The two Zelda Oracles games are inextricably linked to one another, though they manage to be distinct Zelda games despite that. They were the first Zelda games developed by Capcom, albeit with Nintendo’s involvement, and share a lot with their Gameboy predecessor, Link’s Awakening. You have the return of items that only existed in that game, like the feather, and the interface is similar, but these games were made much later. There are a number of references to Ocarina of Time, for instance. Each of the two games has a general theme, and the theme of Seasons is action. There are still plenty of puzzles, but this game has some difficult combat, jumping, and other elements that fall under the “action” umbrella.
Oracle of Seasons has a lot of strong points, chief among them some of the cooler items I’ve seen in a Zelda game. The Magnetic Glove is my favorite, allowing you to use stationary polar stones to travel across pits as well as move other polar stones to complete puzzles. It takes the general place of the hookshot, but allows for some very interesting uses. The game also features five types of seeds which do anything from light torches to make you run fast to teleport you around the world. The item list does seem fairly abbreviated, but what you get is all good stuff. It’s supplemented in no small part by the massive collection of rings to find, each of which gives a passive but often very useful bonus. While the item list is similar to that of Oracle of Ages, they are different enough that each game keeps a distinct feel. Many items have an equivalent item with roughly the same purpose, and in several cases one game gets an extra upgraded version of an item they otherwise share.
The titular seasons are an interesting mechanic that adds a lot to the game. Each of the four seasons affects the world map in various ways, allowing for some very interesting overworld puzzles. You gain more control of the seasons as the game progresses, but they factor into your exploration right from the start. Some of the seasonal effects are oddly arbitrary (such as mushrooms that are immovable stone except in fall), but the logic is consistent and the puzzles that use it are pretty fair, if often totally non-obvious. Unlike in Ages, the four seasons don’t get their own world map, leading to a larger base world in Seasons but a smaller secondary one.
One issue I had with Seasons is that the ‘action’ can actually get quite difficult. These games were basically conceived as ways for Capcom to implement Zelda ideas they had come up with, and some of them are downright nasty, particularly the difficult bosses and minibosses in the eight dungeons. There are some really annoying movement puzzles later on, often involving ice, that were also more frustrating than fun. Several enemies feel downright unfair, and the game doesn’t go out of its way to explain how to fight them. Playing this game after Ages to take advantage of the link capability for upgrades may be a wise idea.
The best thing about Seasons is simply that it’s more Zelda. There are eight full dungeons and a plot that can be expanded if you play both games back-to-back. It’s not the most original story ever, but it’s not a bad reward for buying two games. That said, Seasons plays just fine on its own as well, though it is a lot of fun playing the second game to take advantage of the “secrets” system to get extra upgrades. (I should note that you can play the games in either order, and in fact for absolute obsessive completion you’ll have to play each twice.)
Overall, Oracle of Seasons is a solid game, and it works surprisingly well as a Zelda (except perhaps in balance) for a Capcom production. There’s solid 2D Zelda gameplay here, and a ton of stuff to collect if you want to get extra gameplay out of the pair. It’s not an essential part of the series, but it’s a lot more than just padding.