A long time ago, 1993 to be precise, Nintendo released a brand new Zelda game as a follow-up to their critically acclaimed A Link to the Past. It was called Link’s Awakening and it came out for the Game Boy. Link’s Awakening was unlike any Zelda game to date, taking place outside of Hyrule and did not incorporate the titular Princess Zelda, the land of Hyrule, or the Triforce in the game’s story. Instead, the game took place in the mysterious land of Koholint Island. The title was way ahead of its time and dealt with a somewhat dark and incredibly tragic story. Does this sound familiar? It should, as the game shares many similarities with the Nintendo 64’s Majora’s Mask and I would argue set the stage for Majora to be developed.
Majora’s Mask is a tad different than Link’s Awakening, as the technology for the game had advanced to the point where the story could be more in-depth. The NPCs and sidquests are more involved than its predecessor, but the sense of tragedy is still an overarching presence in each game. In Majora’s Mask, there are so many sidequests which reveal the struggles and hardships that each inhabitant of Termina must endure, not to mention the moon that will come crashing down at any moment, killing everyone. In Link’s Awakening, if Link ultimately collects all of the instruments scattered across Koholint, awakens the Wind Fish, and Koholint Island and its inhabitants will vanish, as they are merely a dream. While the residents of Koholint Island aren’t as developed as those of Termina due to the technical limitations of the time, you do become somewhat attached to some of the characters, Marin in particular, whose feelings for Link are hinted at, and makes it all the more tragic that Link will lose all of the friendships he has forged throughout his journey.
Link’s tragic journey begins
Majora’s Mask is lauded for changing the Zelda formula and taking the series outside of Hyrule and being a more personal journey, but Link’s Awakening was actually the first Zelda game to do this. While in Majora’s Mask Link is still out to save the world, which is a common theme throughout the Zelda series, there is no such motivation in Link’s Awakening. Yes, in both games Link finds himself thrown into a world that he is not familiar with and does not understand, but in Link’s Awakening Link’s only motivation is to return home. Awakening the Wind Fish and losing everyone on the island is only an unfortunate side effect of this, but, in this way it is actually fundamentally different than any other Zelda game and even sets it apart from Majora’s Mask. Link’s Awakening is not given its due credit for breaking the mold in the Zelda series and not only paved the way for Majora’s Mask but the Oracle games as well, which took place outside of Hyrule.
I would even go so far to say that the technical limitations of Link’s Awakening helps it as a game, because its story, gameplay, and sidequests are able to be more focused. While Majora’s Mask is a wonderful game, there are so many sidequests to experience on top of saving the world from a moon which is about to topple the world. These sidequests are important to get the full experience of Majora’s Mask, but, they are scattered all over the place and it is because of the time limitation that it can take a while to get to them all. Link’s Awakening is more streamlined in this way. The sidequests are relatively easy to come by and the character development is based on events that happen in the game, not by completing a sidequest; that is only an added bonus. While Link’s Awakening doesn’t have a ton of character development, the amount it does have is incredibly rewarding and does make a lasting impact as you continue on Link’s journey. None of this is to say that Majora’s Mask is a bad game; it is an excellent title and a welcome addition to the Zelda franchise. The fact of the matter though is that Majora’s Mask would not have been possible if Link’s Awakening had not been made.
Majora’s Mask is filled with interesting characters, all with their own stories
Link’s Awakening was a breakthrough for the Zelda franchise. It was the first game to take place outside of Hyrule and was a much more personal journey for Link with some rather tragic results. While Majora’s Mask was an excellent game, it was not the first dark and tragic Zelda game to take place outside of Hyrule and not incorporate Princess Zelda or the Triforce. Majora’s Mask is very much Link’s Awakening 2.0, with a few tweaks and a bit of a larger scope. The Game Boy’s technology was so limited there was only so much that they could achieve with Zelda’s first handheld entry, and Nintendo surpassed every expectation. Link’s Awakening is the original Majora’s Mask and informed so much of what the N64 title would eventually become, and it is incredibly unfortunate that it is not given its due credit.