While Nintendo makes fantastic games, every once in a while, I can't help but feel that they play it a little too safe sometimes. As much as I love The Legend of Zelda, I do wish that Ganon would be swapped out for newer villains more often, and The Super Mario series' fixation on the same boring "Bowser-kidnaps-Peach" story is beginning to grate on my nerves big time. And yet, when they do branch out from the norm, something magical happens. And that is the story of Link's Awakening.
Sometime after the events of the perennial classic "A Link to the Past", Link has set out from Hyrule to train in other lands. On his return voyage, however, his ship is caught in a storm and struck by lightning. He washes ashore on the mysterious Koholint island, where he discovers the only means of escape is collecting 8 instruments and using them to awaken a being known as the Wind Fish. If it sounds strange, that's because it is. And when you add a crocodile that loves dog food, a mushroom scrounger with a bushy mustache who totally isn't Mario, a village of talking animals, a woman named Grandma Yahoo, and more goombas than you can shake a stick at, it seems like you might have jumped headlong into the most juvenile and campy title the series has to offer (Tri-Force Heroes aside). And yet, while Link's Awakening is silly, quirky, and at times just plain-out weird, it's one of the deeper entries in the storied franchise. Everything makes sense when you discover the cold, harsh truth; Koholint Island is a dream, and when you awaken the Wind Fish, the entire world you've just explored and everyone in it will vanish. Suddenly, you aren't just a hero with clear enemy to defeat; you are the one about to destroy the world. And while you are told that the Wind Fish needs to awaken, you can't help but feel an extreme sadness about your final decision. And the gorgeous, heart-wrenching music doesn't make it any easier.
It's that one twist that makes this game the masterpiece it is. It's completely unlike any other Zelda game, and the 2019 remake feels fresh and bold, even though the game and story are over 20 years old. The gameplay is solid, the soundtrack is great, and the new graphics are perfect. However, what really makes this game is the marvelous, simple, and sorrowful story. That's why Link's Awakening is such a fondly remembered masterpiece. Nintendo stepped out and tried something new, and I only hope that revisiting this game in 2019 will help them do more of that in the future.
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