Twilight Princess Dungeons: Arbiter’s Grounds

Axle the BeastFebruary 5th, 2013 by Axle the Beast

My apologies for the delay in writing this review, but now I can finally cover Arbiter’s Grounds. Scary dungeons are common in the Zelda series, starting with Ocarina of Time’s Shadow Temple. The Zelda games have often had a single dungeon ripe with scary elements, and Arbiter’s Grounds continues this trend but combines it with multiple other elements, particularly those of a desert dungeon. But how does it stack up to other dungeons in general, scary or otherwise?

Arbiter’s Grounds is an iconic location. It serves as the main landmark of the Gerudo Desert, representing it in scenes like when the wolf songs are being played. It’s something you see a lot throughout the game, but it finally takes on more sinister connotations when Auru speaks of its purpose and nature. When revealed to be a cursed, demonic prison, the familiar landmark becomes ominous. This feeling gets more intense when you enter the desert, approach Arbiter’s Grounds in the distance, and finally reach the prison just as night falls.

Atmospherically, Arbiter’s Grounds measures up to that anticipation. Thematically, it’s a bit of a different story. The dungeon has terrific atmosphere. Being dungeon equal parts horror dungeon and desert dungeon, it winds up feeling very much like a tomb or pyramid. The place has a sense of dread, supported heavily by its soundtrack. This theme communicates an unseen evil; the thudding and the eerie vocals and high-pitched sounds communicate something twisted and dark behind the scenes, but as of yet it’s currently unknown. The strings used give the dungeon a sense of the regal, supporting the tomb feel. This is a pyramid, a burial ground, and it is guarded — or guards — something very dark. The ruined pathways, quicksand, trapdoors, and hieroglyphs all over the walls all support this theme.

But as I said, the dungeon doesn’t work out as well thematically. After all, wasn’t this supposed to be a prison? Arbiter’s Grounds never felt like a prison to me. It’s built up as and sold like a pyramid, a tomb, where you must overcome curses and evil to acquire some valuable treasure. The theme that the player anticipates, the story and explanation for the area as established by the game, never really comes into play except maybe in the dungeon’s miniboss. And that’s unfortunate.

Still, the dungeon executes the horror theme well, so while the theme isn’t consistent with the area’s story, it’s still very memorable. More than most horror dungeons, Arbiter’s Grounds goes out of its way to set up spooky moments. Particularly in its first half, the dungeon’s gory enemies are set against you one at a time in unique situations that milk their unveiling for all it’s worth. The large Poes steal the flames and must be tracked and then found hiding amongst the lanterns in their chambers. The first ReDead Knight is found hiding within a trap wall, and the “enemy near” music confirms that it’s there even before you have any idea what it is. A similar audio cue warns you that your first Stalfos is about to reanimate, but then goes away to trick you into thinking you’ve killed it before it reanimates once more. Opening a chest only for the room to go dark and a horde of Ghoul Rats to appear is another harrowing moment. Most importantly, the dungeon takes enough breaks from the horror to have you trek through brighter, quicksand-filled rooms, that the tension and dread are paced and never really get old. Arbiter’s Grounds is much scarier in atmosphere than any other current spooky dungeon in the series.

I did however feel that the dungeon’s navigation was pivotal to this feeling; a large part of what made the tomb elements believable was that you were trekking through the fearsome hallways yourself as a lowly human. I felt the wolf sections broke this up. Trotting or running down the claustrophobic corridors and easily revealing the ghosts with your senses lacked the impact that you had when trudging through them as a human. It’s hard to feel scared of a tomb when you’re playing as a wild animal, something that doesn’t even make sense in the setting normally. Perhaps other people don’t get this sense from the dungeon, but for me it was unfortunate, and as a result I use wolf form as little as possible in Arbiter’s Grounds.

Gameplay-wise, there’s actually a lot less to say about Arbiter’s Grounds. There are no particularly creative gameplay ideas here, save for ones that are underused. The entire dungeon is very traditional, without any standout new mechanics or mechanisms, and most of its puzzles are taken directly from Ocarina of Time, particularly its Forest Temple; hunting down the Poes to light the flames comes from there, as does rotating the walls of the rooms. Even positioning yourself in the holes in the falling chandeliers is reminiscent of the falling ceiling from the Forest Temple. Arbiter’s Grounds isn’t badly designed by any means, but it’s not fresh in any way either. Certainly it puts its own spin on those concepts, particularly with the atmosphere and scent-tracking involved with the Poes, but it’s not enough to make them feel new. However, if an abundance of old ideas doesn’t bother you, then you should enjoy the dungeon. As it stands, the puzzle design is solid, and most of the ideas complement the pyramid theme very well.

Arbiter’s Grounds is also very long, and its latter half is built less like a brooding, undead-filled burial area and more like a trap-filled tomb. Rooms feel like obstacle courses, and fast navigation through quicksand and around spikes is crucial. This area is less horror-themed, but still works well with the pyramid theme. The dungeon item, the Spinner, is acquired unfortunately late in the dungeon, and is only used for a few brief obstacle portions — though in those it is used gloriously — where it’s needed to navigate intricate track systems on the walls and dodge obstacles. This item is very gimmicky and will bother some people as a result, but I found it fun and unique, forming one of the dungeon’s only original aspects. It is, however, extremely underused, and never used to the same capacity in any other moment of the game.

The only other complaints I have are mostly nitpicks. The wolf sections were creative (I especially enjoyed tracking the Poes by their scent), but the wolf transformation mechanics are more tedious than the infamous Iron Boots to me. In Ocarina of Time, switching to the Iron Boots required opening the menu and was annoying, but you could still navigate those menus at your own speed and they opened instantly in the first place. In Twilight Princess, animation, menu, and text lag turn the wolf transformations into monotonous chores, and while this is a broader design issue in Twilight Princess, it becomes especially noticeable in Arbiter’s Grounds where it must be done frequently.

The other issue is the lack of good use of the lantern. Again a design issue in Twilight Princess overall, the lantern is never really needed except for lighting torches; the dark rooms you supposedly need to light are not actually so dark that you need to do so, making the darkness a weirdly useless gesture. Some actual total darkness would have made these areas even scarier and the light mechanic very compelling. It feels like a major missed opportunity, considering how much more tense the dungeon would have been while afraid of something as basic as the lantern going out. Nothing that brings the dungeon down too far and makes it bad, but combined with the generally uninspired level design and underused new elements, it makes the dungeon decidedly disappointing design-wise. It’s still solid, though.

This dungeon is actually fairly combat-heavy, having a multitude of somewhat tricky enemies. The Stalfos require actual sword fighting and their remains must be bombed to kill (making them my favorite Stalfos of the series), the Bubbles and Moldorms can harass the player and give them trouble, and the ReDead Knights and Stalkin can become major problems if you face them in the wrong situations (and you often do). None of these foes will provide any challenge whatsoever if you know their tricks, so more analytical gamers will find these foes a breeze. The miniboss, Death Sword, is even more pathetically easy, providing, unfortunately, one of the least-interesting gameplay experiences of all the minibosses in the game. That said, it is awesome, with killer atmosphere that is the height of horror and dread and mystery even when compared to the rest of the dungeon, and it’s one of my favorite fights in the series because of that. The battle music for the Death Sword, which is only used for one other miniboss in the game, is also awesome with its progression of tones, and it fits the battle so well. I’ve written about the Death Sword alone and as part of a list of my favorite Zelda monsters, so needless to say I’ve written enough about him in the past. It’s enough here to say that the Death Sword sports killer atmosphere and concept — not to mention he’s one of the only elements of the dungeon that actually communicates the prison theme — but is disgustingly effortless to defeat. Being so atmosphere-centric, he is much like the rest of the dungeon.

The boss of Arbiter’s Grounds, Stallord, is also basically exactly like the rest of the dungeon. Stallord appears as a motionless pile of bones before Zant comes and revives it by lodging a black sword in its forehead. The setup is quite nice, and it’s cool seeing a boss that was directly placed in your path by the enemy. It’s also nice that such a traditional boss (a giant skeletal monster) has such an unconventional weakpoint; during its second form, Stallord is damaged by striking the sword. So the boss is strong in terms of everything except the gameplay, but that is where it falls short.

Both phases of the fight focus on the Spinner, but like it is in the rest of the dungeon, it ends up being underused because these battles are very short. These are overly simple fights with minimal challenge. The first simply involved rotating around the arena on Spinner tracks and then flinging yourself into Stallord’s spine. He raises Staltroops to block you, and it becomes a unique and interesting game of sorts trying to damage him, but it’s still not terribly difficult and you probably won’t take much damage accomplishing the three hits necessary to defeat this form. The second is even worse, having you merely jump between two totally linear tracks, with minimal obstacles, to reach Stallord’s floating head and knock him to the ground below. Both these fights needed more variation, length, and of course challenge. They were a bit creative, but in the end, overly simply, uninspired, and their mechanics underused. The first phase recycles Diababa’s first battle theme, and the second remixes the fire boss battle theme from Ocarina of Time for no definite reason, so their songs, while fitting and nice, are generally uninspired as well. The boss is epic in style and scope, but very underwhelming.

I previously said that the Forest Temple is among the best first dungeons of the series and possibly my personal favorite one, while the Lakebed Temple is my favorite 3D water dungeon and extremely well-designed besides. Arbiter’s Grounds however, while not being as well-designed as either of those two dungeons, is my personal favorite dungeon of Twilight Princess, and one of the better scary dungeons of the series. The only thing it excels at is its atmosphere, but it’s enough to carry the dungeon and, being a fan of creepy things, it really made me enjoy the place. The level design isn’t creative and doesn’t stand out in any way, but it’s unoffensive and for the most part allows the dungeon’s atmosphere to function without interruption. Add in two at least thematically and atmospherically impressive battles, and you’ve got a fun time. Arbiter’s Grounds is not creative or great, but it is memorable and if you like what it has to offer, you’ll enjoy it quite a bit.

So what did you think of Arbiter’s Grounds? Did you think its atmosphere was good? Was it scary? Did it fit the prison theme it was set up with? How about the gameplay and battles? Tell me in the comments, and look forward to next week when I review Snowpeak Ruins!

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  • Guy

    I dislike how TP lacked in original ideas

    • Tehlul

      And I dislike your baseless claim.

      • Guy

        I am not saying TP is bad. I actually love how they tried to make a “sequal” to ocarina of time, while making a new game as well. It is just some of the things they had were less original than I would have liked.


      At least TP made poes and redeads scary for once.In Ocarina of Time Navi said to me Poe does not scare very easily does it ? I thought it was scary to them (people in the game).But also TP took the best puzzles and monsters. I read Caleb’s discription (or how ever you spell it ) that TP and somewherein it it said that takes place in the time of when Link grows up again after Zelda played the Ocarina of Time and sent Link back in time. The parts of the game that it copies it is only puzzles from Ocarina of Time. Therefore TP is not copying. So you were wrong (no offense though bro)

      • Guy

        Technically it is copying ocarina of time in some ways, but it is not that which bugs me. I love lots of the things they did with TP, and I love how they are making a sequal like game to OoT with a different link. The puzzles should have been more original, for gameplay reasons. If u played OoT, you will know what to do. And TP copied almost all the overworld of OoT, however that doesn’t concern me, because I understand they are trying to reference OoT. I am not saying I dislike TP at all. If is a very good game, I’m, just saying I would have put some more work into it. I didn’t exactly like the design for the poes, but I defiantly agree with you about the redeads looking a lot better inTP than OoT. But you have to take into consideration, OoT is E and TP is T so they were able to use scarier monsters. I do hope aspects from TP do return, such as the graphics, and an overworld that feels real.

        • TheMaverickk

          Except that Ocarina of Time had dungeons with skulls for walls, with glowing eyes, and mounds of rotting flesh. Not to mention Dead Hand is probably creepier then any enemy in Twilight Princess hands down. Being pale white decaying flesh with blood stains on his skin and where his limbs have been cut.

          Not to mention that previous ReDeads actually grab onto and won’t let go unless you struggle. There isn’t that sense of fear from the ReDead Knights.

          To be honest, the T rating was a gimmick… it was something Nintendo of America wanted on the case for Twilight Princess to help sell the game, and to prove that after Wind Waker, the Zelda series wasn’t “kiddy”.

          Believe it or not there is no blood graphic in TP (which OoT has, albeit with blues and greens flying out of the enemies) which actually follows more or less Wind Waker’s approach of enemies bursting into a cloud of smoke. Or in some cases little twilight squares.

          Technically speaking TP could’ve easily just as much been rated E… but instead Nintendo actually wanted the higher violence rating.

          • Guy

            I never found the dead hands scarey at all. In fact, they are my 2nd favorite mini-boss. You are right to some extent, but TP still had some things that would be intense for younger people. For example, the mentioning of people being killed was able to be implemented more easily with the rating.

          • TheMaverickk

            TP may have had more realistic visuals, but the tension of feeling trapped by monstrous foes isn’t there.

            The first time you fight Dead Hand in order to get the Lens of Truth you can’t find him (as the lens of truth reveals his hiding spot) more likely then not the way most people trigger this battle is as a result of being grabbed by one of his many hands. Then he pops out of the ground unexpectedly.

            That’s a bigger scare moment then most Zelda bosses.

            Also you can mention death and people being killed in an E rated game. Both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask had people/character who died.

            The Deku Tree dies at the very start of Ocarina of Time (mind you he is a tree and probably not a huge issue), Dampe the Gravedigger died over the course of the game, there’s even a knight who dies in the back alley after Zelda flees Hyrule Castle. In Majora’s Mask you have Durania who died, Miku dies in front of your character….

            I don’t think any characters even die in Twilight Princess other then Ganondorf. That’s right no one dies.

            TP didn’t get a T rating because in order to have characters die, or to show ghosts. There was absolutely no reason for TP getting the T rating other then to make a point to people who care about things like M rating or E rating.

          • Guy

            The store keeper was killed, and they went into quite a bit of detail about it if you talked to the children in kakariko village when it’s under a sheet of twilight, but ur right, what i said wasn’t a very supported argument :P

          • TheMaverickk

            All I was pointing out was that talking about death isn’t a reason for a game to get a T rating.

      • TheMaverickk

        Lots of Twilight Princess plays to the nastolgia of Ocarina of Time;

        - Puzzles (killing poes to light torches to proceed towards boss…. raising water and moving water in the water temple)

        - Locations (many area’s are created very similar to OoT, from Temple of Time, Lost Woods, Zora’s Domain, ect)

        - Dungeons (Forest Temple, Water Temple)

        - Bosses (Morpheel, Armoghoma, Possessed Zelda)

        - Music (Lost Woods, Temple of Time, Possessed Zelda Battle Theme, Stalord Second Battle Theme, Queen Rutela’s theme,

        - the main villain Zant is replaced by Ganondorf…. again making the final battle a tribute to Ocarina of Time in many ways.

        - Epona is used again

        Twilight Princess borrows plenty from OoT…. and it’s done on purpose… this game was created to make a game sell with the same success that OoT, and it did just that.

        It appeals directly to the mass fan base that rallies behind Ocarina of Time, which for many was even their first Zelda title.

        Don’t get me wrong it was nice to see those head nods towards OoT, and the game overall is fun, but calling Twilight Princess something truly unique is hard for me to do.

        • Guy

          I dont think ganondorf was necessarily something that would be considered a copy from OoT, because it was a continuation of how ganondorf stated he would haunt link and his descendents.

          • TheMaverickk

            Actually technically the Ganondorf in Twilight Princess never gave that speech.

            Split timeline remember.

            The Ganondorf who vowed to kill Link’s descendents was actually Wind Waker’s Ganondorf.

            The Ganondorf in Twilight Princess never met Link as he was thrown in prison through Link’s warning Zelda (at the end of Ocarina of Time when young Link meet’s her in the castle grounds it implies this is a time just before she was forced to flee and Ganondorf confronted Link as he chased her.

            This is the Ganondorf that is in Twilight Princess. Never met Link, didn’t know he was responsible for being thrown in the Arbiter ground and sentenced to death by his hand.

            The only reason/connection for Ganondorf to be there to “torment” Link is actually Demise’ curse where he says that the blood of the three (Zelda, Link and Demise) would be forever intertwined.

            Ganondorf was put in Twilight Princess for the sole reason of giving fans an epic confrontation with the classic Zelda villain… not because he had unfinished business with Link.

          • Name

            I’ve always thought that TP Ganondorf is the same Ganondorf from OOT, and I’ve seen that theory quite a few places elsewhere.

            That said, I do agree with your last paragraph.

          • TheMaverickk

            They are the same Ganondorf…. but that’s the thing…. there are essentially two different Ganondorf’s at the end of Ocarina of Time.

            There is Ganondorf who was sealed by the six new awakened sages after the final battle at the end of OoT.

            Then there is Ganondorf who is thrown in prison by the Hyrule Royal family after young Link essentially reports him to Princess Zelda with proof of his evil deeds or something after that final seen where he is shown meeting her a last time in Hyrule Castle as she spies on Ganondorf. Who is then sentenced to be executed by the six original sages, (safe to say that the sages in Twilight Princess are not the sages from OoT…. as young Link never had to awaken Saria or Durania, or Ruto as sages in order to beat Ganondorf).

            Because there is that timeline split at the end of OoT.

          • Guy

            Yes, he is the same ganondorf. The 4 swords ganondorf is a different ganondorf, because he was killed in TP. However, I have a theory that if a ganondorf is killed the male gerudo every 100 years is a reincarnation of ganondorf, so according to this theory that is misleading, but yes u r correct.

          • Guy

            Yes, but TP was make as an independent game, and there are lots of things in the split timeline that dont connect. The Golden Wolf is the OoT link, and he talks about being a hero from the past and he is also holding a sword that looks just like the master sword. My theory on this is that some events sort of work through out the 2 timelines. TP mentions ganondorf breaking out of his seal a little, and the triforce on his hand fades when you defeat him, signifying that he lost the triforce of power, which he talks about being in power as long as he has the triforce when u beat him in OoT. This is obviously a reference from OoT. I honestly think that TP should have gone before the windwaker.

  • Kraniss

    This was my favorite dungeon of Twilight Princess.

  • nekokun13

    not scary at all, doesn’t hold a candle to the shadow temple, bottom of the well or ikana canyon

  • Ordona

    I think Arbiter’s Grounds somewhat worked as a prison. I never thought of it as a place where hordes of lesser demons were locked up in a cell-like arrangement, rather I imagined it as a place that was first used as a prison for one greater demon – the skeleton of which became Stallord. Also, the statue in the room with the lantern puzzle made me think it was originally built as a temple.

    I agree with pretty much all of this. I personally hate Arbiter’s Grounds because it terrifies me, but I guess that makes it so good. The atmosphere, particularly in the first half was perfectly eerie and unsettling. Not to mention TP has the scariest Redeads in the series. Shame the gameplay was a bit lacking. Tracking the poes was fun/scary, but past the mid-boss things just got extremely tedious. That said, one of my favourite bits of the whole game was the optional puzzle room where you could go crazy with the spinner.



    • Axle the Beast

      It makes sense as a big site to lock up Stallord (and Death Sword), but the problem is that it was stated to house more than just them. It was strongly implied to have human prisoners.

      I agree about that Spinner room. It’s the only room that made any serious use of the Spinner. =(

      • major plus zant

        well the poes and other skelatal and zombie cretures i always thought to be the prisoners and there cells ARE filled with sand so they cant be seen i never really liked the half horror half puzzle concept but whatever it actually makes it seem more like a prison cause prisons even today usually half one half for the captive and one half for the workers,(cops, gerudo, balrog and misery whatever) oh and heyy owen im excited for your review and summary of snowpeak and yes i do know your name ive been stalking you you’ve met with a terrible fate havn’t you p.s. srry aout typos


        i noes but there is the death sword room you have to use the spinner to get out

        • Axle the Beast

          I already said in the post that the Death Sword is basically the single example of prison themes in Arbiter’s Grounds.

          • ZELDASTUFFS

            oh didnt see that sorry

      • TheMaverickk

        There was other great places for the spinner that I never understood why they didn’t use it.

        For example in the city in the sky, there could’ve been “sky rails”. Would’ve been faster and more entertaining then hanging from peahats as you are dragged slowly by them from one area to the next.

        Well City in the Sky was a fairly poorly designed dungeon in my opinion…. cool boss… but just so many other things could’ve been done in that dungeon. Not to mention Hyrule Castle…. and Twilight Palace…. man actually…. as far as dungeons go, those last three were pretty dull.

        • Axle the Beast

          Ohhh, you just wait until I review the City in the Sky. ;D

          • TheMaverickk

            As long as you rip it a part I probably won’t mind…..

            Just the thought of that dungeon makes me weep…. the lack of difficulty…. the slow pace…. the most torturous part of the dungeon is the background ambiance music.

            Zero use of ball and chain, dominion rod, and the best use they could find for the spinner was to unlock/open up pathways…. they could’ve gone Metroid Prime 3 Skytown action had they wanted…. they knew how to design the rails…. it’s not like it would’ve interfered with the use of the double hookshot… which as I saw was more for scaling the underside of the city in the sky in many ways.

            Ungh… I just can’t go on thinking about that dungeon. I mean you use the wolf to walk on tight ropes… they use that? over the spinner rails? not to mention, the only use of the wolf form in the entire dungeon….. Oh man. Get worked up thinking about it.

            Then there’s both Twilight Palace and Hyrule Castle, which are both sort of half dungeons…. if you can call them that. So basic. It was aggravating. Not to mention why is it that there are only like 5 twilight enemies…. twilight keese, deku baba, kargaroks, vermin and bulblin… all of which are low level enemies.

            Anyways ok I’m done… phew out of my system.

        • Ordona

          Hyrule Castle had the final staircase where you needed the spinner. Too little too late really.

        • Danny Niederberger

          Probably my favorite in the game.

    • TheMaverickk

      The TP ReDeads aren’t that scary…. they aren’t even ReDead’s. really.

      The fact that they attack slowly with a sword that’s easier to get away from is kind of what ruined them in this game.

      Originally ReDeads were so freaky because they actually latch onto your character and quickly start chomping down on you and you have to struggle to get away.

      In TP the ReDead Knight smacked you with a sword and you are free to move after taking the hit…. mind you usually the terror wears off quickly enough that you can still evade the attack.

      • Ordona

        God you’re right, I was thinking they chomped away as normal but they didn’t now that I think about it. I can’t figure out why they changed it for TP. TP redeads at least looked the scariest. And they still made you freeze briefly which is

        • Ordona

          why they creep me out.

          • TheMaverickk

            Technically in the Japanese version they aren’t called ReDead’s, they are actually Gibdo’s… the mummy versions of the ReDead… it’s why they are all wrapped up.

            Also I just did a test and the ReDead Knight’s of Twilight Princess only do 3/4 of a heart damage …….. X I

            Kind of embarrassing for a later dungeon enemy that looks so menacing with that big sword.

          • Ordona

            So it appears to be awesome and frightening but doesn’t actually pose much of a threat. Seems to be a theme.

          • S. Mario

            They can pose a threat when there are a lot of them. In the cave of ordeals there are four to five of them at once. If they each scream right after another when they’re surrounding you, then you can rack up damage pretty quickly. This happened to me before I found out that the Jump Strike is a one-hit kill for the ReDeads Knights.

          • TheMaverickk

            They all can’t strike you at once…. when Link takes damage he’s instantly free from any paralysis, and he has a moment of invulnerability, meaning any other strikes by other ReDeads does no damage.

            Additionally, still not trouble some because you have to be fairly close to them in order for them to scream, and the Cave of Ordeals usualy gives a lot of space.

            Not to mention you can shoot them from above as you always drop into a room. Bomb arrows make the Cave of Ordeals a joke.

    • Mawk

      I actually think oppositely about the tediousness of Arbiter’s Grounds. I never was a fan of fetch quests(though Zelda does put a spin on it) and therefore never found finding and killing the Poes very fun and memorable. It certainly didn’t scare me, though I have to admit it was the one of the very few things that didn’t terrify me about that dungeon(God I hate Redeads). But I found the later part of the dungeon quite fun. I loved the battle with Death Sword, and I found it very cool to use the Spinner. And I will say that I thougnt Stallord was a fun fight too. I just wish they would make the Poe search a little more entertaining and enjoyable in my opinion.

  • zelda fanatic

    I always thought the forest temple was supposed the be the scary one i guess that the terrerfing aspects of arbiter grounds don’t do much to me

  • EOTW

    I think it carried the prison theme to a decent extent. There were certain areas that, to me, looked exactly like prison cells. The spiraling elevator had cubby hole cells. The rooms with turning walls had cells behind each wall. It seemed to me that there were lots of prison elements. I also got the vibe that the narrow corridors had cells that were sealed over with brick and mortar Edgar Allan Poe style.

    • Axle the Beast

      I suppose that’s true. It’s just that, I feel you have to sort of look for them and interpret other things as them, instead of the theme being readily apparent. An area built more like a prison — or at least with some areas that were prison-like — would have been even more terrifying.

  • gamer

    Best dungeon in TP.

  • Mr. Phats

    The “prison” was the mirror of twilight, if I remember correctly.

    • Axle the Beast

      The mirror was how they banished particularly bad people, and the only stated example of that was Ganondorf. The actual building was supposed to be a prison for others, as I interpreted it.

      • Joshua Burns

        I’m with you on that one mate, I was pretty sure the building itself was the prison. Auru said “The Gerudo Desert once held a prison built to hold the worst criminals this land has ever known… The criminals who were sentenced to death were sent directly to the underworld by a cursed mirror that was kept in the prison” so that would seem to suggest they held prisoners there, and that the mirror was (or was later believed to be) a form of ‘execution’. I always thought that the Arbiter’s Grounds was what the Spirit Temple eventually became after being converted anyway so that might be why it wasnt exactly ‘prison like’.

        • Joshua Burns

          What puzzles me is why there is a giant dead Stallord in the final room in the first place…I mean there’s any number of theories you could throw out captured monster that was kept there for protection of the rest of hyrule, some sort of guardian of the mirror of twilight, yet another form of execution, some sort of previous manifestation of evil that eventually died…just never made a whole heap of sense to me…

  • Joshua Burns

    I could not get over the fact that for a dungeon that was supposed to be a prison, their was little actual evidence of it as a prison (a couple of submerged prison bars, the special room meant to ‘bind’ the death sword etc). I also agree the second half of the dungeon really did shift more to a ‘desert’ than ‘horror’ theme. I would have preferred the idea of a bit more darkness and rooms requiring the latern as you mentioned. On the other hand if your a bit of a Timeline theorist then this may have to do with the fact that the temple was originally supposed (or at least speculated) to be the original Spirit Temple from OoT so it stands that the temple rooms being ‘re-adapted’ as prison cells would explain the lack of general prison theme, and the desert theme seems more appropriate in that sense (though again I was looking for some darkness).

    The first part of that dungeon was undoubtedly the best. I know they rehashed the Forest Temple idea but I think for a game like Twilight Princess, which was plugged as ‘the realistic ocarina of time we always wanted’ by alot of fanboys I think it played well with this (the new poes grim reaper-like forms were truly creepy and being able to ‘see’ them with your wolf senses but not your human ones gave them an extra level of spookiness). Indeed it built up the anticipation of the second part of the Dungeon quite well.

    I found (as with alot of the ‘undead’ enemies in Zelda) alot of the enemies to be more annoying than challenging. I never found myself in any real difficulty with any of the variations on the ‘Stals’ and even the ghost rats were little more than a nuisance (albeit creepy in the covered in bugs kinda vibe lol). Death Sword was an interesting battle though, especially when it was shrowded in darkness, thought it added a nice touch and fit in with the general ‘prison of the damned’ theme.

    The Spinner was woefully underused, it was a cool concept and the idea of jumping wall to wall in a parkor like fashion was pretty cool…on the other hand I had a bit of trouble using it at first, it just didnt last as long as it should have and I found myself getting frustrated when I missed the connection points and had to go through the damn sand again and again (course maybe I just suck lol)

    As for the final boss fight I found it to be suprisingly challenging, at least a few times I got knocked into those friggin staltroops and was stuck. That frustrated the hell out of me when they kept emerging right before I was about to hit his spine lol. The second half was cool though and I always love a good boss fight that doesnt just end with walking into a glowing point, but actually contributes to the continual story (aka Skyward Sword Laynaryu mines)
    Great review, keep em coming…even if your next review is that damn Snowpeak Ruins (my least favourite dungeon) :)

    • TheMaverickk

      ” I always love a good boss fight that doesnt just end with walking into a
      glowing point, but actually contributes to the continual story (aka
      Skyward Sword Laynaryu mines)”

      That was actually one of the nice parts of Skyward Sword, there is no magical warps to get out of the dungeons. Instead you can go backwards through the boss rooms to go back.

      Also most dungeons in Skyward Sword had a scene or simply showed Link leaving the area. The dungeons take you places basically, they are paths of sort.

  • Dr. Bomber

    As I entered one of the first rooms of Arbiter’s grounds, I was unsettled by how eerily dark it was. Taking out my lantern, I could begin to make out some movement in front – no, wait, all around me. From the darkness crept dozens of tiny skeleton warriors, all ready to tear me to shreds. I tried to turn around to get to a more tactical position, only to realize I was knee deep in quicksand and almost completely immobile as the skeleton warriors got closer and closer. It was then that I knew this temple was going to be very different from other Zelda temples.

    • TheMaverickk

      Except that it’s a lot like the Forest Temple of Ocarina of Time… except with lots of sand.

  • Mseevers95

    The music is great but you never hear it. it’s either too soft or constantly getting replaced by the terrible and annoying enemy music.

    • Axle the Beast

      Lol, well I didn’t think it was terrible, but it’s nice to see someone else who thinks that TP’s enemy music was kind of underwhelming. I think that the dungeon’s normal theme was audible enough for the right portions though. It’s definitely one of the Twilight Princess dungeon themes I feel the most compelled to listen to on its own, though.

      • TheMaverickk

        There was probably 3 songs in Twilight Princess’ soundtrack that I can honestly say were good.

        The trailer theme that was orchestrated (plays if you let the title screen run as well)

        The Overworld Theme

        Midna’s Lament

        These were the only three songs that were well done and were unique to Twilight Princess.

        Well… ok …. maybe the Hidden Village Theme

        Pretty much every other song I enjoyed on the soundtrack was a remixed version of an Ocarina of Time theme, like the Sacred Grounds, or Rutela’s Theme, or even the Temple of Time entrance theme (which I believe was a direct rip from the OoT).

        There are few Zelda games that take the exact same sound file from a previous Zelda game.

  • IMFWeirdo

    I kind of assumed the skeletal monsters and redeads you encountered throughout the dungeon were the prisoners, but you’re right, it would’ve been cooler to see actual jail cells and maybe some live, deranged serial killers locked in them. Although it might’ve been too much scariness for Nintendo to allow. Anyways, it was one of my favorite dungeons.

    • Axle the Beast

      I didn’t need to see live killers myself. They said that the prisoners were haunting the prison; they confirmed that all the undead WERE the prisoners. But nothing about the dungeon seemed built to be a prison. There isn’t anything wrong with the dungeon’s thematic design, but there’s definitely s disconnect there.

  • OwnerofTriforce

    Simply put: This is my favorite dungeon in Twilight Princess. I love the hell out of this dungeon!

  • TheMaverickk

    This basically sums up my feelings about the dungeon.

    Arbiter Grounds was probably the best dungeon designed for Twilight Princess, making use of the wolf form better then any other dungeon, and giving a great sense of atmosphere.

    Yet that can’t save it from the over arching flaws of Twilight Princess… which is some huge missed opportunities for item usage.

    I mean come on it’s the only dungeon to encourage the use of the Lantern, but like Axl put it, no room was so dark that you can’t see with out it. Not to mention there was very few rooms in this dungeon that were dark enough to make the lantern as useful as it should’ve been.

    It’s even funny that Axl mentioned the boss theme music…. which I had totally forgotten… which is yes amazing… but this is mainly because that music is taken from Ocarina of Time. Just another example of how this game relied to much on the nostalgia of Ocarina of Time.

    I do have one point to argue and that is that the enemies aren’t all that challenging, but this is more a fault of the OP nature of TP. The bomb arrows can easily defeat ReDead Knights from afar….. and Stalfos are just as susceptible to the power of the bomb arrow.

    Anyways it was my favorite dungeon in Twilight Princess, but yeah just so many issues with this game over all.

  • Princess Niki

    I loved this dungeon because fighting Stallord and using the spinner was so much fun!

  • Ilias

    Your issue with Arbiter’s Grounds not being scary enough (lack of total darkness, etc.) may have been due to an effort to not make it too scary for younger players. I wasn’t effected by the dungeon, though it wasn’t my favourite. My younger sister was terrified by it and refuses to replay the dungeon.
    I think it was mostly due to the redeads, which we called “screamers.”

    • Axle the Beast

      Possibly, but given that Twilight Princess was rated Teen, I don’t think there’s a lot of excuse for that even if that is the case. Either way, I still think it was more a lack of forethought than anything else; blackness to necessitate the lantern wouldn’t just be for horror… it would encourage resource management and just affect the game stylistically.

  • Lupine Hero

    My favorite dungeon in the game, except for the Palace of Twilight. Usually, I’m not big on horror themes, but the Arbiter’s Grounds did it so excellently. Plus, I LOVE desert-themed dungeons. (Stone Tower Temple and the Spirit Temple are my favorites from their respective games.) I also enjoyed the fact that it made significant use of Wolf Link, which I was disappointed in the lack of in other dungeons. I can see what you mean, though, about it not really fitting with the dungeon’s theme, but honestly, I don’t really care. As my username implies, I will spring at any chance to use Wolf Link; it’s one of the main reasons that TP is my favorite Zelda game.

  • soundersTID

    I love the mistique of this dungeon, how ancient and mysterious it is. It definitely is scary, but not as much as the Palace of Twilight, in my opinion. Despite being easy to avoid them, the floating hands chasing after the Sols, accompanied by their sound effects, are easily the scariest thing in the game for me. Great game, and one of my favorites.

  • Hero’s Shade:|

    About the prison ordeal…. Dyou guys remember the cutscene later in the game i think it is… where the seven sages were attempting to slay a held down Ganondorf Dragmire? Perhaps it wasnt only Stallord and Death Sword that were held. Ganon seem to have been held there at least for a while before his excution and remember, that scene took place at the top of the Arbiters Grounds shortly (canonically) after OoT and MM. So it did hold at least one human (a gerudo), or at least someone in human form.

  • Midna’s Sister

    It’s my favourate dungeon in TP; The boss is epic, creepy, and difficult. The dungeon gives you a chill, a felling like there’s someone watching you…

  • The Unicorn Hanger-Outer


  • HyruleHistory10

    I love the Arbiter’s Grounds. It is also my Fav TP dungeon. Death Sword was a Beast albeit easy, but I thought that Stallord was quite fun IMO. Great Article Axle.

  • zelda_geek

    I always thought it worked out something like this: It was originally a temple…Then it got turned into a prison for the big dudes. After that, others (probably humans) were eventually thrown in. I mean, I think it’d be pretty terrifying to be thrown in a building where two demon thingies lurk… and they obviously didn’t make it…

    Meh, I didn’t really like the Arbiter’s Grounds anyways. xD

  • Kevin Yaniak

    It could have been a prison, like they just throw all the prisoners in there to fend for themselves, no cells or anything. Also, this is on my top 3 of best TP dungeons.

  • Louisgmc

    I had a LOT OF FUN with Stalord, maybe my favorite boss on the series!

  • A Name

    I think the Arbiters Grounds wasn’t meant to be a prison. It was meant to house the mirror of twilight, which I think was meant to be the real prison, as it was the place that both the Twili and Ganondorf were sent too.

  • Hero’s Shade

    I think it would be really cool if you did a twilight princess vs skyward sword vs ocarina of time series when you’re done with twilight princess dungeons. You could like compare story, dungeons, side quests, companions, and all that other fun stuff.

  • Hero’s Shade

    I liked arbiters grounds alot. The only part I disliked was the very first room with the sinksand, and trying to find the last poe, but that was just cause i spent so much time on iy

  • Scott Reika Ripberger

    Axle, I think you may recall my comment on one of your previous articles about the Death Sword. I mentioned delving deeper into the story of this prison and not merely having it be the place where Ganondorf was imprisoned. The Death Sword, and the spirit wielding it, could have been worked into Arbiter’s Grounds so much more thoroughly.

    First of all: I think the average gamer would have no idea what the dungeon’s title actually means. This title gives a slight explanation to the lack of prison elements (though they are STILL lacking even with this assertion) as the judges, or arbiter’s (also known as the sages), dwell there. When the Arbiter’s Grounds was actually in operation as a prison, they must have had a need for all the space that is used for this dungeon. Which implies either a great number of criminals or great power in those criminals or both.

    As for Death Sword, I wouldn’t have enjoyed a story in which the Sword had cursed the entire dungeon, but I believe it should have been tied into the story of Arbiter’s Grounds more thoroughly than it was. The example I formed before was that the Death Sword, and not Zant, should have been the reanimating factor with Stallord. (I would like to have seen a humanoid boss in this dungeon, however, due to most of the other enemies being humanoid and a prison implying a governable race/races) It would have been so easy to establish the Death Sword as a horribly dangerous thing with its own back story and powers.

    In any case, it should not have been so easily destroyed.

    • Scott Reika Ripberger

      And as always excellent article. Somehow the analyses are more enjoyable than the subjects with some of these dungeons.

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  • Katie Barber

    The temple looks like a colloseum from the outside and that, combined with the the frequent spikes, fences, and keys, definitely contributed to the idea that this was a prison for the condemmed to me. I saw it as a place to house the worst crinimals and demons until they could be killed (Ganon) or sealed (Death Sword). The countless undead encountered I saw as dead guards and prisoners, who died of natural causes while in jail, possible escapees as the prison went to wrack and ruin.

    The prison clearly became delipidated by the time Link traversed it, which could’ve been because of Water Sage’s death perhaps. I also saw Stallord as more a guard to the Mirror Chamber/execution room. Regardless, I never saw this place as a tomb or burial site. I saw it as it was said to be, a long-forgotten cursed prison.

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  • Wade Langner

    “Generally uninspired level design”? What are you smoking? Arbiter’s Grounds is one of the best dungeons in the series, both atmospherically AND gameplay-wise.

  • Bob

    All the stallfos you encounter in Arbiter grounds have the same number of ribs. The same amount of ribs women have. Women have one more rib then men. There are stallfos children.
    Many of the stallfos have clothing in Geurdo style. There are no Gerudo or gerudo fortress in the Gerudo desert when link arrives. The Hylians controlled Arbiters ground. In ocarina of time the Gerudo and Hylians didn’t like each other.
    The Hylians imprisoned the Gerudo inside of Arbiters grounds, burned down Gerudo fortress, then the slaughtered all of the Gerudo within the prison.

    • Psi
      Nope. Even the Biblical account of uneven rib numbers doesn’t make sense when it was supposedly Adam’s rib that was taken, implying he should have one of a pair missing, whereas the actual case is that women predominate with an extra rib -over and above- the standard rib-pairs…as in, usual rib numbers (male and female) are even; an extra rib makes the total rib-count odd. Besides, predominance means greater occurrence – not sole occurrence. Extra ribs appear in men, too. So, if men and women had different rib totals, it’s men who’d have even numbers as supported by statistics – so all within the Arbiter’s Grounds would be dead men, not women. Since there isn’t any hard-and-fast about rib numbers and sex, though, that’s a redundant point. Any prisoner could have been of any sex.