Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Jul 102015

Links-AwakeningI entered the Legend of Zelda series late, with Wind Waker. It was fantastic, and I enjoyed the later Zelda games I played, but I never actually completed one of the older ones despite repeated attempts.

Until now.

Link’s Awakening was the fourth game released in the series. It was re-released as Link’s Awakening DX a few years later for the Game Boy Color, and that version is available on the 3DS Virtual Console. I got the Virtual Console version from Club Nintendo and decided to try it. (And that’s your best bet if you want to play it, for obvious reasons.)

Maybe there’s a reason I enjoyed this game even though I’ve never been able to finish the original Legend of Zelda or even the much-praised A Link to the Past. It didn’t feel like the other classic games. First, it’s sort of a sequel, set after Ganon’s defeat. Second, despite being The Legend of Zelda, Zelda herself isn’t in the game at all and it doesn’t feature a rescue-the-princess plot.

Third, Link’s Awakening laid groundwork for future games in the series, like Ocarina of Time. Since I like the later Zelda games, that might be why I also liked Link’s Awakening.

Fourth, it’s just strange. The inhabitants of the island setting are even quirkier than usual for the series, enemies from the Mario games appear, and it’s full of shout-outs… even to James Cagney, of all people.


James Cagney reference in Link's Awakening

“You dirty rat! You killed my brother!” is a famous misquotation attributed to Cagney.

Even its gameplay mixes things up a little. Each piece of equipment can be set to the A or B button… including your sword and shield. They’re treated no differently than other items. While I liked to have my sword equipped regardless, I sometimes had to switch it out–for example, to use the Pegasus Boots and Roc’s Feather in combination so I could jump a large gap.

For the most part, though, it plays like you’d expect from a Zelda game. It also has the semi-linear structure I enjoy, with a clear path, optional activities, and incentive to explore and open new areas.

But perhaps what stood out to me about Link’s Awakening the most is that I’ve never felt such moral ambiguity in a Zelda game before. A Link Between Worlds sort of had ambiguity, but since it saved it all for the end of the game, it didn’t really work. Link’s Awakening, however, built it gradually to great effect.

Click for spoilers
When I realized waking the Wind Fish would destroy the island, I started to wonder if I was really on the right side… especially since the dungeon bosses all spoke and made me feel like I was fighting people trying to save their world.

Even after the final boss’s evil rant, I’m still conflicted. Could Link’s Awakening be the one case where Link is actually the villain?

Some fans may disagree, but I don’t think of The Legend of Zelda as a plot-driven series. The games have stories, yes, but they aren’t the most compelling. This might be the first time I’ve left a Zelda game wanting to talk about its plot.

My feelings toward A Link Between Worlds were mixed, and I’m not enthusiastic about the upcoming Wii U Zelda game, but as for Link’s Awakening… I’m glad I played it.

What do you think about The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts on its moral ambiguity? Let me know in the comments!

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  7 Responses to “Link’s Awakening: A Different Sort of Zelda Game”

  1. (I was wondering who this Cagney dude was and wot his quote is when you posted that to Miiverse.)

    So do you like games less if you’re rescuing a princess?
    Go play the Oracle games, by the way. Those are in my top four Zelda games (Wind Waker, Oracle of Seasons, Minish Cap, and Oracle of Ages). Same item controls as Link’s Awakening, though it’s definitely not morally ambiguous.

    I felt the story and moral themes in Link’s Awakening were really… subtle. Like, maybe more subtle than they should be for a Zelda game. …I honestly didn’t really feel it while playing the game, but I can see it afterwards if someone lays it out at once.

    I played through Link’s Awakening DX on my Game Boy Player on GCN, though not continuously. …This made the seashell-collecting a nightmare which dampened how much I would like the game.

    • (But you didn’t ask on Miiverse?)

      I don’t mind rescue-the-princess plots, but it’s refreshing to see a break from the series’ formula.
      I picked Oracle of Ages as my Club Nintendo elite reward, so I’ll definitely get around to it eventually. If I like it, I’ll check out Seasons. They’re the ones where you get some sort of bonus section if you play both, right?

      Subtle, yes, though not as subtle as Earthbound, I’d say. I got lost partway through and visited the area that tells you about the island before I had to… so I already had it in mind by the time the bosses started talking about it.
      (And after the fact, knowing the owl lied to make sure you didn’t quit makes it feel even more uncomfortable.)

      I never got all the seashells.

      • (I didn’t think you’d LOOK on Miiverse.)

        The series didn’t really have a formula back when Link’s Awakening was released. Each game was really different than one another. It wasn’t until Ocarina of Time it got a formula. …Oh, and Link’s Awakening sort of established the portable Zelda formula.

        Ages and Seasons don’t just have a bonus section, but side-events happen throughout the game. Basically, you play through all of one first, get a password, and then you put that password when you make a new file in the second game. Characters from the first will appear in the second and have quests and stuff. Then at the very end there is a whole final boss thing.

        (So then you want to also go back and play the first game you played again with a password from the second one to see how that changes, since the changes are different between the games.)

        I thought you had to get the seashells to beat the game. …Guess not, but for whatever reason I was stuck at an impasse and couldn’t proceed to the final dungeon so I thought getting shells would help.

        Link’s Awakening might have one of the most useful libraries in videogame history.

        • (I can only check messages from the Wii U. Regular comments and whatnot I can see on the PC.)

          Hmm, I see. Maybe it’s just my perception from playing them wildly out of order.

          Interesting! So they’re more interconnected than Pokemon games, but not to the point of sounding like incomplete experiences like the new Fire Emblem.

          What part did you get stuck at?

          Oh yes, the library was helpful.

          • They’re definitely more interconnected than the Pokémon games, but they are also their own complete experience.
            …Well, there is an obligatory sorta cliffhanger at the end of unlinked games, but the games take place on different continents or wotever so yeah you won’t feel like you’re explicitly and negatively missing out on plot details if you don’t play the other.

            I got stuck at the end. >_>;

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