Another Castle: The Inception of Link’s Awakening

Forget Cobb and his crew– Link’s been going deeper since 1993.

By Katharine Byrne. Posted 09/11/2012 10:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Regardless of how many dreams are being, er, dreamt here, though, the real crux of what makes this game so powerful compared to other dream world games is what happens upon the titular “awakening”. You see, the catch is that waking the Wind Fish will also cause the entire island and its inhabitants to disappear. Just think about that for a second. Not only has Link’s arrival put their lives at risk by making the local monsters more violent than usual, but his departure also means the end of their very existence, foreshadowing many of the dark undertones we’ll find in Koizumi’s later work, Majora’s Mask, as we begin to question whether Link’s really as much of a hero as we, and the surrounding characters, think he is.

To make matters worse, the people of Koholint don’t even know they’re living in a dream world either. When Link speaks to a young boy in Mabe Village, for instance, he says, “Dude! You’re asking me when we started to live on this island? What do you mean by ‘when’? Whoa! The concept just makes my head hurt!” Yours and mine both, mate. Laughs aside, though, it probes deep into the heart of how and why we come to exist, and when Link stumbles across a relief in the Southern Face Shrine ruins, it even ventures into territory that would later be explored by The Matrix films. It’s the only concrete piece of evidence that reveals the truth about the island, but our good old friend the owl insists that “no one is really sure” whether what it says can be trusted. “Just as you cannot know if a chest holds treasure until you open it, so you cannot tell if this is a dream until you awaken…” he says. “The only one who knows for sure is the Wind Fish… Trust your feelings… Someday you will know for sure…”

Poor Link– even his subconscious is against him when it comes to romancing the ladies…

That may be so, but when everything around us is telling us this is real place with real characters living there, how can we reconcile our desire to return home when we risk destroying people like Marin who have their own hopes and dreams for the future as well? Because I’m not ashamed to admit it– Marin is quite possibly one of the only characters that’s ever made me feel guilty while playing a game. She’s been raised to think there’s nothing beyond the ocean, but she’s certain there must be something out there, and it’s her dream to fly to distant lands and entertain people with her singing. She also tells us that her heart skipped a beat when she first discovered Link because she thought “this person has come to give us a message.” He’s her proof that there’s life beyond the sea, and later on she calls Link “the kindest boy” she knows, and asks him to never forget her when he leaves the island.

“Link , some day you will leave this island… I just know it in my heart…” she says. “Don’t ever forget me… If you do, I’ll never forgive you!”

In a way, it reflects a common theme in the Zelda franchise– that of growing up, leaving home and becoming the person you’re destined to be– but not only will this so-called “home” vanish forever once you leave, everyone you hold dear will also disappear along with it, making the decision to wake the Wind Fish that much more loaded and your so-called “kindness” ever more suspect.

The real question, though, is whether any this even matters if Marin and her fellow townspeople are all just figments of the Wind Fish’s imagination anyway? Perhaps not depending on your way of thinking, particularly if you consider that all this– their warm, welcoming smiles and their hopes for the future– could, in fact, be a cunning ploy by Nightmare (the game’s main antagonist) to prevent Link from fulfilling his duty. They may seem real enough, but if Nightmare can plunder Link’s memories to serve up five final boss forms from his previous adventures in Hyrule, what’s to say it couldn’t do the same thing with Koholint’s inhabitants?

After all, the instruction manual to Link’s Awakening describes Marin as having “an uncanny resemblance to Princess Zelda” (Link even makes this mistake himself when he first wakes up, too), but how would the Wind Fish know what Princess Zelda looks like? Likewise, the Walrus blocking the way to Yarna Desert could be seen as a reference to the River Devil blocking Link’s path near Nabooru Town in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (which also requires the use of a song to bypass), and Old Man Ulrira, who’ll give Link tips if he calls him on the phone, is often considered a throwback to the old men of previous Zelda games as well. And it’s not just the characters that make you want to stay either– as I mentioned briefly last week, even the music could be viewed as a tool to keep players trapped in this strange, half-familiar world, making this a full frontal assault through several aspects of its overall game design.

Of course, if we go back to the idea of a three-tiered dream structure, then all this would be in Link’s imagination and we’d have a radically different set of questions on our hands, but that’s exactly why Link’s Awakening stands head and shoulders above everything thing else when it comes to dreams in games. It creates a world that gives us so much more to think about than just the general frustration of having had a good ending ripped away from us, and by preparing us for it’s inevitable conclusion throughout the game, it also gives us time to think through what that actually means as well. Many of its ideas may seem like old-hat nowadays, but considering this came out in 1993, I think we can all agree that this was a game that was truly dreaming beyond its years.

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