This review is going to be really weird for me to write. Stone Tower Temple has long been my favorite dungeon of the Zelda series, even though I’ve never committed to saying it’s the best one. I’ve always loved the dungeon for its concept and style, but design-wise it probably isn’t the best. As with Great Bay Temple, my opinion about the game has matured during my last run through the dungeon: now Stone Tower Temple makes me feel both joy and anger when I play it.
Thematically, the dungeon is exactly like the rest of the Ikana region: breathtaking.
Ikana fascinates me more than any other region of the Zelda series. I’ve written about it before, but to summarize, I love Ikana for its mystery, its supernatural theme, and its darkness. It’s as creepy as it is enigmatic and spiritual. Stone Tower Temple fits the surrounding region, but more importantly it serves as a perfect final dungeon for Majora’s Mask. To sum up its theme, I defer to Igos du Ikana’s quote:
“To return true light to this land, you must seal the doors of Stone Tower where the winds of darkness blow through. But Stone Tower is an impenetrable stronghold. Hundreds of soldiers from my kingdom would not even be able to topple it. It is far too reckless for one to take on such a challenge. …And so… I grant to you a soldier who has no heart. One who will not falter in the darkness.”
Igos speaks of the Elegy of Emptiness, a song that creates a statue of your current form. I’ll get into how this impacts gameplay later. But this quote, and its description of Stone Tower, is fitting: The tower is a dangerous place, with an eerie and haunting, yet beautiful theme, filled with the undead and worse evils. Its music, visuals, and design, give the impression of an ancient impenetrable ruin with a melancholy history, which evil now inhabits.
Then you do the unthinkable and flip the dungeon upside-down, and it becomes something else. Its music changes, now communicating a bizarre and unthinkable place dominated entirely by the supernatural, while the design becomes more confounding: This place was designed to be traversed upside down as well as right-side up, and now the floor is above you and the sky below you. The dungeon becomes markedly more surreal and unsettling as you have to jump, glide, and balance over the sky below (regardless of the time of day), and the battles and puzzles get weirder. More importantly, the place’s “darkness”, as mentioned by Igos, becomes more pronounced, and the evil comes out to play. It’s just a much more twisted dungeon after being flipped.
Stone Tower Temple is extremely rich thematically. The themes, individually, seem basic and straightforward. We’ve all seen towers, ruins, temples, surreal areas, undead, and so on. But Stone Tower Temple combines all of these into a unique dungeon, and one with amazing buildup (you may have noticed a trend of me saying this about most of the dungeons in Majora’s Mask). Placing a dungeon this threatening at the end of the game was a brilliant move. You spend the entire game anticipating the next area, its racial inhabitants, and its transformation mask. But what could the fourth region be? Bereft of a new traditional transformation mask, this place has you collect a plethora of bizarre and sinister regular masks to speak with the undead, but that still can’t prepare you for the madhouse that is Stone Tower Temple.
Design-wise, the dungeon is confounding. At its best, it’s a challenging dungeon that will take a lot of time and effort to complete, very much a fitting thing for the game’s final dungeon. At its worst, it is ridiculously frustrating and worse, monotonous to complete. As painful as it is for me to admit something wrong with the dungeon, it suffers from some unintuitive design: Playing the Elegy of Emptiness several times and watching its animation in order to hold down switches takes way too long and has driven me to rage in the past. Doing it to move the blocks outside the dungeon just so you can flip the dungeon is totally unnecessary and a huge pain. And unfortunately, flipping the dungeon becomes a necessity more than once. If you’re good, you’ll only have to flip the entire dungeon once to complete it, but that’s if you know everything you’re doing. And you still need to flip it a second time to get the last Stray Fairies, and again, that’s only if you make no mistakes and know where everything is. Given that it’s frustrating just going back to do so, the dungeon could have had more forgiving design and an easier way to flip it. Regarding the Elegy of Emptiness, I can’t think of any way they could have fixed it beyond not making it a song, but trimming the animation to almost nothing or allowing you to skip it would have been a great start.
However, with its frustrations aside, Stone Tower Temple is an excellent challenge and well-designed. It makes use of most of the items and forms you’ve acquired thus far to an excellent degree and with enough originality, as a final dungeon should. Some of the puzzles are needlessly frustrating and as I said, this is a place where it can be painful to collect all of the Stray Fairies, but that doesn’t mean exploring the place isn’t fun and the reward for 100% collection is, surprisingly, worth it. It’s just going to take everything you have and then some to get through it. More final dungeons should be like this, though more final dungeons should probably be better designed than this.
That’s really all there is to say about the dungeon’s design: Its made up primarily of puzzles involving the tools you’ve previously acquired, though they’re definitely used in new and challenging ways, and there are some new tools like the Elegy of Emptiness and Light Arrows, for better or for worse.
While populated mostly with fodder, some of the battles in the dungeon can be tough, and while not crazy hard, the Eyegores are at least fearsome-looking foes. To boot, the dungeon also boasts three minibosses. The first is the Garo Master, the boss of all the ninjas you encountered in Ikana. He serves as a nice direct link to the Ikana region and he can be a tricky fight until you have him completely figured out. The battle is cool and rewards you with the Light Arrows.
When the dungeon is upside-down, you must face the Wizrobe one final time amidst falling lava from the ceiling. This is the hardest Wizrobe fight of the game and I took a ton of hits; it’s challenging and fun. Finally, the dungeon’s most unique miniboss, Gomess, shows up, and you must use either the Light Arrows or Bombs to remove his protective cloak of bats and take him down. I named him one of my favorite Zelda monsters, so it’s no surprise I find him cool. Depending on how the fight plays out, he can be very easy, but he’s no less cool for it and fighting him on a minimalist run is an ordeal. Finally, there’s Twinmold, the boss of this, the game’s final dungeon.
Gotta admit, he’s lamer than he could be.
Twinmold is fought with the Giant’s Mask found in the dungeon, which turns Link into, well, a giant! With his immense size he faces off against the twin insects with his sword. The fight is mildly fun this way but doesn’t feel as interesting as it could have been. Like the other bosses in the game, it actually is possible to beat Twinmold with the Bow, particularly with the Light Arrows which do the most damage. But its so hard to hit their heads or tails with it that it can be frustrating. I’ll admit I had the most fun the one time I combined the Bow strategy with with the Giant’s Mask, but like the rest of this dungeon, fighting Twinmold the fun way is not intuitive: Aiming is too difficult, and you can run out of magic and arrows too easily. This fight needed better design, though I can’t hate the game for it and I still have fun fighting Twinmold.
All in all, Stone Tower Temple remains my favorite dungeon of the series even after, arguably, my most frustrating run through it. I love its themes and ideas, and I love its execution even if it needs work. It’s not the series’ best dungeon, but it’s not all that far off from being a worthy candidate for the title. More final dungeons need to be like this. It was an excellent way to end off the main game of a title as great as Majora’s Mask.
Tell me what you think about Stone Tower Temple! Great themes, or boring? Good challenge, or needlessly frustrating? Well-designed, or unintuitive? Tell me in the comments!