Top 10 "The Legend of Zelda" Dungeons

The release of a new “Zelda” game is generally an exciting time for me, because it’s been a pretty constant thing since 1999. I’ve buy the game, begin playing it, grow bored with it, force myself to finish it, claim it disappointed me, then a few months later say that I actually liked it in retrospect.

It’s been like that since “Ocarina of Time” (I had only played “Link’s Awakening” and some of “A Link to the Past” then). I’ve noticed that most of the time, what I enjoy the most—or what I look forward to—in a “Zelda” game are the dungeons. The more fun the dungeons, the more interesting dynamics and locations they have, the more I’ll enjoy the game itself.

With that in mind, I’ve ranked my 10 favorite Zelda dungeons. I decided to put a few that I really like aside for the sake of diversity. “Ocarina of Time”, “Skyward Sword” and “Majora’s Mask” definitely have the best ones, but I’m gonna have to ignore a few great ones so I can include a few others from other games.

10. Ancient Tomb (“Oracle of Ages”)
I have very feint memories of “Oracle of Ages” and “Oracle of Seasons”. The Zelda games are best in 3D, but I really enjoy how creative Nintendo could get with limited dynamics. The Ancient Tomb was pretty straightforward as far as design went, but it was both very challenging and very extensive. It also has my single favorite 2D Zelda puzzle: that room which forced you to find a path to step on every single tile on the floor. Very simple and very difficult to figure out.

9. Tower of Hera (“A Link to the Past”)
This is one of the very first dungeons in “A Link to the Past” (the third, maybe?), so it’s very easy. It’s here because of pure nostalgia. I remember being a kid and solving the “jump here from the upper floor” puzzle and feeling like a goddamn genius. I also remember thinking that the concept of momentum in the boss battle was some revolutionary shit.

8. Unicorn’s Cave (“Oracle of Season”)
I have to admit that I never finished “Oracle of Seasons”. I played Ages while my cousin played Seasons and when we finished we switched (I loved the connectivity between the two games). I got as far as “Unicorn’s Cave” which is about halfway through the game. I don’t know why I stopped, because this dungeon was sweet. The mine cart navigation was fun, and the Magnetic Glove is still one of the coolest items in the Zelda franchise. Why did they never bring it back for the 3D games?

7. Forest Temple (“Ocarina of Time”)
Man, playing through “Ocarina of Time” is one of my favorite experiences in gaming. Everything about this game is amazing. The dungeons were brilliant all the way through—at the time. After seeing what Nintendo did with the 3D Zelda engine in later games, I began to realize that “Ocarina”’s dungeons weren’t all that (I have to give a nod to the Shadow Temple. Dat darkness). The Forest Temple, however, was one of the really great ones for several reasons. I liked the 'collect the ghosts' dynamic, the creepy music and the general feeling of isolation most of the other dungeons in the game didn't have, but it is here mainly because I just loved the setting. Forgotten ruins in the forest? Surreal gravity and reality shifting hallways? Ghost Ganondorf as a boss? Yes please. Sure, most of the puzzles were kind of boring (blocks), but this was a shitload of fun.

6. Arbiter’s Grounds (“Twilight Princess”)
I have a thing for ancient Egypt. Everything those fuckers did was rad—the technology, the design, the science, everything. Having dungeons set in an Egyptian-like setting is obvious (considering that those things actually fucking existed), and Zelda did it more than once. Both times they nailed it. “Arbiter’s Grounds” was not only great in setting; it had some great puzzles (I love the chandelier) and one of the most fun, if otherwise useless, items Zelda’s had. The Spinner was infinitely fun to use. It’s a shame you never had to use it again outside Arbiter’s Grounds. I also really love that you had to make your way through it wolf-style. Plot-wise it was also pretty cool; this was an ancient prison in the desert (which makes the setting darker), and the location of the fabled Mirror of Twilight.

5. Sky Keep (“Skyward Sword”)
If there’s one dungeon in Zelda who just went “I don’t give a fuck”, it’s the Sky Keep. The last dungeon of “Skyward Sword” can barely be called a dungeon; it was a surreal twisting tunnel thing that came out of nowhere near the end of the game. The Sky Keep was a mind bending maze that took you through a series of rooms that mimicked the rest of the game, and you could move them around a grid to make your way through. This made it entirely non-linear (a first in the series) and frustrating in the exact measure. It was challenging without being infuriating, and the setting never got boring. I’m pretty sure I skipped one very important item here, but hey—I could.

Addendum: fuck these guys.

4. Stone Tower Temple (“Majora’s Mask”)
I had an internal battle about switching #3 and #4 and couldn’t make up my mind—it doesn’t matter, they’re both awesome. The Stone Tower Temple is the fourth and final dungeon of “Majora’s Mask”, and quite possibly the most challenging in the franchise. It was long, extremely complex and pretty to look at despite its desert motif. The main dynamic here was that you had to spin the tower upside down to traverse through it and goddamn was it a beautiful pain in the neck. It also had the most fun pre-dungeon quest ever in Ikana Valley.

3. Great Bay Temple (“Majora’s Mask”)
Everyone always bitches about the Water Temple in “Ocarina of Time”. Look here noobs, there’s a small key under the platform in the Center Tower. That’s the only puzzling thing; that dungeon is a joke (you want an annoying water-based dungeon? Try the Lakebed Temple from “Twilight Princess”). The Great Bay Temple, however: wow. It’s like Nintendo heard people’s fury over the ‘water level’ dynamic and decided to crank dat. The Great Bay Temple, which you play through using the pimping Zora mask that gives Link a rockin’ body and guitar skills, is an industrial nightmare. Imagine you have to make your way through a complex mechanical labyrinth that’s intricately interconnected through pipes. Water current, water level and water pressure are all important factors. It’s exactly as fun and tricky as it sounds.

2. Spirit Temple (“Ocarina of Time”)
Man, what an adventure. The Spirit Temple from "Ocarina of Time" could be the last one (depending on where you go after Lake Hylia) and it was without a doubt the best. The music outside (“Desert Colossus”) is my favorite in the franchise, and yeah: motherfuckin’ Ra-lovin Osiris-worhsippin’ Egyptian theme, y’all! This one, like Arbiter’s Grounds, also makes you walk through it in two shapes, this time you have to go through as a kid and an adult. The dynamics are so much fun in here and I just love the Mirror Shield. Add to that a very fun boss battle in the shape of Twinrova, and my all-time favorite puzzle: the face melter.

1. Ancient Cistern (“Skyward Sword”)
I never thought Nintendo would ever make something better than the Spirit Temple, so holy cow was I shocked when I walked into the Ancient Cistern, the fifth dungeon of “Skyward Sword”. This was the perfect dungeon. It had an hindi-like style in architecture so it was beautiful to look at, it was perfectly paced, had three different settings (love the creepy basement), incredible multi-elemental puzzles (water, light and dark), great music, a pimpin’ weapon, and one motherfucker of a boss fight. It’s the kind of dungeon that challenges you without ever boring you. You could just sit down and play through the entire thing in a couple of hours, without feeling the time pass. It even has a goddamn narrative, based on a 1918 short story called "The Spider's Thread".

Naturally I’m looking forward to “A Link Between Worlds”, even if the 2.5D nature of the gameplay isn’t as alluring to me as the 3D games are. I’m certainly looking forward to what Nintendo is going to do next with the WiiU controllers in this legendary franchise.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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  1. Oh man, great list! All of those dungeons purely kick ass. I'd have to say one of my absolute favorites is the Mansion from TP. Not because it was particularly good or challenging, but the idea behind it was just...unique. I mean, it's basically bigfoot's house that you have to traverse through, and you're risking your life to make soup, hahaha!