The first time I finished The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening I nearly cried. Anyone who’s done the same probably knows what I’m talking about. The second time, however, I was less impressed. I was on a Zelda kick and was playing through the games in order of their release, and, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because it was after A Link to the Past with Ocarina of Time on the horizon, but it didn’t click.
So, I was a bit apprehensive about the remake. Sure, maybe it’s not my favourite game, but look at how cute it is. I picked it up, because how couldn’t I, and that means that it’s time to give this game a second, er, third chance.
BALLAD OF THE WIND FISH
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was the seminal entry in the series. It built off the groundwork that the first game laid down, then refined it down to what would become the formula for many later entries. Link’s Awakening would come a couple years later and be the first game to adopt that formula.
After becoming shipwrecked, Link is stranded on Koholint Island. Stripped of his gear, he sets off to find a way off the island. Not long into his adventure, an owl tells him to wake up the sleeping Wind Fish, as that is the only way to escape the island. Yeah.
What follows is A Link to the Past’s overworld/dungeon formula. You search for the entrance of the next dungeon, then you must delve that dungeon until you defeat a boss. In doing so, you’re rewarded with an item that will help you proceed and a musical instrument that will help you wake the sleeping fish. Along the way, you’ll typically spend some time collecting heart pieces and… listen, have you played a Zelda game? If so, you probably know the dance steps by now.
DIORAMA OF A DUNGEON
For the remake, developer Grezzo stuck pretty closely to the original game. The graphics have been updated, sure, but the dungeon and overworld design, as well as the overall flow of the game and location of items, is nearly 1:1.
If there’s one major improvement, it’s to the item management. The Game Boy only had two buttons to work with, so you’d have to slot in every item that you wanted to use, whether it was a hookshot or your sword. You still only have two item slots this time around, but at the very least, you’re given dedicated buttons for the sword and shield, which makes a big difference to the flow of the game. No longer do you have to swap out your equipment for purposes of combat and utility.
That’s a significant addition, but it’s not the only one. There’s a dungeon designer where you piece together your own bespoke dungeon and then run through it like a mini Zelda Maker. The game also has scrolling more similar to A Link to the Past, rather than the strict sector-by-sector flip screens of Game Boy version. It may seem like a small change, but it makes getting around a lot more comfortable.
DIRGE OF THE BREEZE BASS
If you’re a fan of the Game Boy game, you may wonder what it was that gave me a bad taste last time I played it. Well, it was a while ago, but I recall finding the overworld unimpressive and the difficulty a little too stiff.
The overworld is still a little bland. It feels more maze-like and inorganic than A Link to the Past’s or even the original Zelda’s. The world feels somewhat less diverse and there are fewer memorable landmarks. It’s a bit intangible and hard to explain, but the exploration of it feels less rewarding because each area is just a nearly featureless maze full of enemies. There’s a lack of creativity and liveliness and feels like it’s only there to provide a challenge on the way to the next dungeon.
That comes down to tastes. I often say that my least favourite part of Zelda games is the dungeons, which is a pretty huge part of most of them. I prefer to be exploring the overworld, completing side-quests, and interacting with the inhabitants. I understand that the main event for a lot of people is the dungeons themselves, but for me, they’re just obstacles impeding my enjoyment of the game.
However, even if I was a big fan of dungeons, I find that Link’s Awakening has some pretty weak delves. I attribute this mainly to the Game Boy’s limitations, there’s a certain simplicity to their design that winds up occasionally being confusing. Maybe it’s just me. After all, I wound up going in circles at one point because I couldn’t figure out I was supposed to throw a pot at a door with a picture of a pot on it.
For people as inept as myself, the difficulty has been toned down thanks to the addition of fairy bottles that can heal you. However, there is a harder difficulty level you can play on if you prefer.
I GUESS I’M SORRY
I feel like I need to spend this review just apologizing that I don’t think Link’s Awakening is the bee’s knees. I honestly feel that this is largely down to personal taste. I typically turn to Zelda games for their well-designed overworlds, but Link’s Awakening just comes up flat in comparison to something as enticing as A Link to the Past.
On the other hand, the remake of Link’s Awakening adds a number of quality of life improvements that make it a much more palatable experience. Okay, so maybe I’m not getting my ideal overworld, but in exchange I’m getting a wonderful art-style and an excellent soundtrack. Maybe I’m spending a little too much time doing circles in dungeons, but at least I don’t have to juggle my inventory every time I want to go into combat mode.
I wound up enjoying the Link’s Awakening remake far more than I expected I would. It’s still not my favourite Zelda title by a long shot, but I didn’t struggle to stay absorbed in the experience. To think that could be done with just a new coat of paint, but here I am delighted.
This review was conducted on a Nintendo Switch using a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.