Link’s Awakening is the best The Legend of Zelda game. And I say this as someone who loves Breath of The Wild for its exploration and horse music. I usually prefer the classic top-down Zelda games (Link To The Past, the Oracle games, Minish Cap), maybe because I like how tight meticulously crafted their worlds are, though, again, Breath of The Wild challenges that with its magnificent open world. I think one big reason that Link’s Awakening is the best Zelda game is because it was also the first Zelda game I played.
It’s an odd duck of a game, there’s no Zelda in it and the adventure is quite removed from the usual stories. There are Mario references and Kirby shows up as a monster. And there’s a village of talking animals. But amidst all this is a story about dreams and the amorphous nature of reality and escapism. It’s a great story, that sort that completely floored my mind when I first played it twenty-two-odd years ago. There’s nostalgia there, for sure, but to cram a minor treatise on existentialism in a game that took up less data than my current Facebook profile picture feels a feat unto itself.
Spoiler for a 28-year-old game here, but all of Link’s Awakening takes place within the dream of a mystical Windfish. Waking the Windfish is the only way for Link to return to Hyrule — and also save the island from the Nightmares that plague it — but in doing so the island will cease to exist. An island and inhabitants that the game makes you fall in love with through an intricate adventure and trading sidequest. The whole game becomes beautifully bittersweet, such that a certain screenshot of two boys playing ball still gets me in the feels all this time later.
This is all top of the mind since I recently ordered the remake of Link’s Awakening. I’m eager to dive back into the game, though the new cutesy graphics give me pause (if only because I’m an old coot who loves the original sprites). But apparently, much of the game is unchanged from the original GameBoy version, meaning I may still know my way around Koholint Island after all this time. And man, I’m looking forward to the music again. Because The Ballad of The Windfish absolutely slaps.