In addition to writing a post about each game in the Zelda series, I’ll also be ranking each game’s dungeons, starting with the original Legend of Zelda. The first two Zelda games are going to be the most difficult for me to rank, because on an initial playthrough they feel the least distinct from each other. It’s like, push block, bomb wall, defeat enemies, and then beat the boss. But this forced me to take a much closer look at each dungeon and take into consideration every little detail: the entrance, items, enemy types, old man tips, and even the color scheme. Sometimes the reason is simply, I had more fun playing this dungeon than that dungeon (the fun factor). I also acknowledge that my feelings on the dungeons might change over time – even in my second playthrough, things shifted a bit in my rankings. But for now, here’s where things stand:
9) Level 3 – The Manji
It was tough for me to put any one dungeon at the bottom of the list because I don’t think any of them are bad. But one had to go here. There’s a good chance that this is the first dungeon you’ll come across in the overworld if you’re just exploring, and if you decide to take this one on first, you’re in for a rough time. Even if you’ve completed the first two dungeons, this one’s got a high difficulty jump. The Manji introduces darknuts, one of the toughest enemies in the game. “Did you get the sword from the old man on top of the waterfall?” might be a helpful hint, but it’s out of the way and it would be a more welcome hint towards the beginning of the dungeon, before struggling through those darknuts.
Its shape is pretty similar to The Eagle, but I think it’s less fun to explore. The raft is a neat item that allows you to get a heart container and enter the next dungeon, but that’s it (would love to see the raft in a new 2d Zelda that’s got a little more use). The Manji one of three green dungeons in the game, so although it’s the first, it’s not unique, and it’s my least favorite use of the color – this didn’t really influence my ranking, but I think it’s worth mentioning. I will say that Manhandla is a pretty cool boss. Not very complex, but kind of intimidating the first time you come across him.
8) Level 8 – The Lion
The coolest thing about the lion is the old man hint, “Spectacle rock is an entrance to death” pointing to the next dungeon’s location. I guess the shape is also pretty cool, but neither of these things is enough to increase my enjoyment of the dungeon past this ranking. The Lion has some of the most offensive rooms in the game, placing blue darknuts in with fireball-shooting statues and bubbles that disable your sword for a few moments (can you tell I don’t like darknuts?). The boss is once again Gleeok, who I like a lot, and it’s great that it becomes a bit more difficult with a couple extra heads, but I really would’ve liked to see a new boss for the last dungeon before Death Mountain. You enter the dungeon by burning a bush that blocks a path, but it’s rather simple for such a late game dungeon. It only makes sense because you’ve just gotten the red candle, which is really the only candle you should get during the game in my opinion – it’s silly to have one you can only use once per screen. The grey color scheme looks much nicer in the final dungeon, where it contrasts nicely with lava, but here it’s dull. I’ll concede that The Lion houses a couple great dungeon items, the Magic Book, which upgrades the Magical Wand, and the Magical Key, which unlocks every door in the game.
I think my problem with The Lion is that it just feels like the last dungeon before Death Mountain, and not like it’s trying to be a great dungeon in its own regard. I originally had this dungeon a little bit higher up on the list because it’s more complex than Level 1 and 2, but when I thought about it more, I felt that those were great first and second dungeons, but this wasn’t as great of a penultimate dungeon.
7) Level 2 – The Moon
I initially put The Eagle in this spot, but on a second playthrough, I decided that while I thought this one was conceptually cool, it was a little less fun to explore. The shape of the dungeon makes for a particularly linear run-through, but it is a good opportunity for learning about bombing walls. You get the magical boomerang, which looks a little like a crescent moon. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it was a nice bit of theming. Unfortunately, the magical boomerang isn’t really an improvement over the regular boomerang, and it feels strange to be getting an ‘upgrade’ so soon. Another nice bit of theming (again, maybe not intentional), is with the color – I like the idea of it being a ‘blue moon.’ And I like space things. Catch me on Friday nights checking out Jupiter’s moons with my telescope.
The boss of The Moon, Dodongo, further cements this as the bomb dungeon. “Dodongo dislikes smoke,” so you need to feed it a bomb or stun it with one and hit it with your sword to defeat it. As the first instance of a boss that requires an item other than your sword to defeat, it marks the beginning of the series’s iconic puzzle bosses. Dodongos also appear many times in later dungeons, but it’s usually easier to just bomb your way out of a room than defeat them (they’re too cute to kill anyway).
6) Level 1 – The Eagle
I don’t know why, but when I think of The Legend of Zelda dungeons, I always picture them with this dungeon’s color, which might be the best dungeon color in the game (it’s close with The Moon’s blue). The Eagle has this great little trick where if you exit the dungeon and then re-enter, the first door is unlocked for you. I’m not sure why, but it’s fun! This dungeon introduces two of the series’s most iconic items, the bow and the boomerang, both of which come in handy throughout the game. It’s nice to get items at the beginning of the game that aren’t just one and done, or very limited. They’re also retrieved in two different ways – the bow, through an underground path, and the boomerang, by defeating an enemy, which teaches you these two important dungeon concepts.
The Old Man also offers an important teaching moment in his first dungeon hint. “The eastmost peninsula is the secret” is great for your first dungeon traversal, letting you know you have to go one room farther after defeating the boss to find the triforce piece. It’s specific to this dungeon, but it also tells you something you should be expecting throughout all the dungeons. The Eagle’s boss, Aquamentus, though rather simple, is my favorite boss in the game. It’s a funky dragon-unicorn that should absolutely be brought back to The Legend of Zelda series. The Eagle is a great first dungeon for the game, and for the series as a whole.
5) Level 5 – The Lizard
Is this the first lizalfos in the Zelda series? One of the neat things about this dungeon is that it’s the first in the series to require the dungeon item, the whistle, to defeat the boss, digdogger. This alone gives it a major boost in the rankings. Unfortunately, The Lizard has got a tough couple of darknut-filled rooms that you have to go through to get the whistle, which makes it a little less fun in my mind. But there is a cool darknut room in another part of the dungeon, where you can use the stepladder (the previous dungeon’s item) to stand over lava (introduced in this dungeon), and avoid being hit while you waiting to attack. The lava also makes for a fun color scheme, and there are plenty other instances to cross it with the stepladder.
I do like the puzzle that is finding the dungeon entrance. You have to go through the lost hills to get here, which is sort of the first iteration of the lost woods. The correct path is given to you by the woman found if you listen to the Old Man hint of the previous dungeon, “walk into the waterfall.” It’s a more complex, multilayered hint for the game. As for this dungeon’s Old Man, he tells you “secret power is said to be in the arrow,” which is a hint for defeating Ganon, and although it’s helpful, it feels oddly placed in this dungeon. You’re still a few levels away from Death Mountain, and you don’t get the silver arrows here. You also already have arrows, so it could be a bit confusing.
4) Level 6 – The Dragon
Despite having the ugliest color scheme in the game, The Dragon is one of the coolest looking dungeons. It’s a dragon – huge cool factor. It’s also pretty obvious that the dungeon map fits around The Manji. While the whole game is fantasy-inspired, this one feels particularly strong with its fantasy elements, beginning of course with its layout. It also houses the magic-using wizzrobes, and the dungeon item is the very weapon they use against you, the magical wand. Despite how much I hated the blue wizzrobes, this bit of theming gave a huge boost to The Dragon. I was a bit disappointed they didn’t have Aquamentus or Gleeok as the boss, although the latter appears as a mini boss with one more head than its previous iteration. Gohma was just too easy for this dungeon, and could’ve fit better in the first dungeon, where you find the bow used to defeat him. It would’ve worked especially well with the Old Man hint, to “aim at the eyes of Gohma.”
3) Level 9 – The Skull (Death Mountain)
Death Mountain, or The Skull, is a behemoth of a dungeon. Two or three times the size of the other dungeons in this game, but with lots of skippable rooms, it truly is a labyrinth. It’s almost two different dungeons depending on whether you have the magical key or not. Either way, it’s quite a challenge. In this dungeon, you get the silver arrows (required to beat Ganon), and the red ring, which makes you quite a bit stronger. I love the Old Man hints, even though they’re not super helpful. I laughed at “Go to the next room” (thanks?) and “patra has the map” (okay, there are four patra?). “Eyes of skull has a secret” is a fun little hint – one ‘eye’ holds the compass, and the other, Princess Zelda. It feels like a callback to the first dungeon’s hint (“eastmost peninsula is the secret”). It’s like the Old Man realizes you don’t really need help anymore, but he still wants to be there for you. Death Mountain is the first dungeon in the Zelda series to have its own dungeon theme. The music creates this almost spooky, dangerous atmosphere perfect for a dungeon named The Skull.
I realized that this dungeon’s recurring mini boss, Patra, consists of one main head and 8 smaller heads flying around it that you have to defeat before you can damage the main head – kind of like how you have to beat 8 dungeons before you can go to the last one. It drives in the sense of accomplishment. Ganon, though a rather easy boss if you know what you’re doing, is the most complex fight in the game. He’s invisible, so you need to wait for him to attack to see where he is, and you need the silver arrows to stun him before landing the final blow. And he’s got a cool skull pattern in his room. After you defeat him, you finally collect the Triforce of Power. Then you get the very first in-game appearance of Princess Zelda, whose dress color matches your tunic color, which I thought was pretty neat despite that I assume it’s because of a technological limitation. Just be careful not to run into the fire and hurt yourself as you’re rescuing her.
2) Level 4 – The Snake
Ahem, this dungeon should be called The Rope, but since it’s so cool, I’ll let it slide. I’ll also let that awful color scheme slide…but couldn’t we have put some red or purple dungeons in here? Very minor negatives aside, this was a well conceptualized dungeon. You need the previous dungeon’s item, the raft, to get here, and you need this dungeon’s item, the stepladder, to progress. This type of progression becomes a huge feature in future Zelda games. It starts out linear, until you get the stepladder, and then it opens up considerably. The stepladder is also useable in every dungeon (unlike many items in the series), and is super helpful in rooms that contain waterways and darknuts – you don’t have to worry about darknuts hitting you. The Snake has one of the best Old Man hints, to “walk into the waterfall.” Who doesn’t love finding secrets behind waterfalls? And Gleeok, this dungeon’s boss, is my second favorite in the game – I really have a thing for the dragon bosses (and just dragons in general). This dungeon also has the series’s first mini boss, Manhandla, the previous dungeon’s boss.
1) Level 7 – The Demon
This might be a pretty controversial pick for my number one dungeon, but I love playing through The Demon. My least favorite part of this dungeon is that they reuse my favorite boss (Aquamentus) in the game without changing up the difficulty at all. But that didn’t stop me from putting it at the top of my list. It’s got my favorite dungeon entrance, a seemingly abandoned fairy fountain that requires use of the whistle to empty and reveal the entrance (There are secrets where fairies don’t live). Some may argue that this dungeon feels too easy after the previous dungeon, but it feels like a bit of reprieve to me. Besides, it’s one of the more challenging dungeons puzzle-wise, which is pretty neat to put right after a challenging enemy dungeon. And some might say that there are too many tricky bomb-able walls, but I found that enemies dropped plenty of bombs, so it wasn’t that much of a big deal.
Fairies may not live here, but goriyas do. The Demon may seem to lack enemy variety because there are so many goriya, but it makes for a nice goriya hideout with one of my favorite parts of the game – the hungry goriya. You just gotta buy him some food and he’ll let you through. It’s very different from anything else in the game and I love it. It’s kind of the beginning of the charm that I love so much about The Legend of Zelda series.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my first Zelda dungeon ranking post, I’m really excited to share more. I feel like I’m going to be a Zelda expert by the time I’m finished. Writing about the original Legend of Zelda has greatly increased my enjoyment of the game, and I may even get around to playing and ranking the Second Quest dungeons in the future. Next week, I’ll be talking about the most difficult Zelda game, Adventure of Link!