Oct
19
The Only Zelda Game Without A Hero


Ever since playing it for the first time nearly
20 years ago, I’ve been trying to come to terms with the ending of Link’s Awakening. There are a lot of things about this title
that make it a unique entry to the Zelda series, but, to me at least, the biggest is that it’s
the only Zelda game where Link doesn’t really feel like a hero. By and large the inhabitants of Koholint island
seem happy. Sometimes the residents fall victim to raids
from moblins or curses from the lost woods, but there isn’t a clear impending danger
that threatens their way of life. They don’t really need saving. A wizard doesn’t usurp the throne, the moon
isn’t about to crash into the village, a princess, friend, or sister has not been kidnapped. The conflict is that Link needs to get off
of the island and the only way to do so is by waking the Wind Fish, so that is what he
sets off to do. In Awakening, Link is trying to save himself. It is his way of life that is in jeopardy. This is a pretty interesting departure from
the typical Zelda formula. Any help he does give those on the island
is secondary and really just a means to an end. At first, at least. Really, it is the inhabitants of the island
who help Link more than the other way around. Without them, he would never be able to leave. This setup in and of itself is intriguing
because the frame is so different than any of the games that came before or after it. But it manages to push things even further
as it goes. What begins as a simple enough story about
getting off of an island in the middle of nowhere becomes a lot more complicated once
the truth of the Wind Fish’s nature is revealed.. Through warnings from the various bosses he
defeats and the information shown on the mural in the ancient ruins, Link learns that the
island is just a dream of the Wind Fish, and awakening it will end that dream. For Link to return to his way of life, he
needs to sacrifice the way of life for every character he’s met—for all of those people
who have helped in some way, big or small. In Link’s Awakening, Link is the threat. And this is where stuff gets a little muddy. The game asks the question: are lives that
come from dreams as valuable as ones that don’t? While in a real world context, the obvious
answer would be no, they’re not, it is far more complex in Link’s Awakening. The Wind Fish’s dream is not a normal one. Real dreams are fluid, shifting from one scene
to the next with little rhyme or reason. If this were a normal dream, Marin would turn
into Link’s math professor halfway through the game and tell him that he missed his final
exam. And, yes, I’ve been out of school for years
now, and I still get this kind of nightmare. It never ends. In the Wind Fish’s dream though, everything
stays consistent. There are certainly oddities, but things mostly
make sense and feel like life. At least, like life in a video game. The specifics of how the dream works are never
solidified, but it is clearly more real than the dreams of a typical person. The mere fact that, Link, an outside force,
is able to enter the dream and interact with it, shows there is deeper magic to it all. The Wind Fish almost seems to be a deity. He has the power to create worlds and people
that feel real. Of the first four Zelda games, the cast of
Awakening is more distinct and memorable than those of any of the other titles, and even
Link’s relationship with Marin is stronger than the one he shares with Zelda. A Link To The Past ushered in characters with
more depth, but Awakening took things a step further and focused even more on Link building
relationships with them. Marin is really the first character in the
series to have this level of depth. She is not only lovable and endearing, but
she has dreams of her own—dreams of getting off the island and singing for everyone in
the world. This is a trend that the series has built
upon and expanded greatly because it makes players feel far more connected to the people
and the world they are trying to save. In Awakening one of Link’s quests involves
meeting the various inhabitants of the island and trading items with them in order to progress,
giving Link and the player the chance to meet with the interesting cast of characters. There is also a section where Link and Marin
travel together, and if the player decides to explore the island with her, they are rewarded
with a handful of charming moments between the two, solidifying their relationship. By structuring the game in this way, it gets
players to better understand what will be lost if they continue. These aren’t just characters in the background,
they are ones that Link and the player have gotten to know. This chips away at the notion that the player
is doing the right thing. Link’s motivation to leave is not the only
thing driving the story forward. Although it isn’t clear until the end, the
Wind Fish is actively trying to be awoken. The Owl who constantly stops by to ask Link
if he would kindly wake the Wind Fish, is acting on the orders of the Wind Fish. What’s even more interesting is that he
does so by deceiving Link. It is hard to know where the Owl begins and
the Wind Fish ends, so it is impossible to say whether or not the Owl knew everything
about the nature of the dream. However, given that he doesn’t mention the
existence of nightmares within the dream until after Link defeats them, along with saying
he is the guardian of the dream world, it isn’t a massive leap to assume that he probably
knew what would happen. So, when the Owl tells Link that, yes, it
is a dream, but no one knows whether or not the island will disappear this seems like
a lie told to convince Link to keep going. Link spends a lot of time becoming a part
of the island, and if he knew for sure that waking the Wind Fish would cause everything
to disappear, to cause Marin to disappear, he might not want to wake the Wind Fish. He might rather stay. Of course, the player can technically choose
to do this by just turning off the game before beating the final boss, but that isn’t really
satisfying because it doesn’t lead to an actual resolution they get to see. For the game to truly end, Link needs to awaken
the Wind Fish and let Koholint Island vanish. Certainly there is a moral argument that the
Wind Fish’s life is more valuable than the lives of those within the dream, but regardless
of that, the Wind Fish is not the one Link spends time with throughout the adventure. The Wind Fish is not the one whose wishes
Link hears. The Wind Fish is not the one players care
about. So whether or not it is the right thing to
do, it’s upsetting. For the longest time though, I felt that I
must be missing something, that I must not have understood the story entirely, and this
disconnect stems from the final cutscene. Link, stranded in the middle of the ocean,
looks up to see the Wind Fish flying overhead and he smiles, as a triumphant rendition of
the Ballad of the Wind Fish plays. Link’s reaction in those final moments differed
so greatly from mine when I first saw, and I always questioned why the developers chose
to end the game on that note. It could be as simple as him feeling relieved
that the Wind Fish may be able to save him from his current predicament of floating in
the middle of the ocean; it could be him being happy to know that the dream of Koholint Island
wasn’t his own but rather one shared with someone else, making everything from the dream
live on through the Wind Fish; it could be him accepting that all things end, and the
only thing one can really do is remember the past with love and move forward. It could be a lot of things. It could also be nothing. Link’s Awakening is one of those games that
I have played during various stages of my life and gotten something new from it each
time. When I was 8, I thought it was sad that Link
had to leave his friends—that no matter what, he’d only ever be left with the memory
of them. Today though, I see Link as someone who needed
to make a nearly impossible choice where no matter what, other people, people who didn’t
deserve it, would lose, and even though the choice benefits him in some ways, it hurts
him in a thousand others. Every time I’ve finished Link’s Awakening,
I’ve left feeling a little empty. Like, despite trying my best I only ended
up making things worse. And personally, that is what I love about
Awakening. I adore games that have the ability to elicit
this kind of an emotional response. In general, Zelda games do a good job of creating
stories that resonate with players, and it has long been one that explores meaningful
themes that extend far beyond the games themselves. Majora’s Mask explores grief and legacy,
Ocarina of Time looks at innocence and the loss of it, Breath of the Wild tackles failure
and acceptance. Nearly every Zelda game has a core theme it
examines, and the way that theme is typically addressed involves Link conquering his obstacles
and becoming a hero who saves the day. Awakening does things a little differently
though. Link’s problems aren’t solved by simply
turning into a hero. It asks more from players than that. It asks them to make a choice with greater
complexity than right versus wrong; it asks them to learn to leave things behind; it asks
them to sometimes be the bad guy; in a weird way that wasn’t clear to me until I became
one myself, it asks them to be an adult. And sometimes that means accepting that everything
ends and still being able to look up, and smile at the dreams of days past. Ey. Thank you for watching. Since the last video, the channel has grown
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