Most people beat The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and are left thinking that everything was a dream, and it was a completely wasted plotline within the Zelda timeline. However, upon deeper analysis, you will learn that without waking the Windfish, this would end the timeline, and be the full demise of Link. Before we get into the details, let me just provide you with a quick summary, and then we’ll continue forward with breaking those details down.
In the ending of Link’s Awakening, upon waking the Windfish, Link saves three of the four real characters (the Windfish, Link, and Marin), while Nakura (the ghost) succumbs to the storm and cannot be saved. Ending the game, we learn that Koholint and the rest of its inhabitants only exist within the Windfish’s dream.
Each of the four “real” characters will gain a new perspective on life and death. Though the rest of the characters, along with Koholint Island, don’t exist in the real world, they serve several very important roles. Namely, they serve as a barrier that, if not overcome, will be the fate of Link, the Windfish, and Marin. There are many other important details to note, beyond simply surviving, and I will break it all down for you below.
A Beloved Zelda Game
Many people view Link’s Awakening as one of, if not THE, best Zelda game in the series — besides Wand of Gamelon, of course. However, others are left feeling disappointed. And reasonably so, if you look at the game as simplistically as possible. As someone who has played through this game nearly every year since its initial release in 1993, I’ve picked up on the nuances and a few KEY details which most people probably overlook. Details which shine a new, more positive light on the devastating destruction of the beautiful Koholint Island.
To tell you the truth, I’ve made this video because I can’t find another Youtube video outlining what I find most significant about this game. Most videos on the topic are made, probably soon after a first playthrough while the player hasn’t really had time to reflect on the occurrences which took place. And to clarify, I’m not saying I’m smarter or more observant than anyone who hasn’t picked up on these details. I’m just a nerd, okay? I nerd out on everything I do.
So here it is.
The Pieces of the Puzzle
At the beginning of Link’s Awakening, we see that Link is voyaging in his ship when suddenly the winds pick up and storms break loose. After braving the storm to the best of his might, his boat is struck by lightning, and the screen goes dark.
Link is then found and saved by an orange-haired cutie named Marin who later gets massively friend-zoned, and left behind to die. Well, potentially… but we’ll discuss that in just a moment.
After finally waking up, Link chats with Marin, and her father Tarin, and then leaves their house to begin his adventure. And this is where, with a keen eye, we will find our first big clue.
Getting your sword and shield back, you decide it’s time to start killin’ the baddies, so you venture into the mysterious woods to search for the key to the entrance of Dungeon 1, Tail Cave.
That Weird Raccoon
The mysterious woods is mostly filled with “m-m-m-moblins”, and other enemy types. However, the path is eventually blocked off by a raccoon who stops us in our tracks. This raccoon tells us he has set a spell on the woods to prevent us from finding the Tail Cave key.
The spell which has been set on the woods by this dubious raccoon acts as sort of a barrier. A wall that cannot be overcome by our own means.
So, we find a mushroom, turn it into a powder and sprinkle the powder on the raccoon. The raccoon absolutely loses his mind and POOF, he turns into Tarin.
Tarin tells us that he bit into a funky mushroom in the woods and suddenly had the ‘darndest dream’. He claims that he was dreaming.. that he was a raccoon… Hmm..
As a gift for waking him up, Tarin releases the spell which is set on the mysterious woods, allowing us to progress through and collect the Tail Cave key.
Interesting, but let’s carry on for now.
Later in our adventure, we are able to sprinkle the same magic powder in 3 caves to wake up a bat from a nap. He then scolds us and curses us, burdening us with carrying larger amounts of bombs, arrows, and powder for the rest of the game. A heavy knapsack is truly a burden. I mean, imagine carrying all that junk while you’re stuck in Eagle’s Tower for 2 hours…
A Dream within a Dream
Okay, a dreaming Raccoon, a napping bat, what else do we have? Let’s head North East in Mabe Village over to the dream shrine.
The dream shrine is a strange room hidden in plain sight, right in front of our eyes at the very beginning of the game. Inside, there is nothing more than a bed. We can enter the dream shrine, lay in the bed, and drift off to sleep. Every time we sleep here, Link is taken into a dream, where he can find the most important item in the game — The Macarena.
This ocarina will, at the end of the game, be used to awaken the Windfish.
Wait a second, awaken the Windfish? But I thought this video was to prove that it wasn’t all just a dream?
At this point, you’re probably thinking, this isn’t actually going anywhere. And you’d be exactly right. The whole game was a dream, and that’s all there is to it.
The Pieces Fit
But wait a second, Tarin was in fact a raccoon. That’s awfully strange for him to claim he was only *dreaming* that he was a raccoon. It wasn’t a dream at all, right? Or if it truly was a dream, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, because it stopped us from progressing. So, if someone else’s dream has such a massive impact on us, does it really matter if it’s a dream? Surely what matters here is the real-life consequences.
If you had one of those dreams… you know, one of those dreams where you were suddenly a millionaire, and you woke up with that million dollars in your pocket… well, you’d have a really big pocket. But also, at that point, the dream wasn’t real, but the impact of the dream was. You’d have woken up a millionaire, while before the dream you had only the little bit of money you pulled in from your single GME stock.
Link’s Awakening is filled with references to dreams, which seem to more accurately reflect reality than a figment of our imaginations. Nearly every time a sleeper is involved, that’s when we get our clues.
It is by no coincidence that Tarin is one of the very first encounters we have in the game — he’s the second character we meet on this little island. Meeting him, and immediately learning the consequences of someone else’s dream lays out the foundation for the rest of this surreal journey. The raccoon is a lesson to keep in mind as we push forward through the conflicting information of this so called “dream island”.
Now how is it, when we wake up from the dream shrine, Link still has the Ocarina? Just like the million-dollar concept I’ve provided, Link wakes up with a very real item from his actions within the dream shrine dream.
Was it still a dream? Sure, maybe… probably. But that is beside the point. The point is, it simply does not matter because how it affects us in the real world.
What does matter is what we take with us. The occurrences within the dream shrine may not be real, but the ocarina absolutely is. The island itself may not be real, but awakening the Windfish is. Furthermore, the time we spent there, the people we met, and the challenges we went up against, and how those define us as people — that should never be forgotten.
A little bit later, during one of the more intimate moments of the game, we find Marin on a beach. As we sit on a log, overlooking the endless stretch of sea, she tells us how she has always known there was more beyond the island. This serves as another key detail, because up until this point in the game, nobody else seems to have even considered existence beyond the island. She tells us of her dreams to be a seagull so she can go sing to anyone and everyone across the seas, do some exploring, and just the freedom of flying above the world, not limited by her human body.
At another point, Marin turns to us and says “Link , some day you will leave this island… I just know it in my heart… …Don’t ever forget me… If you do, I’ll never forgive you!”
Sure, maybe it’s a little sad to leave the world behind. But Marin only asks us to remember her. And that’s exactly what we are supposed to do.
At the end of the game, we play the ballad of the Windfish to awaken the Windfish, and just like that, we awake with the Windfish.
If these specific dreams have been proven, in our quest so far, to have genuine consequences based on our actions, this directly implies, if we did not play the song to wake up the Windfish, the Windfish would die. And we would also die in that dream. Neither Link, nor the Windfish would wake from the damage of the storm, and the hero of legend dies right then and there. Sinking to the bottom of the ocean never to be seen again.
We can see the direct affect of this by comparing the good ending to the standard ending, which we will cover in just a moment.
Burdens into Blessings
The story is significant. Not only to Link as a developing character, but also for ourselves as individuals along for the ride.
When we look back at Link’s Awakening, there’s always something to learn. Remember that bat who cursed us because we interrupted his naps? Those curses actually benefited us. We got to upgrade our bomb bag, arrow quiver, and powder bag. Maybe the storm Link was faced with, despite being a rough moment for Mr. Hero, it actually may have been a blessing. I mean, without it, this game wouldn’t even exist. Sometimes, in the toughest of moments, we really need to embrace the good which came because of those tough moments. And maybe that good wasn’t just for us.
When we beat the game, we save Link from his death, but we also save the Windfish. The Windfish flies over Link and gives out a loud whale (pun intended). He gives out a sound as if to thank Link for saving him, and also maybe just to say hi because they shared such an amazing journey together. They both got through it. Even though Link is shown sailing right, and the Windfish is going left, and they are clearly going their different ways, they still can both look back on those times they shared and always remember what a great game this is.
Many of the characters, such as the quadruplet kids who can’t fathom life outside of the island are just fictional characters created in the Windfish’s imagination. Others, however, are much more than that.
The Good Ending
If you beat Link’s Awakening without dying, you are granted the “good ending”. In this good ending, not only do we save the Windfish and Link, but we also see the spirit of Marin, at the happiest we’ve ever seen her. Then, we see her fly away as a seagull. Her wish was granted.
Being that Link existed before the dream, and the Windfish also existed before the dream, we can safely assume Marin also existed (as a seagull) before the dream.
It’s kind of like when Marin’s father Tarin was initially human but became a raccoon in his so-called dream state, only to be revived back to his human form when he woke.
The dream, being a challenge to grant us new perspectives, maybe that’s exactly what Marin got out of the dream as well. Marin, in her seagull form, before getting caught in the dream, may have always looked upon humans with envy. And this dream for her was a challenge so she could break free of her envy and embrace what she has. Just as you and I should. We’ve all got struggles, and things we may not like about ourselves, but maybe we don’t have it so bad. Maybe we’re just too focused on what we don’t have, and not focused enough on what we do have. Marin is free to soar above the world and travel wherever she pleases, just as she always has been. Only now, she sees the beauty in it.
When Good Endings aren’t a Choice, Goodbyes are
There comes times where we have to move on because that’s just the cards we were dealt.
After leaving the fourth dungeon, Angler’s Tunnel, we are followed by a ghost named Nakura. The game doesn’t really explain this ghost, but what we do know is that the ghost takes a nostalgic look at his life, his house by the bay, and his belongings. He feels immense sorrow when he notices that everything he leaves behind will be unchanged. A certain sense of helplessness. But then he asks you to assist him to his grave, where he fully accepts that this storm which he got caught up in is not a storm he will be waking up from. This dream is his final resting place.
Not everything that happens allows us to grow. Inevitably, we must all eventually say goodbye and come to terms with our own mortality. But, even so, he can look at the world, remember that he did have a house, some clothes, collections, and a compass and map on the table — implying a great life of exploration and memorable times. In real life, he likely lived a house on a bay, near where Link was sailing. But whatever the case, he had a life. And his life impacted other lives, including ours.
Exclusively in Link’s Awakening DX, we are able to see a photo featuring the ghost waving goodbye. He looks happy and content. Because sometimes, there’s nothing we can do about it. Sometimes we just have to accept that this is the way things are and let go. Sometimes we just have to take one more quick look back, and say goodbye.
Moving On when it is Time
However, sometimes we move on by choice. Because it’s time to grow and continue our own adventures. There came a point where Link had to decide that he was going to risk it all. He was going to wake up the Windfish, despite constant warnings that everything would fade to nothing.
“To the finder.
The Isle of Koholint, is but an illusion.
Human, monster, sea sky.
A scene on the lid of a sleeper’s eye.
Awake the dreamer, and Koholint will vanish much like a bubble on a needle.
Castaway, you should know the truth!”
This is literally the writing on the wall.
But that risk, was a risk worth taking because it was time to move on.
Look, we all go through hard times in life. Maybe you’ve had to move away from people you care about, or perhaps you’ve lost a loved one, or recently went through a tough breakup. Whatever it may be, keep it in your heart and your mind, that sometimes we need to move on.
With that said, don’t forget those moments. Whatever those moments might be. Do not forget how important they were to you, and don’t forget how much it has impacted your life.
Even if we must move on, and even if it’s the toughest thing we’ve ever done… that’s okay. The effect of what happened on Koholint Island was real, just like everything which happened in those difficult moments you have personally faced. Those moments aren’t gone, they are memories that you can take with you and cherish for the rest of your life. You learned from those experiences, you moved on when you had to, and you grew as an individual. You pushed through the hardships and are better equipped for whatever challenges you might face next.
Honestly, you’re kind of awesome.
“Oh dream, please let me not wake up.
So you wish, and yet,
a dream has to end one day.
Such is the fate of time.
Even if everything disappears like the wind,
I will swim in the sky of your memories.
Even after you’ve awoken from it,
the dream will always be inside you.”
One last thing I’d like to note. As you’re heading towards Turtle Rock, the final dungeon in the game, there’s a really interesting moment where Marin tries to wake the Windfish herself. This happens regardless of whether you are getting the good ending or the standard ending. Even when Marin knows she will not wake up from the dream, she tries desperately to wake up the Windfish to save your life. It’s both very dark and touching at the same time.
This game really is an absolute masterpiece.
By the way, if you’ve learned any other lessons from characters in Link’s Awakening, let me know in the comments below. I’d really like to hear how this game may have changed or improved your life like it has mine.
Thanks for reading!