While it should be obvious, this one’s got some major spoilers for Link’s Awakening. You’ve been warned! Link’s Awakening was the first handheld Zelda game, and it brought a number of things to the series that even Ocarina of Time copied, and not least among them are characters. Major characters Marin, Tarin, and the Owl, were re-purposed and paid tribute to in Ocarina of Time through Malon, Talon, and Kaepora Gaebora. In a number of ways it’s a rather important game in the series — as Hanyou has discussed numerous times, it was basically the first Zelda game with serious character development or an emotionally involving story — but it never seems to be talked about as much as it should. However, if there’s any part of it that people talk about much, it’s definitely the game’s “secret”.
Seriously though, how else can you describe it? The midway revelation completely redefines the game. Halfway through the game you visit the Southern Face Shrine where the truth of Koholint Island is revealed: It is nothing more than a dream of the Wind Fish. Like… wow. Every bit of character development takes a different turn at this point. Suddenly Marin is a tragic character, and the dialogue shifts to accommodate this fact. The Nightmare bosses had hinted at this truth for a while but, with it revealed, they now taunt you further with the knowledge that if you win you will destroy everything on the island. It’s a drastic shift in tone and in my opinion one of the most brilliant moments of the series.
While Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess are darker games overall, I’m not sure there are any games in the series that are darker conceptually. While the apocalypse in Majora’s Mask is much larger in scale than the localized apocalypse brought to Koholint Island, at least Link wasn’t the one to bring it on just to save himself and defeat the villain! It’s the most gripping premise of the series.
Is there any other Zelda game where Link’s own actions are morally gray? Oh, to be sure, there are plenty of cases in the Zelda series where the heroes make the situation worse — Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess are good examples — but in both cases these are mistakes, lapses in judgment or planning that are almost immediately afterward said to be exactly that. In Link’s Awakening the consequences of your actions are apparent before you even do the deed of waking the Wind Fish, and you do it anyway. Certainly it’s probably true that this was the right course of action, as the island’s inhabitants really were just dreams and the Wind Fish was in danger from an evil force… but it doesn’t reduce the melancholy of the story and, dream or no, it appears Marin was real enough to still be granted her wish to fly as a seagull if the secret ending is any indication.
But I’m not talking about the ending. I’m talking about the revelation after Catfish’s Maw when Link visits the Southern Face Shrine. I seriously can’t say enough about this. As I said, the Nightmares hint before this point that the island is not what it seems, and there are other mysterious elements about the story like the Owl. But entering the Southern Face Shrine, hearing this eerie music is haunting as hell and definitely paints the revelation in a disturbing way. The game turns from being mysterious, to eerie and sad, before finally maturing into a melancholy and sentimental experience. Seeing that mural and reading the truth about Koholint Island is a disturbing shock that completely changes the game, and that’s why it’s one of my favorite moments. Few Zelda games present stories and revelations this gutsy or significant. I’d love to see more of this kind of writing in the series; Zelda games where the mission and the consequences of your actions are not the same as the first thing you assume they are.
How about you guys? Did you love this moment in Link’s Awakening and all the change it brought to the game and its tone? Or did you think it wasn’t so great? Tell me in the comments!