The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is one of the Game Boy’s most beloved titles. It was an instant hit with critics and fans alike, and remained on bestseller lists for more than seven years. It was remade for the Game Boy Color, re-released for the Virtual Console, and is generally considered to be a handheld classic.
But while millions of gamers have played Link’s Awakening, few have enjoyed its predecessor: a quirky little title called Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru, or For the Frog the Bell Tolls.
Link’s Awakening started out as a port of A Link to the Past, but its engine was based on this obscure Game Boy title. For the Frog the Bell Tolls will instantly feel familiar to any fan of classic Zelda, from the overhead perspective to the use of top and side views. But while For the Frog is reminiscent of a Zelda game, it’s got a strange appeal that’s all its own.
Like many games, For the Frog the Bell Tolls begins with the kidnapping of a princess. However, when your character sets out to rescue her, this stock story is given an intriguing twist. Your rival, the heroic Prince Richard, challenges you to a princess-saving competition. You have to fight your way through all the standard hurdles, but you also need to make sure Richard doesn’t get to the damsel in distress first.
Unfortunately, your character is kind of an idiot. He begins the game with a small fortune, but immediately spends it all on junk. He’s naive to a fault, is seriously lacking in common sense, and isn’t particularly good with a sword.
But becoming an amphibian turns out to be the best thing that every happened to him. He’s able to use his frog abilities to get through a number of obstacles in the game’s platformer-esque dungeons. Although your rival also finds a way to frog it up, your character retains his tactical advantage by learning how to transform into a snake.
Curiously, the weirdest aspect of For the Frog the Bell Tolls has nothing to do with frogs, snakes or Zelda. The game features a bizarre automated battle system that feels like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon. When you see an enemy you want to fight, you walk into them. The screen shakes, a cloud of dust appears, and the game lets you know whether or not you’re up to the challenge.
For the Frog is fairly easy, but these fights can be incredibly frustrating. It’s hard to tell if an enemy is out of your league until you attack them, and losing often means getting sent to the other side of the world map. Everything is based purely on stats, and there’s nothing players can do to effect the outcome.
It’s easy to see why For the Frog the Bell Tolls never had the success Link’s Awakening did. It doesn’t have the word “Zelda” in the title, and its premise is goofy even by 90s standards. Add in a clunky name and an irritating battle system, and you’re left with a game most players will pass over.
But For the Frog the Bell Tolls deserves to be remembered. It can be annoying, and it’s far from perfect, but it’s bursting with quirky charm. It’s rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s still humorous in a nostalgic sort of way. It feels like a Zelda game made by a roomful hyperactive kids, and that’s kind of magical.
The next time you go to play Link’s Awakening, take a look at For the Frog the Bell Tolls instead. It may not have critical acclaim or a functional battle system, but it’s got a metric ton of frogs, and that has to count for something.