Ocarina of time is a game that holds a very special place in my heart, because it is one of the games that I poured countless hours into as a child. When I was really young Ocarina of Time was one of the only video games we had on the N64, and my siblings and I absolutely loved it. I remember playing this game before I could even read, so I had no idea what I was supposed to do or where to go so I would just run aimlessly around the Kokiri forest and the lost woods.
Eventually I lucked my way into the Great Deku Tree, but it was literally years before I made it past that point, and I think I was in middle-school before I actually beat it the first time. Since then I have played through it a few times, including the 3Ds remake, and it still is one of my favorite games to play. The Legend of Zelda is one of my favorite game series of all time, and Ocarina remains one of the best in that series.
One vital component of any good Zelda game is great dungeons, and Ocarina of Time has some of the best the series has to offer. This game’s dungeons are all incredibly unique and iconic, and are a huge-leap forward from previous entries in the series, taking full advantage of everything that the N64 has to offer.
Because of this, I want to take a closer look at the dungeons in this game from a design perspective, and see how they stack up to one another. In order to do so I am going to be looking at each of the dungeons in order, and decide where they rank.
We start at the very beginning, which I have been told is a very good place to start. This is the dungeon that I have spent more time in than any other, the Deku Tree will always hold a special place in my heart. I know this dungeon like the back of my hand, if my hand were an enormous tree dad with fantastic facial hair. It turns out, tree dad caught a bug and is feeling a bit under the weather, so like all good sons it is Link’s job to walk into his mouth and kill stuff until he feels better.
The Deku Tree is a very solid, if basic, introduction to everything players will need to know going forward, while also being a showcase of the N64’s abilities, and the possibilities of the third dimension.
When players walk into the Deku Tree it is unlike anything they would have seen before, especially in a Zelda game. The entire game takes places around one large, open central area, and really emphasizes the vertical component – something that was not possible before. As Link climbs and explores this large room he is introduced to classic Zelda elements like the compass, map, and a key item that is required to defeat the boss. This dungeon, with one exception that I will get to in a second, does a brilliant job of teaching the player a lot in a really short period of time.
It is also is full of really memorable moments, such as when you have to leap from the top of the tree to break a giant spider-web, only to fall even further down. This moment really impressed me as a kid. Equally memorable was the introduction of the game’s first boss, Ghoma, which honestly used to scare the crap out of me. While this boss is a piece of cake nowadays, but it still makes for one of the most memorable moments in the whole game.
However, there are a few things that hold it back. First, because it appears so early on in the game it is pretty basic, and doesn’t have much going on compared to some of the later dungeons. Second, it is a very visually unappealing dungeon, mostly being muted shades of grey and green. Finally, because it is the first dungeon in the game navi feels the need to interrupt me with basic information every five seconds! I KNOW HOW TO OPEN A DOOR, NAVI!
For these reasons, I rank the Deku Tree 5th.
Now that tree dad isn’t looking over his shoulder Link decides to sneak into some girl’s house. However, she isn’t impressed, and wants Link to bring her some jewelry first. She gives Link permission to go up to Death Mountain, the place where all the rocks live, to find some good stones for her. There he meets the Gorons, and asks them for help. After all, they eat rocks so they probably know what they are talking about. Turns out, the place with all the good rocks has been invaded by a bunch of bomb-lizards called Dodongos, so they ask for Link’s help clearing it out so they can get back to munching on those delicious, delicious rocks.
There isn’t really much to say about Dodongo’s cavern, as it’s a pretty basic dungeon all things considered. Its primary item is the bomb, and you will spend a lot of time using bombs to break down doors or defeat enemies. While the Deku Tree focused more on exploring vertical space, Dodongo’s cavern is a much more traditional Zelda dungeon that spreads outwards, and only has 2 floors. While it does have a few cool moments, such as when you have to blow up two rows of bomb-flowers at once to unlock a staircase or toss bombs into the eyes of a giant dodongo skull to enter the boss area, all in all it is a very average dungeon. Not particularly good, but not particularly bad either. Because of this, I rank Dodongo’s Cavern 8th.
Inside Jabu-Jabu’s Belly
It turns out that the Zoras have the last rock that Link needs, so he heads up to Zora’s Domain to ask if he could politely borrow their precious heirloom. However, before he gets the chance it turns out that the Zora princess has gone full Jonah and been swallowed by a big fish, and was only able to send a message in a bottle halfway across the country. Link decides to help, so for the second time in 2 dungeons he finds himself inside another living creature.
It turns out that this fish is also a Tardis, because not only is it way bigger on the inside but it is also inexplicable contains functioning doors, moving platforms, and a whole ecosystem of electrified jellyfish. It is up to Link to fight his way through this dungeon and rescue the Princess.
I’ll go right out and say it – Lord Jabu Jabu’s belly is one of the worst dungeons in the whole game. It has a number of problems, but I’ll just try to list a few of the most major. First, the whole thing is just gross. The walls, floor and ceiling are supposed to represent the inside of the creature, and its all pink and fleshy and pulsing – the whole thing is very off-putting.
The second problem with the temple is princess Ruto herself. It seems like every few minutes Ruto is either complaining about something, or running away from you with the sole purpose of making your life more difficult. In order to get anything done with her you have to pick her up and carry her over your head, which is like an escort mission except that while carrying her you aren’t even allowed to use any of your weapons or items.
The main item of this dungeon is the boomerang, which is the second most useless item in the entire game. It’s only really used in this dungeon, because immediately afterwards Link becomes an adult and can no longer even use the boomerang. There are only a few puzzles that actually require the boomerang, and most of them could simply be reworked to use the slingshot instead.
Overall, it makes for a very unappealing dungeon experience that I always try to spend as little time with as possible. Not the worst in the game, but pretty close. Because of this, I rank Inside Jabu-Jabu’s Belly 10th.
At least some good came out of that whole ordeal – not only did Link get the final stone, but he also got engaged! Mazel Tov! However, stuff soon starts going downhill. After Zelda left him her instrument – I don’t remember what it’s called, some sort of flute – he opens a door and grabs himself a master sword. Satisfied with a job well done, Link takes a quick nap, but when he wakes up everything has gone to heck. I swear, you take your eyes off of them for seven years….
Now that Link is an adult he needs to get with the times. Stones are out, and collecting commemorative coins is in. He needs to start collecting, and he knows just the place.
The first temple Link goes through as an adult is also one of the best. It really plays up the darker tone of this second part of the story, with a really creepy haunted house vibe. This dungeon has one of the coolest layouts, and some of the best puzzle designs not only in Ocarina of Time but in the entire series. Several rooms have an almost MC Escher-like design to them, twisting and curving in unnatural ways. As Link goes through the dungeon and solves puzzles these rooms will rotate, which means that what used to be the floor is now the wall, which can open up new passageways that weren’t accessible before. In addition, it’s also one of the only dungeons in the game to include outdoor areas, which really helps to give it a grand, impressive feeling.
The key item for this dungeon is the Fairy bow, which is one of the better items of any of the dungeons. While at first it may seem like a simple replacement for the slingshot (which is no longer usable as an adult), it actually has a much larger number of uses (although many of these uses will only be fully explored in later dungeons). The main goal of this dungeon is to find and defeat four Ghosts called the Poe sisters, before facing off against Phantom Ganon himself.
The Phantom Ganon fight is a great boss fight with a couple different stages. The first stage has Phantom Ganon running in and out of paintings, which really fits with the surreal atmosphere of the whole dungeon. The second portion gives Link some much needed tennis practice, which will come in handy later.
All in all, the Forest Dungeon is a very well designed and memorable dungeon with great puzzles, great enemies, and great atmosphere. Because of this, I rank the forest temple number 1.
I don’t have a lot to say about the fire temple, because it really feels like a filler temple. Coming off of all the interesting ideas in the forest temple, the fire temple is a clear step down. A fairly linear dungeon, it doesn’t really have any major puzzles to solve and the difficulty, if there is any, in completing this dungeon comes primarily from the fact that everything feels so similar. This dungeon has several large rooms that Link must traverse through, and the lack of landmarks or distinguishing features in these rooms can make it easy to get turned around or lose track of your destination. Everything looks the same, and it’s easy to lose track of whether you have already gone one way or another.
In addition, the atmosphere and music are both pretty bland, and the key item (the megaton hammer) is one of the worst in the game. It is used to break some rocks and press down some switches, but Link already has tools in his arsenal that fulfill those tasks – why is my hammer swing able to break rocks that bombs can’t?
The final boss of the dungeon is one of the biggest missed opportunities in the whole game. Don’t get me wrong, Volvagia looks awesome but the actual fight doesn’t nearly live up to it’s potential. Instead of an epic struggle against a burning undead dragon, what you actually get is a quick and easy game of whack-a-mole. (insert clip of hitting Volvagia’s head with squeaky hammer sound effect).
For all of these reasons, I rank the Fire Temple 9th.
After the fire Temple it’s time for you to find your fishy fiance’. You don’t know where she is, so you ask her dad, but he gives you the cold shoulder. You decide to run some errands for him, and he eventually warms up to you.
The Ice Cavern is, in my opinion, the worst dungeon in the game. Luckily it is a very short dungeon, but it has its own map so it counts. I tend to dislike ice levels in games in general, and this dungeon is a perfect example of why. First off, everything is so slippery. When I am playing a game I want to be able to control my character, and I can’t stand the slipperiness of the controls when you try to run around in an ice level. This is especially bad in platforming games where you need to make very precise movements, but it can still be frustrated in other genres of games as well.
In addition to the slipperiness of the ice, there are also a bunch of enemies around the temple that will instantly freeze Link whenever they touch him, which prevents you from moving for a few seconds. This is yet another thing in the dungeon that takes away control from the player, and really all it does is waste your time while you sit there waiting to unfreeze.
Finally, ice block puzzles. These are a type of puzzle where you have to push a block of ice around a room in a specific way in order to achieve some objective. Of course, you know this already because they have appeared in EVERY GAME EVER. I just think this is a really overused and unoriginal type of puzzle, and like everything else in this dungeon just feels like a waste of time.
This dungeon doesn’t even really have a boss – the final enemy that you fight is just a white wolfos, which is literally just a normal enemy that you can defeat in like 2 hits. The key item of the dungeon is the iron boots, which appear at the very end and aren’t even used to solve any of the puzzles in the dungeon. All in all, this dungeon feels really rushed, and the only thing it succeeds at is making me shiver when I think about it. For these reasons, I rank the Ice Cavern 12th.
6 Down, 6 to go!
Those are the first six dungeons in the game, but we still have a long way to go. Unfortunately I don’t have time to go through all 12 dungeons in the game in this video, so I have decided to break this into two parts. Join me next week to find out where the rest of the dungeons rank, and I would love to see your thoughts and predictions in the comments down below.
Until Next Time!
That is all I have for this week. If you enjoyed this article, check out the rest of the blog and subscribe on Twitter, Youtube, or here on WordPress so you will always know when I post a new article. If you didn’t, let me know what I can do better in the comments down below. And join me next time to find out where the rest of the dungeons rank!