Beware: I’m going to be going into spoiler territory for this game. Yes, it’s really old, but it’s an amazing story with a really cool reveal and if you want to experience it for yourself, I would suggest playing the game first. Ye have been warned.
In my down time I’ve had the pleasure of being able to replay one of the most important games in my life: Link’s Awakening DX. I bought it on the virtual console for my 3DS, and it has been a great experience revisiting Koholint island. Link’s Awakening is the first game I ever played in my life, and it’s one of the few games that I can pick up more than a decade later and still remember. It’s like muscle memory, running through the dungeons, beating the nightmares, and getting all the little secrets I found out as a kid with the added bonus of, you know, not being an idiot and finding the rest of them.
The thing is, the game itself has one of the best stories in any game I’ve played. While I’ve been playing, I’ve been noticing all the little things that made me, as a kid, feel for the characters and get emotionally invested. By today’s standards, it’s no Brothers or what have you, but it still works really well.
The biggest plot point that caused me to suffer the feels was when the game hinted that the island and everyone on it was a dream of the Wind Fish, a powerful entity asleep at the peak of Mt. Tamaranch. The point of the game was to wake up the Wind Fish to get off the island, but as you went through hints were dropped as to the ultimate fate of the island and the friends you made on it; that should you wake the dreamer, everyone would cease to be. The idea that something could just, not exist, blew my fucking mind as a kid.
The first time this is very obviously mentioned is when you reach the 6th dungeon, the Face Shrine. The Face Shrine is a two parter, sporting a North Shrine and the South Shrine. To enter the North Shrine where the bulk of the action happens, you need a key from the South Shrine. So, off you go, shooting the living statues that block your way and you find your way into the South Shrine. It’s only 3 rooms long: the usual entrance to start with. You go up, and enter a Mini Boss fight. It’s not too hard and you destroy the monster, earning your key to the North Shrine. But what’s this? A door opens up ahead. Naturally you explore, and find a dimly lit room with an ancient relief in the back. You light the torches, and take a good look at the stone tablet. It reads:
TO THE FINDER… THE ISLE OF KOHOLINT, IS BUT AN ILLUSION… HUMAN, MONSTER, SEA, SKY… A SCENE ON THE LID OF A SLEEPER’S EYE… AWAKE THE DREAMER, AND KOHOLINT WILL VANISH MUCH LIKE A BUBBLE ON A NEEDLE… CAST-AWAY, YOU SHOULD KNOW THE TRUTH!
Your first thought is what the fuck? Your second one is no way this should be true. You like this island, even if there’s weird shit on it like chain chomps, a yoshi doll, and an anthropomorphic alligator that eats canned dog food. What about Marin, the girl who Link is obviously into and she really likes him? They’ve had heart to hearts, travelled together, and played music together. It’s the first time that Link seemingly has an interest in a relationship, and you’re telling me this shit could be a dream?
So you leave the South Shrine feeling a little bummed out. It’s like someone forced you to watch the Matrix except it you actually care about the characters more than their sense of style. You leave asking if any of it is real, and the music is doing a bang up job of making you feel shitty.
A quick swim and a scamper later, you enter the North Shrine, where the majority of the dungeon is a complex head wrapper. You have to find hidden walls and really use a lot more of your riddle solving skills than usual to solve the dungeon, which is easily the biggest and most difficult to date. It’s mostly because the fucking Wizzrobes eat like, 4 arrows before dying and can easily shit all over you if you’re not careful, or you can stun them and bomb them which meant I blew myself up a lot.
Other highlights include a really weird crystal ball puzzle, a room with stones that form the Hindu god Ganesha (the hindu god of wisdom and knowledge, which is apt here), and a riddle involving the eyes of the dungeon you can only get if you’ve picked up a stone beak and used it on a really out of the way Owl statue.
Enter the space where the eyes have walls…
I’ll come back to that in a minute.
At the end of each dungeon in Link’s Awakening, you face a boss called a Nightmare. Each Nightmare, once beaten, earns you an instrument you use later to wake up the Wind Fish. This one is called Facade, but I prefer the German translation; Demon’s Grimace. Like the punny English name implies, he is a face in the floor who very much wants to kill you. Over the course of the fight he throws floor tiles and pots at you, and once that runs out he starts opening holes all over the ground. You have to bomb his stupid face a bunch of times to win.
Once you beat him, he says the following:
Okay, listen up! If the Wind Fish wakes up, everything on this island will be gone forever! And I do mean EVERYTHING!
Well shit. I don’t want to trust a monster that just spent it’s last moments trying to kill me, but it looks like Link has to make a choice: escape the island and return to Hyrule, thereby causing the whole island to vanish, or stay on the island and keep living the dream, literally.
Playing it through a second time, you pick up on a couple more things. For instance, you notice that the dungeon layout is Link’s face from the first Legend of Zelda (this kind of obvious dungeon layout stuff isn’t new in the game: Key Cavern was in the shape of two keys, Bottle Grotto was a bottle, Tail Cave had a tail, etc). Part of the dungeon involves figuring out the riddle from earlier about the eyes. The left eye in the dungeon is easy enough: there’s a path that leads right to a spot on the wall you have to bomb, and the Map shows there’s a doorway there. Entering this room shows you the Ganesha tribute in the dungeon. Getting into the right eye took some faith: after unlocking the room right before the eye (which ends up being the mini boss of the dungeon), there’s a small combat and then… it’s an empty room. No indicating markings for anything anywhere. You poke all the walls with your sword to hear the sound it makes because in this game, if you poke a bombable wall, it makes a different ping noise than usual. None of the walls make the unusual ping, so you have to guess that there is a wall you can bomb. Eventually the riddle kicks in and you bomb your way up, and you move forward.
The cool part of the dungeon is how thematic it is from start to finish. The South Shrine has you fighting against statues, but not all the statues you see are enemies. The North Shrine’s Map straight up lies to you and tells you there’s no way into some of the rooms when there is, in fact, a way. Floor tiles, the things you walk on normally, fly up and try to kill you. Wizrobes make their first appearance, as they turn up from nowhere and disappear just as fast.
Appearances are deceiving. Not everything is at it seems.
When you think about it even having two face shrines makes sense; why two face shrines? Because two-faced is an idiom that literally means ‘untrustworthy.’ At this stage in the game, this dungeon is a perfect story telling tool from a narrative and mechanical standpoint.
The perfect topper to this cake of feels has to do with one dungeon feature. On the right side of the dungeon, there’s a 3 room line of water that runs from north to south. Where is it placed?
Right next to the dungeon’s right eye. Link’s face is literally crying.
I love this fucking game.