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The Greatest Zelda: Why Link's Awakening Desperately Deserves a Remake

On 09/07/2014 at 12:48 PM by Pacario

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(Quick warning! For those who have yet to play this sublime adventure, there are many spoilers ahead. You have been warned!)

A while back, I wrote about The Legend of Zelda series and discussed the games I thought were the most essential.  Objectively, I stuck to the popular view that A Link to the Past and The Ocarina of Time were the best places to start. But on a more subjective level, I think there’s no greater gem than Link’s Awakening, a Game Boy title now over twenty years old.

I recently replayed this classic (the GB Color version, technically) on my 3DS, gaining two powerful insights as a result. First, the game remains as fun and captivating as any modern 2-D Zelda title. And second, its existentialist story still fascinates in a manner unique to the series—despite the flat 1993 localization.

This second point is what got me thinking. Link’s Awakening was conceived during a time when Nintendo of America’s localization department was still maturing, and when most titles were more premise than plot. “Stopping the bad guy” or “saving the girl” were about as deep as games got in those days. In fact, Awakening contains what is possibly the most complex storyline NOA had yet encountered—a plot that explored themes of love and regret, the nature of reality, and even facets of utilitarian philosophy. NOA, of course, had to somehow retain these ideas in its localization while still producing an adventure that was not too heavy-handed. The end result favored the whimsical side of the equation, providing players with a quirky, imaginative tale still framed by an aura of mystery. Ultimately, it was a fine adventure, and yet…it could have been so much more.

For those not familiar with Awakening’s story, here’s a quick recap: Link washes up unconscious on a mysterious island after his ship is destroyed in a terrible storm. He’s rescued by the exquisite Marin, a cheerful, dreamy-eyed girl who bears a striking resemblance to Zelda. After she nurses him back to health, Link sets out to explore his new surroundings. He soon meets a mysterious old owl who tells him about the “Wind Fish,” a mystical creature slumbering inside a giant egg seated high in the mountains. To leave the island, Link learns, he will have to awaken this creature by attaining The Eight Instruments of the Sirens—musical instruments hidden deep within the land’s treacherous dungeons. But completing this task might come at a terrible price; should the Wind Fish awaken, the entire island, including the lovely Marin, could simply cease to be.

Link's Awakening

Marin and Link's relationship is one of the deepest ever explored in a Zelda game. And yet, it could have been so much more.

Even by modern standards, the plot is fairly complex and raises some difficult questions. What is Link’s true purpose on the island? Should he trust this “owl” and blindly follow what the animal says? Will the island really disappear if the Wind Fish awakens? If so, is that really the outcome Link wants? Does Link have the right to enact such a directive to begin with? Are these islanders mere illusions, or might they actually be alive in some sense? What does that make Marin? Is Link himself real? What would happen if he simply left the Wind Fish to its slumber and remained on the island?

Sadly, these intriguing dilemmas receive little more than a cursory glance throughout the story, relegating much of the soul-searching and moral wrangling to the player’s own imagination. Indeed, even the game’s final scene seems to betray the very pathos it fostered earlier—having just watched the island fade out of existence, Link is shown stranded back at sea, smiling in wonder as the Wind Fish soars away overhead. But would the hero really be so jolly in light of having just snuffed out an entire civilization? Wouldn’t he be mourning the loss of all those colorful individuals he let fade away, especially his sweet Marin? And even if it was all just a dream, wouldn’t Link still feel some sense of sadness or regret? Doubt or conflict? Unfortunately, the ending leaves these stark ramifications unexplored, forcing a happy conclusion over what should be, at least, a bittersweet one.

This finale—expressed solely through the power of imagery and sound—at least suggests NOA isn’t fully to blame for perhaps subduing the game’s more poignant themes via a diluted translation. But it begs the question: Why did Nintendo, on both sides of the Pacific, sidestep the game’s finer ambiguities and meanings? The answer may be as simple as Nintendo deeming “kids” unable to understand or appreciate the more potent qualities of the tale. Nevertheless, this missed opportunity for literary excellence seems downright sinful by today’s standards.

But here’s the fix to set things right—Nintendo, why not take your excellent engine from A Link Between Worlds and remake Link’s Awakening into the modern masterpiece it deserves to be, with a greater emphasis on character development and consequence? Instead of just showing Link and Marin hanging out in a couple of fleeting scenes, make her an indelible, unforgettable part of the story. Make her our girlfriend. Make us squirm and sweat each time we acquire another instrument and thus come closer to perhaps banishing her away forever. Make us second guess ourselves. Tempt us to give up. Convince us to search for another way. To run away. To side with the villain. To curse and distrust that damned owl. And then, as the finale unfolds, show us the consequences of our actions.

Will we smile, relieved we chose right?

Or shudder, realizing we chose wrong?

Or will we simply purse our lips and hope to God (or the Goddesses) we did all that could be expected?


Thanks to for the image.



Super Step Contributing Writer

09/07/2014 at 01:02 PM

I should really p;ay this one. If I find a used copy, maybe I can use my GameBoy's GameBoy Player. It works for Game Boy Color titles, so I imagine it might work for this. Or maybe 

Read your blog so that I could understand what you were talking about with the game's story but avoid spoilers. I'm intrigued.


09/07/2014 at 01:09 PM

That would be a fine way to play; loose copies of the game aren't too expensive, and it generally looks good on the Player. You can also download the game for five or six bucks on the 3DS e-shop.

If you don't mind black and white, you can always go for the original Game Boy game as well. It's basically the same, but the hidden ending is different and perhaps suggests a different meaning.

Super Step Contributing Writer

09/07/2014 at 01:37 PM

Sadly, I don't have my original Game Boy with me, if it was mine to begin with. It may have been a hand-me-down from my older brother. I can't find my original copy of Pokemon Blue either. And I don't own a 3DS. So I'm thinking the Game Boy Player is the way to go for me. Speaking of which, Pokemon Pinball is in the thing now and I wouldn't mind playing some Solar Striker on the big screen if I could get it from my parents' on my next visit to them. Although that may have been my brother's as well.


09/07/2014 at 01:41 PM

Ha, yeah, Pokemon Pinball was a good take on the past time. It lacks the charm of Mario Pinball Land, but plays better if I remember correctly.


09/07/2014 at 02:13 PM

I want a complete HD remake of Zelda & Link in a pacage deal now that would be awesome now I never really got into the 3d zelda games but the top down veiw of Zelda and the side scroller Link and the only other Zelda game besides links awakening I played was Wind Waker any of these would be really cool but a remake of Links Awakening would be really awesome. 


09/07/2014 at 02:20 PM

Yeah, I'm for remaking any older Zelda title, but not before Link's Awakening! Ha ha.

Joaquim Mira Media Manager

09/07/2014 at 03:57 PM

If anything they could do with Link's Awakening what they did with A Link to the Past, as in make a sequel in the same land. Link would have to find (one way or another) that damn whale I suppose.


09/07/2014 at 05:32 PM

That's an interesting idea. Hmm...

Matt R Staff Alumnus

09/07/2014 at 04:32 PM

Link's Awakening doesn't work without the blocky characters and chiptunes (though I really like the manual artwork).

"Sadly, these intriguing dilemmas receive little more than a cursory glance throughout the story, relegating much of the soul-searching and moral wrangling to the player’s own imagination"

It's way better the way it is. I wouldn't want a story pointing all these things out and telling me what to feel, and one could say the mystery of this game is what gives its longevity.


09/07/2014 at 05:49 PM

To each his own, I guess, although I think such a revision--done right--would make for one of the greatest gaming narratives of all time, and prove the potential of the medium for storytelling. It would be the player making the decisions and determining how he/she feels, after all. Nintendo would just be planting the seeds,

Ah well. At the very least, the original's writing could stand imrovement. It's a bit wooden by modern standards.


09/07/2014 at 05:51 PM

If it was remade, I'd play it.  As is..., on the list of games I'll get to one day. 


09/07/2014 at 06:16 PM

Even in its current form, I heartily recommend it. I hope you get to it someday!


09/07/2014 at 06:37 PM

Like you, I have it on my 3DS.  I look at it and don't have the desire to start it right now.  Many people say it's a good game.  


09/07/2014 at 06:40 PM

Yeah, don't start it until you're ready. It's best played without too many competing distractions.

Cary Woodham

09/07/2014 at 06:47 PM

Link's Awakening is my all-time favorite Zelda game.  I'd love to see a remake.  I wouldn't change the story too much or extend it too much or anything though.  I did think the same thing as you when I played Link Between Worlds, that Link's Awakening would look great in this style.

I loved the original's island setting.  It set a certain mood.  Also, rudiementary as it was, I also liked some of the text.  It was almost poetic.  "Earth, Wind, Sea, Sky, All on the lid of a dreamer's eye."  Some of the crytic text even explains what happens to the island when you wake up: "Somday thou may recall this island in the waking world.  That memory must be the dream world."  That and the secret ending you can get in the GBC version explains things a bit, I think. 

But yeah I love that game.  All the great things about Link to the Past in a more compact form.  Great for replaying, too.  Not too short and not too long.


09/07/2014 at 09:10 PM

Glad you commented! And I agree that some of the cryptic riddles spread about the world are effective enough. My main issue is with the dialogue, which is serviceable but still pretty rudimentary, even stilted at times. Many of the characters could also be developed more, too. But ultimately, the game could simply do a better job at impressing upon the player the "crisis" Link is facing in regards to whether that Wind Fish should really be awakened.

Nevertheless, Awakening is my favorite title in the series, and Marin is my favorite "Zelda." I'll live if it's never remade, but in the hands of a master, I think the game could achieve true timelessness.

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