Imagine this, entering a place which you feel can only be the last dungeon of the game. Then you stumble across a slab with some moveable tiles on it, surely some kind of puzzle. You move some of the tiles around and all of a sudden the whole place shakes like an earthquake, and you hear what sounds like huge chuncks of rock sliding against each other. And then, it clicks; the slide-puzzle you’ve just been fooling around with actually controls the rooms of the very dungeon itself; having moved the tiles caused the rooms of the dungeon to allign accordingly. Think the movie “The Cube”, but under your control. And without the gruesome deaths.
This must be the most awesome concept for a dungeon in the whole Zelda series, or even most of gaming. Rooms need to be lined up with doors adjacent to each other, to be able to move from one to the other. As you can’t move the room you are currently in (and you can only rearrange the dungeon from some of the rooms) you will need to do this several times to progress ever further into this dungeon. This itself is the dungeon-spanning gimmick, so each room stands on its own. Clear a few rooms, re-allign to make a new path, and move on (or back, if needed).
The ultimate dungeon, yet not at #1 in this list, that means there’s something wrong. And there is. Like most of Skyward Sword, sadly, this idea is underdeveloped. It’s a single grouping of 8 rooms, just one key needed which means little backtracking complexity and there should have been puzzles that move beyond the boundaries of a single room. We can always hope this idea will at some point evolve, perhaps into even a full game based on this principle.
How did we come to such a difficult decision on picking Mermaids Cave? How did we narrow it down from sixteen dungeons over the two games? What makes this one stand out and earn our votes? Well it's been such a long time since most of us played Oracle of Ages/Seasons that it's the only one we could remember.
This dungeon really is the best of the Oracle games, mostly on how well it uses the theme of the game, time travel. There are really two dungeons, one in the past and one in the present. That means there are also two keys used just to get into the front door. Both keys are received after playing a couple of mini games, and yes one is the dreaded Goron dance hall game, getting a certain item and then trading a couple more times for the keys.
Once inside you have to figure how changing things in the past will affect the present time period. Bombing walls, finding keys and opening doors. Also since there are two different dungeons that means finding two compasses and two maps. There are plenty of color puzzles like the changing floor tiles and colored dice rolling. Also a lot of opportunities to use the seed shooter, one of which is catching candle enemies on fire and watching them run around until they expire. Horrifying yet oddly entertaining. The mini boss is a throw back to the original Legend of Zelda in the form of a Vire, the small demons that once hit would turn into two keese. The Boss key is found in the present while the boss door is waiting for link in the past. Octogon is only defeated by using the dungeon item, the mermaid suit, which allows link to dive under the deep water to continue the fight. This suit also helps open up another quarter of the over world. These games have some great dungeons, Gnarled Root, Sword and Shield, The Ancient Tomb and the huge Explorer's Crypt, but none can compare to the well executed Mermaid's Cave. If you haven’t had the chance to play these games rumor has it that they will soon be available for download.
Let me paint you a picture. Deep within a mysterious forest lies an old, worn entryway that has been overgrown with vines. As you approach, an odd sound begins echoing and haunting music starts to play while Wolfos begin howling.
While there are a few other temples that have something interesting to offer, such as the infamously confusing Water Temple, the chilling Shadow Temple, or the Spirit Temple which spans two time periods, most of us felt that none offer quite as complete a package as the Forest Temple.
A few rooms in, you will discover your main goal for the temple, which is tracking down four Poes called The Poe Sisters to gain access to where the boss room awaits. These sort of serve as the mini-boss of the temple, which is unique not only because there are four, but because they rely more on a puzzle challenge than combat. To get to them, you have to battle your first Stalfos, Big Deku Babas, and Bubbles (the flaming skull type). The most chilling enemy you will face, however, is the Wall Master. These enemies struck fear into me in the original Legend of Zelda as a young kid, and even now as an adult they can send chills down my spine. What is really cool about the area they show up in is the iconic twisted hallways. At the end of each of these hallways lie rooms which have something you need to reach on the walls that are not accessible. To get onto the walls, you must find a way to straighten these hallways out before traversing them, thereby flipping the room in a sense.
From the simplistic yet chilling music, to the enemies and even the boss, it all comes together to give this temple some of the best atmosphere in the game, if not the series. The Forest Temple offers it all and remains one of the best that Zelda has to offer.
Death Mountain is huge, imposing, grey (obviously the best dungeon color), has its own dedicated theme music, and is full of death, giant fat bats, and creepy old people.
I don't know about anyone else, but when some dork in a cave said "Spectacle Rock is an entrance to death," two rock lumps (that could resemble a variety of objects) at the summit of the mountain were not the first thing that came to mind, and they certainly didn't look like they would lead to my death. Fortunately, blowing a hole in a rock leads to the entrance to Level 9 - Death Mountain. Unfortunately, I died many, many times.
Level 9 deserves considerable respect, as Link will encounter virtually the entire dungeon bestiary from start to finish with only two drinks of potion. My favorites are probably the rare Patras, only found in this dungeon. There's something very satisfying about stabbing a growling, flying eyeball with a sword. Of course your old pals the Wizzrobes and a host of other enemies with names that sound like third-rate stripper stage names (Vire, Bubble, Gel, Like Like, Blade Trap) are also here.
Made in the shape of a skull, Death Mountain comprises a screen area nearly half the size of the Overworld, and players will need to traverse it in its entirety to collect two valuable treasures and reach Gannon and turn him into dust. The first treasure, the Silver Arrow, has become a staple of the series and will be forever associated as the solution to Link's greatest antagonist. The second treasure, the Red Ring, is powerful enough to reduce damage by 3/4ths, but is picked up only mere screens away from victory. The real tragedy is that Link barely gets to show off the new baller red duds that come along with it - only Zelda herself, in her dowdiest 8-bit dress, is left to impress.
Well, this is certainly a controversial pick for a top 10 list. Everyone I have spoken to so far at work and even on many boards has listed this as one of the major pain points in Phantom Hourglass. As such, I took it upon myself to shed some light on an often ignored area of the game. Returning to the dungeon again and again seems lazy and time wasted, but I eventually saw something more. Each trip back was a little deeper that I could go, a little more of the "annoying" temple that I could explore.
The more I played the game, the more I realized it was a constantly growing dungeon rather than one that should be completed in a single go. Having that new mindset in place, I began to see the Temple of the Ocean King in a new light. Even after I finished the mandatory visits, I found myself returning time and time again. Zelda games have dungeons of all kinds, be they simple, complex, loved...and yes, hated. Speed running this dungeon became quite a challenge and a fun goal for me, and apparently many others. By the time I was able to get through the dungeon rapidly and accurately, I realized I was having fun with it. And truthfully, having fun with something I once dreaded turned out to be my favorite part of Phantom Hourglass.
Now then, I realize I haven't described much about this dungeon itself, because quite frankly, I don't need to. During any given playthrough of Phantom Hourglass, you have to make at least three trips there, with many more return visits possible. For this reason, I chose not to explain much about it, since it would consume even more text in what should be a short blurb. Understand this though, I have not found anyone who immediately enjoyed that dungeon; myself included. Constantly returning to the Temple of the Ocean King though, it grows on you, like a fungus. Kidding aside though, this often maligned Temple is not as bad as you think it is, given enough time. You really should give this dungeon another chance, with an open mind. Of course, there are still going to be people who will see this entry and shake their heads, and I welcome that opinion. Understanding the hate for this dungeon...I will end with the note that I too despised it at first, but eventually, I came to enjoy it as something more challenging and deep than it first appeared.
In a series known for its conventional design philosophy, special recognition should be made for dungeons that toy with player expectations; taking the very concept of a "Zelda dungeon," and turning it on its head.
There are many aspects of Stone Tower Temple that upend the established formulas of not just prior dungeons in Majora's Mask, but the series as a whole. While many dungeons are content to provide a single miniboss fight, Stone Tower provides 3 (Garo Master, Fire Wizrobe, Gomess). Instead of lock and key progression from one new room to the next (or spiraling out from hub areas), most every room within Stone Tower is visited multiple times to not just progress, but to fulfill an optional sidequest that yields a physical inventory item whereas others reward passive stat buffs alone.
Speaking of items; not one, but two dungeon items are able to be obtained - a surprising flip on tradition that rarely occurs. Said items can be used within the dungeon; however aren’t pivotal puzzle mechanics post-acquisition, as the dungeon also features an expansive rotation of item requirements from Link's available moveset. Similar to items, Stone Tower is one of the few dungeons to turn the tables on dungeon music by providing multiple tracks; a normal one, and an alternate with an inverted back-beat, adding extra dimension to the dungeon's aesthetics - already quite pleasing, being one of the few dungeons to feature outdoor portions with full view of the sky.
I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up the final twist provided by the dungeon boss. These days, bosses have become a linear affair; using the dungeon item to expose a weakness, and following up with sword slashes ad nauseam. This is not the case for Stone Tower, as the two Twinmold worms can be defeated by several means; an action even intended by programmers through their hidden elemental weaknesses (the blue worm is weak to fire while the red worm is to ice).
Tried and true dungeon design is always a solid choice, but that does not mean it should not be revisited every so often from a different perspective. Angling for change, Stone Tower’s influence sadly remains minimal toward the overall series, but it will always be remembered as the one that tried to turn our preconceptions upside-down.
In a land of frigid cold, a bowl of soup does the body good. What better motivation could there be to complete a dungeon, which is a place of even colder cold, than in helping to prepare a delicious soup? There is none better!
Snowpeak Ruins is one of the best dungeons featured in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and perhaps one of the best dungeons in the entire series. Nowhere else can you help prepare a delicious, wholesome bowl of soup that warms you to your very core. With its chopped up vegetables, its delectable meat falling off the bones, and simmering for hours upon hours. And when you get that soup, the aroma hits you full force and knocks you off your feet. But then you take that first sip and all is well in the world. It doesn't matter that you're surrounded by fearsome beasts of ice, or far away from any signs of true civilization. All you know is that you're in the good company of yetiman and wife enjoying a bowl of soup in your handy and versatile bottle.
Perhaps even more rewarding is the knowledge that you helped make this soup due to the shoddy memory of the yetiman's wife. Her directions send you to where seasonal pumpkins are located and aged goat cheese develops a moldy layer. The combination of the pumpkin and cheese turns the Good Soup into a Superb Soup. Any four star Michelin chef would be proud to serve this soup in his restaurant.
"This? THIS is at number 2?" you ask yourself. I am left asking the same question, as with the word "Great" right there in its title, we can only wonder why it's not occupying the top spot. The Great Palace is actually not a dungeon, but a palace, and is the final one in Adventure of Link. The Great Palace is one of the rare final dungeons in Zelda where you have to run a gauntlet of tough enemies, such as those d-bag rock-throwing Lizalfos and the aggressive blue Moas (flying eyes), just to even GET to the dungeon. Fortunately Nintendo spared us a little bit here and allowed you to continue from the Great Palace instead of the usual re-spawn at North Place after a game over.
That is if you can make it through the game over screen without having a seizure, but at one of the toughest palaces in the game you can expect to die a lot, and that just diminishes your chances. Like its predecessor’s Death Mountain, the dungeon is typically NES-era confusing, filled with plenty of pitfalls, dead-ends, traps and repetitive room design that gives you no help in remembering where you’ve been. In another rarity for the series’ final dungeons, many new non-boss enemies are introduced here, most notably the heavyweight Firebirds and frustratingly skilled and agile Bird Knights. In keeping with the avian theme, the boss is a flying monstrosity known as Thunderbird, and takes an enormous quantity of your magic power to defeat.
Then when you are lucky enough to beat the boss, you find yourself actually having to defeat another boss right after, hopefully with enough health and magic to make it out alive. That boss is of course the legendary Dark Link or Shadow Link, and is easily the biggest lasting impact on the series from this dungeon. He is actually quite easy if you use the infamous corner trick, and I’m ashamed to admit this is the only way I’ve ever defeated him due to fear of having to remember my way back should I fall in defeat. But then, a dungeon that kicks your ass so much you don’t want to do it again – now that’s what makes it memorable.
Oh, the Earth Temple. Aptly named for... taking place underground? And having coffins? Seriously, between the theme, the fact that the current guardians fly and the previous guardians swim, how is this place the Earth Temple?
Anyway, we hope you like escort missions, because this dungeon is essentially one big playdate. Along with protecting yourself from the resilient Floormasters, you also have the defenseless Medli at your side. Sure she can fly and has her own mirror, but in a dungeon where most of the puzzles rely on both Medli and Link directing your Mirrors at specific angles, who the hell makes the "stop being useful and come to me button" and the "hold and point mirror shield button" the same button!?
Medli does redeem herself by becoming comically dizzy when being thrown into a wall, allowing the player to either feel bad and appreciate Birdgirl more, or making us laugh at our stupid companion who would literally jump into a pit of monsters if we told her to. Despite these flaws, the Earth Temple is a light shining in the darkness compared to most of the game’s other easy dungeons. Link is pitted against some of his most dangerous foes, including the Redeads, Stalfos, and the aforementioned Floormasters.
Some people might find our pick for best dungeon to be ironic considering that it doesn’t even really exist (spoilers it was all a dream). Others might be thinking “that doesn’t follow the correct definition of ‘irony’” and now have the raging desire to lecture everyone on the proper use of the word for paragraph after paragraph until everyone recognizes how intelligent they are. I would suggest that those of you bothered by such a minor annoyance take a breath, step away from the computer, and go take a walk outside into some busy Chicago traffic,
As I was saying, it may surprise you to see Stone Eagle at number one. After all, the whole thing was as real as a Gamefaqs moderator is competent. It, like the rest of the s*** in the game, never existed. Never happened. In fact, if you were an outside observer floating by on your boat you would have just seen Link sitting in the ocean with a dopey look on his face and probably morning wood in his pants. The whole game was just the dream of the Wind Fish. Link never actually went to this dungeon or fought the boss who I think was an evil truck or something. It was all fake. A shared dream between the two of them. Or Link was in the Wind Fish’s dream. Or the Wind Fish ate Link at the beginning and the island was purgatory. Whatever,
So why is Eagle Mountain tops if it was never there to begin with? Because is a wonderful commentary on Zelda games and the people who play them. It’s a fantasy game about a fantasy. Both we the player and the Wind Fish are escaping reality for a little adventure and using Link to do it. The whole thing is very meta and full of self references. The title – Link’s Awakening – even gives away the M. Night Shamalamallana worthy twist. Although it is strange that Zelda does not appear in this game despite it being titled as one of her legends, unless Link is actually the princess in drag. Maybe she was included in the original design where Link was having a wet dream,
Now, Eagle Temple itself may not be the most ingenuitive dungeon, and Link isn’t some prophesized hero of whatever, and the gold sword could have had more wheat, but there is a real humbleness in its simplicity. They aren’t trying too hard to create a grand Lord of the Rings scale conflict. Everything works in making Link a more relatable character. This Link is just your regular Joe crash landing in the wrong place at the wrong time, a fly in the ointment of some great evil he doesn’t understand. It’s like Die Hard on a dream island. Anotherwards u cant be; this dungin,
So there you have it. The definitive, non-debatable list of best Zelda dungeons. Makes one sad, that no discussion can ever again be had on which dungeon was the best, it is now set in stone. However, if you would like to comment on this list, feel free to drop by on the Zelda Social Board (548). We’re always happy to welcome new blood, even though we will always be better than you.
Finally, we would like to thank our parents, the Academy, our fans, BlueGunstarHero (for most outstanding visual achievement) and AdmiralViscen (without whom none of this would have been possible).
List by Big Bear (05/09/2013)
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