Last week I talked about A Link to the Past, and this week I’m ranking the dungeons. I think this is where my puzzle bias will start to show through in my dungeon rankings. I tend to prefer challenging puzzles over tough enemies, and I’m not a huge fan of ‘defeat enemies to get to the next room’ puzzles. But dungeons are a lot more puzzle-heavy from this game on, so I’m really excited to rank them. This will be one of my longest dungeon ranking posts, so strap in and get ready!
12) Ganon’s Tower
Ganon’s Tower is extremely enemy-heavy, so here it sits at the bottom of my list, which also makes it the first final dungeon not to take the top spot. Though you need to use several of your items to navigate the dungeon, none of the puzzles felt all that complex to me, and I felt like I spent most of my time slashing my sword or trying to move around slippery or moving floors. It’s neat that it features the bosses from the first three dungeons in the game again. Between the puzzles and bosses, it does feel like Ganon’s Tower is trying to do a ‘best of’ previous dungeons, but for me it doesn’t quite hit the spot. The dungeon item is the red mail, and although I like the look of the blue mail better, it increases your defense, helping a lot with the final boss. Agahnim is back with the same attacks, but he’s split into three to trip you up (it’s pretty obvious which the real one is though). The Ganon fight is a huge step up from the original Legend of Zelda, and though I struggle with it quite a lot, it feels satisfying to defeat him.
11) Hyrule Castle
It took me awhile to figure out if I was going to split Hyrule Castle into part one and two for this ranking, but then when I thought about where I’d rank each, I realized I’d put them right next to each other, so I just ranked them as one. The first time you enter Hyrule Castle, at the very beginning of the game, it serves as almost a tutorial dungeon. You’re really just thrown right into the action, finding your uncle, getting the sword and shield, and storming the castle. It introduces you to keys and maps, and has not one, but two dungeon items: the lamp and the boomerang! Neither are necessary for completing the dungeon, but they can make things a bit easier. A Ball and Chain Trooper acts as this part’s boss, or as a mini boss when you consider Hyrule Castle as a whole. I think it works really well here for this tutorial/mini dungeon, because it’s not quite a full on boss, but it’s definitely a step up in difficulty from other enemies. The rest of the dungeon contains the series’s first escort mission – rescuing Zelda and escorting her outside the castle and into the stain glass filled sanctuary.
Your return to Hyrule Castle after obtaining the Master Sword, is a gauntlet of enemies to fight through to once again get to Princess Zelda. Like I said in the intro, I’m not a big fan of the more enemy-heavy dungeons, although I like the concept for Hyrule Castle. You’re immediately greeted by two Gold Ball and Chain Troopers, which lets you know Hyrule Castle is gonna be a bit tougher this time around. You then go through a series of enemy-filled rooms, before reaching a dark maze room, one of my favorite rooms in the dungeon (finally a puzzle!). This dungeon’s boss is Ganon’s pawn, Agahnim, who introduces dead man’s volley to the series. While the battle is not difficult, it is Agahnim who pulls you into the Dark World upon his defeat, starting the next chapter of the game.
10) Eastern Palace
This is a fantastic first full dungeon. It’s pretty linear, so you’re not getting lost, and it introduces some basic puzzles – there are lots of ‘step-on-a-switch” puzzles. I know some people think of this as dull, but it’s really establishing fundamentals for the rest of the game. Most Zelda games have a boss key, a key only used to get to the boss room. In this game, there are big keys used to get to the portion of the dungeon which contains the boss room, and to open the big chests with the dungeon items. Eastern Palace does a great job introducing this concept, with the big chest and big key door located in the same room. The dungeon item is the bow, which not only makes fighting the eyegores much easier, but is necessary for defeating the new red variants. It also makes the boss fight a lot easier. The Armos Knights are the first multi-enemy boss fight in the series, simple, but unique.
9) Desert Palace
Desert Palace is much more open, but not too much more complex than Eastern Palace. You start in one giant room and have to explore to find keys and the dungeon item, the Power Gloves, to get to the dungeon’s next area. You actually have to exit and go to a second part of the dungeon, blocked by heavy rocks you can only lift with the Power Gloves. It’s not the first dungeon with an open air portion in the series, but it is the first where you’re exiting and entering a new portion of the dungeon. After you make your way through a few rooms, there’s a classic ‘light the torches’ puzzle which moves a wall and reveals the entrance to the boss room (I am now forever disappointed when lighting torches doesn’t do anything). The Lanmolas were a challenging boss for me. You can use your sword, bow, or ice rod to defeat them. They take fewer hits with the bow or ice rod, but it’s much more difficult to hit them this way. On the other hand, slashing with your sword is practically a guaranteed hit, but it’s harder to avoid the flying rocks they send at you when they leave the ground. Although I like puzzle bosses, it’s nice to have a little more freedom in your boss strategy.
8) Misery Mire
Misery Mire seems like a love it or hate it dungeon, and I’m not even sure what to make of it myself. I think it really depends on my mood whether or not I’ll enjoy it. It’s probably the most open dungeon in the game, and unless you know exactly where you’re going, you’re probably doing a lot of backtracking. It feels kind of like a Gargoyle’s Domain 2.0, but I don’t think it expands on it enough to warrant its existence. Misery Mire does introduce the Cane of Somaria to the series, which I used once in the dungeon once shortly after obtaining it. I like the item, but I wish the dungeon was more designed around it. Vitreous, this dungeon’s boss, feels like a repeat of Arrghus, so it’s not particularly notable to me. While I think this is a complex dungeon, it’s just not a standout to me, especially compared to the other late game dungeons.
7) Tower of Hera
Tower of Hera has a nice little bump up in complexity from Eastern and Desert Palace. You have to think a little more about puzzles, which mostly consist of hitting switches to change block levels (a classic 2d Zelda puzzle), or stepping on switches to change where holes in the floor are. It makes navigating each room a puzzle, and falling through the floors adds another dimension. You often have to think about things in previous rooms to get through the next room. To get the dungeon item, the Moon Pearl, you need to fall through the floor above, but you also need to make sure the hole in the floor is in the correct location. The Moon Pearl doesn’t help us in this dungeon, but it is very important throughout the rest of the game, as it keeps you from transforming into a bunny in the Dark World. Moldorm is a classic 2d Zelda boss, and although it’s a simple fight, it can be a little tricky if you keep getting knocked off the stage and onto the floor below. Although it’s not one of my favorite bosses, the boss room itself, with platforms you can fall off of, is one of the most unique in the series so far.
6) Gargoyle’s Domain
This dungeon is all about the exploration. When you enter, four maze-like, huge rooms, each with an upper and lower area, are accessible, and you have to navigate through them to find the map, compass, and big key. It’s got tough enemies and rabbit beams making things a lot more difficult. Once you get the big key and progress past the first four rooms, it gets even tougher. There are lots of moving platforms and spikes in enemy-filled rooms. I know I’ve said a few times that I don’t like enemy-heavy dungeons as much, but I think this one works thematically, because it’s like a Thieves’ Hideout. This is the one dungeon where it really feels like you’re rescuing the maiden, as you find her locked up and have to escort her out…or so you thought. It turns out she’s really the dungeon boss, Blind, in disguise. There’s a cool bit of lore here – apparently Blind and the other thieves sought the triforce and were transformed into demons in the Dark World. I also love the puzzle required to uncover Blind – bombing the floor above to let light stream through to the boss room. I did realize when I completed this dungeon that I never got the Titan’s Mitt, so I had to go back into the dungeon to get it. This was definitely my fault – you get another key when the rescue ‘the maiden’, but I went straight to the boss room instead of looking for that locked door.
5) Dark Palace
I love that the first dungeon in the Dark World is called the Dark Palace. This dungeon is where things really start to get more complex. It’s like the game says, ‘alright, we’ve taught you the basic puzzles, now you’ve gotta use all your skills and do a little extra thinking.’ There’s more running around, decision-making, and backtracking, and things aren’t quite as straightforward. Instead of just hitting switches and falling down holes in floors you’re using your bow to hit a switch or pushing a statue to hold a switch down. You’re using bombs on cracks in the floors and walls to get to new areas. You can see the chest with the big key, but you can’t get to it from the room you’re in, so you know you have to get to it from the next room, which has one of those bomb-able walls. You have to find the hammer, which is much more fun in this game than Adventure of Link, to progress. Helmasaur King is a fun and challenging boss. You have to remove its mask (probably using the hammer, but you can also use bombs), before you can deal any damage to it. But its tail strikes and fire ball attacks are vicious, so you’ve gotta be a bit more careful about avoiding them. Dark Palace is a great start to the Dark World Dungeons.
4) Turtle Rock
Turtle Rock really got a whole turtle thing going in the Zelda series for a bit (I get to rank another Turtle Rock for the next game!). Tunnels and Cane of Somaria platforms make this turtle-shaped dungeon unique and fun to traverse, although a bit slow at times. Most of the puzzling in this dungeon revolves around these tunnels and platforms – you have to decide which tunnel to take and which direction to move the platform in. You even need to do a ‘light the torches’ puzzles while riding on a platform. You probably think of Link’s Awakening when you think of Mario enemies in Zelda, but there are actually two powerful chain chomps in this dungeon, making a block puzzle a bit more difficult. The mirror shield is introduced to the series in this dungeon (it looks great with Link’s blue tunic), and it allows you to deflect lasers shooting at you so you can get to the chest containing the final key in the dungeon. And through the last locked door is a big block puzzle maze, simple, but for some reason I love it. Trinexx is a great boss, a three-headed turtle requiring the use of both the fire and ice rods. It’s definitely one of my favorite bosses in the game.
3) Ice Palace
Ah, the dungeon with everyone’s favorite ice physics! Rooms with anti fairies, spikes, guruguru bars, and tough enemies are made even more difficult by slippery floors. There are a lot of switch puzzles in this dungeon, including one where you need to use a bomb so you have time to cross some lowered blocks before they get raised again. Switch puzzles have gotten a bit repetitive by this point, but I do like that there’s some added complexity to them. There’s quite a bit of backtracking required for one puzzle in particular, which can be frustrating if it’s your first time playing and you’re not too familiar with the dungeon. I think where Ice Palace succeeds the most is in its theming – you’re never going to forget you’re in the ice dungeon. It’s got plenty of new and unique enemies including the pengators and freezors. And you get the blue mail in the blue dungeon. Kholdstare is a neat boss in that it’s clearly a ‘puzzle boss.’ You have to melt its exterior with the fire rod before you can deal damage to its interior bodies. This is probably the best themed dungeons in the game, and despite the ice mechanics, it’s pretty fun to play.
2) Skull Woods
This is the second dungeon in this game with an overworld portion, but this is the first to include an exploration element. Figuring out with giant skull to enter or which hole in the ground to fall through is just as much of a puzzle as the inside of the dungeon. Within the dungeon, you’ve gotta be careful where you step, as there are many floor switches that change where holes in the floor are. I love that this dungeon is filled with gibdos, which are a tough enemy with just your sword, but once you get this dungeon’s item, the fire rod, you can defeat them with one hit. You also need the fire rod to uncover the entrance to the part of the dungeon with the boss. Mothula is a really cool, unique Zelda boss, maybe my favorite in the game, and one I would love to see return to the series.
1) Swamp Palace
Swamp Palace is not only my favorite dungeon in the game, but also one of my favorite water dungeons. The changing water levels and backtracking isn’t tedious like it sometimes feels in other games, and it feels pretty intuitive. I love that you have to change the water level in the light world before entering the dungeon in the dark world to progress. The changing water levels makes for fun navigation – I like swimming in this game more than a lot of other Zelda games, and it’s fun to go through areas with and without water filling them. One of my favorite portions of the dungeon is a room with a secret wall behind a waterfall. The game does a really nice job of hinting at it – if you go through the other door in the room, you can see part of the room you have to go through the waterfall to get to. The hookshot makes its first appearance as the dungeon item, which also begins its association with water temples. It’s such a satisfying item to use, especially as you use it immediately after you acquire it here. You also use it in the boss fight. Reminiscent of the original Legend of Zelda‘s Patra, Arrghus is surrounded by smaller enemies you have to defeat before attacking the main body. But here you use the hookshot to peal off and defeat these enemies, after which Arrghus becomes more aggressive, moving rapidly around the room. Swamp Palace is a lot of fun for me, and it’s one I’ll look forward to playing in subsequent A Link to the Past playthroughs.
How would you rank the dungeons in A Link to the Past? Next week, we’re moving on to a handheld Zelda with Link’s Awakening!