Top 10 Dungeons in the Legend of Zelda Series,
I, similarly to many other gamers around the world, love the Legend of Zelda series. Ever since I played the two Zelda games on the N64, I’ve tried to get my hands on every game in the series to experience the great design put into each of them, with a couple unmentionable exceptions. While almost every aspect of these games is very enjoyable, from the wonderful music to the feel of exploring the world of Hyrule, my favorite part of the games has always been the dungeons. I love going through these areas as they are generally the most clever, interesting, and difficult sections of the games, with good puzzles to figure out and tough enemies to fight. In the spirit of this feeling, I’m going to list my favorite dungeons from the Legend of Zelda series. Let’s get right to it.
10.) Tower of Spirits (Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks)
Spirit Tracks was similar to its direct predecessor, Phantom Hourglass, in many ways. One such way was having a main dungeon that Link had to keep progressing through section by section in order to unlock the next main part of the game, just like the annoying Temple of the Ocean King from Phantom Hourglass. However, it seems as though the creators learned from their previous mistakes in that main temple, as the Tower of Spirits is always fun and interesting as opposed to the Temple of the Ocean King being tedious, repetitious, and a pain to get through. Instead of having to traverse the previous levels of the temple in order to get to new parts, every section is separated into a few floors that each make a mini-dungeon of sorts. This gives each section a feeling of separation from the other sections, which helps tremendously in making all the levels feel different.
The main draw of the dungeon for me however, is the fact that Zelda’s spirit can possess the nearly invincible Phantoms that roam the temple for combat and puzzle purposes. I really like this partner dynamic where the partner can generally take care of themselves. This partner system allows for some clever puzzles that made me really think in some of the later sections. I just appreciate the good design philosophy at work here and how the developers completely shifted a failing of the previous game into one of the best features of the sequel.
9.) Arbiter’s Grounds (Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess)
Of all the home console Zelda games, I would say that my least favorite would probably be Twilight Princess. The game is still excellent and enjoyable despite any misgivings I have, but, for a variety of reasons, I feel that it doesn’t quite measure up to the others. However, that fact does not prevent the Arbiter’s Grounds from being one of my favorite dungeons in the series. The Arbiter’s Grounds is a sand-filled ruin found in the Gerudo Desert and the game uses that fact to make many rooms large and grand and have the sand factor in as an obstacle throughout the dungeon by way of quicksand. The first part of the dungeon is spent looking through side rooms to the main hall of the temple in order to find four poes who stole the torchlight that allows further access into the temple, similar to the poes from the Forest Temple of Ocarina of Time. I liked this little scavenger hunt for the poes and it made good use of freely turning into Wolf Link in the first dungeon where that ability was available.
The second half of the dungeon is spent getting the boss key and the dungeon item, the Spinner. Now, outside of this dungeon, I found the Spinner to be rather useless and a waste of an item because, while in the dungeon, I had tons of fun using the Spinner to cross sand and ride rails all over the walls. Jumping between and riding on the Spinner rails just had a great sense of exhilaration which was nearly unmatched throughout the rest of the game. To top it off, the boss fight against Stallord was an enjoyable one where Link had to constantly ride rails around a circular room, jumping between them to dodge attacks and waiting until he was close enough to get a hit in. All in all, this dungeon was just great fun and it made me sad that the rest of the game underused the Spinner so completely and utterly.
8.) Sword and Shield Maze (Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons)
One thing that I always like to see in a Zelda dungeon is a well-implemented mechanic that isn’t entirely based on the dungeon item itself and that’s why I’m very fond of the Sword and Shield Maze. The dungeon item for this final dungeon is the Hyper Slingshot, which fires out three seeds in three different directions in front of Link and is used well for both puzzles and general usage. However, while the Hyper Slingshot is nice, what really cements this dungeon as a favorite is the fire and ice dichotomy present in the dungeon and the numerous clever rooms scattered throughout. One floor is covered in ice and the other has lava all over the place. In order to progress, you have to keep dropping ice blocks to the lower floor so you can walk over the cooled lava. I like the interaction between the two floors because you always have to think about where you can go next and what you can do to open up new paths.
In addition to that, there are many individual rooms in this dungeon that I really like, such as the room where you have to follow the exact path of an Armos enemy in order to get a key or the ice block puzzle room. This dungeon tests pretty much all the skills you acquire throughout the game in one form or another, and I really appreciate that in the final dungeon of a Zelda game. The only thing that I don’t really like about this dungeon is the boss, Medusa Head. It just feels like a rather generic dodging energy boss and it doesn’t have that memorability that a dungeon boss needs to have. Despite that, this is still a great dungeon, and it’s always fun to go through.
7.) Ancient Cistern (Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword)
As the most recent release in the Zelda series and a supposed celebration of the 25th anniversary of the long-running franchise, Skyward Sword had a lot to live up to. While I’ve seen varying opinions on how well it succeeded in that sense and it’s not my favorite by any means, I still both had a lot of fun playing through it and found the game to have a clever design behind most aspects, most obviously seen in the obligatory water dungeon, the Ancient Cistern. Many Zelda fans will immediately cringe at the thought due to the reputation water-based dungeons have for being confusing and annoying to progress through. While my thoughts on that particular idea might differ from most people’s feelings, I feel that the Ancient Cistern manages to subvert those expectations entirely with an overall design of two distinct faces: a peaceful, beautiful paradise above and a hellish cave below.
The top areas really are extremely pretty to look at and the water, despite having a constant presence, isn’t an obstruction so much as another path to follow thanks to the smooth swimming controls. The dungeon item, the whip, is also used to great effect from flipping lily-pads blocking the way to pulling out of reach switches. However, the real genius here is the dichotomy between the top and bottom floors, as it mirrors a story written about the Buddha called The Spider’s Thread. In the story, the Buddha lowers a spider’s thread into hell from a lotus-covered pond in an attempt to save a man from eternal damnation. However, as the man climbed the thread, other lost souls start climbing as well and when the man said tried to kick them off and claim the redemption for just himself, the thread snapped and he was sent plummeting back down. The entire dungeon is based around this famous story, from the paradise above and hell below to the literal lit thread Link must climb to escape from the lower floors, complete with cursed Bokoblins climbing up after him. This shows just how much thought went into every aspect of the design and the attention-to-detail pays off brilliantly. To wrap the area up, Koloktos, the boss, is my favorite in the game. It’s an incredibly fun battle where Link fights a giant Shiva-based statue, dismantles it piece by piece, and eventually picks up its own oversized swords to deal the real damage. It’s the perfect end to an awesome dungeon.
6.) Tower of the Gods (Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker)
While Wind Waker is one of my favorite games in the series, I have to say that, on the whole, the dungeons weren’t the most memorable. They were all good, but only one of them stood out in my eyes, and that was the Tower of the Gods. After getting the first three plot coupons of the game, you raise the Tower of the Gods from the sea and go through it to try and open a path to Hyrule. The tower’s main themes were using the old, mystical mechanisms in the temple and using a song you find in the tower, called the Command Melody, to lead some statues into position to progress to the boss. The mechanisms really helped give the tower a unique feel of technology lost long ago and what kind of place Hyrule was. The music also added to that feel by using bells and a mournful sounding choir to add a sense of how important the place used to be.
Despite my appreciation of the feel of the dungeon, the Command Melody is what makes this dungeon really great. While the Earth and Wind Temple dungeons also heavily used it, the introduction in the tower was done very well. With the song, you can take control of another being, in this case, the statues you need to move across rooms. I just loved having to guide the statues around the room until they were in the right position, switching back to Link to open another path, and repeating those steps until I found the solution. The dungeon item is the classic Hero’s Bow, so there honestly isn’t much to say about it. The boss, Gohdan, is easy, but enjoyable to fight as you shoot out all the weak points he has with the bow and then toss a bomb in his mouth. The music for the fight is also really nice and is probably one of my favorite tracks in the game for its use of organ to go along a simple but catchy melody. Although the entire dungeon is a bit too easy for my tastes, I still love how well the mechanics of this dungeon were introduced and implemented while still making a good level overall.