Right into objectives, Zelda games have always been fairly simple as far as the types of goals they present their players and this is no different, nor should it be changed. There are game arc goals (escape the island) and the host of objectives necessary to complete them. To give a rambling explanation of the breakdown:
Link is told that to escape the island he must wake the Wind Fish. To do that he needs to find eight mystical instruments, each buried in a dungeon and guarded by a boss. To defeat each boss he has to negotiate the dungeon, more often than not themed around the item, tool or weapon that link finds within said dungeon. To compound issues, each dungeon is placed in areas that are barricaded, blocked, guarded or generally difficult to get to, making the journey to, and entrance into, each dungeon a leg of the journey. Once Link has all eight instruments, he had better have found the ocarina (first instance of music involvement in the games, huzzah! Outside of the whistle in link to the past which was more a teleport than a narrative tool), so that he can play the melody to wake the Wind Fish outside of it’s egg, after he’s learned the melody of course. Playing the melody doesn’t wake the Wind Fish immediately though, as the nightmares that are plaguing the dream that Link has found himself in make a final stand, only after Link makes his way through the featureless maze that is the Wind Fish. Then Link has to beat THE Nightmare, an amalgamation of many serious enemies, and only after that can Link meet the Wind Fish and then wake up, escaping the island. Of course Link is still stranded on a plank of wood in the middle of a large body of water, but that’s outside of game play, at the end of the game.
Each step breaks down into large goals, which then break down into mid level and immediate goals, providing direction behind the ever looming goal of survival. This is a way with storytelling in most games, and not a bad way to go about it. Survival Horror tries to veer towards a more expanded story, residing comfortably in act two and three, while feeding act one back to players, usually through logs or narrative that gives exposition.
Link’s Awakening has little to no act one. It doesn’t really need it. Even to those who have a cursory glance of gaming know Link. He’s the generic hero, the green glad lad who journey’s forth to save the land by beating up the big bad, whoever that may be in whichever landscape he finds himself in. Lots of the Zelda games have featured three act plots, and they’ve been the better for it. The plot that Link finds himself in gives a fraction of a first act in the games intro cinematic. Link’s at sea, struck down by lightning, washed ashore, go. It doesn’t NEED a complex story, In Medias Res works with such a long running franchise, if the continuity is muddled. But it can still be fleshed out.
The Wind Fish is the element that the game revolves around. Waking it from its slumber brings link back to consciousness. The entire game is the dreaded dream sequence, loathed and abused by so many TV shows. It doesn’t need to make use of exposition, because in the broad view of the game, there is no exposition. The game’s a dream. Link triggered a dream apocalypse, destroying any exposition revealed about the game. But it didn’t have to be this way.
So the climax hits, Link goes to the egg to wake the Wind Fish. At this point the player knows, for at least a dungeon or two, that the world they’ve been exploring is a dream. So why not enforce this destruction? After Link takes out the last nightmare in Turtle Rock (last dungeon) the world could undergo a massive shift. Nothing overtly menacing, but desperate. Every NPC Link runs into could act sickeningly sweet, all the time begging Link not to destroy their home. Once the world is on the precipice of destruction, it’s changed. The monsters of the land are no longer the enemy, Link is. Monsters do their part to destroy Link, Townsfolk do their part to try to keep themselves alive by keeping Link with them. She might want to leave the island, but her island is her home, and now that all the NPCs feel the island quake and twist under the pressure of the force trying to end the dream (aka Link) they try to hold on. Marin might actually stand in front of the Wind Fish’s egg, protecting it with herself. Link might be continually called into question with his actions.
And what if, here’s a fun thought, Link has to break his character of “the hero” to do so? His goal is a very selfish one in this game; escape the island at all costs, even if it means destroying the island full of people you’ve interacted with, people who nursed you back to health. What if Marin stands opposed on the hills of Tamaranch Mountain? Link might brush past her and into the Egg, ignoring her pleas for her island. What if the second last form of the nightmare that haunts the Wind Fish isn’t that quick sliding speck of darkness, but in Marin’s form, begging one last time? Forcing the player to cut down a woman he’s saved, who’s nursed him back to health, who’s gone out on a date with him?
The Nightmare takes the form of Marin, who begs him to stand down, to let the world live? If the player cuts her down where she stands, she transforms into the final form, wailing in agony. If the player talks to her, she gives them a chilling choice: Link closes his eyes and wakes up, happy and well in Mabe village, with Marin by his side, or cut down the woman who so resembles the Zelda of his mind, the woman who pulled him from the shores.
The possibility for a more twisted narrative is there, but it requires tough decisions, ones that can be easily glossed over, but questions which the Zelda games have never asked. This is that chance. Part V is going to take a look at the items and the dungeons they deal with, sticking to the thematic formula, but breaking the way they go about it.