History of Zelda: Part 04 – Link’s Awakening

The History of Zelda – Part 4

The Legend of Zelda. Indeed, this name is as recognisable in Video Game fame as Mario, and even Final Fantasy. Close to thirty years ago, Nintendo hired a man who would, of all things, design concepts for toys. Little did anybody know that this man would write history, influence hundreds of games, oversee the development of even more and define an entirely new genre. Shigeru Miyamoto devised the first iteration of The Legend of Zelda in the mid 1980s, and since then, The Legend of Zelda has become one of Nintendo’s very best properties.

This series of articles will look at each Zelda title in chronological order of release, describe the groundbreaking achievements and show the essence of the Action Adventure RPG.

Chapter IV – Link’s Awakening/DX (GB/C)

The Game Boy was a Nintendo Entertainment System that supported stereo sound but was lacking in colour. By 1993, some 32 million systems had been sold. The success was largely the result of Nintendo’s pack in Tetris and later Super Mario Land. Nintendo, however, had other plans for the system. One of those plans was to traverse a magnificent land of might and splendour, all in the palm of your hand, because now, you were ‘Playing with Portable Power!’.

That magnificent land blossomed into Koholint Island, in the great ocean. Featuring a rugged mountain range, torrential rivers, gloomy forests and vast open wastelands, a new world of exploration was brought into existence. The only way home for our hero, Link, after washing up on shore, was to awaken the Wind Fish. After awakening in a bed to an onlooking young girl named Marin, who strikingly resembled the absent Princess Zelda, Link was on his way.

Link’s Awakening steered away from the traditional storyline of The Legend of Zelda, presenting a newly developed plot, refreshing the adventure for the handheld. This combination of similar cast members in a different land while still utilising the same name represented The Legend of Zelda as not just some adventure to be had in one land. Rather, The Legend of Zelda was its own style of game that prospered with each new rendition, and which can be enjoyed in any land, anywhere.

After Link’s awakening, he learned that the islanders knew little of lands across the ocean. He also learned that the Wind Fish, a mythical ‘god’, had been reduced to a deep slumber caused by ‘nightmares’. If Link was to have his questions answered by the Wind Fish, he was to defeat the nightmarish shadows of each dungeon, collect the eight instruments of the Sirens and summon the Wind Fish.

Link’s inventory had a varied set of new, old and unique objects and weapons for use along the way. New items included Roc’s Feather, allowing Link to jump. Pegasus Boots, to increase his jumping distance. Bombs and arrows, although neither being new items, could be made into a unique combination exclusive to the title that required the bombs and bow to be equipped in order to be used, producing ‘bomb arrows’. Making returns were the Power Bracelet, ocarina, shovel, hookshot and fire rod. The magic system was removed, perhaps for game constraints, but with the fire rod and magic powder as the only two magical instruments, magic was not a big factor of this game. With the array of items available, Link was more than well prepared to tackle the dungeons head on.

Unfortunately, entering these dungeons wasn’t as simple as opening a door knob, you had to find the keys to the dungeons. Keys were hidden in forests, lakes, underground, in caves as well as on mountains. This was a brand new experience, where part of the quest was about solving how to actually get into the dungeons. This was an expanded strategy that was introduced in A Link to the Past, and makes for some of the most enjoyable and challenging experiences on the smallest of screens. It was up to you to use both Link’s items and your own knowledge to the best of your ability to gain access to dungeons, before even beginning to contemplate the mysteries within.

The musical score was a return to the blips and beeps of the NES, which is understandable for the Game Boy. Nonetheless, Nintendo was able to utilise the limited capabilities of the Game Boy and bring the legendary score to the handheld, as well as the audible scripts for each of the eight instruments. Combined with stereo sound, the end result is the greatest monotonous orchestration you will ever here – including your Nokia mobiles.

Link’s Awakening brought forth a new element of game play, the trading sequence. It all began with a Yoshi doll and ended up with a Magnifying Glass. Around the island were monkeys trafficking bananas, female chain chomps longing for accessories and mermaids detaching scales. This was a treasure hunt that took Link to the deepest of caves in search of the item necessary to complete his quest. The trading sequence was about adventure, and so is The Legend of Zelda, which is why the two go so well hand in hand, and why trading sequences are still a part of the series today.

Of course, there is no adventure without the challenges and obstructions along the way. Link’s Awakening delivered with the onslaught of Like-Likes, Keese, Moblins, Zoras, Octoroks and Ghinis. There were plenty of enemies fit for target practice and skill building. This title proved that an adventure to save the world was capable on a handheld, and that it could be enjoyed all at the same time. Nintendo believed that even five years later, the same adventure still had a lot to offer with the 1998 re-release Link’s Awakening DX, a beautifully coloured version which included a new dungeon, only accessible on Game Boy Color, as well as a new photo shop. Along Link’s way, the owner would sneak around snapping shots of our hero on his quest. Later, speaking to the owner would allow Link to print happy snaps using the Game Boy Printer. A neat little addition that compliments the adventure mechanics of The Legend of Zelda.

If the main adventure ever became overpowering or you just wanted to chill, there was a fishing game, claw game and the tourists dream… white water rafting!! A little bored with the overture? Pull out your ocarina and play a melody. Perhaps an afternoon walk? Whether it was just a little exploring or turning a Buzz Blob into a Cukeman with a little magic powder, that decision was yours. Once again, the freedom that The Legend of Zelda offers is present. Like the SNES iteration, you can even beat a chicken senseless without it’s friends commencing swooping in the hundreds.

Link’s Awakening brought the series to the Game Boy in an adventure that would take hours to complete, countless pairs of batteries, and many memorable moments of death due to a poor angle of lighting. There was as much enjoyment contained in this game as there was in any console outing. The dungeons were there, the weapons too. Enemies lurked around every corner and, in the DX version, you could even change the colour of your tunic. Link’s Awakening represented all the elements within the series while, at the same time, adding its own set of elements including the trading sequence. The perfect trail blazing introduction of The Legend of Zelda to the Game Boy.