RETRO REVIEW: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

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Link's Awakening DX | oprainfall
Title The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX
Developer Nintendo
Publisher Nintendo
Release Date December 15, 1998
Genre Action-Adventure
Platform Game Boy Color
Age Rating ESRB – Everyone
Pegi – 7

I have a confession to make. I have hardly played the handheld Legend of Zelda games. Most of my time spent with the Zelda series was on the home consoles. Games such as Ocarina of Time, A Link to the Past, Twilight Princess and the original two NES Zeldas compose 90% of my experiences with the franchise. The only handheld Zelda game I put some time into was The Minish Cap back when it was new, and I, unfortunately, was never motivated to beat it, despite getting halfway through the game. To make up for my sins, I recently played the remastered version of Link’s first portable adventure, Link’s Awakening DX. Does this game remain a wonderful dream or is it a nightmare?

Link's Awakening DX I Main Cast

The Main Cast of Link’s Awakening

Link’s Awakening starts during a dark and stormy night out in the seas. Link is braving the vast, rough waters on his ship through the storm. Unfortunately, disaster strikes, and Link is sent elsewhere by the storm, starting the adventure. Link’s Awakening takes place not in Hyrule, but Koholint Island. This also marks the first time Zelda does not appear in a Legend of Zelda game. Zelda is only mentioned by name once at the beginning. She becomes an afterthought for the rest of the game. This mysterious island cradles an egg at the top of the mountain. Koholint may be small, but the environment is diverse. Link wakes up inside the home of Marin and Tarin. Marin is the young woman who discovered Link lying unconscious on the beach. They give him his shield back and instruct him to go to the beach to discover any remaining equipment. Link finds his sword lying in the sand. Soon, an owl appears, informing Link he needs to find the eight instruments of the sirens and awaken the Wind Fish if he wishes to get off Koholint Island. The owl is the player’s guide to where they need to go next, but it is up to the player to find the path to the next area. There are also telephone booths if players ever get lost, giving hints about the next objective.

Link's Awakening DX | Marin Encounters Link

Marin finds Link and seeks aid for him.

The game plays similarly to the first Legend of Zelda. The camera is fixed from a top-down view. Link is able to equip two items at a time to the A and B buttons. Unfortunately, players will be spending lots of time on the menu screen changing their equipment. This can be quite tedious at times and breaks the pace. A chunk of my playing time was spent switching my equipment around to get past various obstacles. The game looks gorgeous for the Game Boy. The environments are distinctly marked. The swamp looks like a swamp, the forest is dark with big trees and logs, the prairie is covered with grass and the desert has quick-moving sand. The island and inhabitants have more detail than the first Legend of Zelda.

The main quest is to collect the eight instruments of sirens scattered throughout eight dungeons. It is not as simple as finding the dungeon and entering it to collect the treasure and defeat the boss. To get into the dungeons, Link needs to find a key or have the proper item to access the entrance. However, the dungeons in the game are some of the easiest dungeons in the entire series. There are plenty of puzzles, but nothing gets too challenging until Eagle’s Tower and Turtle Rock later on. Each dungeon contains a couple of side-scrolling sections. These are found when Link goes down a set of stairs.

Link's Awakening DX | Link is Equipped

Link is ready to take on the Nightmares!

Additionally, the bosses do not put up much a fight and have simple patterns. Koholint Island is filled with cameos from the Mario series, and Richard from the Japan-only Game Boy game For The Frog The Bell Tolls makes a guest appearance. Link’s Awakening has a small number of items. Several of them are handy and necessary to access and explore the island. Link’s sword and shield effectively blocks enemies and slashes them into pieces. Roc’s Feather and Pegasus Boots are essential to break certain obstacles and jump over small pits. The Power Bracelet lets Link lift heavy objects. The Bow is easily the most expensive item in the game. At 980 rupees, every single rupee will need to be saved unless you want to be a thief and steal it from the shopkeeper. While stealing the bow saves Link money, it comes with consequences. Link’s name will permanently be changed to “Thief” for the rest of the game to remind players of their amoral actions. If Link returns to the shop, the shop master will instantly kill you with his most powerful blast of lightning. That’s right. The nightmare bosses are not the most powerful beings in Koholint Island, it’s the shopkeeper! Unless you don’t mind being called a thief and do not plan on ever returning to the shop, it’s best to buy the bow the right way.

In traditional Zelda game design, Link’s Awakening has some side quests. The one mandatory side quest is the item trading quest. Throughout Link’s Awakening Link will receive items from one NPC to trade to another NPC. For example, Link must exchange the Yoshi Doll from the crane game for a ribbon. The ribbon is traded for another item. The Quest continues on until the Magnifying Lens is obtained. Without the Magnifying Lens, it is going to be nearly impossible to reach the final boss. The Lens is the only item to allow Link to access a certain area so he can collect the Boomerang. The Boomerang is easily the most powerful weapon in the game. It destroys most enemies in one hit and picks up items. In Zelda tradition, there are also heart pieces to collect across Koholint Island. Link’s Awakening only has 12 heart pieces to collect, the smallest number of any game in the series. As an incentive to explore the entire island, there is the secret seashell side quest. There are 26 secret seashells scattered throughout the island. Finding 20 secret seashells and taking them to the seashell mansion will grant link the Level 2 Sword.

The adventure continues on Page 2 –>


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  • Tara

    I’m a little confused why “bringing up the menu to switch items” is such an issue, if you played Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time on consoles. They also required you to bring up the menu to switch items. In fact, haven’t played a single Zelda game you don’t have to do that in aside from Four Swords, because Link only has one secondary weapon at a time.

    Anyway, Link’s Awakening was my first Zelda game, and I don’t mean the DX version, I mean the one on the original GB. It’s definitely different than the two NES titles, and I feel it’s actually a little better than Link to the Past so far as the little details go, because let’s be honest, it’s fantastic that Link’s Awakening actually has different dungeon music for each main dungeon, rather than Link to the Past’s “we’re just gonna use the same music in every dungeon” thing. (Which was a shame, considering how great a game it is, they could’ve done so much more with it.) Also, Link’s Awakening is the first time where they really seem to go and flesh out everything. The characters at least have significantly more dimension than in any previous Zelda games, including LttP. Obviously it’s outdone by Ocarina, but still feels more “alive” than one could have expected from a handheld game at the time.

    • JDobbs

      Thanks for commenting. The main problem was I had to pull up the menu screen too often to set the right combination of items to get past certain situations and obstacles only to go back and reset my original item combination. It was especially a problem when I had to remove the sword to set the Pegasus Boots and Roc Feather to jump over a series of pits and then reequip the sword once I got past the pits. I did not have to pull the menu screen as often in A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time.

    • Tara

      Fair enough. And of course, I wasn’t taking into account that the shield also occupies one of the face buttons, due to the lack of shoulder buttons, so that is of course a bit of an additional bother. And… I’m probably biased since it was my first Zelda game, and therefore I got used to that with my first time playing through, the ones after having so many available items at once was kind of a luxury to me at that point.

  • Taiyaki

    To be honest most of the complaints I see come from the hardware limitations. The truth is Nintendo made the absolute best Zelda game they could with what they had. In that respect this is arguably one of the best titles in the franchise along with Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. Every other Zelda game since those has brought a certain level of controversy except the Oracle titles and Twilight Princess.