Patrick Hope: Character Issues III: The Space Whale
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of four columns detailing video game characters. It also contains spoilers for “The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening” … which was released in 1993. The game is about old enough to legally drink, but no one can complain about getting spoiled now. As you can gather from the big ol’ spoiler warning above, this week we’re all about the Zelda franchise’s first portable adventure, “Link’s Awakening,” released on the gray brick Nintendo Game Boy back in 1993. “Link’s Awakening” was a pretty massive departure for the series at the time. There is no Hyrule, no Triforce, no Ganon and no Zelda. There are references to Peach and Yoshi and Goombas and Piranha Plants appeared as enemies. Link finds himself shipwrecked on Koholint Island, with only one way to get off.
That way is to wake up the Wind Fish, who is sleeping in an egg up on the biggest mountain on the island. You don’t actually find out what the Wind Fish is until the end of the game, but rest assured, he looks like a space whale. Considering he has about 10 lines of text the entire game and they’re exclusively in the ending, you know, after you’ve already beaten the game, he might be an odd choice for one of these columns, but this is more about what the Wind Fish represents than the character itself.
Life on Koholint is actually kind of idyllic, if you ignore the monsters that are wandering the countryside. No one really seems that interested in ever exploring beyond the island. Well, no one except for one character besides Link really seems interested. That other character is Marin, the young woman who finds Link washed up on the beach. To be perfectly honest, this column could have been entitled “The Space Whale and the Dream Girl” but that would have been too long and “space whale” grabs your attention, doesn’t it? Marin is just as important to the game as the Wind Fish is.
As stated before, unlike all the other residents of the island, Marin wants to see the outside world. She’s a singer who wants to perform for as many people as possible. She even wished this to the Wind Fish, or at least the Wind Fish’s egg. Marin isn’t the Crown Princess of Hyrule or the pirate queen. She’s a regular girl who wants more than this provincial, er, island life. But enough about Marin, though her importance will become more apparent as we continue to discuss the Wind Fish.
See, a little more than halfway through the game, you start getting hints that Koholint isn’t exactly a normal island. The bosses start telling you that you don’t really understand the nature of this world. There’s a relief in the Face Shrine area that flat-out tells you that the island is actually an illusion. That’s right. The entire island that you’re stuck on is just the dream of the Wind Fish made real. It’s also implied that when the Wind Fish wakes up, everything on the island will disappear. That would ostensibly include Link. This obviously presents a problem.
Waking the Wind Fish is the only way off, but doing so might end up with Link getting wiped from existence. And now the inherently tragic story of Marin comes into focus.
Right off the bat, actually on the back of the box if you want to really get technical, you know that waking the Wind Fish requires the Eight Instruments of the Sirens. But you need something else.
There’s a specific song that has to be played to wake up the Wind Fish, that being the eponymous Ballad of the Wind Fish. And the only person who knows this song is Marin. Yes, in a cruel twist of fate, the one person on the island who has hopes and dreams is a dreamy self-destruct button.
As you might expect, in the end, Link does wake up the Amazing Technicolor Dream Whale and Koholint is all set to disappear, but not before the Wind Fish reminds Link that any memory he may have of his time on Koholint is the real dream. And with that, the Instruments of the Sirens play the Ballad one last time and Koholint is gone. Link is left with the wreckage of his ship and the Wind Fish flies away to do whatever he does. And if you beat the game without dying, Marin shows up as a seagull that is finally free to explore the world like she wished.
So what does the Wind Fish actually represent? He’s a reminder that all dreams end, that everything has an expiration date. He is a god that is powerful enough to dream up an entire world, but even that couldn’t last. He had to wake up. Only memories remain. It’s something we all experience.
I’ve played a lot of video games and seen a lot of endings, but the Wind Fish’s appearance to end the dream in “Link’s Awakening” has always stayed with me. When I rewatched it while writing this article, I still had every line of dialogue memorized. I still vividly remember the first time I beat it. And I still remember feeling a little sad that it was over because so many memories were associated with it. There are games that, to this day, on which I actually refuse to beat the final boss because then the experience will be over. The prospect of that dream ending is an incredibly daunting one, even if it has to happen.
Maybe there’s a little bit of the Wind Fish in all of us.
Hope is a Dickinson attorney and video game enthusiast. Read more of his video game columns at bonusstage.areavoices.com.