After Mario’s 35th anniversary has come and gone, and even Metroid is getting its 35th with brand new game Metroid Dread, it may seem strange that the 35th anniversary for The Legend of Zelda passed by with little fanfare earlier this year.
Sure, I’m actually looking forward to playing Skyward Sword again, which by the way I think is one of the series’ best despite a lot of hate it tends to get these days, and I’ll most likely be suckered into buying that Game & Watch purely for the sake of collecting. But that Nintendo isn’t following in Mario’s footsteps with say a Zelda 3D anniversary collection or a symphony concert like the excellent one for Sonic’s 30th anniversary feels like a sorely missed opportunity.
But of all the re-releases we’re pining for to celebrate Zelda’s anniversary, there’s one series – or rather, two games – that I really want to see, and those are the games from the Oracle series, which celebrate their 20th anniversary this year. As an old-school Sega fanboy who only conceded to other platforms post-Dreamcast, they were also the very first Zelda games I properly played. Originally released for the Game Boy Color, these were essentially the first Zelda games not developed by Nintendo in-house. Instead, they came from Flagship, a subsidiary of Capcom, that had originally wanted to remake the original Legend of Zelda for the handheld.
After attempts to fit the NES original for the Game Boy’s smaller screen proved too difficult, Shigeru Miyamoto proposed a brand new trilogy instead, with each title based on a piece of the Triforce. Or rather the goddesses associated with each piece who became the titular oracles: Din, the Oracle of Seasons, and Nayru, the Oracle of Ages. There’s also Farore, but unfortunately what oracle she was fated to be we’ll never know as the third game ended up getting cancelled, as Flagship settled on a duology instead as linking between two games was ultimately less complex than having a third wheel.
Unlike say Pokémon Red and Blue, which were essentially the same game but with different available Pokémon spread between two carts, Oracle of Seasons and Ages were two different games that could count as stand-alone experiences and played in any order. They nonetheless follow a similar structure set in locations outside of Hyrule as Link is tasked with finding eight Essences to save each Oracle.
The main theme in Ages was time, a familiar device for Zelda fans who have played A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, where in this version Link would find portals in the land of Labrynna that would transport him between the past and present. For my money however, Seasons was a personal favourite as it felt fresh and inventive, with a greater emphasis on action over puzzles. With the Rod of Seasons, you had the ability to change the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter, not only changing the visuals but also the environments, which can provide you access to new areas. For example, changing the season to winter freezes water, meaning you can walk across a lake, or a large flower in full bloom in the spring can help shoot you up to higher places.
Even leaving out these central mechanics, there was also variety in the rest of Link’s equipment to make each game distinct – that said, the slingshot in Seasons and seed shooter in Ages still have the same function. But the really clever part was how the two games linked together through a password system after beating one game. Using it to start the other game allows you to play the alternate version (sort of like the game B path in Resident Evil 2 – see, Capcom already has experience in this area) while other passwords mentioned in one game can be used in the other (and vice versa) to allow for item exchanges or special upgrades. Better still was that this would lead to an extended ending that brings us all the way back to Zelda and Ganon, which I suppose was the compromise of not being able to figure you how to make a third game work.
I’m not sure that it’s possible to make the elusive third game (all we know was that it supposed to be based on Triforce of Courage – but what kind of gameplay would that translate as?), but remakes of the existing Oracle games is surely a no-brainer. As the originals were made using the Link’s Awakening engine, it then makes sense for these to be remade in the same adorably toy-like diorama aesthetic as the 2019 remake of Link’s Awakening. The bigger dilemma is whether or not Nintendo would release them as a whole game or be stingy and sell them as two separate titles. However, I think keeping their interlinking nature intact would still work via passwords rather than simply just the Switch reading save data.
The more important legacy of these titles was how Capcom and Flagship would continue to work closely with Nintendo, which followed with the Game Boy Advance port of A Link to the Past including the multiplayer adventure Four Swords (which Nintendo expanded in-house into the Gamecube Four Swords Adventure), as well as The Minish Cap. Flagship unfortunately shuttered in 2007, with most of its staff incorporated into Capcom.
However, Hidemaro Fujibayashi, who directed all of Flagship’s titles, made the leap to Nintendo that same year, where he wrote the story for Zelda DS title Phantom Hourglass before going on to direct Skyward Sword, as well as Breath of the Wild and its sequel. Flagship may be gone, but its influence and spirit of reinvention lives on through the Zelda series to this very day. It also means that Fujibayashi is probably too busy literally focused on the series’ future with the new game that still doesn’t even an official title, but surely the games that made his name deserve their time to shine again. Failing that, perhaps Nintendo can add GB/GBC games to the Switch Online service with those games and we’ll call it even.