Some video games have amazing stories—the narrative they
weave is so impactful, it’ll stay with you the rest of your life.
It happened to me with The
Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
If you’ve never heard of it, let me sum it up for you real quick. It’s an action-adventure game that released in 1993 for the Nintendo Gameboy.
And the story is brilliant.
10/10 – would play again (and I did, with the Switch).
Some people disagree with me, however. Over at “TheGamer.com”
they said Link’s Awakening “has
the worst ending in the whole Zelda series.” They even call Link a
sociopath (not joking – you can read the article if you want).
Well, explain why I think it’s one of the better stories to
grace the series [as long as you don’t mind spoilers]. I think it’s a great
case study in interesting plot twists and outcomes. The tale remained with me
long after I put the game down, even when I was a child, and this is why.
Link’s Awakening opens with the hero, Link, stuck in a storm on the ocean. Why he’s there, we’ll never know, but we quickly see his raft explode with lightning, and a few moments later he awakes on the mysterious island, Koholint.
He’s taken care of by a girl named Marin, who sings
beautiful songs and helps you throughout your journey around the island. The
town you awake in has whimsical residents, a weird crane game, and a shop where
the storekeeper low-key wants you to steal from him so he can kill you later
for your crimes.
Everything is cute and fun. Even the villains you find on
the beach and in the forest are a bit over-the-top and whimsical. You find a raccoon
that will get you lost, and spikey balls that need to be pushed around with a
And the music! I could listen to this game’s soundtrack for
Listen to the mountain theme!
The point is: it’s fun on the island of Koholint. But Link
needs to get back home.
Some rando owl (whose name is, surprise, surprise, Owl)
tells you the only way off the island is to wake a god-like entity known as the
Wind Fish. He slumbers on the island, and has the power to whisk you away from
Sounds great. All you have to do is gather 8 musical instruments and you’re set to go! Even the people in town seem excited for your decision and wish you luck.
When you get to the fight instrument, it’s guarded by a
nightmare—some freakish monster that wants to rip Link’s head off. Obviously
this guy needs to die, so kill him and move on. Second instrument, same thing.
A nightmare tries to kill you, so you fight it and take your prize.
But the third instrument…
This is when things start to get weird. The nightmare
guarding it says you’re the bad guy
of this tale, not him. You still destroy the nightmare and take your instrument,
but now there’s an uneasy feeling that mixes with the whimsy from earlier.
Then you start to notice weird details. Everything on the island is bizarre. There’s a town of talking
animals, a bed that transports you to an inner shrine, and a wacky ghost that
follows you around until you do what it says.
And the monsters only care about you—they weren’t even that
active until you arrived.
When you get the next couple instruments, the nightmares rip
down the curtain and hit you with a cold, uncomfortable truth.
The island of Koholint is just a dream of the Wind Fish, and when you play your instruments to wake him, everything will cease to exist.
That shit hit me hard as a child. I remember thinking, “Dang,
son. What am I going to do?”
Marin, the girl who can sing, even takes you aside and says
she’s never left the island, but she desperately wants to. She wants to sing
for the people of the world, and travel like a bird on the wind.
What do you say to her now that you know there is no future
for the island once you wake the Wind Fish? It’s a difficult question, but one
that’s deeply interesting. Should I just give up my quest to leave the island,
so I could stay on the island forever, having child-like fun with the citizens
of Koholint? Or should I continue my quest to wake the Wind Fish, and return to
And here is where I think the people at “TheGamer.com” are
wrong. Even as a child, I realized what the core of the game was—what it was
really trying to tell me.
The island isn’t real. The people aren’t real. It’s all pretend. An imagination. And any weight I’m giving to the characters is just because I want them to be real.
So, in the end, I have to give up delusion and embrace
reality. I have to wake the Wind Fish because it’s not healthy to stay locked
in a fantasy world, playing with crane games and laughing with silly talking
I have to return to a world where my actions matter and have consequences.
That’s why the story is brilliant.
You gather the eight instruments, ripping them from the claws of the nightmares that want to rule over a fantasy, and you take them to the Wind Fish. Once you wake the beast, it calmly explains that all good things have to come to end, and that it’s time to return to the real world.
In essence, the Wind Fish’s final speech is a metaphor for all coming-of-age tales. It’s time to leave childhood behind. It’s time to live in the real world. It’s time to move on.
Very few games have hit me as hard as that moment. The Wind
Fish wasn’t being cruel when he said the island would disappear—he was just wise,
and letting you know it’s okay to let go.
Over at “TheGamer.com” they say [about the Wind Fish]:
“It just makes you feel bad. You just met an entire new cast of characters, and in one fell swoop they all get annihilated in favor of a fish that doesn’t care that his dream created a whole population of people, and now they’re all going to die.”TheGamer.com
They missed the point entirely. No one died because none of them were real to begin with. It’s like saying your G.I. Joes died when they got melted in the sun. They were never alive, no matter how much you liked them, and sometimes that’s a valuable lesson not everyone learns.
There is a secret ending, and I think it’s one of the
sweetest moments in a Zelda game.
If you beat the game without dying, it’s implied that Marin became a bird so she can fly and sing for the world, just like she wanted. Although it’s a short addition to the ending, I always get it, no matter what. She was the one person on the island who had a dream of also leaving—of embracing reality, even if idealistically.
Overall, Link’s Awakening is a great game with a wonderful ending. And if you think it was “depressing” or “the worst ending ever” we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.
If you enjoyed this, please check out my best-selling sci-fi novel, STAR MARQUE RISING, or my fantasy series, KNIGHTMARE ARCANIST. Thank you again for all the support!