It took me many Winters, Springs, Summers and Falls to finally complete The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. I first owned the game as a child, but Oracle of Seasons‘s often mind-bending puzzles proved too taxing for adolescent me. I put it aside, convinced that I’d eventually come back to Seasons and defeat it. Lo and behold, twenty-some odd years later, my quest is finally complete. Oracle of Seasons was just as tricky as I remembered it to be, but that made beating it all the more satisfying.
Zelda games are known for their puzzle-filled dungeons, often with occasionally mean-spirited tricks and traps. Though the series is a Nintendo staple, Seasons was developed by Capcom, and as a result that mean-spirited trollishness has been amplified to a Mega Man degree. Zelda games could always be difficult, but the developers of Seasons seem to have been hellbent on ensuring that every successive screen had a new and more taxing challenge. Few of the dungeons inspire awe or wonder or kindle the player’s imagination in the way that the dungeons in Ocarina or LTTP did. These are old-school beat-you-up and spit-you-out brawler dungeons with puzzles so occasionally head-scratching that they make the pillars in Eagle’s Tower look like child’s play. At first glance each puzzle is appealing enough, but the path to the solution is generally fraught with back-tracking, health conservation and cursing at your hand-held device.
At times, Seasons feels more like a Master Quest for those who played Link’s Awakening than a standalone story. In terms of narrative, the game is paper thin. Zelda is nowhere to be found. In her stead, Din the Goddess of Seasons plays Damsel-in-Distress, sending our hero on a quest to rescue her from the bulky bruiser General Onox. Onox, like most non-Ganon baddies, is mainly a filler villain with few distinct details. The true focus is on exploration, puzzle solving, and wrapping your head around just what the developers expect you to do next. There’s a great moment late in the game when even the NPC’s don’t feel like telling you where to go, and that sort of “you’re on your own” attitude hums throughout.
Graphically the game is wonderful to look at, even for a dated GBC title. There’s plenty of personality in Seasons, even though the writing is confined to two-line scrolling text boxes. The characters are brimming with funny dialogue and wacky animations. There are even references to Ocarina‘s cast, including Biggoron and The Windmill Musician. Many of the larger characters look better than anything on the NES, specifically Link’s kangaroo friend and the game’s final boss. In spite of all that, the game lacks a sort of coherent focus that gives it any real thematic unity. It’s a melting pot of interesting ideas, but the result is a Dagwood sandwich rather than a meal with the perfect blending of ingredients.
What it lacks in cohesion and originality, Seasons makes up for in gameplay. More could have been done to round out the game’s inventory- no hookshot or bow?- but for the most part, this entry in the Zelda series is a winner. Even when limited by hardware constraints, like the fact that you only have two buttons with which to assign inventory slots, the developers of Oracle of Seasons made a game that carries on the Zelda legacy and manages to play well even today.