"That one Zelda game without Zelda in"
Once upon a time, there was a princess, noble and fair. Beloved by her subjects, this gentle maiden had but one real failing: every other week, she'd be kidnapped by some weird-looking villain, and an asexual midget in a green dress would have to rescue her. There'd be some kind of mystical triangle-power involved, as well as much questing. But, in the end, she would be rescued, and the evil would be forever sealed until the next time around.
I think I love Link’s Awakening so because none of this happens. For once.
We join Link as he takes a break from his princess-rescuing fixation and sails unexplainably across a vast sea, perhaps seeking a fresh land with newly-kidnapped royalty to avenge. If this is the case, his plans are foiled when the boat encounters a patch of bad weather, and an inconveniently-placed bolt of lightning destroys his craft. Desperately grasping some debris becomes too much for the stumpy nightcap-wearing hero, and he is unceremoniously dumped into the raging ocean.
He drowns, and thus ends the shortest video game in history....
Well, almost, anyway. Luckily for him, he was washed ashore on some conveniently placed sandy beach. This is where we join our protagonist, lying unconscious after his rough treatment by the angry ocean. To his aid rushes a lone girl who frantically shakes at the unresponsive elf. The thick-lined backdrop of palm trees shifts its focus, sweeping away from the attempted resurrection of Link to concentrate on the silhouette of the shady mountain now in the foreground. Leaving the pair completely, the view sweeps upwards to the summit, upon which sits a giant spotted egg. Yeah -- you heard me.
Wherever Link has washed up, it isn't Hyrule.
Showing the kind of resilience that has made him second only to Mario in the “rescue fair maidens” category, our protagonist soon wakes up. You find yourself in unfamiliar surroundings, tossing and turning in the bed of a stranger. Watching over you is the very girl that rescued you from the beach. You soon learn that you've been deposited on Koholint island, a once peaceful place that has recently become plagued by monsters; coincidentally, around the same time you showed up. Devoid of your equipment, you are directed back towards the beach your sea-soaked body was found not so long ago. You washed up there, so it's reasonable to assume your stuff did, too.
Given directions from your feathery-haired rescuer, Marin, and your trusty shield returned by Tarin, a big-nosed onlooker, you leave the house.
Notice how the last paragraph actually describes details of the characters’ appearances? The sprites are obviously on the small side, but the detail that has been crammed into them is nothing short of impressive. Link is clearly clad in his now legendary attire that any self-respecting forest nymph wouldn't be seen without, and as you wander down to the beach, you'll notice the same of your backdrops. Whether you are wandering through Koholint’s village, a dense forest, or even a marshy swampland, you'll know what it is you’re traversing through.
Let’s take your destination, the beach, for an example. The lazy tendrils of sea lap rhythmically against a sandy surface, strewn liberally with bits of washed up debris and seashells. The odd palm tree sits serenely in the background as aquatic wildlife frolics merrily in the surf, crustaceans gathering in tight places. All very well and nautical, but when the numerous crabs decide that Link is on the menu and the spike-encrusted urchins are painful to the touch, the graphics must be momentarily put aside in favour of survival. Especially when you consider that the only item in your possession is a shield, which traditionally isn't the most offensive piece of equipment.
Nudging away unwanted attention from behind your slab of metal is a simple task. Items such as your shield and soon-to-be-obtained sword (as well as the numerous tools of the trade you'll pick up along the way) can be set to the A and B buttons, both of which will be shortly occupied. For lo and behold, beyond a particularly obtuse urchin lies your weapon. It sits shimmering on the edge of the ocean, radiating with a sense of pointy mischief. But before you can reclaim it, from the sky descend plot explanations!
…in the form of a talking owl. Just to ensure so there’s no doubt, it starts every sentence with “Hoot! Hoot!”
It will soon be revealed to you that leaving the island is quite impossible without first awakening the Wind Fish. Without offering any form of explanation for this strange custom, he departs as abruptly as he came, promising to meet you should you journey north to the Mysterious Woods.
And so, with sword in hand and quest in mind, you begin your epic journey. Perhaps you are free from worries about snatching princesses back from evil’s clammy grasp, but new concerns arise in their place. Why does this Wind Fish need awakening? How is such a thing possible? And what relevance does this have to our intrepid traveler and to the inhabitants of Koholint Island? Answers lie north.
Your travels will not be easy, though. Before you spans a number -- eight, to be precise -- of dungeons and quests that have long been the backbone of the Zelda franchise just as much as the top-down viewpoint LA faithfully readopts. If you wish to see your quest through, you'll need to do more than wave a sword aggressively. Engaging the grey matter and abusing the correct items are equally important. Let’s say you've met with an armoured enemy of sorts. His front its heavily protected, but his rear is vulnerable. You could use the Rok Feather to catapult yourself over his head and strike from behind, or perhaps you might employ your boomerang to strike its Achilles’ Heel on its return path. Failing that, why not use your power bracelet and hurl a nearby heavy pot at it, or plague it with a well-placed bomb. The options are all there to be employed at your discretion.
When you take this sense of freedom and adventure, mix it in with a nostalgic soundtrack and clear, well-defined graphics, you probably have a winner on your hands. Link’s Awakening is a masterpiece of a game, expertly crafted on what could be considered a limited palate. It reminds me of a time when the chunky black-and-white behemoth of a handheld might as well have been permanently super-glued to my hands, and this gem was the main reason behind that. It's a game that still shines brightly today.
And not a princess in sight. Beautiful.
Community review by bside (February 21, 2005)
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