Swan song of the Wind Fish

I’ve returned from a nice five day jaunt to the Windy City, and everything went off without a hitch. It was a completely relaxing experience, probably thanks largely to flying into Midway – pretty much the mirror opposite of every stop in O’Hare I’ve ever had, not to mention Parish’s recent visit. It was also my first real experience with winter – and while it’s an interesting concept, I can’t say I don’t prefer San Francisco’s wind breaker-optional version better.

[[image: ar_021009_la_01.jpg:Sometimes, when you’re out numbered, the best option is to leaf. Yeah.:right:0]]The trip came at an inconvenient time, games-wise, because the only thing portable I had to play was Dragon Quest IV, which is entirely too long to start with Retro Game Challenge and Dragon Quest V (the one I’ve been waiting for) right around the corner. Instead, I opted to get acquainted with an old friend: Link’s Awakening. A few very minor quibbles aside (I seem to spend more time in the menu switching items than I remember), it’s everything it was the first time I played it. Considering how old it is now – can you believe it came out fifteen years ago? – I’m astonished. I wasn’t expecting it to be simplistic, necessarily; rather, I had suspected nostalgia to smooth over some rough spots I’d forgiven in the name of portability, in the same way I can still enjoy Mario Land side-by-side with its superior brothers. That it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of the series to this day is ridiculous.

One asset that’s often overlooked about Link’s Awakening is how perfectly it embodies the ideal “portable Zelda”. Like every other Zelda on a handheld, I played Link’s Awakening the day it came out by sitting on our couch under a lamp, playing in long sessions until it was complete, and every replay since has been in a similar fashion. This time around, I played it between several distractions on the plane – naps, games of Fluxx – or whenever I had ten minutes to kill in those odd times between events that occur during vacation. To my surprise, finishing a dungeon (assuming I didn’t get stuck) wasn’t an impossible feat within those 15 minutes, and the “start from the last doorway you entered” save system was a great approximation (some might even call it a fun twist) of the “save anywhere” system that should be in every portable game. Couple that with the smart, very condensed world map, and you have a very bite-sized game, perfect for its platform, without compromising a single thing that makes it a proper Zelda game.

[[image: ar_021009_la_02.jpg:Play it again, Link.:left:0]]I’ll need to consult the other games next time I take a trip, but I don’t remember any being quite as portable-friendly as this game. Certainly Phantom Hourglass (the only other one I’ve played in recent memory) wasn’t; it felt more like the Gameboy Advance port of A Link to the Past, in that it was a full-fledged Zelda adventure and was smooshed onto the DS, only considering the platform as an after thought (kind of ironic, really, since that was Phantom Hourglass’ M.O.). I don’t necessarily mean to pan any other handheld entry; rather, I’m simply expressing how perfect the balance between “portable” and “Zelda” Nintendo’s initial attempt was. If nothing else, this really highlights the fact that Gameboy games need to be made available in an updated format, whether it be Dsiware or Virtual Console or whathaveyou. There’s a reason I still own a system to play these on.

26 thoughts on “Swan song of the Wind Fish

  1. In my curmudgeony and unpopular opinion, Link’s Awakening was the last “real” Zelda game.

    I also recall feeling let down by the Game Boy Color port — it added two extra hints to every dungeon (changing the stone tablet with a missing piece to three owls missing a beak), and that rubbed me the wrong way. Seems like there were some other changes that annoyed me but I can’t remember them all these years later.

    I admit I haven’t played the other portable Zeldas (besides a little Four Swords here and there), which is frankly a little silly because they’re much more what I look for in a Zelda than the console games at this point.

  2. I’m a huge 2D Zelda aficionado, so this is constantly vying with LTTP as my favourite. Its pick-up-and-play nature, as well as it somehow getting away with streamlining effectively everything about a Zelda game while compromising very little in the process means it’s also my most replayed.
    But then, I confess I haven’t actually ever even touched the Oracle games, so I can only compare it with Minish Cap and PH on the portable side of things.

  3. I just replayed this at the end of 2008, and I totally agree. Not only is it the perfect portable Zelda, but it’s close to my favorite game ever. The dungeons are simple but interesting, the overworld is actually full of challenges and things to do, and the story is both touching and hilarious. Plus, it has roc’s feather!

  4. Definitely try out the Oracle games, Pombar. They’re the only other portable Zeldas I really loved.

  5. This is the only Zelda game I’ve ever replayed. I think I’m on replay number nine by this point.

  6. the game boy color remix also got rid of the map glitch…but I guess that was for the better, considering it could get you stuck for good if you didn’t have proper equipment.

  7. This was the first game I owned (and paid for).
    It holds a special place in my heart.
    I didn’t even own a gameboy at the time, I was borrowing one.
    I’ve beaten it so many times in so many ways.
    Did anyone else start doing special playthroughs, like no heart pieces etc?

  8. I’m not a big fan of the Zelda series in general, but I really love this game. There’s also a big nostalgia factor for it too – it was a perfect escape on miserable family trips, and was the first ‘big’ game I ever beat without resorting to cheats/hints.

  9. Probably my favorite Zelda (at this point, I’ll just admit it to myself: the 3-D Zeldas hold no charm for me). One aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked, and that probably pushes it over the top for me, is the palpable sense of melancholy in the game: the necessity of awakening the Wind Fish and ending the dream is just ineffably sad, in a way that no other Zelda is.

  10. I personally felt that the more streamlined map really did wonders for the whole experience compared to Link to the Past, which IMO had too much “dead space” in the forms of tree clusters and whatnot. Practically every screen in LA was put to use.

  11. Agreed, Cartman. Every time I replay this game (and especially on this latest playthrough during my Chicago trip) I’m amazed at how much they packed onto every screen. Nothing is wasted.

  12. Ah, I have fond memories of this one, mainly because this was the first Zelda game I ever played. I had never played the NES games or the SNES title, but for some reason, Link’s Awakening stood out to me. Perhaps some kid at school told me to check it out. Maybe it was a magazine article. I’ve long forgotten, but I do remember that as soon as I popped that cartridge into my Gameboy, I was hooked. It took me months to finish, and I even remember consulting with friends at school to figure out some puzzles. It was also the only game I ever called the Nintendo Power Hintline for (this was before it became a $2-a-minute hotline), because I just couldn’t solve that damn pillar puzzle in the Eagle Tower.

    Link’s Awakening was my “gateway drug” into the Zelda universe, and I’ve played and enjoyed every entry in the series since.

  13. I’ll agree, incidentally, that the GBC remake of LA was pretty lame. The extra hints just felt like intelligence-insulters, the bonus dungeon wasn’t much, and the reward for beating it was just broke the game.

  14. Ha! TinyURL defeats the spam filter!

    (sorry for obsessing about this; I know nobody else cares, but for me, it’s the principle of the thing)

  15. Let’s not forget that the game was full of really catchy tunes.

    And someday I’d very much like to play that “For Frog the Bell Tolls” game that this one references.

  16. I feel that this game and Majora’s Mask are so much more significant than the other Zelda games after Link to the Past. Playing LTTP on the GBA for the first time, years after adoring OoT, really opened my eyes, and really made me appreciate Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask a lot more. So much so, that I haven’t played any of the games since MM.

    Both LA and MM explore how Link’s actions effect worlds that he doesn’t belong in. They’re also both worlds that are about to cease to exist. LA has its melancholy, whereas MM just revels in its weirdness (for example, the jarring jump cuts when you first meet the mask seller, or the extreme close-ups of characters O_O’ing while the screen tilts back and forth and everything smears across the screen).

    God, I could go on for pages on the two ‘fatalist’ Zelda games. After taking a long, hard look at them do they really explore their themes in a satisfying way? Maybe yes, maybe no, but at least they have themes.

  17. I too got stuck in the Eagle’s Tower, and I remember handing the game to my friend in frustration while I made a sandwich or something, and 5 minutes later I come back and he has beaten the darn thing! My pride got the best of me and I insisted on not saving the game so I could go back and beat it myself. Long story short? I got distracted, and 15 years later the game remains unbeaten. Woe is me.

  18. I played (and loved) the original version, but when I finally bought a Gameboy of my own, I grabbed the colour copy.

    I don’t object much to the dumbing down. What really drives me nuts is the increased frequency of the Triforce (double attack) and acorn (double defense) power-ups. In the remake I’d get the next one before the last wore off.

    Such an awesome game, though.

  19. Today I bought myself a new GBA so I can play my Final Fantasys and Golden Suns and, most importantly, trek back through Koholint Island! Then I come to Gamespite and see Link’s Awakening on the front page. The stars must be aligning…

  20. I missed Parish’s original post about O’Hare so I’ll just chime in here to say that I’m a lifelong Chicagoan who has probably been to O’Hare 50 times or so, if you include both arrivals and departures, and I’ve had remarkably good luck with it. I’ve probably just jinxed myself, of course.

    My one problem with Link’s Awakening is that annoying music that plays when you get those little acorn powerups that are everywhere. It’s such a monotonous and non-Zelda-ish tune that I found myself avoiding the things just to leave the normal music playing.

  21. I disagree with some of the other posters here- I thought it was great to play Link’s Awakening in color. Yeah, that red tunic you get when you beat the bonus dungeon does make things a little easy but it doesn’t completely ruin the game after that.

    I do think though, that the next Zelda needs to take place in a new world similar to LA and Majora’s Mask.

  22. I’m with destro on the acorn/triforce music thing, I was avoiding them too. It is an amazingly great game though, all in all.. definately a contender for any top games list of ever, regardless of platform. One thing though, it was the first game in the series to pointlessly tell you all about keys every time you found them. I thought the colour remake was fine, the extras were a bit pointless but it was nice to see it brought back in front of the public eye. Definately needs a DSiWare release.

  23. Any machine that can play a GBC game can play a GB Original game. Not that it matters; you’re not actually missing anything from playing the color version, since all the original content is intact.

    Also, I can’t post about Link’s Awakening without mentioning that Link’s Awakening is easily my most loved game of all time. (It actually shares that position with three other games, but that’s a topic for a different time.) It was the first game I played that really made me think.

  24. I definitely have a major soft spot for this game. It marks both the first game, and first game system that I actually bought with my own money (from a friend at school), and it was also a kind reprieve from a horrible situation over the course of one awful christmas vacation. It’s also the first Zelda game I ever beat. I’ve played it again many times, and I think very few games (Zelda or otherwise) come close to it’s sort of tender/sad/nostalgic atmosphere. It’s such a strange game when you think about it.

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