When I discussed my love for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Super Mario Kart, I put quite a bit of emphasis on two of my older cousins. As I said before, these two were incredibly influential on my early gaming years, and are largely responsible for making me a gamer today. Amongst the many games that I discovered because of them, is The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
Unlike games like Sonic Spinball, Link’s Awakening isn’t a game that caught my eye by being on display on their entertainment center. I actually found this game by rummaging through some of their old Game Boy games (which is also how I came across Kirby’s Dream Land). The Legend of Zelda, just the name alone caused my imagination to run wild. At that point in my life, most of the games I loved featured flashy, or at least attention grabbing cover art. But Link’s Awakening was a different case entirely.
A bronze background with a rusted shield and sword at the forefront, what kind of adventure could this little Game Boy cartridge hold? The story begins with a young boy named Link being washed ashore by a vicious storm. He’s discovered by a young girl named Marin, and after a bit of exploration around the island of Koholint, encounters a strange owl who recounts the tale of the Wind Fish to our young hero.
In order to return home, Link must awaken the Wind Fish by gathering a series of magical instruments that are scattered about Koholint Island. Along the way, it is eventually revealed that Koholint Island is a dream of the Wind Fish, and rousing it from its slumber will cause the island and all of its inhabitants to disappear.
I have a very limited experience with the Legend of Zelda series as a whole, but Link’s Awakening easily has my favorite story of the ones I’ve played. The characters are simple, but memorable, and waking up the Wind Fish is a genuinely bittersweet moment in the game. As a player trying to out myself in Link’s mindset, I had to consider whether or not it was even worth leaving such a fun and peaceful island lifestyle.
As much as I love the story, it’s not what made me fall in love with the game as a child. In fact, I didn’t even complete the game until just a few years ago (it was a bit too complex for my childhood self). It was the sense of wonder that the game gave me that kept me enthralled and entertained for hours on end.
As a child, I only ever got as far as obtaining the third instrument, but the fact that I never could beat the game really bothered me. I loved simply exploring Koholint Island, and interacting with all of the locals. I’ll never forget the layout of the beach that Link washes up on, or the fact that Marin’s brother gets transformed into a Tanuki.
It sounds like it should be really frustrating experience. After all, the main objective of most games is to complete them, right? In the case of Link’s Awakening and games like it, the exploration is a huge part of the experience. In real life, I could only explore as far as my backyard and playground would allow. But Link’s Awakening took me to far more interesting locales.
Another thing I’ll never forget is the music. The soundtrack along with the sound effects will forever be ingrained in my head, and I mean that in the best possible way. The ominous track that plays over the game’s intro, the quaint piece that accompanies Marin’s village and the head-bopping tune from the Mysterious Woods are just a few of my favorite songs from the game. Not to mention the jingle that plays when Link acquires a piece of power.
Compared to other Zelda games I’ve played, I love how different Link’s Awakening is. It’s far removed from series conventions like the Triforce, the Kingdom of Hyrule and even Princess Zelda herself, but this makes it a very unique installment in the series. It put an interesting spin on traditional Zelda stories, and ambitiously tried to fit a fully featured Zelda experience on a handheld. I’ll always treasure my memories of Link’s Awakening, and beyond my own personal nostalgia, I genuinely believe it is a great game.