In The Legends of Zelda games, dungeons are arguably the key draw. Every game in the main series has a variety of dungeons in which the player must use items and solve puzzles. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is certainly no exception. With a total of 12 dungeons, they are a key aspect of Ocarina of Time. Many of the dungeons have been universally praised by Zelda fans, with this being one of the best dungeon selections in the franchise. However, there are a couple of dungeons that are not so popular. Let’s rank these dungeons and see which are the best and worst of the bunch.
12 – Dodongo’s Cavern
This dungeon is just really bland. Is it terrible? No. But it isn’t exciting either. Despite finding one of the best items in the game (the bomb) here, there is little else Dodongo’s Cavern offers. There are some interesting enemy types to fight, and they are a small step up, but the enemies in other dungeons are better.
There is not too much aesthetically unique or interesting about this place. Dodongo’s Cavern does not evoke any emotion from me as I rush to complete the dungeon every time I play and move onto better things. Puzzles are not particularly interesting either, and the boss, King Dodongo, is quite underwhelming.
11 – Inside Jabu Jabu’s Belly
The aesthetic here is very strange and fleshy, there is no better way to describe it. Inside Jabu Jabu’s Belly is generally pretty easy but is slowed down due to having to carry Princess Ruto around. It can be frustrating, especially in a first playthrough. Enemies can also be quite annoying but at least offer a challenge to the player. The sub-boss, on the other hand, is too easy and in ways feels like a carbon copy of King Dodongo. Barinade (the main boss) makes up for the lacklustre sub-boss and effectively incorporates the Boomerang, which the player finds in this dungeon. Even so, it does not make up for how mediocre the dungeon is. Not bad, just bland.
10 – The Ice Cavern
Some people really dislike the Ice Cavern, and its understandable why. Ice physics are often a problem in video games, but here they are not too frustrating. Even so, the Ice Cavern feels like filler between the Fire and Water temples, here for the single purpose of getting the Iron Boots. The puzzles are not particularly difficult, but the use of the Blue Flame is interesting. It’s just a shame that backtracking is required to get Blue Flame sometimes. A couple of enemies are also unnecessarily annoying. It’s okay but pretty forgettable.
9 – The Gerudo Training Grounds
Being an optional dungeon weighs the Gerudo Training Grounds down a fair bit. It goes to show how unimportant the Ice Arrow is in the game, and to be fair, it’s not very good. Regardless, the Gerudo Training Grounds acts in some ways as a predecessor to Ganon’s Castle.
With items unlocked on your journey, the player must complete challenges to advance through rooms and collect keys. Enough of these keys will take you to a large chest that gives the player the Ice Arrow. The item would have been cool (pun intended) if it was necessary and introduced earlier into the game. Regardless, some of the challenges are interesting and test the player, making them feel rewarding to solve. If only a better item was unlocked at the end.
8 – Bottom of the Well
This is a very short dungeon, and the only purpose for it is to find the Lens of Truth, but it’s cool nonetheless. The Bottom of the Well acts as a taster for the Shadow Temple, with torture chambers and a lovely fight against Dead Hand. Visuals are also impressive and representative of the dark tone. However, there are a couple of problems. Most notably, there is little else to do once you acquire the Lens of Truth. If you have played the game before, there is no need to explore, so you can be in and out in two minutes. It is also heavily overshadowed by the Shadow Temple because its aesthetic is so similar. It struggles to have its own identity.
7 – The Water Temple
I already know what some people are thinking. A good number of Zelda fans despise the Water Temple, particularly the Nintendo 64 version. However, it is the game’s mechanics that make the temple frustrating rather than the temple itself, at least some of the time. In the 3DS remake, the Iron Boots are much easier to use, and thus, the dungeon flows better. Even so, it can become extremely repetitive and annoying to raise or lower the water level, again and again. Especially in the 3DS version, the aesthetic is intriguing, and the atmosphere is quite claustrophobic in a good way.
While lowering and raising the water can be tedious, there is good reason for it as new rooms open up, and exploration is fun. The Iron Boots in this sense are a useful and clever item that are well-implemented. Fighting Dark Link is bizarre yet so effective as a challenge and as a representation of Link himself. Finally, the fight against Morpha uses the Hookshot in a different way that requires good timing and decision-making. It is a good boss that concludes the dungeon effectively enough.
6 – The Fire Temple
The Fire Temple very effectively captures a claustrophobic, unnerving atmosphere. There is a literal danger in every room, whether it is enemies or lava. The Fire Temple’s decent visuals help to emphasise the consistent danger with an effective colour scheme throughout. Puzzles are generally varied in the Fire Temple, which helps to keep the dungeon interesting. The music does a good job, and Volvagia is a challenging boss that can take your health away quickly if you’re not careful.
I think the Fire Temple’s biggest issue is its length. Because of the consistent aesthetic, it can become very boring to look at towards the dungeon’s climax. I also think the dungeon has the problem of not being interconnected. Other dungeons, such as the Water, Forest and Spirit Temples, lack this issue, which makes exploring better. It also means that if you miss something, you’re not wasting too much time backtracking. Most of the enemies are repeats and are not too impressive but are still fun to take down. The Fire Temple has plenty going for it but has a few issues nonetheless.
5 – Inside the Deku Tree
Inside the Deku Tree acts as an effective tutorial to the game. Some interesting puzzles exist here, alongside tests to ensure the player becomes accustomed to the game’s early mechanics. It is not too challenging, but that’s the point, and even so, there are a couple of puzzles that require thinking, especially from a first-time player. The aesthetic is also surprisingly cool, with a slightly eerie yet calm atmosphere, symbolic of the dungeon’s ease. Furthermore, Gohma is a great first boss that offers some challenge to a new player while also being satisfying to hack and slash at.
4 – The Spirit Temple
The Spirit Temple has a somewhat mixed response. While nobody thinks the temple is bad, it can be forgettable or uninspired to some. I disagree because there are interesting and unique elements to the temple. The Spirit Temple’s main gimmick is light, and the Mirror Shield finds a great deal of usefulness here. It is a great item that has a purpose throughout the Adult Link section of the temple. Aside from the Mirror Shield, light is incorporated in other ways to open doors and defeat enemies.
Speaking of which, the Spirit Temple wonderfully incorporates the mechanics of both Child and Adult Link, starting with the section as Child Link. After Link first becomes an adult, you have little use for Child Link, so it is nice to return to seven years earlier to use the Boomerang, Deku Sticks and more once again. Child Link is required to unlock the Silver Gauntlets – a decent item – which can be used as Adult Link. Not the best items, but it is an excuse to return as Child Link at least.
Based on Egyptian pyramids, the Spirit Temple has a very different atmosphere from everything else. It is not eerie but definitely claustrophobic. It may seem bland from the offset, but I personally love ancient Egyptian mythology and architecture, so I like this. Finally, Twinrova is a fantastic final boss that will punish you for mistakes. It can be long, but the mechanics and method to beating the boss are clever and, again, incorporate the Mirror Shield.
3 – Ganon’s Castle
This is a fantastic final dungeon that requires every piece of knowledge in terms of items throughout the game. All six doors near the entrance lead to differently themed areas, all with puzzles linking to previous moments in the game. An argument can be made for Ganon’s Castle merely repeating what has already been done, but the way in which puzzles are structured is fascinating. Ganon’s Castle is a great test of your memory and ability as a player because most items are required – some in combination with each other. There is not too much else to say about the dungeon because of its repeated ideas, but it is tough and can provide some good challenges towards the end of the game. Some tough enemies also pop up, allowing you to use even more items one last time.
2 – The Shadow Temple
The Shadow Temple has easily the best atmosphere of any temple. There is so much to love about this dark, creepy location, which was used as a prison and torture space by the Sheikah. Seeing various torture devices, blood stains and the fantastically terrifying sub-boss Dead Hand emphasises this unsettling feeling. Other elements, such as the general colour scheme, enemy types and the Ferry to the Other World (influenced by Greek Mythology), all contribute to the scariest dungeon in the game.
The Shadow Temple’s main gimmick is quite literally something lurking in the shadows. Thus, the Lens of Truth is required to expose hidden passages as the player ventures deeper and deeper. Its implementation is cool, and without it, the Shadow Temple would lose much of its identity. The Hover Boots are also useful, although not as much as the Lens of Truth. The music is disjointed and memorable for sure, as well as the boss of Bongo Bongo – a very unique, musical boss. My singular complaint would be the temple is too easy, but it takes very little away from the experience.
1 – The Forest Temple
Just, wow! This dungeon is one of the best in the franchise for sure because it has so much packed in, even when compared to more recent games and their dungeons. Firstly, the aesthetic is fantastically eerie. The Forest Temple is a mansion-like location, with high walls like that of a fortress. It is a mysterious and dark location, where the eerie and the beautiful combine as it is generally pleasing visually. I love the music as well; it is also a perfectly eerie yet beautiful theme that benefits the temple.
Secondly, the Forest Temple is a major step up in difficulty in Ocarina of Time. The three dungeons you venture through before this are somewhat simple, and the enemies are tame. In the Forest Temple, the enemies and puzzles are stepped up massively. It is a perfect transition in difficulty matching the change to Hyrule in seven years. Corridors rotate, puzzles are much smarter, and you cannot just slash enemies, it is now more strategic.
Finally, the item range is wonderful. The Hookshot and Fairy Bow have their fair share of use throughout the dungeon. Both are also quite fun to use! Meanwhile, Deku Nuts, the Master Sword and the Hylian Shield become integral throughout. The Fairy Bow becomes particularly useful during the boss fight with Phantom Ganon. It is fairly easy but has a cool gimmick, and the bow is incorporated wonderfully.
There are few dungeons I enjoy exploring more in video games than the Forest Temple. It has near enough everything you could want in a dungeon, especially a Legend of Zelda dungeon. I have tried finding negatives with the Forest Temple, but there is nothing objectively bad I can say about it.