Ocarina of Time introduces a 3D element to dungeon design while keeping many of the same elements as previous games. Dungeons feel less and less like series of rooms and more like real places. They have the most coherent themes we’ve seen so far, some of which appear in many dungeons through the rest of the series, like forest, water, and fire. Ocarina of Time is incredibly influential to the series’s dungeon design, both 2D and 3D. Here are my rankings:
12) Gerudo Training Grounds
The Gerudo Training Grounds are an optional mini dungeon you can complete after you’ve gathered most of the other dungeon items in the game. It seems like it’s supposed to be a final challenge before you go fight Ganondorf, but it just feels lackluster. The puzzles and enemies aren’t challenging or particularly fun. There aren’t any mini boss or boss fights, which aren’t totally necessary in a dungeon, but I wish there had been something unique or challenging in terms of enemies here. At this point in the game, you don’t have much use for the dungeon item, the Ice Arrows. Apparently you can use them against Bongo Bongo though, so maybe I’ll have to do things a little out of order next time I play the game. The Ice Arrows are a cool item, but they’re much better utilized in the series’s next game, Majora’s Mask, where you need them to solve several puzzles.
11) Bottom of the Well
If you don’t know what you’re doing, this mini dungeon can be quite frustrating. There are a bunch of invisible holes in the floor and fake walls you can only see after you’ve collected the Lens of Truth, the dungeon item. While the Lens of Truth is actually not required to complete the game, it makes Shadow Temple a lot easier, and it reveals more secrets around Hyrule. And you can go in and grab it without completing the rest of the dungeon, which is kind of dull in comparison. Good spooky atmosphere, but I’m not particularly inspired to stick around and complete the rest. The standout of the mini dungeon is its boss, the ever terrifying Dead Hand. He’s especially scary as you have to fight him as child Link.
10) Ice Cavern
Ice Cavern’s got those slippery ice mechanics that everyone loves – I really don’t think they’re too bad in this mini dungeon. I don’t love getting frozen by enemies and I think it disrupts pacing a bit, but I don’t think it’s too frustrating. It’s got a couple of rooms with silver rupee puzzles, where you have to collect all the rupees to unlock a door and progress. You’ll eventually arrive at a mysterious blue flame which you can hold in a bottle. It lets you melt all that funky red ice you’ve been running into throughout the dungeon. And there’s something about lighting torches and melting ice that’s really satisfying to me. I just wish this dungeon was longer so we could’ve gotten some more complex ice puzzles.
The mini boss is a White Wolfos, who isn’t really any different from a regular Wolfos. It’s not a great mini boss. He’s guarding the dungeon item, the Iron Boots, which is really the reason you’re here. You’ll need them in the Water Temple. You’ll also need to make sure you have some more of that blue flame before you leave so you can melt the Zora King, who will thank you by giving you the Zora Tunic, also necessary for the Water Temple.
9) Jabu Jabu’s Belly
You have to go jump inside a giant fish to go rescue a princess! What else could you want in a dungeon? This isn’t one of my favorite dungeons, but I don’t hate it as it seems everybody else does. It’s one of the most unique dungeon environments, even if it isn’t a very pretty one. The Boomerang is a great item, but I think it’s underutilized in this game as you can only use it as child Link. I’ve mentioned in a lot of posts that I’m not a big fan of ‘defeat the enemies’ to progress rooms, but this dungeon makes this type of puzzle far more interesting. Jabu Jabu is infested with Parasitic Tentacles which block the way forward. You have to find and defeat the end of each one with your Boomerang to get rid of them and progress. It’s a welcome twist on the ‘defeat the enemies’ puzzle that relies on the dungeon’s environment and item.
Big Octo is probably my least favorite mini-boss in the game. I always struggle with this fight, and I know there’s an ‘easy way’ to do it, but I never enjoy this battle. I think it’s done better in Link’s Awakening, where I still don’t love it, but at least I’m not frustrated by it. Barinade is an alright boss. I’m sure there’s a real strategy for the fight, but I just keep throwing my trusty Boomerang the whole time and hope for the best.
8) Shadow Temple
I absolutely love the horror theming of this dungeon, but it’s not as fun for me as some of the others. Most of the dungeon relies on the use of the Lens of Truth to see hidden things, which makes the dungeon less about solving puzzles and exploring, and more about finding the hidden thing. The Hover Boots are cool conceptually, but they aren’t used much in or outside of the dungeon, leaving much to be desired. Possibly the coolest part of the dungeon is the boat that takes you to the latter part of the dungeon after playing Zelda’s Lullaby on it (it’s a little sketchy that the royal family is associated with this place). On the boat, you’re ambushed by two Stalfos Knights, and you’ll have to fend them off or defeat them before quickly jumping off at the end of the ride, or else you’ll sink with the boat.
Dead Hand comes back as this dungeon’s mini boss, guarding the Hover Boots. And while he’s just as creepy as your last encounter with him, the fight’s a bit easier as you’re now adult Link, and you can use the Lens of Truth to reveal his shadow when he’s underground. You no longer have to let one of its hands grab you to lure it out; you can just bomb the shadow. Bongo Bongo is one of my least favorite bosses in the whole Zelda series. He’s one of several Zelda bosses that have detached hands you have to shoot at before you can attack the main body, but he’s my least favorite iteration. The z-targeting can be trick and it always takes me more than one try to get the hang of things – it’s a fairly easy fight once you do, but it always frustrates me.
7) Ganon’s Castle
I see what they were trying to do with this dungeon and I appreciate it. There are six barriers representing each element from the temples blocking you from progressing up through the castle’s central tower. For each barrier, there’s a section you have to go through themed around its element in order to take down that barrier. I like it conceptually, but it disrupts the pacing too much for me. I think it could’ve been more interesting if it was a condensed, linear experience, where you have to go through one room for each element while ascending the tower. There’s even a new dungeon item, the Golden Gauntlets, which are just an upgrade to the Silver Gauntlets, and in my opinion, unnecessary.
My favorite parts of the dungeon are ascending the tower, where you get to see some gorgeous stained glass windows, and descending the tower, escaping with Princess Zelda after you’ve defeated Ganondorf. The Ganondorf battle is almost identical to the second phase of Phantom Ganon, the famous tennis match. But you have to hit him with the Light Arrows after you’ve stunned him to bring him to ground level so you can attack with your sword. After you’ve defeated him he makes one last effort to destroy you, by bringing down the castle. Once you’ve successfully escaped the castle, you realize that you’re not quite done. Ganondorf releases his beast form, Ganon, who knocks your Master Sword out of reach. This final battle has an incredible atmosphere in the original Ocarina of Time. It’s dark and terrifying, and it feels so intense. Though I love Ocarina of Time 3D, this is the one aspect I really feel they messed up by brightening things up. It loses that great atmosphere, which is the one thing I though this rather simple boss fight had going for it.
6) Dodongo’s Cavern
Dodongos’ Cavern introduces a ‘central room’ dungeon design that’s frequently repeated, both in this game and the rest of the series. It’s one of my favorite dungeon designs, and it really makes the dungeon feel like more than a series of rooms. It’s probably got the worst dungeon item in the game, as in most other Zelda games, you can just buy bombs (or just find them) somewhere in the overworld. But it gets more creative and fun with its bomb puzzles than the simple ‘bomb the cracked wall’ ones, including one where you place a bomb in the middle of a line bomb flowers, which causes a domino effect when it explodes. This creates a staircase, giving you access to the second floor. Another has you have to dropping bombs into the ‘eyes’ of a giant Dodongo skull, which opens its mouth and allows you to go through. It’s really amazing visually, and makes good use of the new 3D mechanics.
Lizalfos appear as what I like to refer to as ‘mini-boss lites.’ They’re more complex than other enemies we’ve seen so far, and you have to defeat them to progress, but they appear later in the game as regular enemies. They give a sort of ‘lizard’ den theme to the dungeon, that continues with Dodongos and the dungeon boss. Seeing King Dodongo for the first time in 3D is incredible if you’re used to seeing the cute, triceratops-looking dodongos from the original Legend of Zelda. He looks far more threatening, even if he still is an easy boss to defeat.
5) Inside the Deku Tree
Regarded by many as the best intro dungeon in the series, this dungeon has child Link attempting to rescue the dying Deku Tree. Many newer 3D Zelda games have you play through a couple hours of intro/tutorial stuff before you enter a dungeon, but once you find a sword and shield in Kokiri Forest, you can head in. This dungeon is well known for teaching you dungeon mechanics without holding your hand. And it shows off all the fun new 3D features like climbing, z-targeting, and the first-person view. We even get some classic ‘light the torch’ puzzles which appear in several later dungeons. The Fairy Slingshot is this dungeon’s item and it functions similarly to a bow. You have to use it immediately to exit the room you found it in – a teaching moment to let you know you’ll be using dungeon items to progress in the dungeons they’re found in.
There’s no mini-boss, but the enemies, mostly Skulltulas, are well themed and hint at the dungeon’s boss. The dungeon boss is a parasitic Gohma, who seems much more intimidating than its previous iterations, but is just about as simple. First you have to look up to spot Gohma and begin the battle. You’ll use your new slingshot to hit it in the eye, stunning it so you can attack with your sword. It’s good training for how you’ll defeat bosses throughout the rest of the game (and series).
4) Water Temple
The Water Temple really seems to be a love it or hate it dungeon. Some people find its layout confusing and tedious, with too much backtracking. Others see it as a complex dungeon perfect for exploration, a puzzle itself. The Water Temple has you raising and lowering water levels both through the whole dungeon, and in individual rooms. I love the way changing water levels through the whole dungeon impacts navigation, but the dungeon’s individual puzzles don’t match up to this complexity. This dungeon’s item, the Longshot, is an upgrade of the Hookshot that allows you to shoot a much farther distance. I’m not really a fan of these kinds of upgrades, as they just serve to block off certain parts of the dungeon and don’t really offer any new kinds of puzzles.
Dark Link is probably the most iconic mini-boss in the game. While I don’t really enjoy fighting him, I like the way the scene is set up with the water acting as a reflection, and Link having to walk to the other side of the room and back to get Dark Link to appear. There are multiple ways to find him, and you essentially have to exploit your own weaknesses. Morpha might be the worst boss in the game, and is often considered one of the worst bosses in the series. I don’t hate Morpha, and I think the concept is pretty neat, but I don’t like waiting to use the Longshot on it, only to get a couple slashes in. There is a nice strategy of pulling it into a corner where it can’t escape and just slashing at it until defeated, but it makes for a pretty boring boss fight.
3) Fire Temple
This dungeon has a really cool premise. There are imprisoned gorons scattered throughout the dungeon you have to rescue to get keys and hints about the dungeon. It makes the Fire Temple feel well incorporated into the game’s story, which boosts the dungeon a lot for me. The Megaton Hammer is a fun, powerful item you’ll use to push down rusty switches, knock away heavy statues, and send things down to lower floors. Though there have already been a few highly vertical-based dungeons in the game, the Hammer makes me pretty conscious of this – it’s used after climbing up through the Fire Temple to knock down the pillar all the way to the first floor so you can enter the boss room.
Flame Dancer appears twice as a mini boss. It’s a pretty easy boss fight – throw a bomb at him and then slash at him. I like the idea that you use the dungeon item from the first ‘fire’ dungeon in the mini boss battle for the adult Link fire dungeon. Did I need the same mini boss battle twice? Not really. Volvagia is kind of lackluster. Like many 3D Zelda bosses, he looks intimidating, but he’s pretty easy to defeat. I think he suffers from the ‘use dungeon item to defeat boss’ pattern that sticks around for most of the rest of the series.
2) Spirit Temple
Spirit Temple is the only dungeon in the game where you play as both child Link and adult Link. It makes me wish more of the game had made use of the time travel mechanic. You play through the first half as child Link, and come back as adult Link to finish. Spirit Temple has not one, but two dungeon items, the first of which you’re tasked with finding as child Link by Nabooru. She wants you to find the Silver Gauntlets for her. Once you obtain them however, Nabooru is abducted by Twinrova, and you have to return as adult Link to wield the gauntlets and rescue her. The Silver Gauntlets give Link extra strength, which allows him to move a heavy block that blocks the second, mirrored half of the dungeon. This brings me to the second dungeon item, which fits perfectly thematically. The Mirror Shield which allows you to redirect light and certain projectiles. I really enjoy all the puzzles that require you to reflect light on something, and I thought it was a great way of playing with the new 3D mechanics.
There are three different Iron Knuckle mini boss fights. One comes at the end of the child Link section and guards the Silver Gauntlets. The next comes at the end of the adult Link mirrored section guarding the Mirror Shield. And the final Iron Knuckle is actually a possessed Nabooru. She comes after the ‘boss door’ and is possessed by the boss(es) of the Spirit Temple, making her kind of a part one to the boss fight. Twinrova, the twin Gerudo witches, are a great boss. One part fire and one part ice, you’ll use your mirror shield to reflect one sister’s attacks and hit the other. Once you’ve done enough damage, they combine to form one and you’ll have to absorb multiple attacks of either fire or ice before you can reflect their magic back at them, stunning them so you can attack with your sword. I love this fight thematically, even if it is a bit simple, because it feels like a preview of your battle with Ganondorf. The fighting style is really similar, like Twinrova trained Ganondorf in battle technique. You’re even battling on similar raised platforms, although Ganondorf takes your place on the central platform in his fight.
1) Forest Temple
The Forest Temple is like the gold standard of 3D traditional Zelda dungeons. It tops many people’s lists of top Zelda dungeons. It’s the first dungeon you complete as adult Link, and it’s got a much darker, spookier vibe than the child Link dungeons. It’s like an abandoned, haunted mansion, complete with ghosts, Stalfos, spiders, and the always creepy wallmasters and floormasters. There are open air portions that really make it feel like you’re outside a mansion. The first part of the dungeon ends up being a key gathering segment – it reminds me of Key Cavern from Link’s Awakening. Then you can get to the second part of the dungeon where there are twisting hallways, the Poe Sisters, and the dungeon item, the fairy bow. The bow is an iconic item in the Zelda series, and you’ll need it to fight the Poe Sisters.
The Poe Sisters are a fantastic mini-boss, and they remind me of a mini-boss from another Link’s Awakening dungeon, the Master Stalfos in Catfish’s Maw. It’s a mini boss battle in four parts, but it improves on the Master Stalfos fights. The first two Poe Sisters, ….(named after the sisters in Little Women) are hiding in paintings and you need to draw them out by shooting an arrow at each painting. Then you can fight them like regular poes. Amy is fought by solving a timed block puzzle, and then once again, fighting her like a regular poe. The last Poe Sister will appear in the dungeon’s central area, and she’ll surround you with 4 copies of herself. You have to shoot an arrow at the real sister. After doing this a few times, you’ll defeat her, and all four flames will have returned to the dungeon’s central room, activating an elevator so you can solve one last puzzle before the dungeon boss, Phantom Ganon. Phantom Ganon’s battle also stars with an illusory copy of himself – you have to figure out which is the real one, and shoot an arrow at him. You then get a preview of the battle with the real Ganondorf, with a dead man’s volley.
Thanks for reading this week’s Year of Zelda post – up next week: Majora’s Mask!