The Missing Link
Link’s Awakening managed to do something that I didn’t think was at all possible. It managed to be one of the most well-loved Zelda titles despite having a feature that ordinarily would have players throwing down their controllers… er… Game Boys in disgust. Let me relate this feature to you in terms of a true story.
A group of six friends and I were doing a creative exercise (which happens to be a great party game, incidentally). Everyone starts with a piece of paper with two sentences—one at the top and one at the bottom—and fourteen numbered lines between them. The first sentence was “A dog ate a chocolate cake that I had baked,” and the bottom one read, “But I still want to know, was it a daisy or a rose?” The goal was to create a cohesive story, one sentence at a time, that managed to link the first and last sentences of the story… but there was a twist. Once you wrote the next line of the story, you passed your paper to your left, and then you took the piece of paper from the person on your right, and wrote the next sentence to their story. In effect, you would write two sentences, nonconsecutive, in each of the seven stories.
Now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with Link’s Awakening. Hold on. I’m getting there.
The person to my right was… a clever guy. He had a witty sense of humour like I had, almost pervertedly so. The game proceeded normally at first, but around sentence eight, I read through the story to find that the line he had just added was, and I quote, “And then I woke up.” I was simply flabbergasted by this as he had effectively killed the entire first part of the story and told me to start over from scratch. I was amused by this at first, and I gleefully continued on with the story, still having half the story left to make it all work. But then it happened again on a different story, this time on sentence 10. And then once more on another, sentence 13 this time… leaving me a single sentence to merge an imaginary dream which vaguely mentioned daisies and roses into the final question. Needless to say, I was not amused.
Link’s Awakening, for those of you who don’t know the story, begins with Link waking up upon an island in the middle of the sea, his ship lost in the storm and nowhere to be found. He proceeds throughout the island, going through dungeons and getting items just as any normal Zelda would proceed. Yet as you go through the game, clues start to emerge that everything is not as it seems. Once you reach the Face Shrine, the three-quarters marker of the game, you know that Koholint Island is a complete fantasy… Link’s very own dream, one that he cannot escape from. His goal to awaken the Wind Fish becomes something entirely beyond helping Link leave Koholint; it is to destroy the dream world, everything Link has come to know… including one red-haired lyrist and songstress. In the end, you awaken the Wind Fish, and Koholint disappears; Link wakes up and finds himself floating on a piece of wood, presumably from his boat, and we realise that nothing that happened in the story really happened.
Compare this plot to the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 (taken from the Japanese game Doki Doki Panic) and see if you can determine the difference here. Mario, Luigi, Toad, and the Princess wander through this land where eating your greens is not only good for your health but bad for your enemies. You immediately get the idea that this is not your typical Mario game, what with the lack of Fire Flowers and breakable bricks. You side-scroll through the various stages until you get to 7-2, where you face the biggest glutton there ever was as a final boss, King Wart. Six vegetables sends His Royal Watiness off the screen, and then you are hailed as heroes of Subcon… until Mario wakes up, dispelling your belief that what you had done was real… and telling you that the entire game was an outright sham.
Personally, I felt cheated by Mario 2’s ending. My controller was let go from my hands, and my jaw hit the ground. “What is this?” I remember saying. Sure, I got to see what all the enemies were named at the end, but there was snoring Mario, conking Zs harder than my father. I turned the game off, wrapped up my controller, and never sat through the ending again. Sure, I played, but I just would not… could not believe that all I had done disappeared in the blink of an eye. Yet the feeling was not there in Link’s Awakening. Even with the final punctuation mark on the line, “And then I woke up,” Link’s Awakening had touched me in ways I didn’t think possible. Marin’s character had grown on me quite heavily, and as several of the eccentric characters disappeared—Mrs. Bow-wow, the Animal Village, mushroom-loving Tarin, even Mr. Write, I felt my heartstrings pulled as they vanished into nothingness. Something was missing from that world we called Hyrule the moment Koholint disappeared, something that it will never have again.
Very few games have dared to tread the subject of dreams, and fewer still have managed to excel when doing it. Why did Awakening succeed where Mario 2 failed? We could attribute this to just being a Zelda title, but I don’t think so. Zelda, powerful as it is, wasn’t enough to save The Faces of Evil from being one of those games we don’t mention. (The first rule of Zelda Club is… we do not talk about CD-i. The second rule of Zelda Club… we do NOT talk about CD-i.) Rather, I think Awakening succeeded because it was able to pull at the emotions of its players even as it ended in tragedy, allowing us to feel that final catharsis. The ending was like watching the last act of a Shakespearean tragedy.
Awakening is the only Zelda to date to have such a sad ending. Despite what would normally turn players away, Awakening made it work. And that’s what makes the dream filling.Follow This Entry