With December upon us, and the Ballad of Impending Holidays waking us from our Thanksgiving food comas, there is no better time to curl up in a warm room with a few blankets and a nice video game. However, for those of us who must still brave the daily adventure of the morning and evening commutes, there will always be portable gaming! For this week’s Throwback Thursday, I’m taking a look back at one of the first portable games I ever played, Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. This was also the first game in the Zelda series that I was able to play on my own (having watched my older friends play the original). I fondly remember many a summer trip where the only thing allowing me to endure being crammed between a car door and my neighbor’s son (with my brother poking me over him) was the excitement of figuring out one dungeon puzzle after another.
Plot & Characters
Most games in the Legend of Zelda series are expected to follow a routine pattern, and in some ways, this does. You still play the silent hero, Link. You still wander from dungeon to dungeon unlocking new items and abilities that will help you in your quest, and you are still annoyed every step of the freakin’ way by that god forsaken owl. Despite these similarities, though, Link’s Awakening is different from every other Zelda game in a few distinct ways.
In this adventure, you do not follow Link around the expansive land of Hyrule, but rather the remote isle of Koholint, where you are stranded after a storm wrecks havoc upon your ship. You wake and are greeted by Tarin and his daughter Marin. Once you obtain the Master Sword, you are told by way of messenger owl that you must wake the mythical Wind Fish by obtaining the eight Siren Song instruments. Only then can you return home to Hyrule, and to the princess Zelda.
As a mute vessel for the player, there is not much character development in this current incarnation of our destined hero. Instead, I found myself intrigued and amused by the variety of side characters and NPCs who come to your aid and work against you. Of particular interest to me was how tongue in cheek this rendition of the game seemed to be in retrospect. NPCs would teach you the controls and then break the fourth wall by saying that they ‘really don’t know what any of it means’. Easter eggs from other franchises (Such as the Yoshi doll and the Chain Chomp) were common place. This added to the overall enjoyment of the game, at least for me. Each NPC was quirky and interesting, if not highly developed, and the story was simplistic without being stupid. Over all, both the characters and the plot worked to further the action adventure standard we come to expect from a Zelda game.
Music plays an important part in any Zelda game, and Link’s Awakening did not disappoint. One of my favorites was the unique take on the “main” Zelda theme used for the Mt. Tamaranch area of the game. The tracks could get fairly repetitive at times, but never got annoying unless I was really failing particularly miserably at a dungeon, or else got horribly lost somewhere in the expansive world created for us to explore.
Needless to say, a game based around eight instruments and waking the Windfish with a song is going to need to make the most of that song and Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening does not disappoint. The music can speak louder than my words, give The Ballad of the Windfish a listen and decide for yourself:
I never played the original version of this game that was released in 1993. Instead, I played the version released on the Game Boy Color in 1998. Having only played Pokemon Red before this, the graphics, to me, were absolutely stunning for a portable game. The colors were vivid and never once did I mistake a character for an orange stack of blocks (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy VII). The character designs and dungeon layouts were crisp and clear, and nothing on the screen was ever dull.
There were not very many cut scenes, but one picture of a fully drawn and colored Link braving a storm in the beginning of the game did stand out, as well as a few at the end. These were your standard artsy affair, and did not move, but were still very beautiful.
The way a game handles can make or break any action adventure game, especially in The Legend of Zelda series. Luckily, Link’s Awakening is near perfect in this regard. Controls are handled simply. You equip one of your items to the A button and one to the B button. You move around with the D pad. That’s it.
The real fun of this game is two fold. One is the dungeon puzzles and boss battles, which started off very simple but got challenging as the game went on. I remember dying to a boss three times at the fifth or sixth dungeon before I finally got the hang of what I was supposed to do.
What was more fun though, was how exploration of Koholint Island was furthered with every dungeon you completed. Each dungeon would hold an item which made solving puzzles and reaching previously blocked off areas possible. A roc feather would allow you to jump (which was a first for overhead Zelda games). The Power Bracelet would allow you to throw heavy rocks away from your path. With each of these new discoveries I found it possible to lose myself in the many areas of the island, and this to me was just as fun as solving a dungeon.
Anyone who considers themselves a Zelda fan should play this game. Even if it doesn’t take place in Hyrule, even if the princess Zelda does not get more than a passing mention, this installment in the series is easily one of my favorite, and most fondly remembered.
About the Author
As an avid writer, gamer, and dungeon master, it would be hard to classify Jessica Lynn as anything but a geek. Her favorite past times involve raining unholy fire upon her enemies, devising the next great way to kill her party, and figuring out just how far she can push a PC before it explodes. When not taking out her nerd rage on fantasy characters or inanimate objects, she can be found toiling away in the dungeon known as the IT department. If you're wondering; InfaPlat is short for Infamous Platypus.