I mentioned in my review of Pokémon Sword how much that game has captivated me, perhaps more so than any previous installment in the series. Yearning feels like too strong of an adjective to describe my daily thoughts of playing it, but it’s truly become an obligation to pop into the region of Galar and make headway with breeding or just complete a few routine tasks. This borderline need to play Pokémon Sword hasn’t taken priority over my desire to start new games though. Unfortunately, with regards to my recent playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, I found that I was unable to devote the attention necessary to really enjoy anything else while Pokémon seemed to beckon me.
A remake of the 1998 Game Boy Color game The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX, itself an updated version of the original 1993 Game Boy release, this version was structurally identical. After his boat was destroyed in a storm, Link was found washed up on Koholint Island by a young woman named Marin. She helped him recuperate, at which point he journeyed off to gather his gear. Upon locating his sword back on the beach, an owl approached Link and explained his presence had caused an uptick of monsters on the island. The owl stated that unless he woke the Wind Fish, Link would be confined to Koholint Island.
The owl continued to provide direct guidance such as this throughout the fifteen hours it took me to complete the game. His excerpts and hints, along with the brief last words of dungeon bosses clued me in to the mysterious nature of the island. Link’s adventure on Koholint was unlike most in the series; there wasn’t a great evil to conquer or a life-or-death motivation to save the world. In fact, Link’s continued successes were underpinned by a sense of foreboding sadness. The ultimate consequence of his actions gave the game an emotional resonance beyond what the series had demonstrated when Link’s Awakening originally released in 1993, but I was kind of ambivalent to it all. Chalk it up to thinking of Pokémon when I should’ve been processing the narrative.
The graphics on the other hand, I was not ambivalent about. They were stunning, and like with the equally unique visuals of Octopath Traveler, I never stopped marveling. Koholint Island resembled a massive diorama, with thousands of living toys inside and it was a joy to see everything in motion. It must’ve been taxing on the Switch however, as there were occasional instances of slowdown. These moments weren’t enough to impact my playthrough, just enough for me to notice. One of the nice things about writing these reviews is the modest amount of research that goes into them and the things I learn as a result. This wasn’t my first experience viewing a tilt-shifted piece of work, or more specifically a miniature fake, but I now know what to refer to them as.
Dungeons featured series staple puzzle solving and progression gating, and the combat encounters within similarly traditional. I had to rack my brain to get through a few dungeons, but on the whole the experience was moderately challenging. Same goes for combat. Bosses were fun to battle against, since there was a puzzle-solving element in figuring out how to defeat them, but they weren’t terribly difficult. I didn’t die often, and when I did it was usually a result of carelessness. This release introduced a dungeon making mode, but it was fairly limited in scope. By selecting premade room tiles and linking them together I could design a dungeon. I couldn’t share the dungeon with other players though, and there weren’t many customization options. It was a novel inclusion but didn’t entice me.
Most of the items Link obtained on his island getaway were common to other entries. Nonetheless, it was still exciting to get something that allowed greater exploration, such as the hookshot. This release featured a mapping system like the one in Breath of the Wild, where I could place icons to denote points of interest. I used this to great effect, marking potential secrets or places I knew I couldn’t access yet. Some of the most fun I had with the game was backtracking to my map markers after getting a new item and figuring out whether Link was equipped to address it. In much the same way, the trading quest had me keeping track of the island residents’ wants. Based off of the Straw Millionaire folk tale, Link kept trading and receiving items desired by certain individuals, a cycle which lasted the duration of his journey.
Grezzo, the Shibuya headquartered developer responsible for this remake, did a stellar job bringing Link’s Awakening to the Switch. They’ve carved out a niche as Nintendo’s go-to studio for remaking Zelda games and it’s easy to see why. This was a faithful rendition of the previous releases, and even brought a few new features like the dungeon making mode, however lackluster it was. Similarly, I thought the narrative was conceptually impressive, but underwhelming. To be fair, Pokémon Sword monopolized my thoughts even while playing this, so perhaps my opinion would’ve changed if this game had my undivided attention. More than anything else, the remarkable graphics stuck out to me. The diorama style fit the side story nature of the game perfectly, and just looked so cool in action. I shafted Link’s Awakening by playing it when I did, but it was still great game, worthy of remembrance.