What Makes Zelda Great - Link's Awakening
23 Mar 2009 — by Alpha
The Gameboy created a way for gamers to play Nintendo titles whenever and wherever they wanted to, and the company made sure to include a multitude of games that made people do just that. Link's Awakening was one such game, and it gave the Zelda series its first portable classic. As always, the Zelda team created a masterpiece that went above and beyond the expectations of those who would play it, inviting us into the unique realm of Koholint Island. The game has truly deep characters, a wide range of plot twists, and a humor that has rarely been seen elsewhere in the series, making it one that no fan should go without playing several times over.
Link's Awakening is a rather unique title for a Zelda game in that it lacks many of the elements that people think of when they think of the series. Hyrule, Ganon, the Triforce, and even the titular Princess Zelda herself are all missing from LA. Zelda is referenced at the beginning of the game, and the final boss alludes to Ganon, but other than that the only storyline element really binding it to the rest of the Zeldaverse is Link.
Before LA, some might have thought that you couldn't make a Zelda title without these items, but Link's Awakening is swift to prove them wrong - in fact, it seems that thinking in this manner only restricts the creativity of the Zelda team. A new world to explore is exactly what the series needed at the time – three games had already focused on Hyrule and saving the Princess from Ganon’s evil, and so that plotline was understandably getting to be a bit overused. This time around, the developers chose a different path that worked out beautifully, painting a brand new world for people to love.
The world of Koholint has a vibrant and exciting feel to it, and a plethora of characters helped create a reality that gamers could really get involved with and come to revel visiting. Mabe Village gave the Zelda series its first really deep characters – previously, Zelda and Ganon were really the only NPCs given any depth, but now an entire town of people had personalities that served to bind the player to the townsfolk. Marin especially was given a more complete character development than anything seen before; it’s no wonder that even today people remember her with a fondness that you never could have obtained in earlier Zelda entries.
And she's pretty too!
A heavy emphasis is placed on music in the game, too - each dungeon contains one of the eight instruments that must be played in order to awaken the Wind Fish and allow Link to leave Koholint. The music really matches the moments in this title too; a fast paced, humorous tune is played whenever Tarin is running about frantically, a mysterious tune when wandering through the woods, or a serious, ominous melody when traversing dungeons. And the Ballad of the Wind Fish is perhaps one of the best known songs of the series, and rightfully so.
The storyline is also memorable, in more ways than one. To this day it remains perhaps the saddest story of the Zelda series – all other games strive for happy endings: the villain is beaten, peace is restored to the world, and everyone lives happily ever after. Not so with Link's Awakening. True, the villain is defeated, Link probably goes on to live a fairly good life, and the Wind Fish awakens at last. But Koholint is well known throughout the Zelda community as having a terrible fate – the fate of nonexistence. In one of the most shocking twists of the Zelda series, LA revealed Koholint to be nothing more than a dream world, all of it created from the dreams of the slumbering Wind Fish, and possibly from Link’s dreams as well.
Koholint ends up vanishing as Link awakens from this realm of sleep. Link discovers that this will happen about halfway through the game, and it’s something that really strikes a chord in the souls of gamers. All the time spent exploring Koholint . . . all the relationships gained with the many characters in Mabe Village and Animal Village . . . all the small details that the developers threw in there just so people could chuckle and say "that’s kinda neat" . . . all will disappear into nothingness once the Wind Fish is awakened. And of course, Link has to awaken the Wind Fish if he wants to leave Koholint, which means that unless you decide to never finish the game then you will have to experience the tragic ending.
The game capitalizes on this inevitable sadness remarkably well. For most of Link's Awakening, the end result of your actions seems to be an undertone; outside of the dungeons, the developers tried their hardest to create a world that just seemed fun to explore. Bits of humor litter the areas, and there are often references to Mario made, adding in a touch of nostalgia every time you see the Yoshi Doll or pass by Bow Wow. A few good mini-games, like the fishing pool, add to the overall tranquility that the island seems to embody. And again, the characters inhabiting the island are just a joy to interact with – Tarin especially has some humorous moments, and the budding relationship of Link and the girl of his dreams (literally) is sure to make people smile. But it's always there - the knowledge that if you keep progressing on your quest, this entire world and all its inhabitants will vanish.
This is the true power of Link's Awakening; above all else, this is a game of emotions. There's a thrill of going through the dungeons and battling foes. Moments of laughter are found throughout the island, and there’s a real sense of bonding with the characters that you meet. Surreal moments make you stop and wonder at the mystery of this realm you've found yourself in, pushing for you to go deeper into the game and uncover the secrets of Koholint Island. A bit of shame if you should steal from the Mabe Village store, as everyone will suddenly start calling you Thief…and don’t ever go back into that store unless you want to learn who the real boss of Koholint is. And then there’s the inevitable shock as you learn of the island’s fate…followed by sadness as you realize that you are only working to fulfill that fate. And for those who get the secret ending, a new spark of happiness as the visage of Marin transforms into a seagull, a creature she had once told Link she dreamed of being.
Perhaps that’s why the game decided to have such a heavy emphasis on music and instruments – what else, other than music, can evoke such a wide range of emotions? In the end, this is what Link's Awakening excels at – more than anything else, it is a "Symphony of Emotions".
Link’s Awakening – "A Symphony of Emotions"
That title may be a bit cheesy, but honestly, is it not the truth? With a heavy emphasis on music and the emotions that surge forth every time you think about the characters and their destiny, LA is a title that centers around showing us a fun time even while the darkness of the future of Koholint looms on the horizon. Everything in the game is driven towards giving people a powerful emotional experience, and I dare say it succeeds magnificently.
Next time around, we'll be looking back at . . . no, not Ocarina of Time. I actually want to save that one for the end, so we'll be skipping over a couple games and jumping straight to the next Gameboy installment – or rather, installments. Next up are the Oracle games, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. Now, for those who missed some of the previous WMZG entries, I'm inviting everyone to reply here or in the TDC Forum topic I'll be starting later, telling me why you think OoS and OoA were such great titles. You've got a whole month to give us your reasons!