Long before Ocarina of Time came to pass, there was Link’s Awakening, and it was this game that firmly cemented me as a Zelda fan. I remember playing this game in the greens and grey of the original Game Boy, long before color ever came to a Nintendo handheld device, and yet the experience was utterly breathtaking. While I maintain that it was A Link to the Past is the definitive 2D Zelda experience, Link’s Awakening succeeded by transforming its legacy and succeeding at something else. Link’s Awakening succeeds by being an emotional rollercoaster that fully integrated a storyline into the franchise. Yes, that storyline may break the fourth wall with every other line of dialogue, and it may bring in a bit of quirkiness by bringing in more than a handful of enemies from the Mario franchise, but the story of Koholint in general and of Marin, Tarin, and the rest in particular eternally yank at my heartstrings.
In my experience, many fans separate Zelda games into a dichotomy of “console Zelda titles” and “portable Zelda titles.” Other times, that dichotomy is “flagship titles” and “sidecar titles,” the latter usually being sequels to existing games. While Link’s Awakening technically falls into the latter category in both dichotomies, I’d say that Link’s Awakening defies that false dichotomy by being the best of both worlds. The game is extremely experimental, not willing to simply abide by the “Zelda Formula” but instead plays with all of the mechanics in a way that A Link to the Past did not. It brings in the side-scrolling experience of The Adventure of Link in microcosm form as well as dungeon design that’s more playful and dastardly. Yet it still borrows from what A Link to the Past did well: that sense of adventure, that moment-to-moment fighting that feels so good.
It’s a game that deserves to be a flagship title. It’s a game that would have soared to success on the SNES.
So allow me to take you on an adventure. It may not be as epic as A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, or those more memorable titles. It may be a little quirky and a little bit eccentric at times. And, yes, you may tilt your head at an angle when we get to the part about a village of talking animals, in-jokes referring to the game SimCity, or that part when you discover that you’re revisiting the strange ending of Super Mario Bros. 2. It’s okay; I did too once. But it’s still an adventure. It still evokes that core essence of Zelda. It will still bring you joy and palpitations. And I hope it will pull your heartstrings too.
David Johnson, a.k.a. “The Missing Link”