Author’s Note: You can find the video version here.
I’ve a feeling we’re not in Hyrule anymore.
When Link’s Awakening was first announced back in February, I was not prepared for the fan reaction to it. I was both impressed and intrigued by the game’s reveal but most people were going crazy over it. I was surprised because I had never heard of the original game before (I’m a terrible person, I know). Thus, I decided to rectify that and bought Link’s Awakening DX, itself a remake of sorts of the original game, on my 2DS XL. Now it’s time for a confession; I quit playing the game after completing the first two dungeons. I quit playing for various reasons (which I’ll discuss a little bit down below) but, having now finished Link’s Awakening on the Switch, I realize that quitting was a big mistake. I now fully understand why fans were so excited about the remake’s announcement.
First things first, let’s make one thing abundantly clear; all you people who hated on the art style when it was first announced were all wrong. You were wrong then and you are wrong now. You are wrong on such a level that it is almost unimaginable. The art style is and always shall be absolutely adorable. The art style fits Link’s Awakening perfectly. Everything has a plastic-y, doll-like look to it; the environments, monsters, and characters are all wonderfully realized in-game and I doubt that the developer Grezzo could have used a better style for the game.
It certainly helps that this wonderful art style is backed up by a soundtrack that is just as good. I couldn’t help but marvel at how the soundtrack was improved and updated for this remake. Even the sound effects were great. It never got old hearing that familiar jingle whenever I solved a puzzle or picked up an item.
As for the characters, Link’s Awakening has an interesting bunch of them. Each character that Link (or, in my case, Johnny) meets along the way oozes charm and each one is almost always quirkier than the last one Link met. You’ve got an owl who flies in every once in a while to give directions; a guy who’s too shy to talk to people face-to-face but will gladly do so on the telephone; kids who break the fourth wall by giving instructions on how to play the game; and an entire village filled with animals just to name a few. Even the monsters (especially the bosses) are brimming with personality. It was always a treat when I saw someone to talk to because I never knew what to expect. Every character brings the game to life in their own special way and I love them all for it.
The characters are made even more special by the fact that they are all unique to Link’s Awakening. Link doesn’t come across or interact with the usual suspects who normally populate a Zelda game. This is because Link isn’t in Hyrule this time around. Although Link won’t encounter characters from the Zelda universe, he will run into a few, how should I put this, recognizable representations of popular Nintendo characters and you will even encounter familiar enemies. I won’t spoil all the cameos but I will reveal one since it was so funny. Keep an eye out for when a certain Princess makes an appearance since it is quite humorous (I thought so at least).
As for why Link isn’t in Hyrule, well, you see, his boat was struck by lightning while he was travelling on the high seas. When Link awakens, he finds himself on the mysterious Koholint Island. He is told by the aforementioned owl that the only way to escape the island is to find the Eight Instruments of the Sirens. He must use them to wake the Wind Fish who is slumbering in an egg atop a mountain (yep, this is a Nintendo game alright). I was surprised by how melancholic the story was (especially towards the end). I wasn’t prepared for that since I had never finished the original game and thus I had no idea what to expect from it. I don’t have anything else to say about the story except that I thought it was simple, yet fantastically done and that it fit the game perfectly.
As I said above, our boy Link must find eight instruments in order to wake the fabled Wind Fish. He can’t, however, just go searching for them willy-nilly because many seemingly insurmountable obstacles are blocking his path. How do you get around these obstacles, you ask? Well, you do so in the most Zelda-like fashion possible; you must find a variety of items which, once acquired, will open up new areas to explore. Unlike with the characters, many familiar items make an appearance; Link’s sword and shield, bombs, a bow and arrows, a hookshot, etc. are all in the game.
I will say that the item management has been greatly improved in this version of the game. In the Game Boy games, Link could only have two items equipped at a time. In this iteration, the sword and shield (and a few other items that I won’t mention here) are mapped to their own buttons. This means Link can engage in combat while having two additional items equipped at the same time. This simple design change made the game way more enjoyable since I didn’t have to constantly open up the menu to change items. Don’t misunderstand me here, despite the improvements, you will still spend a lot of time opening the menu and switching out items. You will just open the menu less frequently in the remake when compared with both the original and the DX version of Link’s Awakening. Friendly reminder; always remember to have the correct item equipped. Otherwise, you will have a bad time.
Not only do these items help Link get around the map but they are also very useful in dungeons. There are eight main dungeons spread all across Koholint Island. All of the instruments and most of the items are found within them. These dungeons are multi-room and sometimes multi-level affairs that are full of challenges to overcome. They even contain side-scrolling sections! The challenges (or puzzles if you will) range from clearing a room full of enemies to moving a block to the appropriate spot. The dungeons do get more challenging and elaborate as the game goes along. Each dungeon is meticulously designed and they are my favorite part of Link’s Awakening which is saying a lot since I really love the art style and the characters. There is a bonus optional dungeon but I was kind of disappointed by it to be honest. That’s all I will say about it. You will have to discover it on your own.
As I said, each dungeon is sprawling and all of them are quite daunting at first. There were times when I was unsure about what I was supposed to do in order to get through to the end. The trick is to simply keep moving forward. Trial and error will be your greatest ally here. You just never know what will work until you try. Just don’t be like me and miss a bombable wall and then wander aimlessly around in a dungeon for an hour and a half desperately searching for the solution. All the while getting angrier and angrier and then finally noticing where I had gone wrong. Ok sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, the dungeons.
This trial and error philosophy applies to the bosses as well. The boss fights were creative and quite fun in my opinion but they weren’t that difficult (though you can bump the difficulty up to Hero mode if you want a greater challenge). The most difficult boss fights were the first couple bosses since Link didn’t have many hearts. Side note; pieces of heart and heart containers are indeed in this game unlike many other familiar Zelda elements. I actually thought that the mini-bosses were more difficult than the actual bosses. I don’t know if it was the updated controls or the new graphical style (which made it easier to see what was going on) but I found the boss fights to be way easier in this remake than in the Game Boy Color version. Regardless of the reason, if you are ever dumbfounded by a particular boss or dungeon, just remember that the last item you found is usually the way to overcome it.
The real difficulty in Link’s Awakening comes from trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing or where you need to go between dungeons. Although the game gives a hint about where to go after acquiring an instrument, there is no handholding beyond that. There is no yellow marker that appears on the map illuminating your next objective. This is both a blessing and a curse since I don’t like being told exactly what to do but I also don’t like wandering around aimlessly for hours on end. This is the exact reason why I quit playing Link’s Awakening DX. I won’t say at what point I decided to call it quits but I will give two pieces of advice for those people who are considering playing the game;
- There is a trading quest that must be completed fairly early on in the adventure in order to get a specific item.
- Always remember to read the books in your local library.
In case those two hints aren’t enough (and trust me, they won’t be), there is an old man named Ulrira (mentioned above) whom you can call at the various phone booths scattered around the map. He will give you hints about what to do next but he is sometimes just as cryptic as the hints the game provides after you receive an instrument. One instance involving a rooster and a particular item springs to mind. Even with Ulrira’s hints, if I hadn’t found one of those things by myself first, I never would have put the two together. I firmly believe that no one has ever been able to figure that part out without Ulrira’s help. And that’s how it is with many things in Link’s Awakening. You must be able to explore the map and think about how something may be useful further on down the line. It’s an old-school game with old-school sensibilities that is difficult to decipher at times. The trick, just like with the dungeons, is to keep moving forward.
Having said all of that, however, I have to say that everything clicked for me this time around if that makes any sense. I didn’t feel any of the frustration playing this version of the game like I did when playing on my 2DS. I honestly couldn’t put the game down when I started playing it. It was all I could think about when I was at work or even in line at the grocery store. I was engrossed with it during my entire playthrough. I think it was a combination of me finally understanding how the game was played (getting new items, opening up new areas, exploring the map, etc.) and accepting the fact that I would have to call Ulrira from time to time. Whatever the reason, I loved my time with Link’s Awakening and I’m glad I was finally able to finish it.
Before we wrap things up here, I do want to say that I lied before when I said that Link doesn’t run into any familiar faces while on Koholint Island. Dampé, from Ocarina of Time, has been added to the remake. His purpose? He gives you the ability to make what are called Chamber Dungeons. Chamber Dungeons are dungeons that you can arrange and create using rooms you’ve cleared while playing through the main game. After arranging a Chamber Dungeon, you can then run through it with a timer that tracks your time. I must be honest and say that this wasn’t really my thing and I don’t think it added anything to the game. It didn’t detract from the experience but it certainly didn’t add anything either. I didn’t find it to be very fun since I was the one who designed the dungeons thus I already knew the layout of them. Slowly figuring out a dungeon piece by piece and room by room was what made the dungeons enjoyable in the first place. Knowing the design of a dungeon before playing it really defeats the purpose in my opinion.
Before I end this review, I do have to mention the fact that the game does have a few technical problems. Mainly, framerate drops occur quite frequently. Since I’m a lowly console peasant, I am quite used to frames dropping whenever they feel like it. As such, this problem didn’t really bother me that much but I could see it being an issue for many players, however (especially the PC-playing crowd). Just be aware of this problem should you choose to play the game.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a wonderfully odd and delightful game. Its old-school design sensibilities may lead to some frustration but its adorable art style, quirky characters, and sprawling yet manageable dungeons more than make up for it. Although the newest addition in this remake, the Chamber Dungeons, didn’t really add much to the game, it didn’t detract from the experience either. I like Link’s Awakening on Switch not only because I really enjoyed my time with it but because it has given me a newfound appreciation for the older games. In fact, I’m thinking about going back and trying Link’s Awakening DX again. With this new version of the game, I now understand why so many people love Link’s Awakening. I’m glad that I can now finally count myself among them.
Final Score: 9/10
- Adorable art style
- Quirky Characters
- Simple, yet interesting story
- Meticulously designed dungeons
- Unclear what to do sometimes
- Chamber Dungeons are just ok
Thanks for reading! Have you all been enjoying the Link’s Awakening remake? Has anyone been disappointed by it? Let me know!