Alright, so I’ve already talked about the Child Link dungeons of the game, going way into detail on the dungeons that essentially form the introduction of Ocarina of Time. Now I will be reviewing and examining the Forest Temple, the first of the game’s Adult Link dungeons, and this is significant because the second portion of the game is practically designed as the game’s true beginning. The Child Link dungeons have relatively simple design compared to the Adult Link ones, and it’s with the Forest Temple that the game first introduces several elements and ups the stakes. As the Forest Temple is the first of these dungeons, it is here that this shift is felt the most.
I’ve talked about the Forest Temple before. Quite a lot, actually, repeatedly calling it the best dungeon of the series and kind of, well, going on and on about how well it combines a lot of themes. In fact it was the main example I used when talking about how Skyward Sword’s dungeons should be before that game came out. So if you’ve kept up on my articles, not everything here will necessarily be a huge surprise, but it’s all in one place now and I made several new points. Please keep reading. Don’t leave me!
As I said, this is the point in the game where the stakes get higher. I mean this in two ways: The game gets significantly harder at this point, taking a notable spike after even the challenge of Inside Jabu-Jabu’s Belly, but it’s also the first dungeon to immediately follow the infamous plot twist in Ocarina of Time when all the stakes get higher and the world gets a lot more dangerous, so while yeah, it’s harder, that increased danger is all-inclusive, spread out across the story and gameplay equally, and that weight is felt a lot around the Forest Temple. This inadvertently makes it one of the series’ most intimidating dungeons, though I doubt many players would be conscious of this when first visiting it, and I know I wasn’t, being a particularly oblivious little kid at the time.
Upon entering the dungeon, that intimidation melts into multiple other feelings as the dungeon’s themes begin to be explored. As I’ve said a lot in the past, the Forest Temple is the most multilayered dungeon of the series, containing many different themes that all work in concert. It begins with you approaching the dungeon from afar and seeing the stone walls of the intimidating structure. From there you find a way past its ruined stairs into an overgrown courtyard, entering through a dusty and overgrown passage into a dark and cavernous room filled with ghosts. Then you descend deep into more misty courtyards, sewers, Escher-esque labyrinths and trick rooms, delving deep into the partial fortress, partial mansion, overrun with insects and spirits and undead. It’s pretty fascinating, to say the least. The dungeon’s surreal and mystifying song helps to bring all these themes together. And I think those are the key words: Surreal and mystifying. I don’t think there’s any dungeon in the series that manages to be more so.
I also don’t think any other dungeon in Zelda has had nearly as many different ideas or managed to combine them so amazingly. The Ancient Cistern from Skyward Sword is a good example of a dungeon with a lot of ideas, but even it didn’t combine as many together as the Forest Temple did. This is one of the reasons I believe it’s the best dungeon of the series, because it’s so dynamic.
The other reason is because of its design. Everything that’s dynamic about the dungeon extends to its gameplay. Initially the dungeon involves Hookshot navigation and familiar enemies as it introduces the Small Key for the first time, which obviously adds a layer of complexity to the design over the previous dungeons that didn’t have it. Then you see the Poe Sisters make off with the fire needed to advance, and you get an idea of what you’re going to have to be doing for the rest of the dungeon. While other dungeons in the game have non-key, central gimmicks to advance to the boss chamber like the Poe Sisters, I would personally say the Forest Temple has the most elaborate one, especially with the dungeon’s main mini-boss (the Poe Sister Meg) appearing at the beginning of the dungeon only after finding all the other sisters.
Beyond that room you go through a series of tricky parts, from mini-boss battles against Stalfos, to using the Fairy Bow to flip switches that twist up the corridors to allow you to get to new rooms, and using it to force the Poe Sisters out of their paintings. Wallmasters and Floormasters appear for the first time in the game, and the dungeon just in general combines a lot of elements, old and new, into a very challenging design, one that is confounding without feeling unfair; though often surreal, every puzzle has some semblance of logic behind it, something that you can figure out easily enough if you know where or how to look.
It’s also hella long. It is a really lengthy journey through the Forest Temple’s many rooms, probably made necessary by how many different ideas it contains. It would feel even longer to people who struggled with its puzzles and had to repeatedly wander back and forth through its rooms, as I did. I am however proud that I managed to mostly complete it without a walkthrough, save on the final room before its boss.
Ah, yes, Phantom Ganon. That brings me to the dungeon’s battles. I’ve said already that I thought the Poe Sisters were especially dynamic as a navigational element, and that’s also true of their status as bosses. The first three Poe Sisters, once fought, are essentially just tough Poes, though their tie to navigation makes them more interesting. They also must all be revealed through simplistic puzzles before fighting. The final one, Meg, on the other hand, is a totally distinct battle with its own gameplay. It’s simplistic, but fun and might be tricky if you’ve never done it before. There’s also the Stalfos, which are encountered for the first time in the Forest Temple, and at this stage in the game ought to be challenging foes. Several must be fought. Together with the Poe Sisters, that means this dungeon has a lot of battles. Its normal enemies aren’t too challenging, but that’s no wonder considering how many tough special battles must be fought.
And then there’s Phantom Ganon. With its extra weight due to the surrounding story and gameplay elements, with its many themes and new challenges, and with its dynamic design, what boss could possibly do this dungeon justice? Phantom Ganon would definitely be a good start. I don’t know if I’d call him my favorite boss of the game — I honestly don’t know which one I would give that to — but he definitely seems like he ought to be.
Upon first entering the room, you continue to hear that eerie Forest Temple music in a spooky chamber decorated with fearsome paintings, but nothing happens until you try to leave, providing excellent buildup. When he first appears, you’re meant to think he’s Ganondorf, but then he reveals his true face, turning him into an expansion of the dungeon’s theme of evil spirits (and a likely explanation for why the dungeon is haunted in the first place). Then he jumps into the paintings, which is one of the most unusual boss ideas in the game and series alike. Without knowing exactly how to do this part (aim instead of targeting), it can be very hard. He’s also one of the earliest examples in Zelda of non-final bosses that have multiple forms. A very dynamic boss, with a lot of personality and buildup. And excellent choice for the magnificent Forest Temple.
So all in all, the Forest Temple was a pretty amazing dungeon in my eyes. It’s one of my absolute favorites of the series even today, and it’s my personal pick for the best designed one. I would venture to say that it doesn’t only expand off the Child Link dungeons, but actually manages to do far more than any of the later ones in the game. It is Ocarina of Time’s biggest monster, with more to do, more to see, and more to experience before all is said and done. A riveting journey, and a great challenge.
But what about you? Do you think the Forest Temple was well designed, or not? Did it have a lot to do? Did you ever struggle in it or get captivated by its themes? Tell me in the comments, and look forward to next week when I discuss my least favorite dungeon of the game, the Fire Temple!