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The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

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Majora's Mask Artwork
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
The Legend of Zelda - Link's Awakening (logo)
Developer(s) Nintendo
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Designer(s) Shigeru Miyamoto (producer)
Takashi Tezuka (director)
Release date(s) Game Boy
JP June 6, 1993
NA August 1993
EU December 1993
Game Boy Color
JP December 12, 1998
NA December 1, 1998
EU January 1, 1999
3DS Virtual Console (DX version)
INT June 7, 2011
Genre(s) Action-adventure
Mode(s) Single-player
Ratings ESRB: E (DX)
Platform(s) Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Nintendo 3DS (Virtual Console)
Media 4-megabit cartridge (GB version)
8-megabit cartridge (GBC version)
DLC (Virtual Console)
System requirements 47 blocks (Nintendo 3DS)

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (ゼルダの伝説 夢をみる島 Zeruda no Densetsu Yume o Miru Shima?, lit. "The Legend of Zelda: Dreaming Island") is the fourth installment in the Legend of Zelda series, developed for the Nintendo Game Boy. It was released in Japan on June 6, 1993, and in North America on December 31 of the same year. Being the first Zelda title for a handheld game console, and despite originally being a monochrome title, the game made numerous contributions and innovations to the series, including the ability for Link to jump. Link's Awakening is a direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, featuring the same Link and set shortly after the events of that game.

Unlike most other Zelda titles, Link's Awakening does not take place in the land of Hyrule, nor do the Triforce or the antagonist Ganon make appearances. In Link's Awakening, Link finds himself on Koholint Island. To escape, he needs to find the Instruments of the Sirens, which will awaken the Wind Fish and allow Link to leave the island he is marooned on. A remake called The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX for the Game Boy Color was released in 1998, and features compatibility with the Game Boy Printer as well as an exclusive color-based dungeon to capitalize on the GBC's palette. Upon its release, Link's Awakening proved highly successful, selling over four million units, and paved the way for later handheld Zelda games to follow. Most publications rated the game positively, despite the technical restraints imposed by the Game Boy's black and white screen; the DX version went on to receive even higher scores than the original. IGN rated the title as one of the top 100 games of all time.

Gameplay

Gameplay (Link's Awakening)

The gameplay of Link's Awakening DX

Like all games in The Legend of Zelda series, Link's Awakening is an action-adventure game, most similar to its predecessor, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Most exploration and combat takes place from an overhead perspective. The player explores the overworld of Koholint Island, fighting monsters and entering special dungeons. The dungeons vary in size and the puzzles needed to beat each one, but all end with a powerful 'Nightmare' which the player must defeat. Success earns the player another Heart Container, which increases the amount of damage the player can take; when a player loses all hearts, the game restarts from the last entrance/exit that Link walked through before dying.

In addition to the main quest to awaken the Wind Fish by completing a total of eight dungeons, Link's Awakening also offers numerous side quests and diversions. For example, hidden across the overworld and dungeons are Secret Seashells which can be collected; if a majority of the shells are brought to a special shrine, the player receives a more powerful sword which shoots beams. In addition, Link's Awakening was the first Zelda game to include a trading sequence side quest. This mini-game consists of giving a certain item to a character, who in turn gives the player another item to trade to someone else. Link's Awakening even allows Link to leave with items from shops without paying for them, although the consequence if he ever returns to the store is instant death (for the first return only). In addition, he is referred to as "THIEF" by the inhabitants of Koholint Island for the remainder of the game.

Side-Scrolling Gameplay (Link's Awakening)

The game's side-scrolling gameplay

Like A Link to the Past before it, Link's Awakening introduced numerous new game mechanics to the series, such as allowing Link to jump. This allowed the game to feature side-scrolling puzzles and elements, similar to those found in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Link can expand his abilities with items, which are discovered in dungeons and through character interactions; in addition to allowing access to previously unreachable areas, some items are often crucial for reaching or successfully completing a dungeon. Link's Awakening was also the first Zelda game in which both A and B buttons could be assigned to different items, neither of which had to be the sword, allowing for more inventive play styles. While the button assignment method was only used for subsequent handheld Zelda titles, jumping was only one of several mechanics which have since become standard in most subsequent Zelda games; also appearing for the first time in a Zelda game are fishing, flying around using a Cucco, and the learning of special songs which are played on an Ocarina.

Plot

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Shipwrecked Link

Marin finds the shipwrecked Link on Toronbo Shores

One night, the hero Link, traveling the seas in search of adventure, comes across a raging storm and is shipwrecked on Koholint Island, a tropical paradise. On the beach of the island, the unconscious Link is found by a young lady by the name of Marin. Link awakens, confused, in the house of Marin and her father Tarin, who gives Link his shield back. Link returns to the beach where he was discovered, retrieves his lost sword, and is suddenly approached by a giant Owl which tells him that in order to escape from the island, he must awaken the Wind Fish, the guardian deity of Koholint Island, from his sleep deep within the giant egg overlooking the island; a task that can only be accomplished with the help of the eight Instruments of the Sirens, found within the eight dungeons on the island. The Nightmares, evil creatures seeking to rule the island, do everything in their power to guard the Instruments of the Sirens and stop Link from ever waking the Wind Fish. With the help of the Owl, Link finds his way around the island, defeats the Nightmares and retrieves the instruments.

Characters (Link's Awakening)

Characters and scenery from Link's Awakening

All the while, Link seemingly falls in love with the beautiful Marin, who teaches him the "Ballad of the Wind Fish", a song of mysterious power, on his Ocarina. However, the true nature of the island is revealed when Link discovers a mural in a shrine. Here, it is inscribed that the island is merely a dream of the Wind Fish, and if he is awakened, the island will disappear. Link, confronted with a difficult choice, continues on his journey. The Nightmares attempt to discourage Link from waking the Wind Fish, as Marin will be gone when the Wind Fish awakens, as well. After collecting all the eight Instruments, Link approaches the Wind Fish's Egg and plays the "Ballad of the Wind Fish", causing the magical instruments to play along with him, opening a doorway into the maze-like interior of the egg.

Wind Fish

After navigating the maze inside the egg, Link meets the leader of the Nightmares, DethI. DethI transforms into many powerful shapes, some resembling enemies Link has fought before, but to no avail — it is finally defeated by Link. After its defeat, a staircase appears and Link is congratulated by the Owl, who reveals himself to be "part of the Wind Fish's spirit." Link plays the "Ballad of the Wind Fish" once more, awakening the Wind Fish. As it carries Link away, the island disappears. He comforts the troubled Link by telling him that while Koholint Island itself must disappear, it will remain in Link's memories forever. Link awakens, floating on the ocean, unsure about whether or not the events on Koholint Island was a dream. As he looks up into the skies, however, Link sees the massive silhouette of the Wind Fish and smiles. If the game is completed without any deaths, Marin is shown to have been reincarnated as a seagull, as was her wish expressed much earlier in the game.

Spoiler warning: Spoilers end here.

Setting

Link in a Dungeon (Link's Awakening)

Artwork of Link traversing a dungeon

Unlike most other Zelda titles, the game does not take place in Hyrule, and does not involve any of the characters or locations of previous games, besides a passing mention of Princess Zelda in the opening portion of the game and a brief mention of Ganon in the instruction manual's story of the game. Instead, Link's Awakening takes place entirely on Koholint Island, an isolated landmass which is cut off from the rest of the world. There are two major towns, located to the west and east portions of the island; the former, Mabe Village, is where the player begins their quest. The latter, Animal Village, is named due to its non-human inhabitants. In addition to a large mountain range to the north, Koholint contains a forest, plains, castle, swamp, and desert; game reviewers noted that the island, though small, contained a large amount of hidden secrets and interconnected pathways. Scattered across the world are eight dungeons which contain the instruments needed to wake the 'Wind Fish', which sleeps in a giant egg at the top of the island's mountain range.

Characters

The protagonist in the game is Link, a defender of Hyrule who arrives on the island of Koholint after his ship is damaged in a storm. There, he is found by Marin, who nurses him to health. During his travels, Link is aided by an Owl who serves as a guide throughout the game and informs Link of the mysterious Wind Fish, whom the player must awaken for Link to leave the island and finish the game.

Link's Awakening also features other characters who help the player figure out where to go next; this includes Ulrira, a shy old man who communicates to Link exclusively by telephone. Other characters Link meets on his quest include the scholar Mr. Write and the exiled prince Richard, who first appeared in the Nintendo title Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru (For the Frog the Bell Tolls). The island is also inhabited by strangely aware non-player characters who inform the player of game mechanics such as saving, although they have no idea what this means.

Just as Link's Awakening introduces a number of gameplay mechanics to the series for the first time, characters similar to Marin (Malon), Tarin (Talon), and Owl (Kaepora Gaebora) would appear in future titles.

Cameos

The game features many cameos by known characters and enemies from other game series, mainly the Mario series, such as Goombas and Piranha Plants. There are also enemies modeled on Kirby known as Anti-Kirbys. The character Tarin also bears a strong resemblance to Mario. Furthermore, at the start of the game's trading quest, Link wins a Yoshi Doll by playing the Trendy Game. Later in the quest, he meets a character named Mr. Write, named after Will Wright of SimCity fame. A picture of Princess Peach also appears in the game, as well as Bow-Wow, which resembles a Chain Chomp.

Cameo Origin
Anti-Kirby Kirby Kirby's Dream Land
Blooper Blooper Super Mario Bros.
Bob-omb Bob-omb Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panikku (Super Mario Bros. 2 outside Japan)
Boo Buddy Boo Super Mario Bros. 3
Bow-Wow Chain Chomps Super Mario Bros. 3
Cheep-Cheep Cheep-Cheep Super Mario Bros.
Christine's picture Toadstool/Peach Super Mario Bros.
Goomba Goomba Super Mario Bros.
Hot Head Fryguy Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panikku (Super Mario Bros. 2 outside Japan)
Mamu Mamu/Wart Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panikku (Super Mario Bros. 2 outside Japan)
Mask-Mimic Shy Guy Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panikku (Super Mario Bros. 2 outside Japan)
Mr. Write Dr. Wright SimCity (Super NES version only)
Piranha Plant Piranha Plant Super Mario Bros.
Pokey Pokey Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panikku (Super Mario Bros. 2 outside Japan)
Podobos Podoboos Super Mario Bros.
Richard Richard Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru
Sea Urchin Urchin Super Mario World (by name), Gordo Kirby's Dream Land (by sprite)
Spark Spark Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panikku (Super Mario Bros. 2 outside Japan)
Spiked Beetle Spiny Mario Bros.
Tarin Jumpman/Mario Donkey Kong
Thwimp Thwimp Super Mario World
Thwomp Thwomp Super Mario Bros. 3
Yoshi Doll Yoshi Super Mario World

Development

Title Screen (Link's Awakening)

Title screen of the original version

Title Screen (Link's Awakening DX)

Title screen of the DX version

Development of Link's Awakening proceeded directly following the completion of the Japanese-only Game Boy title, Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru. The graphic style was similar to that of a cartoon, with the intro and ending utilizing nearly fullscreen comic stillframes in this style. The game's background music was composed by Kazumi Totaka, Minako Hamano, and Kozue Ishikawa. The music from the DX version was arranged by Yuichi Ozaki.

To roll out the game for the North American release, Nintendo sponsored a cross country train competition, called the 'Zelda Whistle Stop Tour'. The event, which lasted for three days, had selected players test out Link's Awakening in a timed race. Not only was the event a way to showcase the new Zelda game, but Nintendo also wanted to tout the Game Boy's superior battery life and portability, which would make or break the accessibility of a portable Zelda title.

Localization differences

The American version of the game has some design differences compared to the original Japanese version and the earlier Game Boy versions from Europe. For example, Martha's missing item was actually her bikini top in the Japanese version; this was changed to a Necklace in the American version. Likewise, the Japanese Hippo, a curvaceous nude model, retreated into her towel when Link entered- the sitting remains, however.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX

The Legend of Zelda - Link's Awakening DX (logo)

In 1998, Link's Awakening was re-released as The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX for the Game Boy Color on a black hybrid cartridge that is also compatible with the original Game Boy. This was one of the few "deluxe" versions of Game Boy games, along with Wario Land II DX, Tetris DX, Super Mario Bros. DX and the canceled Metroid II: Return of Samus DX and Kirby's Dream Land 2 DX. As with other DX games, the game was fully colorized. In addition to the mere addition of color, the DX version added numerous gameplay features.

One addition to the DX version was an entirely new dungeon, based on color. The Color Dungeon made use of the Game Boy Color's capabilities to deliver puzzles based on color, including the boss. The reward for beating the color-based puzzles is the choice of a red or blue-colored clothes, which offer a boost in offensive power or resistance to damage, respectively. The Red Clothes allowed Link to become more powerful, the equivalent of always holding a Piece of Power. The Blue Clothes raised his defense, the equivalent of always holding a Guardian Acorn.

Another new feature of the DX version was the addition of a Camera Shop and Photo Album; certain actions trigger cutscenes in which the Photographer would appear and take a picture. The pictures could be viewed in the player’s Photo Album at the Camera Shop, and printed using the Game Boy Printer. This feature included the addition of an invisible Zora in the Animal Village as one of the triggers.

The DX version also contains a Super Game Boy enhanced border and color palette. The original game does not have those features, since it was released a year before the peripheral.

Nintendo 3DS

A port of Link's Awakening DX for the Nintendo 3DS was released June 7th, 2011 through the Nintendo eShop's Virtual Console service. The game allows the user to create one restore point, allowing players to continue the game from any point without needing a save file. Link's Awakening can be played in either full-screen, or the original Game Boy Color resolution. Interestingly, the Game Boy Color resolution features hardware emulation to compensate for the smaller use of the 3DS screen. A purple Game Boy Color border is shown, and when this mode is present, the Nintendo 3DS's 3D Depth Slider remains active. This allows for a 3D effect showing the game's screen somewhat 'behind' the Game Boy Color border, similarly to the original system. This mode can be activated by holding the Select button while starting the game.

Reception

Review scores
Publication Score
Electronic Gaming Monthly 8.25 (GB), 9.25 (DX)
GameSpot 8.7 (DX)
IGN 10/10 (DX)
Nintendo Power 4.18/5 (GB), 8.8/10 (DX)
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
Game Rankings 90% (GB), 92% (DX)

Link's Awakening was well-received by critics, with a reviewer average of 90% on aggregate site Game Rankings. In a retrospective, Electronic Gaming Monthly declared Link's Awakening the "best Game Boy game ever, an adventure so engrossing and epic that we can even forgive the whole thing for being one of those 'It's all a dream!' fakeouts." The Washington Post declared that Nintendo had created a "legend that fits in the palm of your hand", praising the portability and depth of gameplay. The Mainichi Shimbun praised the game's music and story. The title was touted as an excellent portable adventure for those with little time for more sophisticated role-playing games.

Link's Awakening won several awards, including the Graphics and Sound, Challenge, Theme and Fun, Play Control, and Best Overall categories for the Game Boy in the 1993 Nintendo Power Awards decided by readers. The title made multiple top games list as Nintendo Power's fifty-sixth best Nintendo game, IGN reader's 40th best game of all time, and IGN staff's 78th best game. IGN singled out Link's Awakening, saying that "while handheld spin-offs are generally considered the low point for game franchises, Link's Awakening proves that they can offer just as rich a gameplay experience."

Complaints with the game included the graphics, which William Burrill dismissed as "Dim Boy graphics [that are] nothing to write home about." The monochrome graphics occasionally made it harder for critics to see what was going on, leading reviewers to wish the game had some color. The two-button control scheme was called awkward to use, having to constantly switch items almost every screen.

Link's Awakening DX received slightly better reviews than the original; Game Rankings rates the DX version of Link's Awakening with an average score of 92%, based on ten media outlets. IGN gave the title a perfect score, noting that "throughout the color-enhanced version of Zelda DX, it can easily be inferred that Nintendo has reworked its magic to fit new standards", removing nothing from the original game and adding in new adventures. Cameron Davis of Gamespot applauded the camera support and attention to detail in coloration and style, while reviewers for the Courier Mail credited the camera features with added gameplay depth and allowing players to show off trophies. Reviewers for The Daily Telegraph said that the addition of color made the game easier and reduced deaths caused by the player not being able to see what is going on. Despite the improvements, publications such as AllRPG.com took issue with parts of the gameplay that remained unchanged, including the awkwardness of the two-button format. RPGFan felt that the colorization, though adequate, was not as fully detailed as possible.

Link's Awakening and its rerelease were commercially successful; the game remained on bestseller lists for more than 90 months after release, and went on to sell 3.83 million units by 2004. The DX version sold another 2.22 million units.

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See also

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