link's awakening is as charming and well-crafted now as it was 16 years ago.
link's awakening - review
after link to the past, (a special game in the series because it has influenced every single zelda since, and created a rigid and stable world with much better implemented ideas and presentation expanding and perfecting every element of the design) the zelda games became more of a formula, always using elements of previous games in the series (while iterating on various ideas) to build a rich heritage and simply celebrate itself.
link's awakening is like a minature link to the past. it has the same thick, rigidly layered world that feels very robust compared to the delicate sprites from the NES zeldas. it borrows most of the items from previous games (pegasus boots, power glove, bombs etc.), but invents some of its own (the 'roc feather' means link can now jump as a prelude to the pegasus boots).
the major things LA introduced were the trading system and musical instruments. although LoZ featured a flute that had the power to warp you, and LttP featured an ocarina, LA was the first zelda to use music as a theme and as a force in the narrative.
it is strange to think that musical instruments would have any kind of effect other than to make nice music, but this has been a reoccuring theme in zelda games, and seems to have culminated in wii music. in fact, miyamoto disclosed in an interview that he wanted to be a musician and used to play the banjo.
anyway, the great thing about LA were the characters and all the charming item-trading you could do; the dialogue is also fantastic. got a yoshi doll? give it to the crying baby to get a pink, frilly bow. give the the bow to a girl chain-chomp, "make-up, dresses, jewelry. i want them all!", and you're left with a can of dog food...which of course you give to the crocodile with the hat who owns a bananna store on the beach.
the items themselves are simple everyday objects, but like in animal crossing, the more mundane the item is the more power it seems to have to excite. of course, the idea of imperfection and 'normalality' relates to japanese culture and national events like tea ceremonies and flower aranging; modest and insignificant things, but comforting and grounded in reality.
the modesty of LA has influenced all zelda games since, culminating in the 'bomber's notebook' in majora's mask, where the idea to help those around you is elaborated on and even weaved into a dungeon. it's a great way to tell a story that always involves playing and very little use of cut-scenes. the side quests in MM are the story, and aren't peripheral anymore (although heart pieces and fairy-collecting remain).
finally, LA introduced the sub-boss, and the fishing mini game! these featured strongly in the next game, ocarina of time, and the fishing mini game was carried over to twilight princess. it is interesting that such a small and seemingly uninmportant game in the series was the begining of the more developed contexts and narratives of MM, WW, OoT, and TP.