Retrospective – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
I can remember my first encounter with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening like it was yesterday. I had just gotten my gorgeous clear Game Boy Pocket and a copy of the original version of the game. The Pocket had just gone down in price and it was high time I traded in my original Game Boy for something a little sleeker. As we rode home from the store that night I was desperately trying to hold it up to catch the headlights of the cars behind us so that I could get a head start on my adventure. I watched Link’s boat get tossed about on a monochrome sea from a dark backseat.
I went on to own the DX version, but never really gave it the time it deserved since I had played the original so heavily. My brother, ever the Zelda fanatic, played through both and we moved on with our lives. That is, until the release of Link’s Awakening on the 3DS eShop. When I played it originally I was very young, and I can’t remember much about the game except the music. So, like any self-respecting gamer, I picked up a copy from the eShop and set out once again on the island of Koholint.
I was immediately sucked back in. This would be quite a full-featured portable Zelda even by today’s standard, but for 1993 this game has unheard of depth. The music is by far my favorite part, and even though it’s chugging along on Game Boy technology, Totaka still manages to nail some memorable melodies. With some memorable humor and a slew of cameos from other Nintendo characters, this was a Nintendo fan’s dream. Wart from Super Mario Bros. 2 even makes an appearance, along with Yoshi and even Kirby.
The combat is about what you expect from a 2D Zelda: frantically swing your sword until the enemy dies. Some more creative creatures require more drastic measures, but it’s all pretty by the numbers. Equipment plays a big role, which is to be expected, but some of it operates a little differently than previously. The biggest example is the boomerang, which is quite literally the best weapon in the game. You can hunt for seashells to upgrade your sword, but the boomerang will still put it to shame, killing most normal enemies in a single blow from across the screen and laying waste to rows of bushes. Combining the boomerang with the rooster also creates a hilariously devastating combo making the rooster one of the most powerful items in the series; take that Bug Net.
The equipment management scheme consists of pausing the game to switch equipment one of your two available slots. While this won’t be a new concept to Zelda fans, the sheer amount of equipment specific actions you have to perform just to traverse the overworld makes it quite a frustratingly constant ritual. The overworld itself is essentially a giant segmented puzzle to begin with, and learning the paths just to get across it take quite some time. Acquiring the legendary rooster later in the game alleviates some of this, but it happens a little too late in the story.
Which leads me to my biggest complaint: the text boxes. Text scrolls excruciatingly slow, and pops up constantly. Even touching some common items in the world cause a text box to pop up and explain something for the umpteenth time. Talking to anybody is a test of your patience, and by the latter half of the game I avoided two specific power-ups just to avoid waiting on the text to crawl across the screen. My guess is that this may have had something to do with the translation of the game, since English and Japanese have very different densities, but either way it can be rather infuriating over the course of the many hours you may put into the game.
The best part about playing on the 3DS is the built-in web browser that allows me to look up guides while playing the game. Extravagant item trading sequences almost make this a necessity, and it was a welcome addition to the experience. The emulation is nothing to write home about, but you are allotted a single restore point, and no visible hiccups while playing.
Another interesting angle is the fact that the monsters of Koholint warn Link several times that if he awakens the Wind Fish to travel home that the island will disappear. Even as a kid I figured out pretty quickly that the entire event was a dream from all the not-so-vague warnings and references to dreams. The monsters, while they do wish to take over Koholint, are also fighting to stop the island from disappearing. So, if you want to be technical, Link is responsible for the destruction of Koholint and its inhabitants. Quite a turn from his normal self-sacrificing ways.
Overall, the fact that my biggest complaint is the text speed really speaks to the quality of Link’s Awakening. When it came out there were very few games with this kind of depth on the system, and Pokemon was still three years away. It’s a full-fledged monster-stomping puzzle-solving Zelda game, despite the fact that it doesn’t have Zelda in it at all, or even a Triforce for that matter. The hours I’ve spent with this game both as a kid and now really cement this as my favorite game in the entire series. That’s right, I prefer Link’s Awakening over Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past. It may just be the nostalgia talking, but this kind of lightheartedness is hard to find in games and even harder to find done this well. If the humor and charming style don’t convince you to pick it up on the eShop, then you probably don’t have a heart.