kind of annoying if the ability is worthless, but worth it if you end up being able to take or deliver twice the amount of damage.
The second new addition are seeds, which can be used in a variety of ways. At first, you’re given a Seed Satchel, which stores seeds for short range use. For instance, if you want to burn a bush down with a Fire Seed, you have to go right up to it and drop the seed. It’s not always useless; if you don’t want to use Wind Seeds offensively, you can drop them by your feet for the ability to travel to any seed tree on the map. Later in the game you receive the Seed Shooter, which can be used as a long range device, either offensively, or to shoot switches.
Other favourite items from ALttP return in this game, like the Cane of Somaria. Also, the screen can now scroll, akin to the SNES classic, and an advancement over the Link’s Awakening design. This means that puzzles can be a little more elaborate, and if there’s a large room you have a better sense of spatial awareness. Also, one last gameplay perk are the bosses, which take more brainpower than brawn to defeat. 9
While not up to the high standard set by ALttP, Ages makes minor improvement on the graphics used in Link’s Awakening DX, like varying sized rupees to denote worth, more colourful enemies, and a more varied palette. The Game Boy Color has been pushed harder by games such as Shantae, but Oracle of Ages does a pretty good job of squeezing out the juice. 7
The Game Boy’s speakers once again hold back a good soundtrack, though even on better speakers this wouldn’t be mind-blowing stuff. Not classic Zelda. 7
Unlike the 3D Zelda games, the 2D versions have trouble creating an immersive environment, especially on a handheld console with its diminutive screen and tinny sound. The locations in Ages are really well designed, but there feels like there’s something missing. The dungeons aren’t all that scary, but they’re pretty epic and you do get a sense of “little boy lost” when you’re inside. 7
Oracle of Ages is a pretty unique game within the Zelda series. It’s more of a puzzler than Oracle of Seasons, but together the games have brought two new worlds, new races, new characters and new weapons. Revolutionary is the way the two link up in either order to provide a deeper, richer story and gameplay experience. 9
The game deserves a high score, if not only for the vast innovation in a series that has already pushed so many boundaries. Zelda puzzles can get recognisable to series veterans, but this creates a new set of paradigms for the series to work within and try to break free of. It’s applaudable.