The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening has one of the series's finest soundtracks, so when a high-definition remake was released for Nintendo Switch in 2019 we were beyond excited to hear the new arrangements of some of our favorite Zelda tracks. What we didn't expect, however, was for a talented hacker to then take that music and put it back into the DX version of the game, letting us enjoy the CD-quality music with original Game Boy visuals. But that's exactly what qwertymodo has managed to pull off.
The hack uses a custom coprocessor called the MSU-1, which was developed for the SNES by near, the late creator behind BSNES and higan. It enables playback of CD quality lossless audio (16-bit, 44.1kHz), and can address up to 4GB of data - more than a standard SNES cartridge could typically hold.
In the past, we've seen MSU-1 hacks for Super Mario Kart, A Link To The Past, and even Super Mario All-Stars, but over the last couple of years, qwertymodo has been hard at work on a slightly stranger proposition: using the Super Gameboy and MSU-1 to bring CD-quality sound to Link's Awakening DX.
They tell us, "I got started in ROM hacking because of the MSU-1 back when Conn released his original patch for A Link to the Past. After that, I learned a lot from near, who was always incredibly helpful. Losing near was a big part of the reason why it took me this long to finally finish this hack since I wasn't able to bring myself to work on ROM hacking for a long time. I never wanted to leave, it's just been hard.
"Conn (the author of the original Link to the Past MSU-1 hack that got me into this in the first place) has kind of gently stayed on my case since the initial beta release and pushed me to finish, so I think that was a big part of getting the motivation to actually get it done."
According to qwertymodo, the decision to tackle Link's Awakening came about as hackers had already added MSU-1 support to all of the existing SNES Zelda games. So when the Super Game Boy came up in conversation, a device used to play Game Boy cartridges on the SNES, they realized they might also potentially be able to add MSU-1 to Link's Awakening, and better yet, that there was already an existing soundtrack to pull from.
"The Super Game Boy is really interesting because they actually left in the ability to patch the BIOS in RAM at runtime from the GameBoy code," says qwertymodo. "This functionality was used by a few games to actually run custom native code on the SNES. Probably the most famous example of which was Space Invaders, which included a full native SNES version of the game inside the GB ROM that you can switch to."
They continue, "This is basically what makes MSU-1 possible entirely inside the GB ROM, otherwise, you'd have to patch both the Game Boy game and the Super Game Boy BIOS. But that also brought with it a lot of challenges, because it forced me to work within the constraints of that patching system."
qwertymodo publicly released version 1.1 on the Zelda and romhacking website Zeldix earlier this month (August). The post on the site also includes links to some tutorials to help get you set up. As with all MSU-1 hacks, of course, there's bound to be some grumbling about which version of the game's audio is better or what the point of this hack is, but we're honestly just happy to have another way of experiencing this classic game.
What do you think? Will you be trying out the hack? Let us know in the comments!