Link’s Awakening was one of the Zeldas I had the fondest memories of, so I decided to stomp all over those memories by picking it up on the eShop, for like, 6 bucks or whatever. I could make up some story about how I bought it because Dark Souls has had me pontificating about what it means for something to be a Zelda game. But what it really came down to was that I needed 5 coins on my Club Nintendo account and I wasn’t planning to pick up a real game within the next month.
As an aside, the 3DS kind of sucks for playing old Gameboy games. The 2DS looks like it might be a little better, the awful little 3DS D-pad is way down in a place where no human thumb gravitates, and as I dislike feeling pain in my thumbs–or in the rest of my hands, for that matter–I didn’t do more than a couple dungeons a day, tops. I’d give Nintendo’s hardware designer a good slap in the face, but I’d have to numb my tortured hands under some cold water first.
Activity Log lists my playtime as 15.5 hours spanning 4 days.
There’s not really much point in taking a game that has received only minor design changes since the pre-DX version in 1993 and complaining about everything they did wrong, but I think these annoyances are the bulk of the difference between Zelda then and Zelda now. Although I haven’t played it, I’m certain A Link Between Worlds doesn’t make you tap through a few pages of text every time you bump into an obstacle, nor does it likely play irritating power-up music that loops every 3 seconds, nor does it likely make you constantly pause to change the purpose of one of only two functional controller buttons. Newer Zelda is certainly more polished in this regard, but I believe that the soul is the same, with all its flaws.
Early on in this retro experience, I found plenty to amuse me. I rediscovered the crane game, the magic powder, the library, the chain chomp. But it didn’t take long before I started seeing bigger issues than a lack of a context-sensitive control scheme. I realized I was basically just following a series of obtuse hints from owls and telephones, leading me from Dungeon One to Dungeon Two to grab the next key for my keyring. Charge through a rock, bomb a rock, lift a rock, and so on; each rock is a new lock, requiring a different key. The hints were vague, and would skip crucial steps, as if dedicated to wasting my time–no owl or phone tells you to do the dream shrine before investigating the signpost maze. The world looks wide-open, but it’s only open enough to confuse. Everywhere but one place will be a dead end–which is why I exploited the virtual console’s “restore point” feature (save states) to quickly jump back to where I was, any time I accomplished nothing by taking the wrong fork in the road (or even within a dungeon).
If this were Dark Souls, a path would lead to stronger enemies instead of a new type of lock. But then, a good player can’t make Link parry: he isn’t ever much more than his heart count and the 90-degree sword swing which only goes in one direction. I recognize that if Zelda’s designers just threw the endgame dungeon enemies in some field to “encourage” players to turn around, there wouldn’t be the same neat trade between danger and the accomplishment of getting a certain heart piece or whatever early.
As mentioned in the Dark Souls review, I don’t really care if I can beat the dungeons in any order or not. But I don’t like running into dead-ends. That’s the worst part about Zelda games to me, I’m realizing: the dead-ends. It’s not just that I dislike having to find the fire rod to melt the arbitrarily placed block of ice and so on, although it is little more than a hassle to keep a list in my mind, for later, of every place in the world where I ever saw ice. But I especially don’t want to find a fork in the road, with no hint about which way leads to what, and as my reward for choosing a path without consulting google image search, lose my time and receive absolutely nothing.
I do like that the story of Link’s Awakening feels like a departure from everything else in the series, although there really wasn’t much of a legacy to depart from at the time. Link’s Awakening seems kind of sad and grown-up. That was how I thought of it when I was a kid, at least, and I didn’t even remember the bosses, whose aims in opposing Link are only to preserve their own lives: they will cease to exist if you wake up the Wind Fish. What rights does a sentient parasite have? That sort of question interests me. The only other Zelda game that really felt different from the typical spirit of adventure was Majora’s Mask, which was sort of terrifying.
Link’s Awakening seemed a lot bigger back when I was nine years old or eleven or whatever. I remember watching Marin sing in the animal village, her duet with Link, going to the beach, things like that. My imagination was doing most of the work, which isn’t to make light of what the game accomplished on that hardware–Christ, it can’t even play jumping noises and its own soundtrack at the same time. The Ballad of the Wind Fish still seems important and a little profound to me, somehow. It’s clear to me that I do have some lingering fondness for this game. But even so, a part of me thinks I could, one day, in the not-so-distant future, make something better and more ambitious in Construct 2 or GameMaker, by myself. I do not need to be told that I am an asshole for thinking this, or that I should hurry up and put my money where my mouth is.
I hate to say that a game I once raised up high as an example of Zelda Done Right was really Zelda As Usual (And Less Polished), but there you go. I don’t relish calling it a shallow game, but even if they fixed all the obvious stuff, it still wouldn’t “hold up” by any meaningful standard today–and little has changed in the Zelda formula. That’s why I don’t intend to bother with A Link Between Worlds or any of the others I missed. How much would I have freaked out if I played Fez when I was ten years old? Kids today are so spoiled, rabble rabble, etc.