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The Zelda Oracle games are out on 3DS Virtual Console now (along with a lot of other major things on portable devices), and I thought I’d give Link’s Awakening another run. I’ve seen a lot of people put that game at the top of their favorites lists for the series, but I’ve never been able to appreciate it that much.

For some reason, Link’s Awakening has been probably the most difficult and frustrating Zelda game for me excluding the first two games on the NES. The first time I played through Link’s Awakening back in the late 90’s it took me around six years and I died close to 150 times. It’s the only Zelda game where I find both the combat and puzzles to be continually challenging, where with most games in the series it’s one or the other.

In my most recent run I’ve already died around six times trying to beat the first boss, some of which includes just trying to get to him after retrying each time. People tell me the combat in A Link to the Past is more difficult but somehow I’m less frustrated by it. Something about the way enemies move in Link’s Awakening manages to catch me off guard all the time.

Link’s Awakening is also possibly the only Zelda game where I actually get stuck on puzzles and general plot progression for long periods of time. As I’m typing this I’m basically stumped trying to enter the third dungeon. I first beat this game before internet guides were a thing, but I’m pretty sure I had to use Nintendo Power a lot back in the day. I just think Link’s Awakening has some of the most obtuse puzzles and clues in the series.

Where else is there a room where you have to kill enemies in a certain order? Where else do you have to go through a series of trades that are only very lightly explained in order to progress the main plot? Link’s Awakening is the only Zelda game with puzzles I was stuck on for years.

I think the main reason I find this game so uniquely hard and why many favor it is because it seems to have nailed the most even balance between challenging combat and challenging puzzles. Previous 2D Zelda games were mainly combat dungeons with some rudimentary puzzles. The switch to 3D made combat much easier while making the puzzles much more elaborate. The puzzles in Link’s Awakening to me feel even more mysterious than the ones in most of the 3D games while the combat is at least as challenging as that of A Link to the Past. When you think about it Link’s Awakening sort of sits right on top of a split in the Zelda series.

It’s officially the sequel to A Link to the Past but playing through it now I’m seeing predecessors to elements that would appear in Ocarina of Time as well. Presentation elements like the Owl and the focus on instruments in relation to dungeons that are hallmarks of Ocarina really got their debut in Link’s Awakening. Even the white screen with the parting message after the completion of each dungeon features both in Ocarina and Awakening. Gameplay-wise Ocarina’s mechanic of assigning items to buttons seems like a direct evolution of the same system in Awakening. One important adjustment made in Ocarina is one button always being assigned to the sword, which is pretty much what people do anyway in Awakening.

I really don’t know what I’m getting into by buying the Oracle games. I haven’t played any Capcom Zelda games and the Oracle games were made after Ocarina and Majora’s Mask, possibly carrying elements from those games. First though we’ll see how long it actually takes me to finish Link’s Awakening again.

BULLETS:

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