I’m late to the party here, but I had no idea that ‘Link’s Awakening’ was directly influenced by David Lynch.
Original promotional artwork for ‘The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’ courtesy of Nintendo.
I've been exploring the Hyrule of Breath of the Wild again, these past couple of weeks. Finding the remaining shrines, and cleaning up previously missed side-quests. Preparing myself for more, once the promised DLC, "Trial of the Sword", arrives on June 30th.
So it was a treat to see Retronauts, one of few gaming podcasts I go out of my way to subscribe to, feature the first Zelda game I ever owned on their 102nd episode, earlier this month. I'd played both The Adventure of Link and A Link to the Past on friends' consoles before, but the Game Boy's Link's Awakening was the first game in the series that I called my own.
I'd not thought about it for years, but hearing that music—primitive, restricted, somehow incredibly magical—immediately had me fumbling through memories of Koholint Island, with its slumbering Wind Fish, no Princess Zelda in sight, and array of characters drafted in from other Nintendo franchises. Is that… Kirby? Yes. Yes it is.
I'd long known, obviously, that Link's Awakening is a dream—that much is clear on finishing the game, if the clues aren't picked up prior to that climactic point, where everything fades away and Link is once again in the real world, adrift in the middle of an ocean. What I wasn't aware of, prior to hearing the Retronauts episode, was the game's Twin Peaks connection.
I appreciate, looking around the internet a little, that this is a Widely Known Fact in Zelda history—but, for whatever reason, it wasn't until a few days ago that I became aware that a video game from 1993, that I've played through a couple of times, was directly influenced by the work of David Lynch. But then: it is a weird Zelda game. As bizarre as it sounds on paper, it makes perfect sense on monochromatic screen.
Follow the paper trail, virtual though it is, and the reveal comes in one of the old Iwata Asks conversations, from (I think) 2010. Here, late company president Satoru Iwata discusses Zelda's handheld history with Toshihiko Nakagō (programmer on the original 1986 The Legend of Zelda), long-term Zelda series producer and director Eiji Aonuma, and Takashi Tezuka (director of A Link to the Past and Link's Awakening).
It goes a little like this (conversation heavily edited for length):
Aonuma: You said you wanted to create a world that was inspired by Twin Peaks?
Nakagō: You said that?
Tezuka: Oh, that's right! I'm glad I said that then, because I always forget such things.
Aonuma: I remember you saying that, but I didn't really know what you meant. I'd like to hear about it. You wanted it to be like Twin Peaks, but characters that looked like Mario and Luigi were appearing.
Tezuka: Yeah, and Kirby. It was for the Game Boy, so we thought, "Oh, it'll be fine."
Aonuma: Did you get permission from HAL Laboratory?
Tezuka: I don't know. I think they approved it, but…
Iwata: Today, if you just barged ahead using characters resembling Mario and Luigi—even if it were for a Nintendo game—it would be quite a problem. [But] Link's Awakening, which Tezuka-san did whatever he wanted with, had quite an influence over later Zelda games.
Tezuka: I didn't try to do that on purpose. About Twin Peaks. We were talking about this before you [Iwata] arrived. I was talking about fashioning Link's Awakening with a feel that's somewhat like Twin Peaks. At the time, Twin Peaks was rather popular. The drama was all about a small number of characters in a small town. So I wanted to make something like that, while it would be small enough in scope to easily understand, it would have deep and distinctive characteristics.
Aonuma: At the time, I didn't know what he was talking about. I was like, "What is this guy talking about?" But since Twin Peaks was popular at the time…
Iwata: You thought he just wanted to be trendy?
Aonuma: Yeah. I thought, "You really want to make The Legend of Zelda like that?" Now the mystery is solved.
Iwata: That makes sense. Tezuka-san, you broadened what was permissible for The Legend of Zelda without even realising it.
Tezuka: I guess I did. Well, I'm glad I could contribute.
Isn't that neat? I had no idea. Perhaps I should have done, before now—but it's only because of the Retronauts podcast (which I recommend, because it explores several other fascinating details of Zelda's portable debut, including all of those weird cameos) that this connection is now a part of my own Zelda knowledge. (You should also read the whole Iwata Asks that this excerpt is from, because it's brilliant.)
Over to you, then. Have you ever found out something about a favorite game's history, long after its release and your first exposure to it, that either blindsided you or brought your thoughts on it into sharper focus? Uncovered any unexpected wrinkles in a classic's past that have altered your perception of it?