Video games have evolved considerably from the pinball machines, space wars, and Pong-inspired goodness they used to be. One established franchise after the next seems to be celebrating their twentieth or twenty-fifth anniversaries. Every celebration brings about nostalgia, and with that comes various expositions on how things were / how they’re better now.
Personally, I prefer something simple over something complex, because the more there is to control (such as what you name your characters in an RPG), or the more there is to exploit (such as wandering the coast of Cinnabar Island in Pokémon Red & Blue Version or other infamous glitches from the past)—the more a single game, despite how well-known it is, can become your game, your journey.
From this idea, we’d like to introduce “Operation Rainfall Origins”—several personal accounts from multiple writers about the games that changed our lives. Everyone here has the one title they hold closest to their heart, the one they consider to be their “gateway game”. Whichever game immediately comes to mind for you, I hope you share it with us. We’re all extremely interested in hearing about the games that inspired you and why.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is certainly not as widely hailed as Ocarina of Time or its console-based predecessor A Link to the Past, but it was the game that started it all for me: the one that made me fall in love with the Zelda franchise, the one that inspired me to conquer my nightmares, and ultimately the game that led me to Operation Rainfall, a community that shared similar interests and inspirations.
My Humble Beginnings
Reflecting upon my first moments with Link’s Awakening takes me back to a time where I was just beginning to understand how complex games could be. I’d played all of Mario’s NES outings at this point, but I was too inept at platforming to get to the later levels where I truly had to think in those games. I even tried my hand at the original Legend of Zelda for NES, but the game was too difficult for me to conquer at a younger age (I couldn’t have been more than three or four when my parents graced me with my NES). Link’s Awakening came around a few years later, when I was six or seven. I had enough reading comprehension to understand where I was and what I was doing there, but realizing where to go was another matter entirely.
We’re talking about a time where I would toil endlessly in front of the spiked enemy that blocks you from accessing your sword at the very beginning of the game. When I finally figured out I had to hold the shield button in other to push the thing forward and grab my weapon, I cheered. This was truly my beginning as a gamer, and it was that small moment that made me realize that this game would be a learning experience like no other for me.
And boy, did I ever struggle. I could fill volumes with how the simplest of the game’s puzzles caused me so much grief some nineteen years ago. But that’s the thing about a game like this, and why I love the Zelda franchise so much: Anyone experiencing a Zelda game for the first time will freak out at puzzles veteran fans can do in their sleep. One’s first journey as Link (or whatever you chose to name him) is truly a story of learning as you go.
Link’s Awakening did quite a bit to meddle with the conventional Zelda formula. For example, there are quite a bit of side-scrolling segments in the game where Link can use the items found in dungeons that allow him to jump, run, and swim to conquer puzzles and foes… from and inspired by Super Mario Bros. One of my favorite parts about the game is how absolutely chocked full of cameos it is. Very few games in any of Nintendo’s franchises have been as ambitious as this one was at the time. It did a lot to make me feel comfortable with the game I was playing, seeing friends and foes I was used to (while encountering new threats, of course). But it also kind of saddens me, as I know there will never be another world within Zelda lore quite like Koholint Island.
My journey shall continue on Page Two, with a look at what inspired me the most about the game.
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