After the longest Direct drought in history, Nintendo dropped a stunning showcase of upcoming 2019 titles on February 13. But none could measure up to the left-field dream game announcement of a “reimagined” Link’s Awakening. And how timely that such an announcement would drop exactly halfway through this very Link’s Awakening analysis series, where I analyze The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening dungeon-by-dungeon! As I have The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, each entry in this series focuses on a particular dungeon, delving into the intricacies of various aspects of design. Because it adds color and an additional optional dungeon, I will be looking specifically at the 1998 re-release The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX. In this entry, I will be examining Link’s Awakening’s sixth dungeon, Face Shrine.
After completing Catfish’s Maw, Link heads north, where the owl tells him to first go south and then back further north afterward. The southward path leads to the Southern Face Shrine, where Link must defeat an Armos Knight to earn the Face Key. Afterward, Link takes the northward path and treads some water before finding the entrance to Face Shrine. This inter-dungeon sequence asks Link to explore a specific part of the map in a specific order. While it doesn’t take advantage of Link’s Awakening’s semi-open overworld, it also doesn’t encourage the player to get lost, but instead asks they take a linear but well-balanced and fairy diverse path forward.
Face Shrine is a spacious, vividly pink dungeon full of secrets and interesting combat scenarios. Like Catfish’s Maw, it suffers from being too open at the start, and would have benefited from a little streamlining by giving the player a clearer sense of where to go. Here, there are mandatory navigational “secrets” that ask players to solve a topographical puzzle in order to access it. Because of this, such an open start can lead to players running in lengthy circles before discovering the correct path. Thankfully, Face Shrine’s forty screens are only shared across thirty-two rooms in a grid layout, so the constant backtracking doesn’t get as confusing as it easily could have. Furthermore, Face Shrine features significantly more puzzles than the past couple dungeons, and most of its combat feels deliberately laid out and well-balanced. That said, having to replay so many of its rooms, especially those based on the luck-based rolling of horseheads or the long-lasting spurts of flying tiles Link has to wait through, can get monotonous after after a couple go-rounds.
Face Shrine’s theme is faces, a strange motif it does very little with. In fact, outside of the dungeon’s face-shaped layout (premised on Link’s sprite in the original The Legend of Zelda) and its final boss, faces aren’t really integrated into the dungeon at all. That said, Face Shrine takes special advantage of its layout through a puzzle that has the player bomb the dungeon’s “eyes” to find secret rooms. This clever conceit makes direct use of the dungeon layout, taking advantage of its shape rather than being hindered by it.
The dungeon’s item, the L-2 Power Bracelet is the worst dungeon item in the game. Serving as an upgrade to the L-1 Power Bracelet that allows Link to lift heavier objects, the L-2 Power Bracelet is essentially a slight enhancement primarily useful within Face Shrine. It is, by far, the most unnecessary and least empowering item in the game, with very few uses in either the overworld or subsequent dungeons. Few items in the Zelda series so brazenly scrape the bottom of the barrel.
Ten of Face Shrine’s impressive fourteen enemies are reused from past dungeons, the new additions being Beamos, Flying Tile, Giant Bubble, and Wizzrobe. Beamos and Flying Tile are more like obstacles able to quickly attack Link from long range and overcome through defense. Giant Bubbles are giant bubbles that bounce around in the sidescrolling portions. They are also indestructible obstacles, though they are easier to bypass. Wizzrobe is, in a sense, Face Shrine’s definitive enemy as it frequently recurs throughout the dungeon, is relatively tough to defeat, and is occasionally placed in hard-to-reach places as part of a combat-puzzle. They are among the most deftly used enemies in the game, and their relative difficulty makes them especially engaging. As a whole, Face Shrine is home to a broad and diverse selection of well-placed enemies. The horsehead pieces Link must throw against a wall to land upright, though, are pure RNG awfulness.
The dungeon’s mini-boss is Smasher, a walking bat ray type creature that tosses a large ball at Link. Link must pick up this ball and hoist it back at Smasher four times in order to defeat it. Though an incredibly simple concept, Smasher’s speed, AI, and accuracy are all perfectly balanced to make for a surprisingly engaging fight. Unfortunately, the dungeon’s final boss, Facade, is a pushover. A literal face on the floor, Facade can be defeated in a dozens of seconds by laying bombs on him whenever he appears. Meanwhile, Link must dodge flying items and holes in the floor that open up, neither of which post a substantial threat. While the notion of battling the room itself is an awesome concept, the actual battle turns out to be far too short and simple.
Face Shrine is an open, colorful dungeon with a wide array of puzzles, obstacles, secrets, and enemy types that make every room unique. While it is too open at the start, it gains momentum in the second half, when the player discovers some of the dungeon’s navigational puzzles. Meanwhile, its combat is generally fantastic, including its enjoyable mini-boss and less successful, though conceptually ambitious, final boss. While it does little with its humorous face theme, and its item is arguably the worst in the game, Face Shrine is a better-than-average dungeon in most important regards.
For deep dives into other levels from Link’s Awakening, as well as levels from other classic Nintendo games such as Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, click here.