I've been playing games since pretty much forever, and they are a fairly big part of my life. I mostly play games either on my PC or Wii, but I also own a PS1, PS2, Genesis, Dreamcast, N64, Atari 2600, and several handhelds, with a library of somewhere around 300 titles. I play all kinds of games, but I do consider myself a bit of a Nintendo fanboy.
Dungeons of Dredmor
Entire Zelda series
Metroid Prime Trilogy
Mario Kart Wii
Monster Hunter Tri
Mass Effect Series
As of this writing, it has been about one hour since I completed Link's Awakening. Since seeing the credits, I have barely moved other than turning to my computer and opening a word document to write this. The page has been blank for an hour, because I have been unable to collect my thoughts. This game is absolutely amazing, and if you have not beaten it, I implore that you do so before reading the second section if this article. I have never been so conflicted about completing a video game.
The first part of this article will consist of my non-spoiler related thoughts, and I will try and convince you to play this game. Please, please, please, do not read the second half before completing Link's Awakening yourself. I cannot emphasize enough what this game can accomplish, but only when one is free to think of their actions in the game while playing it.
Also, I apologize for the lack of in-game screenshots, but the artwork that I found while looking around the internet is just amazing, and gets my across much better than a screenshot could. There are also some that I couldn't fit in the article, so please check them out in the gallery.
Link's Awakening takes place several years after A Link to the Past, and we find our hero in a storm at sea during his trip home. He he awakens from his shipwreck in the house of Marin and Tarin on the isle of Koholint. After finding his sword on the beach, Link is greeted by an owl, and is told that the only way for him to leave the island and return home is to wake the sleeping Wind Fish inside of the Wind Fish Egg. To do this, Link must retrieve the eight Instruments of the Sirens and have them play the Ballad of the Wind Fish in front of the egg. The Wind Fish is apparently a pretty big deal.
This game brings very few new things to the series (combat is virtually unchanged), but what it does bring is substantial enough to make the game more than worth playing. For one, Roc's feather is introduced, an item that allows Link to jump with the press of a button, and is used in puzzles in almost every dungeon. 2D segments that play somewhat like Mario are implemented, complete with goombas and piranha plants. There are a ton of new enemies, and bosses are a fresh and challenging. The game is handheld, and designed as such; had no problem putting down or picking up the game at any point, but also felt comfortable in a several hour session. And the dungeons, the dungeons are absolutely genius.
Remember how in Zelda 1 the dungeons were all shaped like a picture? The first one was an eagle, the second a moon, and the third a swastika? Yeah, that's back in Link's awakening. Not the swastika though, thankfully, but several images like a turtle, skull, and crowned head are featured as dungeons. This game is also more puzzle-oriented, so the dungeons are difficult. Very difficult. Thankfully, the map system are awesome. Each room has a little nub coming off of it to tell you where the door is, like in Zelda 1. The compass is also incredibly useful as it not only reveals all of the chests, but when you enter a room with a key you hear a tone. Even with the map and compass however, it is still incredibly easy to get stuck in this game. I often found myself wandering around a dungeon for up to two hours before finding the correct path, and I usually have little problem with Zelda puzzles.
Once again, I have to warn those who have not beaten Link's Awakening to skip this section. If you have not, please just skip to the ranking at the bottom of this page, and come back if/when you beat the game.
There are very few games, Zelda games in particular, where I question the morality of the end of the game. Generally, the protagonist has to fight off an obviously malicious and oppressive entity and free the people it is threatening. The bosses are also usually just mindless watchdogs that will kill anything that comes into their room. Neither of these are true in Link's Awakening. Link's goal is simply to escape the island, but in doing so, he has to destroy it and everything on it.
The island of Koholint is nothing but the Wind Fish's dream, and if he wakes, it will disappear. The Wind Fish is kept asleep by “nightmares,” who protect the eight instruments in order to stay alive. These nightmares are not just mindless monsters, their duty is to protect the island, to keep everything that they know from being destroyed. They tell you upon defeat that “you know not what you are doing” at first, but it is gradually revealed that Link is coming closer and closer to destroying everything. They also explain that Link is, in fact, part of the dream now, and possibly endangering his own life. The nightmares may want to take over the island, but they first need to stop Link from destroying it outright.
With the island will go not only the monsters, but all of the peaceful people that inhabit Koholint. All of the people of the village of Mabe, Marin, Tarin, the two boys constantly playing catch, the old woman who loves to sweep, the Bow Wows, the alligator man, everyone would just disappear. They are all just figments of the Wind Fish's imagination, but they are all people with lives. They all have lived their lives for as long as the Wind Fish has slept, which could have been generations. They all have aspirations, feel emotion, and bear responsibilities. This all just begs the question, is it really right for Link to just erase them all?
Marin was the main cause of my wanting to find an alternate solution. The only thing she wanted was to explore the world beyond the sea, she wanted nothing more than to know that there was life outside of Koholint, and that is why she wanted to help Link so badly. She found him on the beach because she regularly spent time there thinking of the outside world, dreaming of becoming a seagull so that she could fly across the ocean and discover new lands. Despite her want of freedom though, she never neglected her duties. Marin was a singer, she sang the Ballad of the Wind fish because she believed it was beautiful, possibly because she felt that the awakening of the wind fish would free her. She sang for crowds of people and animals despite wanting to spend time with Link, because it was her duty. Marin also fell in love with Link, which is hinted at when they have a conversation on the beach about halfway through the game. Marin believed that Link is her only chance to leave Koholint, and she placed all of her trust in him to help her. She understands the risks though, as she most likely knows that her existence is in danger, and she even tries to wake the Wind Fish with her own voice near the end of the game. Marin represented the fact that all life on Koholint is, indeed, LIFE, not just an imagining of the Wind Fish.
Throughout the last few dungeons, I questioned whether or not I was doing the right thing by guiding Link to awaken the Wind Fish. I found myself frequently asking “is there no other way? If I found a way in, can I not bring these people out with me? Do I really have to betray Marin and reduce her to nothing more than a memory shared between a boy and magic whale?” I found my thumb hesitating for several minutes when selecting the Ballad of the Wind Fish for my ocarina at the foot of the Wind Fish Egg. Link learns three songs in his adventure, and the icon for selecting one is is a picture of whomever taught it to him. The Ballad of the Wind Fish was taught to you by Marin. At the foot of the Wind Fish Egg, in your last chance to turn back, the game reminds you just what you are risking, and will most likely lose. A song honored and listened to by everyone on the island is about to be used to destroy them all. At this point, I almost put down the game. At the summit of Mt. Tamaranch I debated whether or not I was doing the right thing. I wanted Link to stop and spend the rest of his days living among the members of Mabe village, protecting them and fighting off the nightmares form assuming complete control. I finally decided that I had to defeat the final nightmare and wake the Wind Fish. One cannot live in a dream, as tempting as it may be. You have to wake up and face reality at some point, though it may be painful.
After waking the Wind Fish and Link, watching Link sit on a piece of driftwood from his shipwreck, I knew that I did what was necessary. I still felt guilty though, as I felt that I had betrayed Marin. I had a responsibility to help her become free, to bring her to the real world with me. I know that this was impossible, but she believed in me, and I let her down. My only consolation was that I had, in a sense freed her. She was no longer trapped on an island, in a mind plagued by nightmares. By destroying Koholint, it became what it truly was, just an imagining. Just a memory. Despite the fact that everything was now in order, I asked myself “if I was able to make it in, was it impossible to bring at least one out with me?” Though I had just completed my quest, not seeing Marin join Link in sitting on that small plank of wood, staring up at the Wind Fish as it gracefully eclipsed the sun, filled me with no feeling of success. Only remorse and failure. The hero of Hyrule has slain hundreds of beasts that would cause most men to flee in terror, and freed an entire nation from the oppressive might of an almost god-like creature, but he was unable to grant the wish of a single girl. Link is a time-tested hero, but some things are just impossible.
This game made me feel guilt, failure, and remorse upon completion. It evoked emotions that no game has ever been able to make me feel. I had to accept that there was nothing else I could have done, and though it was saddening, I had to do what was needed. Link's awakening is at the top of my list, and will most likely end up in my top 5, because of this. I have never been touched by a game like this in my life, and the chances of it ever happening again are slim to none.