In 2001, Zelda video games couldn’t get any higher. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Masks had arrived the 12 months prior, a superbly melancholic follow-up to Ocarina of Time — the collection’ gorgeous 3D debut, which was additionally instantly acknowledged as among the finest video games ever made. Nintendo had as soon as once more blazed a brand new path with its acclaimed fantasy journey collection. The way forward for video games was right here, and there was no wanting again.
In 2023, Polygon is embarking on a Zeldathon. Be part of us on our journey by The Legend of Zelda collection, from the unique 1986 recreation to the discharge of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and past.
Besides, there was. That 12 months, Nintendo’s wildly standard Recreation Boy Colour would get a pair of recent Zelda video 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 journey too large for only one recreation,” and, shocking everybody, they delivered on that promise.
Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons had been novel for a number of causes, the largest being that they had been the primary video games within the franchise not made by Nintendo. Developed by Capcom (which might additionally go on to make the fantastic Minish Cap), the dual Oracle video games took after prior Recreation Boy entry Hyperlink’s Awakening, with equivalent artwork property and controls — besides, with coloration. Whereas the video 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 video 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 is dependent upon the sport: Oracle of Seasons takes place in Holodrum, and Oracle of Ages in Labrynna. Every recreation facilities across the eponymous Oracles, Nayru in Ages and Din in Seasons, who’re then kidnapped by their respective recreation’s villain, plunging their land into chaos.
From there, the video games diverge wildly. Seasons takes a extra action-oriented focus, with its central mechanic centering on the Rod of Seasons, a magical workers that enables 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, would possibly 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 backwards and forwards between the previous and current of Labrynna, which is represented in two distinct maps. Hyperlink’s actions up to now can change the map within the current, and particulars within the current may give the participant clues for how you can navigate the previous.
The Oracle video 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 Hearth Emblem Fates trio is a notable exception.) Oracle of Ages and Seasons weren’t simply two full video games; additionally they mixed to make one large journey. Completion of 1 would give the participant a password to enter into the opposite, which might unlock a bonus act that exposed the occasions of each video games had been orchestrated by a mysterious villain acquainted to longtime followers.
Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons made 2D Zelda really feel really grand at a time when the collection leap to 3D had fully rewired what everybody thought “large” meant in a recreation, starting a sudden shift in recreation design developments from abstraction to verisimilitude. The Recreation Boy Colour, nonetheless, was able to none of this, and the workforce at Capcom discovered a option to make a 2D Zelda really feel simply as large, however uniquely intimate.
The Oracle video games’ password system didn’t simply append a climactic ultimate act to the duology, it was additionally a option to ship choose objects backwards and forwards; whichever of the 2 video games you performed second had extra 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 shifting from one recreation to the subsequent, bringing little bits of information scrawled down in passwords with you, allowed the video games’ journey to bleed into the true world oh so barely.
At their easiest, Zelda video games are performed on screens however really skilled within 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 maybe 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 large for one recreation” hinted at a deeper elementary motive for why gamers join with Zelda video games so strongly: They’re too large for anybody recreation, but in addition sufficiently small to by no means really feel intimidating. You can say, then, that they’re the uncommon video games that really feel simply as large as we’re.