The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX
Nintendo Gameboy/Gameboy Color
Genre: Action RPG
It has been a while since I visited the Legend of Zelda franchise, and when the holidays brought the Triforce Heroes cartridge to my 3DS, I started to wax nostalgic. Growing up, my mother and I played through A Link to the Past a few times, along with the original game, and while we were recalling memories of this over the holidays, we downloaded Link’s Awakening for her onto her 3DS so that she could play through it.
With that, of course, I needed to get the game myself to reminisce. The game has been an outlier of the Zelda series, though it has been popping up through references in recent games such as Hyrule Warriors and being available on the Virtual Console. More people have had the opportunity to experience this game.
In all honesty, this is a great thing for fans of the series.
Link’s Awakening opens on our Hylian hero while he is caught in a tumultuous storm on the high seas. Despite his best efforts, his ship is wrecked and he is found on the shores of
Koholint Island, a strange and fascinating land- though not his home. As he attempts to find his
way home, he is advised by an owl, one of the many foreign inhabitants of the island, that he must seek out the Instruments of the Sirens and wake the Wind Fish of Koholint Island if he hopes to return to Hyrule. As our hero loves collecting things in groups of eight and wants to get back home, he traverses the island to do just that.
You’ll notice that there is no mention of the titular Princess Zelda. No mention of the Triforce. Ganon, Aghanim, Master Sword- these are all footnotes, if they appear at all. Koholint Island is, for the most part, its own entity, making this entry to the series feel even more isolated. By no means does the game feel like less of a Zelda game as a result, however. Where we had Kakariko Village in Link to the Past, we have Mabe Village, full of its own intriguing denizens. In place of Princess Zelda, we have a young woman named Marin, who dreams of traveling across the sea. Instead of Aghanim or Ganon, we get-
Actually, that one is a neat surprise that I don’t want to ruin here.
The mechanics of the Zelda series, in general, stays intact with few deviations. Link still gathers items from each dungeon to help progress across the island. There are still upgrades to your sword, shield, and various other faculties to be sniffed out and puzzles strewn around the world. Occasionally, when you descend a staircase in a dungeon, it will
even bring you to a side scrolling section to adventure through, which some might remember happens in the original Legend of Zelda at brief moments. The addition to the adventure that stands out most is that every so often, an enemy will drop a Guardian Acorn or a Piece of Triforce- the only mention of the series’ MacGuffin in the game- which will help you take half damage from enemies for a time or inflict double damage, respectively.
The really interesting part of this game is how dark the themes can get as you progress. At one point in the adventure, it is inferred that the island may not be everything that it seems and that by fulfilling your adventure, you may be doing more harm than good. This is a strange concept to the Legend of Zelda series, but as the plot unfolds from this rumination, the rest of the game really finds a way, even in its Gameboy tinted glory, to settle into its seat as one of the favorites of the series for many fans who grew up with The Legend of Zelda.
It is really hard to find a flaw with this game on my end. Much like A Link to the Past, this game promotes exploration, trial and error, and good old fashioned action adventure skills. The special ending, which must be reached by not losing a life throughout the adventure, is not entirely worthwhile in its presentation in my personal opinion, and while the side quests are entertaining and satisfying to complete, the fact that they are almost all more ‘required’ than actual side quests can be a bit jarring to first time players. All of this is grasping at straws, however, to find flaws in a game that, quite hones
tly, doesn’t feel like it has any.
While discussing the sound and graphics, this brings up the difference between the original Link’s Awakening, which released on the Gameboy in 1993, and Link’s Awakening DX. The music remains the same, and it is all classic Zelda, including the iconic theme. A lot of the music feels like variations on a theme, as the dungeon themes are not quite the same as past games but they easily recall dungeons of the previous entries. The soundscape feels like one big homage to
the other games, but it manages to have its own identity in tunes like “The Ballad of the Wind Fish”, the central tune of the game, among others.
Graphically, the clear exception between the two versions is that DX was made for the Gameboy Color, so rather than the usual black and white/green of the original version, Link’s Awakening DX, has some vivid colors and incredibly charming sprites. Everything is discernible, and a lot of the visuals feel like they are faithful recreations of Zelda enemies and bosses with their own unique and detailed additions. Different sections of the island use different palettes, and they each have their own flavor to them.
Alongside the coloration of the game, the DX version has a few differences from the original. There is an entire dungeon added that was not in the original known as the Color Dungeon. It should be clear as to why this dungeon was added to this version. On to
p of that, there is a ‘Camera’ shop which was meant to use the little-known Gameboy Camera add-on and has a mouse (reminiscent of the mouse from Earthbound) that shows up in certain circumstances to take pictures of Link. These were to result in printable pictures from the accessory, and while the peripheral is a distant memory at this point, the art in the photos is another charming feature.
In the end, Link’s Awakening is a great game of its own, though it feels like it takes a lot of elements from the prior games in the series to make up its whole. The journey is well worth it, though, and if you’re one of the many people who loved A Link to the Past but didn’t play this game, you should seriously consider tracking it down. Not only does the game’s tone hold up the same vibe- this game did start as a port of Link to the Past, in fairness- but the game doesn’t suffer from the usual ‘abbreviated’ feeling other games on the system sometimes had. Hunt it down on the 3DS Virtual Console or however else you feel, but if you are a Zelda fan, you owe it to yourself to check this chapter of the series out.