The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages Review: A masterclass in rewarding puzzle design

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages Review: A masterclass in rewarding puzzle design

In the tapestry of gaming history, few series boast a legacy as rich and revered as The Legend of Zelda. Within this legendary saga, Oracle of Ages emerges as a unique gem—a title that not only honors the franchise's storied traditions but also challenges players with intricacies that are both captivating and cerebral. Developed by Capcom during their collaborative era with Nintendo, this installment dives deep into the temporal, weaving a tapestry of time-traveling puzzles that test the mettle of even the most seasoned adventurers. As we embark on this retrospective journey, we'll navigate through its combat intricacies, relish its distinct musical offerings, and unravel the enigmatic threads of its narrative. Prepare to be transported to a world where time is both your ally and adversary, and where every moment holds the promise of a new challenge in today's RPG Ranked article... The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages Review: A masterclass in rewarding puzzle design

Combat - 7.5

Oracle of Ages - Inside Jabu-Jabu's Belly - Plasmarine - YouTube

As Capcom always excels at making 2D Zelda combat with depth, Oracle of Ages is absolutely no exception to that rule. The vast assortment of rings you can equip leads to perhaps the most variety of innate abilities in any Zelda game to date! This game also has incredible bosses, especially compared to games like the original, A Link to the Past and A Link Between Worlds! However, as much as the innate skills are top-notch, the lack of sword techniques and unique combat items brings this game down in comparison to games like The Minish Cap, The Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, or Tears of the Kingdom. As much as I love the rings and the seeds (especially the Pegasus variety), those two things don't single-handedly make this a top-tier Zelda combat system. I'd still say this game is above average for 2D Zelda combat, however.

Music - 4

On the one hand, I love the charming nature of the Game Boy Color's sound font and many of the game's upbeat tunes. On the other hand, the game's sound quality is inconsistent and often incredibly annoying. While I enjoy this music more than the majority of Zelda fans, it is still undeniably one of the weakest soundtracks in the series and certainly one of the least iconic.

Items - 8

With the Harp of Ages, rings, and seeds being some of the all-time best items in the series, I hate to give this category a lower score, but due to the weaker line-up of the rest of the items, I can't say this is one of the all-time great Zelda item line-ups. However, with tons of incredibly unique puzzles centered around the seeds and the Harp of Ages, this game still immaculately incorporates the items it does possess into both overworld and dungeon puzzles! An 8 is a perfect score for this category.

Art & Graphics - 9

Playing this game for the first time in 2023, I found it had some of the most beautiful and charming graphics I've seen in a video game. The pixel art is gorgeous, and every screen and menu is full of life. While some Game Boy Color games are an eyesore, this game is anything but that, and it has aged timelessly like fine wine. Ultimately, this is one of my favorite looking Zelda games, and like the original, The Minish Cap, and The Wind Waker, it's utterly timeless.

Story - 3

While the main narrative of Oracle of Ages is your standard, slightly mediocre Zelda fare, the story is told compellingly, with snappy dialogue and actions in the past that truly affect the future. This game excels much more in its lore, worldbuilding, and vignettes than in its overarching narrative. Also, its synergized story with Oracle of Seasons and its entirely new setting away from Hyrule make the story more entertaining. All in all, while Oracle of Ages doesn't have a plot as strong as a traditional RPG, stories don't only consist of plot but also worldbuilding and emotion, both of which this game excels at masterfully.

Theming - 7.5

Attempting another time travel story immediately after the critically acclaimed Ocarina of Time was certainly a bold move! Still, this game did not disappoint, and this decision paid off with flying colors. While Ocarina of Time focused on gameplay and worldview differences between a child and adult and how that impacts the narrative, this title focused on constant time jumps between two versions of the same land 400 years apart (in contrast to Ocarina of Time's mere seven). This creates an entirely fresh and distinct twist on a before-seen concept. While the implications of this mechanic are intriguing in a series with so many exciting themes, this is one of the weakest. However, in a series so well-known and acclaimed for its themes, it is still fantastic, even though it can't measure up to other titles. However, this is one of the first time travel stories where your actions truly mattered, with lots of gravitas in its implications. It's stellar, even if not as phenomenal as Majora's Mask, The Minish Cap, or its sister tile, Oracles of Seasons, and it's definitely worthy of an 8.

Sidequests - 6

For a Zelda game, Oracle of Ages is severely lacking in meaningful quests and bonus content. While playing a linked game adds some bonus collectibles, outside of collecting your typical items and playing a couple of minigames, this game isn't all too special. If I had to name one memorable sidequest, it'd have to be helping a baby grow up by donating some Rupees to its parents. Yes, that was the most memorable sidequest in this game outside of the typical Heart Container gathering. While the collection is fun and inoffensive, it hardly stands out in comparison to its contemporaries.

Quality of Life - 8

This game had some issues, such as late-game-restricted access to fast travel on an enormous map, the awkwardness of ring appraisals, the constantly disruptive menu switching, and, sometimes, the overly cryptic next objective. However, all of these are either eventually solved, minimal, or understandable from a balancing perspective. Ultimately, this game is very well-polished in most ways, save its inconsistent sound design.

Dungeons - 10

My favorite aspect of this game is the utterly ingenious dungeon designs and puzzles—heck, even the overworld has phenomenal puzzles that completely outshine most other 2D Zelda puzzles. The Harp of Ages is a massive part of this, as some of the dungeons and overworld areas meaningfully switch between both time periods for a wholly distinct experience. Each dungeon is so memorable, and, in my eyes, this game has some of the best dungeons in the series. The Spirit's Grave is all about unique block puzzles, the Wing Dungeon is all about jump timing and platforming, and the Moonlit Grotto is about rotating apparatuses. And those are all fun and all, but they are easily the most boring of the bunch—trust me, they get better. There's the Skull Dungeon, a fast-paced, combat-centric dungeon with genius minecart implementation. There's the Crown Dungeon, a dungeon focused on block creation and manipulation, occasionally incorporating unique and unconventional puzzles on a 3D-esque plane. There's the Mermaid's Cave, centered around swimming mechanics and time traveling. There's the impeccable Jabu-Jabu's Belly, commonly bashed on by fans, but easily one of my favorite dungeons in the series, with incredibly dynamic gameplay with water level manipulation that far surpasses any other Zelda water dungeon, and certainly the awful iteration of the same dungeon from Ocarina of Time. Then there's the Ancient Tomb, which masterfully combines the best elements of every previous dungeon, centering on a middle room that unlocks a staircase to the bottom of the tomb. And, finally, there's the Black Tower, an evil place that is teased the whole game, filled with fantastic combat challenges that far surpass previous dungeons and make up for the lack of meaningful puzzle design. Rooms from these dungeons are permanently burned in my head like no other 2D Zelda game, and writing this review, I wish I could experience these near-perfect masterpieces again for the first time all over again.

The Verdict

Fun Factor: 8
Overall Score: 71%
Letter Rating: A

Capcom created a genuinely brilliant trio of Zelda games, and this one stands up to the other two very well, even though it may be the worst of the three. As a massive fan of 2D Zelda, especially the Capcom games, I'd instantly recommend this game to anyone who dares to brave the challenging puzzles that will push you to your limits. While I wouldn't recommend this as a starting point for the series unless you want your brain to be fried, I would recommend it to veterans of the series any day of the week—just because it was a Game Boy Color game doesn't mean it was pretty much a masterpiece.

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Oracle of Ages

Primary Version: The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (Nintendo Switch Online)