The Zelda series is doubtless among the most popular and enduring of all of Nintendo’s game franchises. From the 1986 release of The Legend of Zelda to today’s modern masterpieces, there are a grand total of 20 games and counting. Plus, there have been numerous remakes, spinoffs, and ports to other media.
Nintendo has dipped back into that library with Link’s Awakening, a new remake of the 1993 game of the same name adapted for the Nintendo Switch. And we say ‘new’ because this isn’t the game’s first remake. Five years after its first release, Nintendo appended a ‘DX‘ to the title, gave it new coat of paint, and added some gameplay elements for the Game Boy Color. The 2019 release is a modern reboot of the game, yet stays faithfully true to the both the story as well as gameplay style.
Link’s Awakening, then and now
The original Link’s Awakening was the first Zelda game released for Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld console. The current remake is more or or less the same game, but there are notable updates. The most visible difference is, of course, the graphics, which show not only 3D objects but bright colors and shading. Despite this, the remake still retains the retro Zelda look and feel.
The top-down gameplay, puzzles, and animations are similar to the original, only sharper, brighter and smoother. Old-timers will miss the Camera Shop, but we now have the Chamber Dungeons, customizable areas that players can create from bits and pieces of the game to create new challenges. If you’ve played the game before, the learning curve will be minimal; if you haven’t, you’re in for a treat anyway.
Introducing our hero, Link
For the uninitiated, Link, the Hero of the Skies, is the playable character in the game — indeed, in most Zelda games. Usually clad in a green tunic with a buckled brown belt and a long green cap (which you may not see if he’s facing forward), he is a member of the elfin Hylian race, who are endowed with psychic and magical abilities. In addition, Link is a skilled swordsman (random trivia: he’s mostly left-handed, except sometimes he’s not), chosen to wield the Master Sword, a mythical weapon that helps him in is fight against evil beings.
Link’s Awakening gets its name from the fact that it finds our hero shipwrecked, and he wakes up in a stranger’s house on a mysterious island. Getting off the island turns out to be more complicated than getting there, as there is the small matter of rousing the slumbering Wind Fish first. But, as ever, there’s a catch.
At end of the previous game, A Link to the Past, Link sets out to explore the world in his boat. After a storm leaves him shipwrecked, he washes up on the shores of Koholint Island, in the village of Mabe. There, a local girl called Marin finds him unconscious on the sands and takes him home to recover. Once Link gets on his feet again, he takes his shield back from Marin’s father and returns to the beach.
Here, he is reunited with his magical sword, but he still has to figure out the details of how to get off the island, especially considering he no longer has a boat. This isn’t the last he’ll see of Marin or her father. A note, particularly for the Zelda faithful: Link’s Awakening is set entirely on Koholint Island rather than the usual kingdom of Hyrule.
Koholint’s dirty secret
Link meets the mysterious Owl on the beach, who tells him that nobody leaves Koholint Island without the blessings of its guardian angel, the Wind Fish. Unfortunately, said guardian lies slumbering inside a giant egg atop Mount Tamaranch. Needless to say, waking it isn’t as straightforward as walking up there and prodding it with a stick. Instead, Link must recover the eight Instruments of the Sirens, guarded by evil creatures called Nightmares and their minions, from all over the island.
Owl directs Link to "go north, to the Mysterious Forest" to receive further instructions about his quest. When he arrives at the forest, "home to dark and dangerous foes," he learns about retrieving the Tail Key, which will lead him to the Tail Cave, a dungeon inside which the first instrument lies. From here on, the action-adventure part of the game really begins, as Link faces off against evil creatures that lie between him and his escape.
Dungeons and Nightmares
Each of the eight Instruments lies in dungeons strewn across the Island, and within each dungeon Link must get rid of the boss monster, called a Nightmare, and their dastardly minion-monsters before he can get his hands on the prize. For each dungeon, a map and compass must be found first, both needed to pinpoint the position of the Nightmares and the chests that contain crucial elements. In addition, various keys to open doors and chests will need to be found as well.
In the Tail Cave, for instance, Link fights a Nightmare called Moldorm before he earns his reward, the Full Moon Cello. One down, seven more to go, and in case you wondered, Tail Cave is quite easy and the dungeons get progressively more complicated and the puzzles harder to complete. Apart from the main dungeons, there are three mini-dungeons to explore, and the bonus Color Dungeon that we’ll talk about later.
The long road to freedom
For most of the game, in dungeon after dungeon, Link is called upon to pit his wits against puzzles and his combat skills against evil creatures and their boss Nightmares. Arguably, the most annoying Nightmare is the clown-like Genie in Bottle Grotto, the second dungeon, who taunts Link mercilessly and retreats into its bottle at the first sign of trouble. The blobby Slime Eye in the third dungeon is the slimiest one. Overall, the boss fights are relatively challenging, even though each one has a weakness.
The other Nightmares include Angler Fish, Slime Eel, Facade, Evil Eagle, and Hot Head. Apart from these boss monsters, there are other ghastly creatures, including the Spike Roller, a pink, cutesy creature that rolls a sharp, studded spike in Link’s path each time he tries to get close. In the final stages of the game, Link also must defeat the Shadow Nightmares, a horrifying amalgamation of various Nightmares he has met in the past, in Koholint and elsewhere.
Of course there’s a prophecy in Link’s Awakening!
In true RPG tradition, storytelling is a pretty important element of the whole experience of Link’s Awakening. Along with hacking down enemies and solving puzzles, conversations with NPCs, various (essential and voluntary) sidequests, secrets, and other stories unravel the larger picture of the island. The most astounding plot twist comes during Link’s search for the sixth instrument in the Face Shrine.
When he makes his way into the southern part of the Face Shrine, he finds a mural depicting the Wind Fish and Owl, with some lettering. It says, "To the Finder, the Isle of Koholint, is but an illusion…a scene on the lid of a sleeper’s eye. Awake the dreamer, and Koholint will vanish much like a bubble on a needle." Translated to plain English, everything that has happened so far might just be a dream, and the island vanish if the Wind Fish is awakened! Is this true, or is it a myth?
A gathering of Instruments
The bulk of the game is getting Link from dungeon to dungeon to gather the eight Instruments of the Sirens. This is easier in the new game with the new map system that allows you to pin locations. The full list of Instruments is: the Full Moon Cello (Tail Cave dungeon), Conch Horn (Bottle Grotto), Sea Lily’s Bell (Key Cavern), Surf Harp (Angler’s Tunnel), Wind Marimba (Catfish’s Maw), Coral Triangle (Face Shrine), Organ of Evening Calm (Eagle’s Tower), and Thunder Drum (Turtle Rock).
Once he’s gathered them all, Link is ready for the final hurdle at Mount Tamaranch, where the Wind Fish’s egg lies. But before he heads there, he needs to make a detour back to Mabe, Marin’s village, and stop at the library to read a book called The Dark Secrets and Mysteries of Koholint, which provides him a message about the "passageways of the Egg." There are three versions of this message, which pop up randomly in different games.
The end of Link’s Awakening begins by singing to the Wind Fish
Now, at some point in the course of the game, Link has taken time off from his adventures to romance Marin, who in turn has taught him the "Ballad of the Wind Fish." This is the magical song that is said to awaken the Wind Fish. Finally, when Link stands before the Egg and plays the ballad, the eight Instruments join him and play along, causing the Egg to crack open … and reveal the Wind Fish?
Oh no, not so fast, or so easy! The inside of the Egg is a maze that Link has to navigate through first. Remember the stop at the library? That message he read in the book is going to come in handy now (he’d better have taken notes). Inside the Egg maze, Link meets Shadow Nightmares, avatars of his past enemies, ending with the final enemy, Dethl.
Does Link’s Awakening have an anticlimax or not?
After Dethl is dispatched — and this is no mean feat — Link plays "The Ballad of the Wind Fish" once more, and this time the creature wakes up. As it does so, Koholint Island starts to fade around Link, and the Wind Fish tells him that it wasn’t the only one asleep: Link is, too. And yes, even though it was all a dream, the memories will stay with him forever.
Link wakes up, floating on a piece of driftwood, out in the sea. He looks up and and above him, the Wind Fish soars in the sky. When he tries to look around at where Koholint Island should have been, he finds nothing there. The credits start to roll, and afterwards, if Link has managed to get here without losing any lives, he will also see Marin in the sky, and she will turn into a bird and fly away.
Secrets and side gigs
There are plenty of sidequests and Easter eggs in Link’s Awakening that are optional. They often reveal prizes that enhance Link’s abilities or give him an artifact that bestows an advantage. A fun one is the Color Dungeon, originally made for the DX version, to show off, you guessed it, colors. Apart from various color-based puzzles, if Link navigates to the end, he gets a choice of color from the Fairy Queen — red for added power or blue for increased defense.
Or else, he can try his hand at an arcade claw game at the Trendy Game Shop; collect the Secret Seashells to gain the Seashell Sword; or relax at the Fishing Pond. Then there is the Trading Sequence quest, part of which is mandatory to the main game, but Link can play on, acquiring various items to trade with people for rewards. His prize for completing the trades is the magic Magnifying Lens that will help him seek out the Wind Fish.
Play it again, Link!
Sidequests may be a great way to add replay value to RPGs, but in the Link’s Awakening 2019 version, there is a brand new feature called Chamber Dungeons, a dungeon editor and custom minigame creator. Link is able to ‘save’ dungeons he’s explored and use them to create the new dungeons.
To do so, though, he will first have to visit Dampe’s Shack in Tal Tal Heights and get a crash course in dungeon creation. Dampe also gives Link some bonus challenges and rewards him in unique new tiles for his dungeons. Any cash that Link earns from playing custom dungeons is his to keep. You can use amiibo figurines to make a Chamber Dungeon, and you can share anything you make. You can even save Chamber Dungeons to a Zelda amiibo figurine, and share them by tapping the amiibo to a friend’s Nintendo Switch system.