In Ireland, it’s either winter or it’s not


Legend of Zelda, The: Oracle of Seasons (2001)

Here in Ireland, we don’t get seasons, so much as we get a yearlong cacophony of grey clouds and rain, that may be punctured by the sun for a rare two week stint in the month of July before normal service resumes. The winter lasts six times as long as what would be our summer, which means all of spring is swallowed up in freezing mornings as well, and autumn is a brief 10 day window of leaves being crunched under your feet wherever you go, but it’s still freezing.

It’s odd, but it makes you wish for a Yakutsk climate. There, you can have a swing of 100 degrees celsius, from roasting in the summer to several feet of snow in the winter. At least that way, you know what to prepare for, and you can get the toboggans and winter gear in early. Thanks probably to global warming, Ireland has been battered a bit by blizzards and hurricanes the past year or two.

What usually happens here is that our meteorological office, wildly inconsistent even by Met Office standards, throws out warnings of various different colours every week. Yellow, orange, red warnings. Usually, nothing happens – but when it does, the country shuts down completely and we are left blaming everyone but ourselves for our lack of preparation.

And peoples’ rationality goes out the window as well. Around this time last year we had an honest to goodness hurricane hit us, and I’m not going to call it Hurricane Ophelia because this recent, American trend of naming weather systems is more than a bit naff.

It was all Code Red, Red Alert, stay inside you pilchards, and yet there were still reports of people going for a quick swim. Not a soul around, bitterly cold water, and you’ve got clowns jumping in there to try and prove something. They later went on national radio in an attempt to defend their actions. I have to say, I admire their commitment to the wind-up.

Better than that though, back in February/March of this year we got absolutely pounded by snow. In keeping with the sensationalist titles, we were ordered by the media to call this one “The Beast from the East” under penalty of death. We really can’t handle the snow, of course, and the three trucks we have with about 6 KG of grit between them don’t really make much of a dent. You just have to sit inside and pray the power doesn’t go.

It got me a few days off work, of course, but the snow always outstays its welcome like a particularly odious in-law. But one thing I shall never forget, as we were in the pub escaping cabin fever, was the almost instantaneous spreading of a viral video – some nutters, thinking that a snowstorm was a substitute for anarchy, commandeered a digger and tore down a LIDL store in Dublin.

They say that society is only ever so many meals away from anarchy and revolution, but God almighty. Loaves of bread may have been bare on the shelves, but we didn’t have to tear down a supermarket to make our point, guys. Now, don’t get me wrong: wild footage like that is always a guilty pleasure to watch, in the same way that shoving McDonalds down your gob feels great at the time, even though you know how bad it is. But can we not be a bit more ‘together’ than that?

Seasonal havoc, the latest issue that the long-suffering Link has to deal with in The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. Released after the Game Boy and Game Boy Color was finally just about dead, and twinned with a partner game in Oracle of Ages, I could hardly think of a better swansong for the system. Perhaps people don’t give the Oracle games their dues as they were Capcom developed. Or perhaps because, like The Minish Cap, they came out for their respective systems so late in the game that they achieved that rare accolade of being an obscure Zelda title.

Two Zelda games released on the same day? It should have been any Zelda fans dream. Gamers today will hold up Electronic Arts and 2K Games as the greediest guts in game development today, and a few of the braver ones will throw Rockstar into the bargain. But those really in the know will give that gluttonous accolade to Capcom. You go ahead and look up just how many Mega Man games there are, and then tell me how many you ever saw in shops. They multiply exponentially, like some form of nasty virus, and with the price of the likes of Mega Man X3 in particular, it’ll cost you more than typical US healthcare to get this one treated.

So it pretty much made sense that Capcom originally wanted to bring a trio of Zelda games to the Game Boy. After all, Pokémon Red and Blue, and I suppose Yellow, were three games for the price of one, so why not do likewise with Zelda? As it turned out, the complexities involved with linking up three games proved too much for their wee brains, so we’re left with Seasons and Ages.

The game borrows heavily from the fabulous Link’s Awakening – the engine, including the map and item equipping system is all the same, with improvements made to the graphics and in some cases the sound. There’s a bit more meat on the bones too – while its sister game, Ages, focuses more on puzzle-based gaming and references the more recent Zelda games, especially Ocarina of Time, Seasons is far more action-oriented and has several references to the first Zelda, right down to the bosses you’ll meet and the strange old men found under bushes. With eight good dungeons and plenty of unique items around, Seasons and Ages are just like their older Game Boy brother – condensed, yet refined, Zelda magic on the go.

Two more unique selling points: one, with the seasons in disarray, you can be in Spring on one screen and be faced with a deep lake and no way past, only for it to be Winter 10 feet down the road. The other side of the lake is now frozen and you can meander right across. Pretty early on, you’ll get the Rod of Seasons item that you must unlock additional seasonal powers for.

Step up onto a ceremonial-looking stump (and there seems to be an awful lot of them around) and you can freely change the seasons to what you need – Summer for climbable vines to grow, Autumn to make the mushrooms ripe and able to be moved out of the way, that kind of thing. It can sometimes be a little tedious cycling through the seasons in this way. But it brings out the colorful and varied graphics, lovely for their time and still appealing today.

The other selling point is the equippable rings. There are 64 rings to be found in the game, although you’ll need to trade and link with Oracle of Ages to get them all. They’re not exactly Pokémon, but most will give Link certain powers while wearing them – auto-heal, higher sword power at the cost of lower defence, the ability to turn into a useless Like Like, whatever you fancy. I did meet farmgirl Malon on my travels and tried desperately to give her a ring, but the game wouldn’t give me the option. If anyone out there knows how, could you write in to me please? It’s rather important.

I wonder if a lot of people out there, Zelda fanatics or otherwise, are missing out on the Oracle games. They mightn’t be the cheapest to pick up in original boxed condition now, but you’d be a fool to yourself if you didn’t give either of them a whirl from the 3DS eShop. They might blow you away like Hurricane Ophelia, they might leave you cold like the Beast from the East. Or who knows, they may even heat you right up like this year’s summer heatwave. Which I am now christening Hellfire Burkey.

7 December 2018

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