This past weekend I was in Los Angeles for the Anime and Manga Studies Symposium at the Anime Expo. It was intense.
In between flying out to LA and flying back to DC, I did a full playthrough of Link’s Awakening.
What struck me this time around is how chatty the game is. Every time Link bumps up against a crystal obstacle when he’s not wearing the Pegasus Boots, the game is like Y’ALL NEED SOME SPECIAL EQUIPMENT TO BREAK THIS UP. Every time Link touches a rock while not wearing the Power Bracelet, the game is like BRO DO U EVEN LIFT. The game tells you in great detail what a dungeon map is, and what a compass is, and what a boss key is, and then keeps telling you, over and over again.
The boss monsters also talk to Link. This starts getting creepy in the fifth dungeon, when the mini-boss, a Master Stalfos, runs away from Link, openly stating that he’s fleeing the battle because he’s afraid he can’t win. The fifth dungeon is also when the final bosses begin cautioning Link against waking the Wind Fish. If he achieves his objective, they tell him, then everyone on the island will disappear into nothing, as if they had never existed.
And they’re not wrong.
What’s interesting about the Zelda series is that very few people lie to Link. In fact, the two characters that do deliberately withhold the truth from him are Zelda (in Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess) and the King of Red Lions (in The Wind Waker). The terrible thing is that, unless you’re playing one of the games for the second time, you don’t know that the bad guys are more or less always telling the truth.
As a kid, what I always wanted to know about Link’s Awakening was why Link was sailing out into the ocean by himself in the first place. Why didn’t he just stay in Hyrule, where he was already a hero? Now that I think about it, however, Link would probably have had some conflicting emotions concerning being used like a tool. In the Shotaro Ishinomori manga adaptation of A Link to the Past, Princess Zelda forms a bond with Link but then doesn’t have much contact with him after he’s completed his quest. I know the manga isn’t canon, but the Hero’s Shade character in Twilight Princess represents the same problem.
It’s probably significant that Link is always fairly young, or at least pliable (the word in Japanese is sunao) enough to do what he’s told without stopping to question whether what he’s doing is in fact the right thing to do.
( Header image from Legends of Localization )