Imagine, if you will, the final dungeon of a Zelda game. What do you picture? Perhaps your memory returns to a somewhat recent experience with Breath of the Wild, fighting tooth and nail against Lynels or sneaking past Lizalfos in the winding hallways of Hyrule Castle. Maybe you picture the Hyrule Castle of Twilight Princess, using the double clawshot to launch across broken staircases and strategically using your sword arts to take out Darknuts. Or maybe you think of Ganondorf’s Castle in Ocarina of Time, navigated through separate areas themed around the game’s previous dungeons to break the barrier on the stairs that lead to the final battle. In each of these games, the final encounter against the game’s villain is preceded by a dungeon that puts all of your skills to the test. You get to flex your combat muscles as well as implementing all of the tools you’ve collected over the course of your journey. It is essentially the game’s final exam, demonstrating your mastery of all the concepts you learned up to this point.
In Link’s Awakening, I was curious about how the final encounter would play out. The goal of the game is to collect eight instruments and then climb up to the egg of the Wind Fish and play a ballad. While the collecting of the instruments certainly fit the bill as far as traditional Zelda dungeons went, it didn’t seem that there was any kind of final confrontation building. Would there even be a final boss at the egg? Would the eighth dungeon actually be the final dungeon of the game, to be followed by an ending cutscene that I could simply trigger whenever I wanted? I was worried that what had proven to be an excellent Zelda game up to that point might suddenly fall flat at the end.
As it turns out, the ending of Link’s Awakening didn’t play out as I expected, but it didn’t end in typical Zelda fashion either. So today I want to talk about my final hours with the game, how they compared to my expectations, and my recommendations for those who may be approaching the end of the game themselves.
Like many Zelda titles, Link’s Awakening features a series of dungeons connected by an overworld. Each dungeon grants a useful tool that can be used to explore new parts of the overworld, or to solve small puzzles in areas that you previously had to walk by while scratching your head. These puzzles generally grant small boons like a piece of heart or a secret seashell that add up to bigger boons when collected in large quantities. Other times, they hide secret places that grant more substantial upgrades like increased carrying capacity for limited items. You don’t need these items to finish the game but they do make things easier.
My plan for the endgame was to wrap up the eighth dungeon and get the final instrument, then to comb the overworld for secrets before tackling the game’s final dungeon. This would allow me to storm the final dungeon at full power, totally prepared for any challenges that the game might try to throw at me. There were quite a few areas I hadn’t bothered to revisit since the early game, and there was no telling what sort of secrets were hidden in those places. I was particularly hoping for a stronger sword (which I knew was tied to the seashells) as well as better armor to reduce the damage I took in combat.
I focused on the seashells first. It turned out that the majority of the seashells I missed were found in areas before I obtained the seashell finder. That’s an understandable development – without the ability to detect nearby seashells, I missed plenty of places where they were buried in spots that didn’t appear to be specially marked, or where they were hiding in trees. This meant that while I was visiting places like Toronbo Shores, the Mysterious Forest, and the area around Pothole Field, I had an easy time finding shells. What sucked was looking through the areas I’d been through more recently, trying to find out if there were shells hidden that I missed. I got frustrated enough that I made the decision to look up a guide and see if the reward for getting all 50 hidden shells was worthwhile – in my opinion, it was not. If you’re not a fan of the chamber dungeons or don’t particularly care about 100% them on your first playthrough, you can stop at 40 shells after the sword upgrade.
That said, the sword upgrade is 1000% worth your time. The Koholint Sword functions like the master sword in many Zelda games, firing a beam of energy to strike enemies when you are at full health. The sword beam does slightly less damage than a direct sword hit, but being able to pick off enemies from afar without using ammunition is really nice. And the increased damage means that many enemies wandering the fields around Koholint will fall to a single strike. I particularly loved the sword in combination with a couple of other tools. Jumping and slashing to send out a sword beam felt great, being able to harry flying opponents without firing arrows at them. I also loved how the Mirror Shield reflected the spears of moblins or stalfos – combining that with the Koholint Sword defeating them in one hit, they became as easy to walk past as the tall grass in the field.
While doing this shell search I was able to find the upgrades for the bombs and for the arrows, doubling their maximum amount from 30 to 60. This is a massive boost and one I would’ve loved to have found sooner in the game. Particularly during the Face Temple and Eagle Tower, I found myself constantly having to reload ammunition. These bonuses are both found in areas where you may not think to revisit once you’re later in the game, as it’s easy to assume that you explored them in totality the last time you were there.
The next big thing I tackled was the color dungeon. When Link’s Awakening was redone for the GameBoy Color, they added a special dungeon to the game which prominently put those colored sprites on display. While color is certainly not a new concept in the remake, the color dungeon is still present and is accessible as early as after the third dungeon when you obtain the pegasus boots. I’d been putting it off because I assumed it was intended for late game or post game, but in reality the color dungeon is not a difficult one to overcome. The reward is quite worthwhile, too – your choice between armor which increases attack power or armor which increases defense. With the attack boost, sword beams from the Koholint Sword become strong enough to take down enemies who once required two hits from the standard sword, which makes it effortless to sweep aside weak enemies in the overworld.
For all of these boons – the Koholint Sword, the increased ammunition, and the new armor from the color dungeon – I quickly realized that I could have obtained them earlier in the game. The toughest dungeons in Link’s Awakening are those that come later in the game. I’d go so far as to say that there is a difficulty spike after the fourth dungeon. But as it turns out, this spike could have been alleviated by a bit more overworld exploration. I could have been doing double damage thanks to the red mail much earlier, and realistically once you have the hookshot after the fifth dungeon, pretty much the entire overworld is accessible and you can make a meaningful effort to get the seashells needed for the Koholint Sword. I’d recommend earlier exploration of these areas to anyone who’s about halfway through the game at this point, particularly because of the next thing I learned.
If you don’t want spoilers for the ending of Link’s Awakening, this is where you’ll want to stop reading.
My concern about there being nothing left after the eighth dungeon turned out to be about halfway accurate. Once you finish Turtle Rock your dungeon days are over – there is technically an area you explore after playing the Ballad of the Wind Fish at the egg, but it does not require any of your tools or knowledge. Instead, it requires you to learn a pattern at the library and use that pattern to navigate a maze. Now there is a final boss to be faced before the Wind Fish will be truly awake, but the final exam experience we discussed at the beginning of the article is just not there. If, like me, you wait until the endgame to get all the useful upgrades hidden throughout the world, you will barely get to use them at all.
This lack of a final dungeon meant that, in essence, the overworld had become the final dungeon for my play experience. After finishing Turtle Rock, I spent a couple of hours scouring the island for its secrets. I returned to Mabe Village and talked to all of the families living there while looking in their houses for seashells. I explored the Mysterious Forest and Ukuki Plains again, remember the first time I entered those areas towards the beginning of my playthrough. I swam around Kantalet Castle and remembered how I got stuck there because I couldn’t find the fifth golden leaf. I replayed the river rapids minigames and had to repurchase my shovel for 300 rupees after trading it for a boomerang. By the time I walked into the Wind Fish’s Egg, I’d gone on a tour reminding me of everything I had experienced in Link’s Awakening up to that point.
As it turns out, I was paying one final visit to everything I was about to destroy.
In the dungeons leading up to the finale, you steadily learn the truth about Koholint Island. The island exists only in the dreams of the Wind Fish, and the only way for Link to escape it is to get the Wind Fish to wake. The problem is, while Link would awaken and be returned to his proper world, Koholint Island and its inhabitants would simply be gone. To awaken the Wind Fish and end the dream would essentially be the death of everyone and everything on the island. The game doesn’t paint it in such bleak terms, per se, but it certainly twists the knife. Link learns that his actions will cause the disappearance of all the island’s residents just as his friendship with Marin begins to blossom into the blushing awkwardness of a childhood crush. Their innocent romance is colored intensely by the understanding that Marin is essentially on her deathbed.
Destroying an entire island doesn’t seem like the action of a hero. Yet the Nightmares, the beings who wish for the island to remain forever and have hidden away the eight instruments necessary to waken the Wind Fish, are the villains here. It is they who do not understand that while dreams may be beautiful and wonderful, those dreams must eventually come to an end. We cannot live forever in dreams, and if we were given the opportunity to we surely would want to stop. Look at Marin, who wants nothing more than to find a place beyond the idyllic shores of her perfect little island. It is left unclear – intentionally, I believe – whether or not Marin fully understands what is going to happen to her if she wakes the Wind Fish. Yet in the moment when the owl reveals to us that Marin has attempted to do so, I felt a pang of respect and pain.
Link’s Awakening does not have a final dungeon. It doesn’t need one. Although from a mechanical perspective I wish I gained many of the tools I discovered at the very end of the game much earlier in my playthrough, I don’t regret that my final hours were spent exploring Koholint. It was a bittersweet reminder of the beauty of the island I was about to lose – and not just “lose” but to intentionally end through my actions. The endgame is your final opportunity to live in the dream just a little longer before you finally wake up. It is the perfect way to convey the story that Link’s Awakening is trying to tell, not a story of your typical struggle against a foul villain but a story of the beauty and frailty of dreams.