The name of this game makes many a fanboy spring up with joy, though I’d rather they kept it in their pants.
Just as much as if you criticize Picasso, you’ll be thrown out of art college, if you criticize Link’s Awakening, your career as a reviewer is over. Well I’ve got a habit for sticking my nose in places where it shouldn’t go, so I couldn’t wait for a chance to revisit Link’s Awakening and tear it to pieces.
I mean, come on—every review of the newly released and, dare I say, uninteresting Ocarina of Time 3D has consisted of people in professional positions sitting around being unprofessional, waxing sexual over the game and giving the remake a perfect bloody score based on nostalgia. Someone has to take a stand here, because reminiscing is for cowards who are too scared to tell the truth.
Link’s Awakening. Is it really any good?
Short answer: …Yes.
The Legend of 1993
Built off the groundwork laid for the 1992 Japan-only game Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru, Link’s Awakening was a 1993 release. The 1998 Game Boy Color re-release adds a splash of color, plus other less noticeable changes. Stone tablets have been replaced with owl statues, colored tunics from Ocarina of Time have been introduced, and there’s been many bug-fixes and exploit patches. The original and this re-issue stand together as one of the most iconic and well-loved Zelda games of all time, and with good reason.
The premise of the game is this: Link finds himself washed ashore on an unknown island, after his boat gets zapped with a bolt of lighting. Of course, he wants to know why he is there, and how he can get back to Hyrule. This is where the game begins— with a new island open around you, and the freedom to walk around the first small area, getting used to the way Link moves. For a game first released in 1993, Link’s Awakening has very welcoming controls. Four years on from Super Mario Land and we’re finally seeing games that start to live up to the non-handheld consoles of the time.
The inventory is managed on a two-button system. This has its negatives. There isn’t a button for “jump” unless you put the jumping item on button A or B. There are puzzles where you have to keep opening and closing the menu, over and over, to switch to specific items. You spend a lot of time managing your inventory if you want everything arranged neatly.
The interface could do with some work, but since the game was released in 1993, I cannot argue with it too much. However, I can pick apart the interface in the 1998 Game Boy Color release, because they were given plenty of time and opportunity to improve it. Would it have hurt to have implemented a better inventory system in the color version? With Ocarina of Time in development in tandem, wouldn’t it have made sense to mimic that inventory? It would have been nice to allow us to switch tunics on the fly without having to revisit and re-complete the bonus dungeon every time we want to change our apparel.
Also, just a thought—in Link’s Awakening, there are obstacles that require specific abilities in order to be conquered, such as rocks that need lifting. Instead of having to select our Power Bracelet and map it to a button, why can’t we just walk up to the object and have a context-sensitive button prompt? Sure, in 1993, that would have been tough—but not in the 1998 re-release. I’m sure the Game Boy had come along far enough by that point, don’t you think?
I’m nit-picking, perhaps, but getting the message “this object is too heavy” every time I accidentally brush into a boulder is inherently frustrating. One solution would be to put the map screen on the pause screen, and use the select button to hot-swap between items. Not too complicated, and it would have saved us from a world of torture.
The Legend of Parody
The game itself is bizarre. If the original Japanese release wasn’t intended as a parody of the series, I would be most surprised. Enemies from the Mario series, boss monsters that can talk, and even a village where only animals live. The game seems mostly believable at first, until you go one screen to the left and see a Chain Chomp. So by the time you’re killing Kirby with a boomerang, it doesn’t bemuse you anymore. You kind of just roll with it.
First, Link must recover his sword and shield, lost at sea along with the splintered remains of his ship. Then, he must find the eight mystical mythical Instruments of the Siren. These musical objects have the power to unlock and uncover the way to the “Wind Fish,” a creature who governs what may leave or enter the island.
To find the items, Link must travel to eight dungeons and complete them. Along the way, he earns new tools and weapons to aid him, such as the Pegasus Boots from A Link to the Past and the Fire Rod, which toasts literally everything. Once Link uncovers the eight instruments, and forces them to play the lost Ballad of the Wind Fish, he is granted entrance to the Wind Fish’s egg, a giant eyesore visible from miles around. Inside, Link must destroy the great evil hidden within and free the Wind Fish from his long slumber.
Underneath some of the stupid elements, such as Dancing Fish Mambo and Will Write, the game is still Zelda through and through, and offers decent play-time. I have pumped 20 hours into the 3DS Virtual Console release, though part of that was spent trying to find more instances of Totaka’s Song.
The Legend of HUGE
The game’s environment is quite large. It is separated into 256 screens, each memorable enough so that you always know exactly where you are. The world map is intrinsically detailed, with many hidden sections that yield Secret Seashells. Collecting these can lead to obtaining the upgraded Lv.2 sword, which kills enemies and bosses in half the time. There are also Key Items to find and a whole item-trading tree, which eventually leads to the chance to obtain the Boomerang, arguably the most powerful weapon in the game.
In A Link to the Past, the boomerang stuns enemies. In Link’s Awakening, it dispatches most enemies in a single hit. Big difference. Even the enemies that cling to the walls, which are generally invincible, will bite the dust with a single boomerang blow. The second-to-last form that the final boss takes can be dispatched in just one hit of the boomerang. It also makes grass patches explode. This is the boomerang of your dreams.
Then there’s giving a bear a jar of honey so that he tells you to wake up a walrus with your ocarina… Not even Majora’s Mask was this mad, and that game had you turn chicks into full-grown chickens whilst you march around wearing a stupid mask on your face.
There are plenty of hidden secrets to uncover, and a long-winded fetch quest that will overlap into the main quest line itself. You will be stumped, but that obstacle crossed with your determination will deter your interest in quitting. Use your head to uncover secrets, and you will be rewarded.
And the music…
This game is deep. It’s immersive. When I finally beat Link’s Awakening, a tear welled up in my manly eye. That tear came with a feeling of loss. Something I loved had died; it was over. That is the feeling I play videogames for.