Tag Archives: nostalgia

FGC #459 The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

Note: This article contains spoilers for a game that is either twenty years or one month old. To be clear, the spoilers are not for anything you wouldn’t find in the Gameboy version. You have been warned.

Adventure Time!Forever just isn’t as long as it used to be.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is an amazing game. Within the confines of the meager Gameboy, Link experienced one of his most enjoyable and surprisingly expressive adventures. Link saves the day by venturing through Koholint, a mysterious island home to friendly villagers, the occasional demon round boi, and no less than twelve billion moblins. Items of note include a giant catfish that hides an equally giant worm, a walrus that is always happy to hear a song, and a golden leaf (or maybe five). Oh, and there’s that gigantic egg at the top of Koholint’s highest peak. Assuming Link is capable of collecting all eight of the magical instruments (that’s seven more than usual!) strewn around the island, he’s told he will awaken the Wind Fish, and the dream that is Koholint Island will fade to nothingness. Every one and every thing Link encounters across his adventure is ephemeral, and will disappear should his quest succeed.

And that makes me sad!

Which, ultimately, is the point. LA’s Koholint Island is, when you stop to think about it, one of the absolute nicest places Link has ever visited. Yes, there are monsters, and, yes, the rules of life and death appear to be controlled by a lesser Mario villain’s song, but, aside from a few existential horrors, Koholint is a pretty nice place. You can hang out in a pastoral village, enjoy a walk on the beach, or even have a conversation with a welcoming (and surprisingly verbal) rabbit. SING ITAnd even if Link decides to just stay in the Dream Shrine for the rest of the day, there’s a very real feeling that life on Koholint can go on without him. Granny has her sweeping to do, an alligator is busy working on his art, and lovers are catfishing each other with snail mail. And then there’s Marin. Sweet, doomed Marin…

Marin is the first person Link meets on Koholint, and, incidentally, the first woman in the franchise to rescue Link for a change. It is Marin that drags the sea tossed Link back to her cottage, and nurses him back to health after his near-death experience. And when Link is up and adventuring, it is once again Marin that is not only the most useful villager across the quest (learning music is fun!), she’s also the woman that spends the most time with Link. They play crane games together. They smash pots together. They even bond over a shared love of fried chicken. Right down to Marin’s very vocal desire to be free and see the world, it’s clear that you, the player, are supposed to feel a bond with Marin, and maybe even the slightest bit of empathy for this monochrome NPC. Your quest will wipe her from existence, and, only if you’re really good will you be rewarded with the possibility that Marin escaped her fate by becoming the trashiest of trash birds.

But, whether you keep Link immaculate or not, the Marin you know is gone at the end of Link’s Awakening. And nothing is going to change that. Marin was never real in the first place, and you’ll never see her again.

HERE WE GOAnd the Zelda franchise/Nintendo held true to this rule for decades. Marin only reappeared as a trophy (literally, to be clear) in Super Smash Bros Melee, and did not return in any other form, playable, cameo, or otherwise. Marin clearly influenced Malon of Ocarina of Time, but the young lady obsessed with cows shared very little in common with the songstress of the seas. And, if you squint, you can see how Link’s sister Aryll (of Wind Waker) shares a few superficial similarities with the girl of Link’s dreams. But aside from those allusions, Marin, like all of the friendly faces around Koholint Island, was gone forever, another unfortunate casualty of having never existed at all. Papahl, Kidoh, Lattie, Mamasha, Madam MeowMeow, and even Old Man Ulrira are all gone from the franchise, too; but Marin’s absence is felt most keenly. She was more interesting than the titular Zelda, people! Bring her back!

And now Marin returns in the Switch version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. She’s back. She’s adorable. And she’s singing her lil’ heart out.

So why am I sad to see one of my favorite characters all over again?

CHOMPWhen you get right down to it, Link’s Awakening needed a remake. Yes, the obvious issue with LA was that it was initially designed for hardware that could barely support an entire Mario Land, but the controls of Link’s Awakening needed an upgrade much more than the graphics or sound. The A/B system of LA was a genius callback to the original adventure, but there’s a reason The Legend of Zelda never let you switch out your sword. Yes, the option of bomb arrows is always nice, but there are way too many places in OG LA where you have to switch out your feather for some boots and then over to a power bracelet and whoops there’s an enemy maybe you need a sword or some bombs. I hate pausing! A modern remake of LA would allow for mapping the constantly used items to constantly used buttons (what is even the point of giving Link a jump if it’s a pain in the ass to use?), and then maybe an island filled with pegasus blocks would be less than annoying. Link’s Awakening was always a shining rupee in the Zelda crown, but some QOL improvements could make it pretty amazing.

And they did! Link’s Awakening: Switch Because Apparently Subtitles for Subtitles Are For Nerds is a pretty amazing experience. The graphics are adorable and appropriately “just wrong enough” for a dream world, the music (mostly) captures the original haunting isolation of LA’s best tunes, and, yes Virginia, there is an excellent control redux. None of it is absolutely perfect (Roc’s Feather should simply be a permanent RT, and why I can’t use the damn cross-pad is some Phantom Hourglass-level nonsense), but this is indisputably the best version of one of the best Zeldas available. It’s a joy to play, and revisiting sunny Koholint is a welcome change of pace from Link’s usually dour dungeons (or that one Hyrule that is not doing great).

So what’s the problem? If I had to put a point on it, I’d say it’s the ending:

GOOD END

The finale of the original Link’s Awakening was something I saw a billion times. LA was one of my few Gameboy games, and I played the living hell out of it through a Super Gameboy. When I was finally allowed my first actual Gameboy, I reamed every last bit of gameplay out of that gray goober. I must have beaten that game literally hundreds of times, and I must have seen “Seagull Marin” about 80% of those times (hey, I didn’t know dying was a bad thing when I was a kid). And, no matter how many times I beat Link’s Awakening, it always made me sad. Marin was gone forever, and, as the years went on, I was only ever reminded that Marin would never return. She was dreamstuff in the first place, and to the shores of The Dreaming she would always return. Sorry, Bob, time to move on to other adventures.

But Link’s Awakening Switch stirs a different feeling in me. That feeling? “Oh, there she is again.”

For a solid two decades, Marin was nowhere to be found. Then, in 2015 (or so), she rolled on in…

BAD END

Yes, she appeared in Link’s sexual awakening, but she was back! There was much rejoicing!

Now, four years later, she’s back in the remake of Link’s Awakening. And now when I see her ending, I don’t feel the same melancholy as before. I experience the unmistakable sensation of “wonder what she’s going to do next for Nintendo?” We saw Hyrule Warriors DLC, so will she be in the inevitable sequel? How about an amiibo? Maybe Nintendo will take the Link Between Worlds route and make an outright Link’s Awakening 2: Koholint Boogaloo. Regardless of future plans, this is less a downhearted finale, and now more Marin isn’t going to be gone forever ever again, dear player, and here’s a little reminder.

FLAP FLAPAnd, yes, it is entirely possible I’m just being cynical about this whole situation. Link’s Awakening: Switches Get Stiches was an amazing game, and I really shouldn’t be complaining about it because Nintendo has an overzealous marketing department. But, on the other hand, I do have to turn the game off. And when I do, I see Cloud Strife advertising his latest adventure (which is the same adventure, but maybe different[?]), Disney advertising their latest live action remake of a beloved cartoon from my childhood (probably The Rescuers Down Under this week), and freaking Boo Berry returning to store shelves because nostalgia even sells breakfast-themed sugar snacks. It’s a little bit hard to believe that Nintendo is going to let any part of Link’s Awakening “rest” when I’ve got seventeen different Link amiibos staring back at me. Come to think of it, the LA Link on the official Nintendo Amiibo website is listed as part of the “Series: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening”. So I’ve got a general idea where that phrasing is going…

Yes, I’m actually complaining about more content being provided from a franchise/game that I deeply enjoy. Yes, this sounds like the most first of first world problems. But stories should be allowed to end. Endings should be allowed to be sad without tacking on an ellipse and a question mark. Or, at the very least, I should be allowed to enjoy a piece of media without being reminded it’s just one cog in an unstoppable machine meant to grind me down until I am simply blood and an open wallet. The nostalgia advertised for so many of these projects is less dopamine and more poison when the threat of further, costly adventures is on the horizon.

I’m just an old man complaining, but I’m old enough to remember when a Zelda game ended, it meant it ended. Forever.

FGC #459 The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

  • System: Nintendo Switch. I reserve the right to review the original at some point in the next 100 FGC articles.
  • Number of players: Does dungeon sharing count? Let’s just say one.
  • SpicyGravediggin’: Oh yeah, the big, new content for Link’s Awakening is Dampé providing a “build a dungeon” area. It’s… kind of weird to have a “real” Hyrule inhabitant on Koholint. Regarding the actual dungeon building, I want to say this might have been better received if it was touted as a “Link’s Awakening Randomizer”, and not a real unique dungeon creation system. The concept here is amazing… but in practice, it just winds up being random bits from LA dungeons sewn together. That can be its own kind of fun… but it ain’t no Zelda Maker.
  • Say Something Mean: Whoever is responsible for the load times involved when entering houses that are approximately six pixels wide should be forced to fight a flock of angry chickens.
  • Favorite Nightmare: Now I finally know that Hot Head, the boss of the final complete dungeon, is supposed to be a lava monster that is inexplicably only weak to the fire rod. There was a slight chance that high definition graphics would give some explanation as to why fire is vulnerable to fire, but, nope, he’s just a reject Fry Guy.
  • Favorite Mini Boss: Smasher demands that Link play dodge ball. He’s my kinda whale-fish-dude.
  • So, did you beat it? I certainly did, but I didn’t exactly get every heart piece and secret seashell. I might really enjoy this world, but I don’t feel like figuring out every damn fishing game that crosses my path.
  • Did you know? According to the official Legend of Zelda timeline, the same Link stars in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, The Legend of Zelda: The Oracle of Ages, The Legend of Zelda: The Oracle of Seasons, and then The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. First of all, that Link has got to be exhausted by the end of his four separate journeys. But, more importantly, there isn’t an adventure for that particular Link after Link’s Awakening. This raises some… very solemn questions.
  • Would I play again: Yes. I might feel vaguely bad about it, but I’m not made of stone.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy Legend 3 for the Gameboy! Now we’re hitting some monochrome adventuring! Please look forward to it!

I can hear this GIF
I can hear this GIF

The Voltron Delusion

VOLTRON!I would like to speak to you about my Defender of the Universe, Voltron.

Should I start at the beginning? Is that really necessary? I mean, most of the time when I explain some excessively nerdy topic, I basically have my mother in mind (she’s going to find this blog one of these days…), and try to explain the subject of discussion for her baby boomer brain. However, this might be one of the few situations where my mother is well aware of the pop culture nerdery in question. Why? Because I first caught the Voltron bug when I was all of four years old, and, thanks to stupid labor laws, it was very hard for a four year old to earn enough dough to purchase even one super transforming lion robot, left alone an entire pride. My parents were eager to please my little avaricious self, so, at some early point in my life, Voltron, Defender of the Universe was acquired in a myriad of forms. I had little rolly Voltron, oddly spongy Voltron, and, of course, the big cheese himself, Big Damn Voltron. As a point of fact, Big Damn Voltron has been a centerpiece of my home décor for years no matter where I hang my hat.

Hot kitchen action

Wait, where was I? Oh, right, the good news.

Got a little ahead of myself there. See, Voltron was the star of an ancient cartoon (anime?) from the 80’s, and featured five unique space explorers piloting a bunch of robot cats that were capable of combining into the titular Voltron. Despite the fact that Voltron was popular enough to drive its blazing sword into the hearts of a million teeny viewers, attempts to revive the Voltron franchise (The Third Dimension, Voltron Force, Cloverfield) have generally fallen flat. So imagine my jubilation at the announcement of a new Voltron series from the people behind Avatar: The Legend of Korra (a series that, incidentally, I just finished rewatching for the third or fourth time). This is gonna be great, guys!

And it is a stupendous show!

It’s just a lousy Voltron show.

Voltron: Legendary Defender is a serialized Voltron show. It features the old mainstays (Hunk, Pidge, Lance, Keith, Allura) and “newcomer” Takashi “Shiro” Shirogane, who is actually a sort of alternate universe Sven from the original Voltron series (Takashi Shirogane was, incidentally, the original Go-Lion character that became Sven). Sven, in the original series, suffered an early, fatal defeat and was retired to “space hospital” VOLTRON!  AGAIN!to go play with the other absent space explorers and run around a great big yard and have a by and large blissful nonexistence. In V:LD, Shiro is Black Lion’s pilot for at least the entire first season, and has a dark and mysterious past in an alien gladiator ring. Shiro is the possibly corrupted leader of the Voltron Force, and struggles deeply with his feelings of inadequacy and inability to save Pidge’s family.

In other words, Shiro got issues.

And everyone has issues! Hunk is homesick, Pidge has a missing family and trust issues, Keith appears to have become improbably feral, and Lance has been separated from whatever store sells those cool flight jackets (and I guess he almost died, too). Princess Allura is apparently the last of her people, and is so cripplingly lonely that she’s talking to vermin. Even Coran, the most clearly comic relief character in the cast, has some sort of malaise going on with entire planets getting sucked into Hell by the evil empire that incidentally obliterated his people. Oh, and that evil empire? There’s more throne gamery going on there than Westeros, with secret plans for planet juice being passed around and… ugh, it gets complicated.

And Voltron: Defender of the Universe, the original series? That Voltron ain’t complicated.

That Voltron is stupid.

Here’s the plot for an 80’s episode of Voltron: Purple Bad Guys have a plan. After much shouting and gnashing of teeth, So many headsPurple Bad Guys implement the plan. Everything goes great for Purple Bad Guys for 15 minutes (not counting commercials for [Voltron] products). At minute 16, the Voltron Squad assembles Voltron. At minute 17, Blazing Sword is formed. The Purple Bad Guy Plan that, for some reason, ultimately relied on a skyscraper sized Robeast, goes right down the toilet as Voltron cleaves previously mentioned Robeast in twain. Purple Bad Guys shake their fists angrily, and Pidge learns a valuable lesson about recycling or something. Roll credits.

With a scant few exceptions, that’s every single episode.

And for little kids, it’s glorious, because every episode has the same moral: Voltron is going to make everything okay. When you’re four? That’s the most important lesson of all.

Look, I’m assuming you didn’t stumble onto this site during naptime. You’re an adult (or something much like it), and you know life is complicated. I’m sure there are a million problems swirling around your head right now, all bumping into each other and causing stress from their mere mention. Maybe it’s something all-consuming, like providing food and shelter for your family, or maybe it’s something comparatively simple, like an ex-lover haunting your favorite noodle place; regardless, you’ve got problems, and they’re important. Maybe there are solutions to these problems, maybe the answers are far out of grasp. Maybe there are no resolutions, and this is something you’re just going to have to live with until the day you die.

But wouldn’t it be nice to just form Blazing Sword and be done with it? Wouldn’t it be nice to Voltron your problems away?

Voltron: Defender of the Universe is all about that. A lot of 80’s anime has a similar flow, too. Take a look at Sailor Moon. Whatever is going wrong with Usagi this week (whether it be her low economic standing, poor dietary habits, or general incompetence) that problem is going to be solved in about twenty minutes when she decides to transform into a superhero, spend a minute or two futzing around in her knee-high boots, and then banish evil forever (or at least to another day) with her Moon Tiara or HEROES!literal magic wand. Sure, her talking cat or obviously envious brunette buddy might make a few quips before the credits roll, but I heard that theme music, I know that the problem du jour has been solved. Heck, isn’t the endpoint of the Sailor Moon franchise a millennia of serenity? That sounds pretty alright!

Ultimately, this is why modern incarnations of Voltron or Sailor Moon do not match their previous versions. To my knowledge (with the exception of programs literally written for babies), we no longer produce TV shows with that simple, black and white morality. And that’s probably a good thing! In our modern age of streaming and absorbing hours upon hours of entertainment like oversized sponges, sucking up 25 hours of “everything is going to be okay” would likely turn the populace into a flock of waddling sheeple straight out of a bad reddit post. Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, and Steven Universe are all excellent children’s programs that also engage all age groups thanks to their gray morals and universes where a “villain” may just be a misunderstood older fellow (or rock). These are shows that would dramatically lose something if their “bad guys” were cackling maniacs destined for the pointy end of magical weapon.

But there’s a reason 80’s nostalgia works so effectively on an entire generation. Optimus Prime, Sailor Moon, and Voltron aren’t just heroes, they’re The Answer. There’s no problem that won’t be solved by the end of that theme song. Galactic Peace is just a dead Robeast away, and then everything will be perfect for another day. Watch that same canned animation of the lions combining, or Sailor Moon transforming, or Optimus rolling out, and know, just know, that everything will be okay.

Voltron: Legendary Defender is a great show about an eclectic cast of characters working their way through saving the universe.

Voltron: Defender of the Universe is universal peace through repetition.

It’s kind of hard to beat that.

Ugh