7 Major Differences Between Link’s Awakening and a Link to the Past

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The comparison of Link’s Awakening to Breath of the Wild continues to revolve around a $59.99 price tag. Although a handful of similarities exist between the two installments, Link’s Awakening has little in common with the 2017 Game-of-the-Year winner. Breath of the Wild is a 3D, open-world game that emphasizes curiosity and exploration. However, Link’s Awakening is a compact, 2D experience centered around pacing and charm.

A more appropriate comparison for Link’s Awakening is the 1992 chapter in the Zelda franchise, a Link to the Past. Recently part of Nintendo’s online service, a Link to the Past remains a fan favorite. But will fans of a Link to the Past also enjoy the Link’s Awakening remake? While similarities between the two games abound, there are seven notable differences that could sway players.

1. NPC Development

Quirky and charming NPC interactions are a staple of the Zelda franchise, but each installment has its own unique approach to NPC development. A Link to the Past’s dialogue options rarely change throughout the entire game, which forces Link to be the common thread among the world’s NPCs. Instead of dialogue options that showcase NPC interactions with each other, NPCs focus on personally connecting with Link. This approach creates opportunities for isolated side quests and secrets but does little to build or change a character’s personality throughout the game.

Link’s Awakening takes a different approach. Instead of Link saving the world from an impending doom, the protagonist is simply one of multiple island inhabitants who adore the songstress Marin. Although monsters roam the land, NPCs rarely express feelings of imminent danger and largely ignore Link’s quest to escape Koholint Island. This approach results in a world where Link predominantly takes an outsider’s view into the evolving lives of the island natives. The charm and emotion that ensues from watching NPCs evolve throughout the game is one of the primary reasons Link’s Awakening is so beloved.

2. Trading Sequence

As with the NPC development, the trading sequences in a Link to the Past are largely isolated events that are ancillary to the main quest. Bringing a golden bee to the street merchant in Kakariko Village will net Link 100 rupees and the pickpocket outside the Desert of Mystery can unlock the secret Dark World chest containing a bottle, but very few trading sequences are necessary to complete a Link to the Past.

Not only does the main trading sequence in Link’s Awakening involve multiple NPCs scattered across the island, but trading is also mandatory to progress at certain points throughout the game and to complete the final dungeon. This approach forces players to learn the personalities of different characters and to understand how those personalities fit into the larger ecosystem of Koholint Island.

3. Easter Eggs & Cameos

Easter Eggs are a staple of the Zelda franchise, but a Link to the Past largely forgoes cameos in favor of dungeon puzzles and over-world exploration. Mario does make an appearance as a picture hung on the wall of the Bug-Catching Kid’s house.

During portions of the game, it is hard to discern whether Link’s Awakening is a Zelda game or a Mario game. From Goombas and Piranha Plants to Thwomps and Chain Chomps, Link’s Awakening is packed with easter eggs. We’ll save the laundry list of cameos for another article, but multiple franchises make an appearance in Link’s Awakening.

4. Dungeon Transitions

A Link to the Past is lazor-focused in its pacing between the game’s 11 dungeons. While NPC interactions contribute to the overall world-building, these exchanges are secondary to obtaining the items needed to access dungeons. As a result, the game forces players to locate treasure chests of equipment to traverse Hyrule.

While players still need items to traverse Koholint Island’s map, locks and keys bar the dungeon entrances in Link’s Awakening. Literally. Instead of finding a dungeon key as a result of pure exploration, Link’s Awakening hides dungeon access behind character engagements. Want to move that stubborn walrus blocking access to Yarna Desert? Let’s just say that you will need a person as opposed to a piece of equipment.

5. Dungeon Item Use

The Master Sword made its first appearance in a Link to the Past. And as such, the game places due emphasis on sword combat as a result. With the exception of a few bosses, the unique items found in a Link to the Past’s dungeons are used solely to grant access to the game’s bosses. Once inside the boss chamber, Link primarily overcomes foes using the Sword of Evil’s Bane. Unless it’s Agahnim. In that case, players might as well swap the Master Sword for the bug-catching net. But we digress…

The boss chambers in Link’s Awakening are as much arenas for combat as they are a Rubik’s cube of puzzles. Instead of focusing almost exclusively on sword combat, Link’s Awakening adds puzzle-solving elements by forcing players to use a combination of unique items to defeat bosses. From throwing a genie’s bottle against a pillar to pulling the slime eel out of a wall, players will need to utilize all available tools to obtain the eight instruments of the Sirens.

6. Equipment Upgrades

By emphasizing item discovery as opposed to character dialogue, a Link to the Past has a robust upgrade system in comparison to Link’s Awakening. Not only can the Master Sword be upgraded multiple times throughout the quest, but the shield, armor, and many other items can also be enhanced to block additional enemy projectiles or deal greater amounts of damage. While some upgrades are required to beat the game, others are optional rewards for exploration.

Equipment upgrades are not a priority in Link’s Awakening. In fact, the only items that can be enhanced are the sword, shield, and power bracelet. The former is a reward for finding all of the Secret Seashells while the latter two are discovered naturally in the game’s dungeons.

7. Main Antagonist

From the opening cut-scene of Link’s uncle leaving for Hyrule castle, there is little doubt as to the identity of the main antagonist in Link to the Past. While Agahnim is the face of evil for the majority of the game, Ganon is the mastermind behind Hyrule’s decline. This overt approach gives players clarity of purpose as the game climaxes to the imminent showdown between good and evil.

No Zelda, Ganon or Hyrule? Instead of overcoming the reincarnation of the King of Darkness, the main antagonist in Link’s Awakening is the player’s own captivity. Combined with an endearing cast of characters, this faceless adversary almost becomes a friend as the game crescendos to its finish. The dichotomy of choice between the player’s own freedom and a relationship with Marin is heartbreaking. Because Link must overcome personal fears at the expense of a broken heart to escape Koholint Island, Link’s Awakening is a deeply emotional tale.


While Link’s Awakening draws heavy inspiration from a Link to the Past, the games differ in both approach and tone. We cannot promise that fans of a Link to the Past will enjoy the Link’s Awakening remake. But the major differences between the installs will provide unique game-play experiences.

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