Ocarina of Time Dungeons: Mini-Dungeons

Axle the BeastSeptember 11th, 2012 by Axle the Beast

Alright, so as promised I’m going to review all of the mini-dungeons in Ocarina of Time as part of one editorial. I’ll be covering the Ice Cavern, which comes before last week’s dungeon, the Water Temple. We’ll also be tackling the Bottom of the Well, which comes before next week’s, the Shadow Temple. Finally, I’m throwing in the Gerudo Training Grounds simply because it fits some of the aspects of a dungeon even if its status as one is questionable in my eyes. While this editorial will be a little long as I will cover all three, what I have to say about each individually is rather brief.

First up is the Ice Cavern. This is typically not considered a very noteworthy dungeon, but among the mini-dungeons of Ocarina of Time, it’s actually the most unique. Its appearance is completely different than any other dungeon or area in the game (barring the water area in Ganon’s Castle), and it boasts many unique obstacles, including the falling icicles, Freezards, as well as one of the game’s few uses of its bizarrely sparse Silver Rupee puzzles.

And then, of course, there’s the red ice. The blue fire found in this dungeon is a bottle item needed to clear away the red ice blocking most of the dungeon, and honestly I’ve always found this to be a really obnoxious mechanic. It does lend the Ice Cavern a unique design, but at the price of adding in a need to monotonously refill your bottles and do away with more ice. You can purchase it in shops outside the dungeon, but that’s of no help with the refilling problem. The dungeon is brief, so it’s an unoffensive flaw in an otherwise great game, but it’s still an obnoxious dungeon in and of itself.

Artistically it is intriguing though. It did give us one of the series’ recurring enemies, the Freezards, and it has an interesting appearance: The floors are often ice, but they didn’t just make it simple white ice like on the ice floes outside the dungeon. There are strange patterns in the ice, often in the form of hexagons. It’s a strange idea and it vaguely reminds me of the Palace of Twilight from Twilight Princess with its glowing patterns. Either way, an interesting design choice and a visually interesting dungeon with a fitting song that always makes you think of cold, glittering ice, even if it’s not that thrilling. Some believe the Ice Cavern to be what remains of an Ice Temple that never made it into the game, and if that’s true, it explains the unique visual elements that the Ice Cavern has over other mini-dungeons.

Next we have the Bottom of the Well, which is my favorite of Ocarina of Time’s mini-dungeons. This dungeon is actually seen often throughout the early portions of the game, being a simple well in Kakariko Village, and there’s always a suggestion that there’s more to it. It has a sign and ridiculous name (“Well of Three Features”), in the future you can go down to the bottom, and there’s a man who speaks of it:

A long time ago… There was a man in this very village who had an eye they said
could see the truth! Now usually, you have to train your mind’s eye most strenuously to actually see the truth… But this fella, no, they say he had a different way of doing things…

His house stood where the well is now…

It’s given a remarkable amount of attention and buildup without making you think it’s buildup. You might get the sense that you’ll do something with it later, but I doubt most would ever think it would be as prominent as it was, for after clearing the Water Temple, Kakariko Village is plagued by flames and an evil spirit that emerges violently from the well, which Link and Sheik unsuccessfully fight off in one of my favorite scenes from Ocarina of Time. And then of course, Link must journey to the past to enter the well.

And what a place! This eerie set of chambers clearly served a different purpose than that of a simple waterway. They are hidden catacombs, even complete with burial chambers and, more alarmingly, torture devices. This disturbing place has an eerie song, frightening foes, and an insidious and unsettling gimmick in the form of fake walls and floors. Poor navigation drops you into the poison-filled lower chamber and pits you against frightening ReDeads, and until you find the Lens of Truth, navigating the dungeon is extremely dangerous.

Not that finding the Lens of Truth is any less disconcerting. The dungeon item is guarded by the immensely disturbing Dead Hand, widely considered one of the most scary and disturbing beasts of any Zelda game. I’d wager this freak caught virtually every player by surprise, and I know he did me… even on my second playthrough when I’d forgotten about him. He’s an alarming and unexpected monstrosity and all the better for it.

It’s unfortunate that the Shadow Temple shares so many elements of the Bottom of the Well, particularly its music, but I’m not sure which dungeon to blame that on. Either way, the Bottom of the Well is an excellent mini-dungeon, one that makes maximum use of its limited time in the game; it’s a necessary stop to progress in the game, but, while its design concepts could be annoying, they are appropriate within a dungeon this brief, where the player doesn’t spend enough time with them for things to be too grating. And of course, it sets up the Shadow Temple quite nicely. I always find it much scarier than the Shadow Temple because of its claustrophobic design, unsettling foes, and navigational challenges. The Bottom of the Well was handled with care by the developers, and it was an excellent ride.

And finally that brings us to the Gerudo Training Grounds. This “dungeon” lacks a number of the defining characteristics of the other dungeons in the game, lacking a dungeon map, compass, or any form of boss or mini-boss, which even the other mini-dungeons have, but regardless some people still think of it as one so I’ll go over it briefly.

If this were a necessary dungeon I’d have found it annoying. People complain about Skyward Sword for padding the game with unneeded content, and even other Zelda games can receive that criticism, but honestly the mini-dungeons in Ocarina of Time are the earliest example of this, and it was an irritation with the Ice Cavern and a benefit to the game with the Bottom of the Well. Given its totally unoriginal design, I’d say that it would have been an irritation with the Gerudo Training Grounds, but thankfully it isn’t necessary and actually serves as an optional obstacle course for an extra weapon that is rather powerful. In that role, its re-use of ideas makes sense, and while perhaps it could have done more of its own thing, I don’t think anyone will really complain about some of the side-content being less spectacular than main content.

The Gerudo Training Grounds has the interesting lion statues in the beginning, but otherwise it looks visually similar to the Spirit Temple and Fire Temple. It does manage to somewhat accomplish the feeling of a gladiatorial arena, which is good as that’s effectively what it is. Within this dungeon you must seek out keys to unlock the way to the Ice Arrow, and many of the keys are well-hidden, turning it into a challenging hunt. It’s a well designed challenge befitting of an optional level, not really a finely crafted experience of its own. It’s worthy of the game, however, and fun to go through.

So to recap, I found the Ice Cavern to be visually interesting but obnoxiously designed, and it functioned as unneeded padding (though I would feel differently if its design was better). The Bottom of the Well, however, had excellent atmosphere, excellent presentation, and a gimmick of its own that isn’t as annoying until you do it at length, which the dungeon’s shortness prevents from happening. Meanwhile the Gerudo Training Grounds — if it can be called a dungeon — provides nothing new but still functions as a fun side experience for an extra weapon. All in all? Solid dungeons and very fun diversions from the game’s main challenges.

So how about you? What are your opinions — positive or negative — about the Ice Cavern, Bottom of the Well, and Gerudo Training Grounds? Do you consider that last one a dungeon at all? How do you feel about the idea of mini-dungeons in general? Tell me in the comments, and look forward to next week when I discuss the Shadow Temple and, in particular, its relationship with the Bottom of the Well!

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  • dude

    like

    • dude

      first HELL YEAH

      • Cucco Link

        Please don’t do that.

  • Mseevers95

    Ice Cavern was supposed to be a full dungeon, funnily enough the ICE temple. It got scrapped along with the whole UNFREEZING the zoras thing. That’s why they stay frozen after the Water Temple. After you unfroze them you were also supposed to be able to get the sword beam from the Unicorn fountain but that was cut too.

    • http://axlethebeast.com/ Axle the Beast

      Yeah I’ve heard that. Honestly though, if that’s true, it sort of makes sense they dropped it if the blue fire was its main idea. -_-

      • L Lawliet

        But I WANTED that Sword Beam…

        *whine, whine*

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003128682656 Alexander Ledden

          don’t worry besides it would be overpowerd

          • http://www.zeldadungeon.net/ bob

            But i WANT to be overpowered!
            *whine, whine*

          • Trollguy_&_Memeboi

            Being OP is always fun, you can just Leeroy Jenkins into the middle of a mob of monsters, then when then try to kill you, NOPE! I’m too powerful now, DIE!!! Of course, being UNDER-powered is fun too, it makes fights less a battle of strength and more a battle of your wits against those of the programmers’.

        • Dragon Ball Zelda

          You have a great name “L Lawliet”, I love Death Note

    • http://www.zeldadungeon.net/ DA LAWLZ

      UNICORNS!!!!!!!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/Boss.Odio Bryan Odio

      Wow fascinating stuff.

    • BlackRaven6695

      Makes me wonder if there was going to be “Kasuto, Sage of Ice” in the game, considering that all of the sages are named after towns from Zelda 2 but the town of Kasuto is the only one without an OOT character named after it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jordan.dipalma Jordan DiPalma

      See, this is why I’d love to see “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Director’s Cut.” They could throw in all sorts of ideas and plans they had originally planned for the game, fleshing them out some more. I wanna see Lon Lon Ranch get burned down, dangit!

      • Trollguy_&_Memeboi

        They were considering having a plot event to burn down Lon-Lon Ranch?! But… but…. that’s Epona’s home!

        • http://www.facebook.com/jordan.dipalma Jordan DiPalma

          Well, after you get Epona out of course. Or who knows; they could’ve made it so you had to rescue her from the burning ranch, and instead of escaping from being locked in you escape from burning buildings and jump over the flaming walls just in time.
          That… would be awesome.

    • http://www.facebook.com/adrienne.michelle.568 Adrienne Michelle

      Yeah I always thought that was lame that you do all that work n the Zoras STAY frozen. A unicorn fountain would have been awesome!!

  • Cucco Link

    Uggggggg… The dead… *Gulp*…. Hand…. Uggggggg

    • http://www.zeldadungeon.net/ DA LAWLZ

      bleh… tell me about it… *barf*

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003128682656 Alexander Ledden

        *shiver*

  • JuicieJ

    Bottom of the Well scared the crap out of me as a little kid. It’s an awesome place, but I gotta admit, I’m still not a fan of going there today because of it. @_@

    • dungeonmaster

      Do you think Wallmasters and Floormasters are like minions for Bongo Bongo?

      • Trollguy_&_Memeboi

        I think they’re more like evil versions of ???/SS ghost girl. All of them are hands that come out of freaking nowhere, but the Wall/Floormasters are malevolent spirits while ??? is a wandering/lost soul.

    • frgovo

      That’s exactly why I prefer the Ice Cave over the Bottom of Well. I think the latter tops eeriness itself (in which instead all other dungeons dWell IMO), due to the fact that it adds lots of explicit nightmarish “decorations” and overuses screaming mooks. Not to mention the disturbing face of the miniboss… (*shudder*)
      If this is what the Shadow Temple was meant to be (my guess), I’m kinda relieved that it was turned into a mini-dungeon.
      And, by the way, suddenly falling through the floor and having to climb all the way up (before one acquires the Lens of Truth) is no less frustrating than the blue fire mechanic in the Ice Cave.

      • http://axlethebeast.com/ Axle the Beast

        I thought it was significantly less frustratingly, because apart from the first time when you just don’t know it’s there, it’s possible to never fall down again. Falling is player error, whereas in the Ice Cavern you have to spend the time doing that no matter what you do.

        • frgovo

          True… unless you have all the bottles, which supposedly cuts the time required to backtrack to the blue fire.

          It’s very likely, though, that the blue fire might be more frustrating in hindsight, whereas falling through the floor has a bigger impact on a player that doesn’t know/remember well the Well (which is my case) and/or is heavily unsettled by the dungeon’s atmosphere (my case again).

  • Someone

    I have to say that I also love that scene.
    I actually found the Ice Cavern a lot of fun. Maybe the design wasn´t anything special but I always loved the way the boss room looked like.

    • http://www.facebook.com/michael.philliber.7 Michael Philliber

      I like what they did with the boss room in the 3d version.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.philliber.7 Michael Philliber

    Is it possible that the Gerudo Training Grounds re-used so many ideas because it was a traing grounds. i mean to say that it is testing you on the main aspects of the game: switch finding, mob killing, and silver rupee collecting? It was testing you in water, fire, and even shadow temple like areas.

    • Name

      Agreed.

  • ZSTroubadour

    Another good article Axle. The biggest pain for me in the Ice Cavern was if I accidentally used one of my blue fires too far away from the ice I was trying to melt.

    • http://www.facebook.com/michael.philliber.7 Michael Philliber

      i wouldn’t consider that an annoyance of the cavern, because that is player error not dungeon error.

      • ZSTroubadour

        True, but if this happened, you had to run all the way to the nearest blue fire station, which are few and far between.

    • baileygirl99

      I do that a lot and it’s soooo annoying

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  • Amnis

    Now i wonder who was the man who used to live in Kakariko Village?

    • baileygirl99

      DUN DUN DUN!!!!!!!

    • Guest

      There are theories that the man became Bongo Bongo or possibly Dead Hand.

  • Gaseous Snake

    I have never really liked mini dungeons in general, because they don’t fill me with the sense of completion that a full dungeon does. However, in Zelda the mini dungeons seem like a good method to do what they are meant to do.

    Personally, I have the fondest memory of the Gerudo Training grounds because they had a good excuse not to be awesome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jshangreaux Jessica Ryan Shangreaux

    those lions mouth scared the crap out of me going into the gerudo training ground, thout they we’re going to eat me!!!

  • Rodrigo

    Can you post about the Twilight Princess’s and Wind Waker’s dungeons too?

    Sorry, I don’t speak English very well, I am Brazilian.

  • Jam9t3

    i hate times when you have to carry something in a bottle and then make a 2nd trip because you couldnt carry enough, just like ice cavern and pirate fortress in majoras mask when you have to collect all the zora eggs.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003128682656 Alexander Ledden

      then get all the bottles you can at that point

  • guest

    one thing to note. You don’t actually need to do the Bottom of the Well mini dungeon. The Lens of Truth while very helpful are not actually necessary to complete the game. Same goes for the three gold Skulltulas located in it.

  • itsameluigi1290

    Why must you remind me of such horrible memories at the Bottom of the Well ;_;

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003128682656 Alexander Ledden

      i HATE THAT PLACE its the only reason i haven’t done it on my master quest playthrough

  • BagaJr

    I can see why they dropped the Ice Cavern as a main dungeon. But I thought it was perfect for a mini-dungeon. How hard is it to go refill your bottle with Blue Fire sometimes? It doesn’t detract from the experience at all to waste a minute or two to go refill it if you wasted some.
    I think it’s a little petty to call it obnoxious. Isn’t it kinda silly to say that the entire good idea of Blue Fire is ruined by such a petty thing like that? I found the idea kinda fun in general (but not if they made it last any longer than a mini-dungeon, which they thankfully didn’t).

    • Name

      If you have only one bottle, there are a few places where you’ll need to go way back for fire. And unless you remember the whole thing well, you may find yourself going back and refilling your bottle only to find more fire in the room you thawed before. Whne I last played OoT I had two bottles but one had a big poe and there was no way to get rid of it so I could use only one :(

      PS not way back, some way back.

  • Steele

    I loved the gerudo training ground, I think zelda has lost the ability to make genuinely challenging (first time through only, but that applies to the whole puzzle idea of the franchise) side content not based around gimmicks (I mean we all hated obtaining the froggy lure in tp right?). I want to see more of this in new zeldas.

    • Steele

      Sorry to post again, but i think this idea would have been a much better answer to ss “dungeon” overworld.

      • Name

        I find that in SS there were NO puzzles where I was stuck. While in OoT I had to look for the Sheikah stone a lot, and in MQ I got stuck a tlot.

        • Trollguy_&_Memeboi

          I agreee. SS was TOO easy. I even blazed through HERO mode without any difficulty! I hope ZeldaU games are more challenging…

  • baileygirl99

    The bottom of the well scared me half to death.mim extremely terrified of skeletons and ReDeads. I’m a sissy!!

    • H37I

      how did you feel about the dead hand???

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003128682656 Alexander Ledden

        funny thing when i was young i used to think that the hands would toss me into a dryer…i was weird back then

        • MetalLink5150

          Just back then? ;)

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003128682656 Alexander Ledden

            sorry weirder

      • A GAMER

        Grossed out and scared plus the walls and cealing and ground is made of skulls

  • drnedaj

    I don’t understand you axle. You complain about the fire yet you say stone tower temple is your. favorite. I bring this up because in that annoying temple you have to play the elegy of emptiness (or whatever the song is called)so many times. Just to even get in you have to play it three times. I find that more annoying than the blue fire.

    • Trollguy&_Memeboi

      You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?

  • Guest

    Speaking of that really fantastic scene in Kakariko…has anyone else noticed that during this scene, Sheik doesn’t speak as poetically as usual? I find this very befitting in retrospect, considering Sheik is Zelda and the Sage of the Shadow Temple is her caretaker Impa. Now that Impa’s in danger, Sheik is much more blunt and direct. It’s just a very subtle way they adjusted the dialogue to fit and develop the character without giving anything away.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003128682656 Alexander Ledden

      your right i never noticed that ever

    • zeldafever98

      wow thats an amazing observation!

    • Name

      Wow exactly, never noticed it!

  • The Murph

    I have always been confused what this spirit even is, do we just assume it is sealed away again, or is the boss in the shadow temple actually that spirit??

  • kjn23

    Personally I loved the Gerudo Training Grounds, I felt sneaky knocking out the guards then bolting to the next area ;)

    • mikey

      I think you’re a little confused there. You’re talking about rescuing the carpenters from the Gerudo. The training grounds come after that.

      • kjn23

        Oooo, I think i know what your talking about…

  • LegendOfTwili

    “lacking a dungeon map, compass, or any form of boss or mini-boss, which even the other mini-dungeons have”
    It’s been a while since I played OoT but I don’t remember a mini-boss or boss in the Ice Cavern.

    • MetalLink5150

      Yeah, in the final room in the Ice Cavern (where you get the Iron Boots), there was a (white?) Wolfos. Not exactly a terrifying (mini-)boss, but it was still there..sort of. The game treated it as though it was a boss, anyway.

      • http://axlethebeast.com/ Axle the Beast

        It was lame but it was a mini-boss.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adrienne.michelle.568 Adrienne Michelle

    I thought the bottom of the well was fantastically creepy. I like that you can get the lens of truth very quickly, so you can either leave if you want, or explore the creepiness a little less vulnerable.

  • PalaeoJoe

    I hope that in the future Zelda games will have more mini dungeons (optional and mandatory ) as well as some larger side dungeons like the colour dungeon from Link’s Awakening DX.

  • A GAMER

    The first time I played in the bottom of the well and shadow temple I could sleep they just creeped me out espesially death hand and redeads. I hate the way the redeads and gimdos freez Link with that freaking scearm and hump you to death so I don;t complete those dungeons at nigth.

  • Neutopia

    I actually loved the Ice Cavern a lot, it was eery and different, the bottom of the well seemed bland to me, and I don’t really count the Gerudo Training Grounds as a mini-dungeon, but it was more enjoyable to me then the Bottom Of The Well was, great article! :P

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  • Ryan

    deadhand never scared me. probably because i found its chicken arms funny when i was little

  • TheHyrulianGamer

    Axle it might be due to difference in platform but a women wearing a blue starry robe tells you about the well