The Wind Waker Dungeons: Forbidden Woods

The Forbidden Woods is The Wind Waker’s obligatory forest dungeon, so it goes without saying that it follows certain Zelda conventions. Certainly, forest-themed areas can differ a lot in their other themes, but they will always have that central idea in common, and we come to expect certain things from a forest dungeon. The Forbidden Woods is definitely this; it’s pretty conventional in terms of its look and feel. And I would say, to somewhat of a fault.

This might seem odd to those who read my review of Dragon Roost Cavern last week, because I said that dungeon had very conventional themes as well, but I also said that it managed to pull them off because of the visual design and visual style. The thing is, while the visual style is intact here, the visual design isn’t. Certainly, the best parts about the Forbidden Woods’ visuals are basically most of the same things that made Dragon Roost Cavern great; its environmental effects of atmospheric and downright beautiful lighting mixed with eerie mist are awesome-looking, and it’s got an atmospheric tune that, while minimal, is actually pretty effective at giving the thorny, thorny dungeon even more atmosphere. This music feels dark and lonely while not seeming overly evil. These woods might be corrupted, but they’re not dripping blood and infested with skeletons; as a result, the dungeon’s theme is appropriately lonely-sounding, with an unsettling sense of looming, as opposed to being overpowered by a scary vibe. In short, its pretty elements and calming vibe mix well with the eerie aspects to give the dungeon the perfect music.

So how could I honestly complain about the Forbidden Woods’ art design when all of these things were also accomplished in a dungeon I praised? Well, the Forbidden Woods actually are missing one core element that the previous dungeon excelled at… which is room design. All of the cool atmosphere comes from the lighting, mist and music, not the areas that you actually have to navigate.

Oh, there’s still some unique rooms, plenty of which have interesting ways of traversing them, to be sure. But ultimately, in terms of look and feel alone, the vast majority of this dungeon’s chambers are little more than forested caves, with dull and uninspired walls with some wood, grass, and trees spread around. It would have been much better if they built the rooms less off of caves and more off of the forest; neater scenery, with stranger and more varied plants, to create more trippy and unsettling visuals and atmospheres. For a dungeon that looks so foreboding — and thorny! — from the outside, it seems pretty standard — and not thorny! — on the inside.

A bigger problem I’d like to bring up relates to something “Justac00lguy” brought up in the comments to the Dragon Roost Cavern review, which was how that dungeon’s outdoor sections helped to give it a sense of scale as well as diversity. First off, diversity would be a major weakness of the Forbidden Woods. While its rooms differ in shape, they do not differ in atmosphere, whereas Dragon Roost Cavern boasted multiple different atmospheres as you progressed through the dungeon. The scale issue is the bigger point, however, and I think this is where the Forbidden Woods really falls apart; can you honestly say you can make sense of what the place is or how it’s supposed to work? Obviously it’s an island, and it seems to be mostly enclosed in a hollow tree, but you get no sense of where in the thing you are as you navigate it, nor of how it grew and formed into such a cavernous wood, or anything of the sort. Had the dungeon been designed in such a way as to give you a sense of how things grew to be that way, or at least showed you where you were in the dungeon by giving you more open-roof rooms and perhaps rooms going along its thorny sides, it would have been far more striking and far more enthralling. It would have been especially cool to see a bigger and, particularly, more focal contrast between the day-lit sky and the darker and misty woods; as it stands you’ll only ever notice the sky if you happen to look all the way up, and there’s rarely any reason to. At the very least, the dungeon could have carried the thorn theme seen on the outside further than simply having those thorny wriggling vines, although at least that’s something.

Gameplay-wise, the dungeon is pretty easy, and most of its challenges are confined to navigational ones. This is fine and traveling through the dungeon is reasonably fun, but I think it gets a little annoying traveling through the dungeon because of all the starting and stopping. Jumping into many Baba Buds to get up higher, and blowing fans to get the gondola lifts to move, among a few other navigational quirks, get annoying in how they constantly ask you to stop moving. The dungeon would be a bit better if it flowed more seamlessly as you navigate; it should have been a bit less time-consuming to get around.

Those wind spinners are also rather annoying to get to work, and only on my most recent run through the game did I actually figure out how to get them to respond without any problems. For context, I’ve played this game a lot of times. I’m interested to know if other people had some difficulty working these consistently, or if it’s just me. The other navigational mechanic that bugs me is a smaller point: Chucking acorns or nuts or whatever they’re supposed to be at open flowers to kill them and get past their vines. This isn’t all that hard to figure out, but… honestly it doesn’t make a lot of sense! Like I said, very minor issue, but nonetheless confusing.

One other minor issue is the placement of the teleport cauldrons; once again, their placement isn’t terribly useful, and when they’re needed most you’re out of luck. There should have been one after getting the Boomerang for easy return to the beginning of the dungeon where the secrets you need the Boomerang for are, while the one in the room just before the boss should have been moved to the main shaft nearby, since they’re so close together and the shaft is used and returned to much more often.

As I said earlier, the dungeon is pretty easy. It’s harder than Dragon Roost Cavern overall, and it’s not so easy that it’s a problem yet, given that it’s still a pretty early dungeon. But I will say that at this point in the game, the easy difficulty is starting to get a bit old. I think the difficulty is especially annoying with the enemies, who aren’t that challenging to begin with and can literally be killed in one or two hits once you acquire the Boomerang.

The enemy designers should have been more conscious of the fact that the Boomerang basically murders these enemies, because the item can give the player a nice sense of revenge; how perfect would it have been to have dealt with seriously challenging foes in sparse numbers throughout the dungeon only to be able to come back and take them down with ease once you get the dungeon item (possibly fighting them in bigger groups later)? Green ChuChus were fine due to them being difficult to hit and their numbers, and Moblins have decent difficulty for this stage in the game and are much easier after getting the Boomerang, making it perfect revenge after dealing with them in the Forsaken Fortress and Dragon Roost Cavern. But the rest of the enemies, like the Peahats and Boko Babas, should have been much more challenging to bring about a feeling of satisfying revenge in the player when they can be easily killed with the Boomerang. I think the dungeon came so close to having an awesome, unique flavor with its enemy design, but alas missed the mark.

Boss-wise, Mothula is a pretty cool guy miniboss. I’ve written before about how Mothula in The Wind Waker is one of my favorite monsters of the series, and the fight itself is cool too, and since this is the first of the winged variety the player has ever seen up until this point, it’s one of the most unique minibosses; while technically the green Bokoblins are first fought as a miniboss too, they’re fought nearly the same as normal Bokoblins are, whereas fighting Mothula with wings is a very distinct experience. The fight’s a bit too easy because of Mothula’s low health and the frequent parry attacks allowed against it — allowing the player to attack with impunity — but otherwise it’s a solid miniboss fight.

Kalle Demos, on the other hand, is one of The Wind Waker’s few near-perfect bosses. Certainly, it’s a bit on the easy side, but it still manages to be much harder than everything surrounding it at this stage in the game. Kalle Demos has a great concept; while it is just a simple (though beautiful) flower bulb with vines, it has a very distinct-looking Deku Baba creature in its center as its head, and a very unique name that seems like it might have its own implications: Demos? Like a demon? A demon flower!?

The fight itself is pretty simple, but it does require the player to be constantly aware of the movements of Kalle Demos’ vines, watching for giveaways for its attacks while aiming to cut down the vines tethering it to the ceiling. Requiring awareness of multiple factors while targeting the boss is stimulating, and makes for a good boss fight. This element is even carried over to attacking the boss’s exposed weak point: When the flower is dropped from the ceiling, you can attack the small Baba creature within, but there’s a limited time before the flower closes on you and does a lot of damage. The window of opportunity is short, and the player is easily caught. This boss can drain your hearts quickly if you let it, and while it’s still a fairly easy fight, that’s forgivable as it’s only the second boss of the game because it actually provides stimulation and some challenge. Its music is a perfect fit to the battle, continuing the main dungeon theme’s wooden tinkles and clinks while introducing deeper sounds, carrying the wood theme and making it harsher. The almost cough-like sounds later in are unusual and, in my eyes, highly unsettling, and they lend the fight against this demon flower an awesome flavor. Finally, even the boss’s chamber succeeds where the rest of the dungeon fails; this chamber appears very organic, constructed from twists of vines, both visually distinct and pretty unsettling in and of itself. There are just a lot of factors that come together excellently to make this a great boss battle.

So all in all? The Forbidden Woods is an adequate dungeon for the second main one of the game, but it definitely falls short in places. Its art-design is minimal and fails to accomplish something new, and its enemy design is a little lopsided, both of which are unfortunate considering how much potential these elements had. On the other hand, the dungeon still manages a cool atmosphere, and has a neat miniboss and an awesome main boss. So it’s still a lot of fun.

But what about you? Did you enjoy this dungeon? Did you think it fell short of good art and enemy design, or did you think its themes and foes were great? How about Mothula and Kalle Demos? Tell me in the comments, and look forward to next week, when I review the Tower of the Gods!