The Legend of Zelda series is one of the most popular, enduring video games series in the world. If you’re reading this article – heck, if you’re reading our website – you’re fully aware of this. Even so, there have been so many LoZ games over the years (the first one for the NES was released in 1986, if you can believe that) that it’s excusable to have missed one here or there.
Link’s Awakening was the fourth title released in the series back in 1993, the first in the series for the Game Boy. It was actually first in a lot of ways, as it was the first title to exclude Princess Zelda, as well as the first to be set entirely outside of the Kingdom of Hyrule. It was later re-released as a launch game for the Game Boy Colour (Link’s Awakening DX) in 1998, and since then, there have been 18 (yes, eighteen) games in the main series.
If you’ve never played it before, you’re missing out – it’s my personal favourite Zelda game. However, for those who have not played it, thanks to a recent announcement that it’s coming to the Switch later this year, you’ll soon have a chance to experience one of the darkest, weirdest Zelda games out there:
The plot in a nutshell: Link, travelling via boat to train overseas after the events of A Link To The Past, runs into a terrible storm. His boat destroyed, he washes up on the shores of Koholint Island, where a young woman finds him. The woman, Marin, nurses him back to health, and once Link recovers his sword, he’s told the only way to return home is to wake the Wind Fish, who slumbers in an egg at the top of the island.
I think one of the best parts of this game is the strangeness factor that follows everything around. Everything has a Twilight Zone, Twin Peaks-esque feel (more on that here), with some fun-but-weird characters filling out every corner of the island (try stealing something from the town shop!). As mentioned, it’s also strangely dark: Link travels Koholint, trawling dungeons to collect each of the eight musical instruments needed to wake the Wind Fish. As he defeats each boss, they scream and lament as they are being defeated, afraid of being erased from reality. It’s somewhat disconcerting, but Link simply continues on his quest.
Majora’s Mask is often cited as being the ‘darkest Zelda game’, which I think is generally a fair assessment: the entire game is permeated by the feeling of inevitable destruction, heralded by the moon getting closer every day. Link’s Awakening is dark in a different way, as everything about Koholint Island and its denizens carries a feeling of unease, of a dread that lurks just around the corner – one that you never see until the end of the game.
The adventure itself is pretty linear, but then again, that’s a time-honoured tradition for the Zelda series. It’s fun without being too hard, though the game rewards you for completing it without dying once (at least the Game Boy versions did, we’ll see about the Switch version). The music is perhaps one of the game’s highlights – from Marin’s melody to the haunting Ballad of the Wind Fish, it’s all a treat to listen to.
When asked, many will say Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask are the best games in the Zelda canon – deservedly so. But for me, Link’s Awakening is my unequivocal favourite, and when the remake comes out later this year, I can’t wait to experience it all over again.