Recently, Nintendo announced that they are remaking The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening for the Nintendo Switch. The original game is my favorite 2D entry in the series, and I am thus incredibly stoked for this remake.

Link's Awakening was a groundbreaking title, and it implemented many things that would go on to become recurring elements across nearly every entry in the series. In this list, we'll be looking at ten things that I think have been the most significant additions to the Zelda formula.

Due to the nature of the list, some minor spoilers will be inevitable, but I will attempt to not divulge the game's biggest secret, and dance around it where I can.

While A Link to the Past was the first game to introduce Cuccos and let you vent your frustrations on them (to your own peril), Link's Awakening made them actually useful. Okay, so technically it was a special rooster that let you take to the skies, not an ordinary Cucco, but the idea still stands. Holding the flying rooster would let you fly high in the air, and was necessary to reach the key to unlock level 7. Later games, particularly the 3D entries in the series, allowed Link to pick up any ordinary Cucco, jump off a cliff, and slowly glide to the ground. This has been used from game to game to obtain helpful items, or to reach new areas, and Twilight Princess even included an entire mini-game based around Cucco-gliding.

Looking at the complexity of the fishing mini-games in the 3D Zelda titles - particularly Twilight Princess - you might be surprised at how simple the original incarnation was. There were only a few fish in the pond, which didn't respawn as you caught them, making it easier to catch each subsequent fish. The first time you caught the one at the very bottom, you were guaranteed to get a piece of heart, which was the only meaningful reward from the minigame. To actually catch the fish, it was a simple matter of timing the presses of a single button.

From these humble origins, the fishing minigame evolved into a complex and difficult challenge, which was also fun in its own right.

To date, nearly every Zelda game has received a remake or remaster, and most of those that haven't have at least received ports to newer technology. Originally released in 1993 for the Game Boy, Nintendo created an enhanced port of Link's Awakening five years later, for the Game Boy Color. Link's Awakening DX was virtually identical to its predecessor, with a few additions:

- The graphics were all colorized; the original version was black and white (most thumbnails used in this list are taken from the DX version)
- A photographer NPC was added, and there are some additional scenes with him. The in-game photos taken this way could be printed out with the Game Boy Color Printer add-on
- An optional dungeon was added, which uses colors in several of its puzzles
- Several bug fixes and minor tweaks

This enhanced port was a welcome addition to the GBC's lineup, and sated many a fan's appetite until the release of the excellent Oracle games. Its success paved the way for later enhanced ports, like Ocarina of Time 3D and Wind Waker HD. Now, over twenty years later, Link's Awakening continues to create firsts for Zelda, as it will be the first game to receive a complete remake, rather than an enhanced port.

Acquire item A. Trade item A to person A for item B. Trade item B to person B for item C. And so on and so forth. Eventually, you'll get something worth holding on to that will help you in your quest. This familiar sequence has popped up in many Zelda games, but is only mandatory* in this game.

Trading sequences have varied in length and difficulty from game to game. This first incarnation is the longest, involving 13 items. For many players, the most frustrating sequence was the main one in Ocarina of Time, where several items had to be passed along within a strict time limit. Perhaps the most interesting trading sequence was a twist on the formula in Oracle of Ages, where Link's items were all taken from him, and he had to strategically regain specific items and trade them to specific characters, until he was finally completely re-equipped.

*While you do have to complete the first half of the sequence to beat the game, technically, it is possible to navigate the maze-like passages of the Wind Fish's egg without completing the trading sequence and obtaining the item which tells you the correct paths. This would take a lot of trial-and-error, though.

While A Link to the Past introduced swimming to the series, and Link could dive underwater in that game, it wasn't until Link's Awakening that there were any actual underwater environments to be explored. Most were simple passages from one area to another, but the boss of Angler's Tunnel was fought underwater, setting a second precedent for future underwater bosses as well. Oracle of Ages included much more interesting underwater areas, with an entire ocean which could be explored by swimming along the surface, or by diving down to the sea floor. But the 3D entries of the series are where the underwater environments really shine, with gorgeous visuals and free swimming in any direction.

With a few exceptions, the majority of dungeons in the first three Zelda games shared a single song that played in the background. In A Link to the Past, the first three dungeons shared a single song, with Dark Hyrule Castle, effectively the fourth dungeon, having its own theme. Then the eight dungeons of the dark world had their own, different theme.

Link's Awakening had eight formal dungeons, plus Kanalet Castle and the DX's Color Dungeon, which could be considered unofficial dungeons - and each of these areas had their own, unique background music. The maze inside the Wind Fish's egg wasn't really a dungeon, not having any enemies or puzzles, but it had its own track as well. This was actually the game's longest song, at about three minutes long before looping. Since the maze can be completed in less than a minute, I, and I'm sure many other players, never heard the entirety of this track when playing the game as a child. It wasn't until I acquired the game's complete soundtrack that I realized how much more there was to the song that I'd never listened to.

This greatly-expanded scope of musical variety was similarly exhibited in the game's soundtrack as a whole. By way of contrast, its immediate predecessor, A Link to the Past, has 31 songs* on its soundtrack, while Link's Awakening has 103 songs*. Many of the songs in the latter category are short, one-off fanfares or ditties that only play at specific times, which add to the game's charm and atmosphere. The soundtrack itself is among my favorites, with Tal Tal Heights being a notable stand-out track.

Being a musician myself, and a video game music aficionado, this is one innovation which I am very glad that Nintendo has carried on into virtually every Zelda title to date.

*Numbers cited are taken from my personal library of video game soundtracks. I believe I have the most complete soundtracks possible for both games named, but I could be wrong.

Note: Since Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is such a radical departure in gameplay from every other game in the series, I'm effectively ignoring the fact that it was actually the first Zelda game to have jumping.

While the 3D entries in the series have always had Link automatically jump when running towards a ledge, Link's 2D games have required him to have an item - the Roc's Feather (which in some later entries could be upgraded to the Roc's Cape). Jumping was very important in Link's Awakening, as evidenced by the fact that the feather is the first item you get after your sword and shield. It's also one of the few items in the game that has additional functionality when combined with another item - if you use the Pegasus Boots to get a running start, you can then jump much further!

Jumping went on to become one of Link's most useful skills, both in the 2D and 3D entries. In the 2D games, it was much more effective to jump over an enemy's attacks than it was to block them with your shield, and in the 3D games, a quick side-stepping jump could dodge attacks. Link also had a devastating forward jump attack, which hit for twice the power of a regular sword swing.

Although Link had a musical instrument in each of the first three Zelda games, their functionality was limited. In the first game, the recorder/whistle/flute did have several uses, such as teleporting Link around Hyrule, opening new areas, or weakening a certain boss. But all of these effects were achieved by playing a single song, with context deciding what outcome would occur.

In the second game, the recorder/whistle/flute had a couple of uses, again both through a single song. In the third game, the instrument was still called a flute, but it finally began to resemble Link's now-classic ocarina, and was used to summon a bird which could fly him around to various places in Hyrule.

It wasn't until the fourth game that the musical instrument was called an ocarina, and it became an extremely important item. Link could learn three different songs, each of which could be selected and played anywhere. The Ballad of the Wind Fish was the core song of the game, and was needed at several places, most importantly to open the way to the final boss. The Frog's Song of Soul could resurrect the dead, and was needed to gain access to the final two dungeons. And finally, Manbo's Mambo was a song that teleported Link to a small pond adjacent to the house where Link could purchase the secret medicine that was vital to survival.

Without this game mechanic, it's likely that Ocarina of Time, with its heavy focus on multiple playable songs, would have been very different.

As mentioned previously, musical instruments have been around since the first game, but they were little more than tools. It wasn't until Link's Awakening that they finally gained their series-long significance. The ultimate goal of the game is to wake the dreaming Wind Fish, the mystical beast who is Link's only hope of returning to Hyrule. To do so, Link must gather the eight Instruments of the Sirens, and have them played before the Wind Fish's egg.

The instruments themselves are little more than MacGuffins, but they still have their own personality. Unlike the identical MacGuffins in the original Zelda, and the virtually-identical maidens of A Link to the Past, each instrument has a different sprite and unique name. When acquired, each one magically plays itself, repeating a simplified and shortened version of the Ballad of the Wind Fish.

Besides the Instruments of the Sirens, Link's personal instrument, an ocarina, is important throughout the game. As mentioned previously, it allows him to play a handful of songs with different effects, and it also serves as sort of a means of expressing himself, Link being his usual silent protagonist self.

Later on in the series, musical instruments gain even more importance, especially in Ocarina of Time - the game is named after a musical instrument, duh - but also in Oracle of Ages, Majora's Mask, Spirit Tracks, Skyward Sword, and many others.

Of all the entries on this list, this was the most difficult to write. After all, everyone experiences emotional investment differently, and what might make a connection or reverberate with one person might not be the same for another. That being said, there are some definite, quantifiable elements which are commonly linked to emotional investment, and many of these were seen in Link's Awakening, and not its three predecessors. (This is not to say that none of the following elements appeared in the first three Zelda games; I just think that Link's Awakening was the first to have all of these elements, and executed each one very well.)
Here they are, in no particular order:

1: Non-player Characters with Personality
Quick, name an NPC from Ocarina of Time (besides Zelda!). If you said Ruto, Talon, Malon, Darunia, Impa, Saria, Mido, Nabooru, The Deku Tree, Rauru, Dampe, Kaepora Gaebora, or one of the many other named NPCs, good job. Ocarina of Time, and almost every Zelda game since, has a myriad of interesting NPCs, with names, personalities, relationships with each other and with Link, and the sense that they have their own lives beyond their intersection with Link's quests.

Now name an NPC from A Link to the Past. Besides Zelda and the two main villains (whom I would argue aren't actually NPCs), I can only think of one off the top of my head: Sahasrahla. Granted, there are other memorable NPCs, such as the guy in Kakariko who runs away when Link gets close, the old lady who tells you where to first find Sahasrahla, the arguing twins, the lumberjack brothers, the guy sitting near the entrance to the desert who follows you around if you destroy his sign, the Father in the chapel, the flute-playing boy, the two transformed guys who explain stuff to Link when he first arrives in the dark world, and many others. But as evidenced by that long list full of descriptors and pronouns, none of them have names.

Names have power. Names can transform a collection of pixels, pre-programmed behaviors, and dialogue boxes into a character. And characters tend to be much more memorable than their un-named NPC counterparts. So, what happened in between A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time? You got it, Link's Awakening. Link's fourth game introduced many new people, and most of them had names. Off the top of my head, there's Marin, Tarin, Richard, Manbo, Mr. Write, Crazy Tracy, Sale, Christine, Kiki, Mamu, Schule Donavitch, and Madam MeowMeow - and those are just the ones I was able to remember; there are even more. I have a pretty good memory for names, but I haven't played Link's Awakening in probably 6-7 years, so that just goes to show how well the game does in making these characters memorable.

Perhaps most importantly, having all these memorable characters made the ending of the game that much more impactful and bittersweet.

2: Associating Music with Characters/Plot Events
As mentioned in entry #5, the game's soundtrack has over 100 songs, many of which can only be heard at specific times. This practice can lead to players remembering events better.

For example, the arrangement of The Ballad of the Wind Fish that plays during the scene where Link and Marin sit and talk (or listen, in Link's case) on the beach can always put me in a mood that is both nostalgic and wistful.

Another song that evokes strong emotional memories is the song that plays in the Southern Face Shrine, a poignant arrangement of the song that plays in the Northern Face Shrine, Level 6. This track plays when Link discovers the truth about the island and its inhabitants, and hearing it always recalls the mix of surprise and sadness when I first experienced that scene.

Additionally, many characters in the game have their own theme that plays in their houses, such as Mr. Write, Marin/Tarin, Richard, the ghost who used to live in the house by the bay, and the Cucco Keeper.

3: Making the Plot More Personal
On most of his adventures, Link inevitably ends up single-handedly saving the world. And in many of them, he has a personal connection to some plot-critical character. However, in the first three Zelda games, he doesn't have much of a personal stake in the adventure at all. In the first two, I don't believe he has any connection with any character (although it has been a very long time since I played either of them, so I could be wrong); it wasn't until A Link to the Past that Link started to have relationships. In that game, his first relationship is with his uncle, whom the player only sees on-screen for about 15 seconds before he dies. So the player doesn't really have time to care about said uncle.

For Link's fourth adventure, though, it made darned sure that you would come to care about the characters, especially Marin. Link and Marin interact frequently, and have a particularly important conversation while sitting on the beach, in what may be the series' first actual cutscene (depending on how you define the term).

Making you care about the characters is a good move, on its own merits, but it also leads into the series' first moral dilemma, once you find out the true nature of the island and its inhabitants.

Later Zelda games would similarly establish important relationships early on, often by having Link have a childhood friend (Saria in Ocarina of Time, Zelda in Minish Cap and Skyward Sword, Ilia in Twilight Princess, etc.), but also by simply introducing characters after the game starts (Midna in Twilight Princess, Linebeck in Phantom Hourglass, Tetra in Wind Waker, etc.).

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For the above reasons and more, Link's Awakening succeeded in making the player become emotionally invested in the game, its world, its inhabitants, and its story. Later Zelda games would come to be praised for their story as much as for their gameplay, and I believe that it's Awakening when this first started to be true.

Conclusion:
Despite Link's Awakening being a very important title to the overall evolution of the Zelda games, it's often overlooked, with many fans saying their favorite game is either of its chronologically-released neighbors, A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. And that's perfectly fine - I personally think that Past is the best 2D game in the series (although it's only my second-favorite, I do think it's the best), and there's no denying that Ocarina successfully and masterfully transitioned the series into 3D. But Link's Awakening may always be my favorite, and I just wanted to let people know of the cool things it originated. I hope you enjoyed the list!

Special Notes:
I actually thought of this list and decided on its entries on my own, without first consulting the "Legacy" section of the Zelda wiki article on the game. It wasn't until I was nearly done with the list that I even noticed that section, as I came across it while confirming a fact.

Honorable Mentions:
Another few things that Link's Awakening introduced to the series that weren't quite important enough to warrant their own list entry:
1. Bomb Arrows
If you assign bombs to one button, and your bow to the other, and pushed both buttons at the same time, Link would fire explosive arrows. This also worked with magic powder. Bomb arrows have since been used in Twilight Princess and Breath of the Wild.
2. 2D titles on handheld
Link's Awakening was the first 2D title on a handheld device, and after Ocarina of Time successfully transitioned the series to 3D, the majority of the series' 2D titles have been exclusive to Nintendo's handheld devices.
3. Dungeon-specific keys
No, not single-use keys that can only be used in the dungeon in which the keys are obtained. I mean unique keys with interesting designs which must be obtained outside the dungeons, and used to enter them. This was used in both of the Oracle games, and a spiritual successor appeared in Skyward Sword, where the keys used to open the boss doors were unique.
4. Collectibles which can be redeemed for a reward
Secret Seashells could be found all over the island of Koholint, and finding 20 would let Link trade them in for an upgraded sword. Later Zelda games would include such varied collectibles as Gold Skulltula tokens (Ocarina of Time), Poe Souls (Twilight Princess), and Power/Wisdom/Courage gems (Phantom Hourglass), to name a few.

Final Words:
I've tried to make this list as factual as possible, but Link's Awakening is very dear to my heart, so I may have made mistakes or let that emotional connection inadvertently color my writing. If I've said something that denigrates your favorite Zelda game, please take my word for it when I say that it was completely unintentional.

If you have a comment or complaint about the list, check the Top Ten Lists board; there should be a topic created exclusively to discussing it shortly after its publication.

-- KelpTheGreat, a.k.a. The_Mighty_KELP


List by The_Mighty_KELP (05/03/2019)

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