Forget Zelda, forget Ganon, forget the triforce. Link’s Awakening throw aways the barely established Zelda storyline in favor of a more whimsical adventure, and even features characters from the Mario games. It reminds me of Majora’s Mask in a way, straying from tradition and giving a more unique Zelda experience, albeit one that I don’t want to return to in any new games (not because I don’t like it, but because I want it to retain its uniqueness). It’s also the first handheld Zelda experience, and proof that the series can be just as great on a handheld as a console. For this series, I chose to play the DX version, which I think is close enough to the original to fit with the ‘look at how the series progressed’ concept I’m going for with A Year of Zelda.
Though the game feels a lot like an offshoot, it sets up a few things that remain mainstays in the series. Music has been a part of the series since the first game, but Link’s Awakening goes farther in establishing the importance of music more than just for warping. The game’s objective is to collect 8 instruments to awaken the wind fish so Link can leave Koholint. The instruments are collected upon completion of each dungeon, and might be the coolest ‘dungeon complete’ items in the series. You even get to hear their individual part in the Ballad of the Wind Fish, emphasizing the importance of each part, melody or not. Link once again gets his own instrument in this game and though Link technically had an ocarina in A Link to the Past, it was called a flute in that game, making this the first time it’s named as such. Interestingly, it’s actually red in this version of the game, as opposed to the usual blue. It’s collected by going through the original inception, the Dream Shrine.
Link’s Awakening introduces the first (non heart container) collectible, seashells. These are a fun little collectible that don’t require too much extra exertion, and they allow you to grab the valuable Koholint Sword, which behaves like the Master Sword. I enjoyed having it as a side quest I didn’t have to think too much about. And the seashells themselves are super cute.
We also get the series’s first trading sequence, which is required to complete the game. I think trading sequences are really charming, even if they’re a little complicated. This game’s sequence is pretty well guided, and a lot less convoluted than some of the series’s other trading sequences, which makes sense considering it’s required. But I still think others in the series could take a hint from this one. The first item, the Yoshi Doll, requires you to play the crane game, and I’m usually not a fan of required mini games, but this one’s real quick, so I don’t mind it.
Speaking of mini games, Link’s Awakening also contains the series’s first fishing pond! I know lots of people enjoy the fishing games, and while I’m not super into them, I do kinda miss fishing with a fishing rod in Breath of the Wild. And while there were mini games in A Link to the Past, I think this game is where they start to get a little more complex and established. Along with the crane game and the fishing game, there’s also a raft game, which has the first raft in the series you can control yourself (precursor to Wind Waker?). When I say I want the raft to return to 2D Zelda, this is what I mean.
As for more main game stuff, we really start to see more in between dungeon content. You have to find a key to enter several of the dungeons, which usually requires you to complete some sort of quest, like defeating enemies in Kanalet Castle to collect Golden Leaves. An unnamed owl appears at certain points between dungeons to help guide you to the next dungeon, not quite a companion (we even get both an owl and a companion in later games), but it’s more guidance than previous games, yet not intrusive.
The last thing I wanted to talk about is a feature that’s exclusive to the DX version of the game: photographs. There’s a cute little mouse photographer who will take pictures of you throughout your adventure, provided you go to the right place at the right time. It’s meant to go along with the Game Boy printer accessory, so you could actually print out the photographs. I remember wishing I had a Game Boy printer so I could print out pictures of pokémon from Pokémon Yellow. I think Link’s photos are a bit more charming (and hilarious). The photographs are a side feature I actually miss in the Switch version. Sure you can take screenshots, but you don’t get all these fun poses!
Before I played this, I wasn’t sure if I’d be playing the Switch version as well, but now I believe the games are just distinct enough to write a comparison piece eventually. Plus I’d really like to do a casual playthrough of the game, because most of my time playing it was spent speedrunning it.
And now for my favorite and least favorite parts of the game!
Least Favorite: There’s so much build up to the Wind Fish’s Egg, but when you get to it, it’s kind of blah. I don’t even need it to be a full blown dungeon. I would’ve even been okay with one little puzzle per room, maybe using each of the items obtained in the dungeons.
Favorite: It’s a fun, whimsical Zelda adventure with a bit of a dark edge to it. Koholint disappears when you complete the game, as after all, it was just a dream, and it’s kind of a bittersweet ending. I enjoy the more traditional Zelda games, but I love when Zelda takes a step out of the box and gives us games like these too.
Check back next week for my Link’s Awakening Dungeon Ranking!