The Wind Waker Dungeons: Forsaken Fortress

Axle the BeastMay 28th, 2013 by Axle the Beast

Sorry for the two-week hiatus, but it’s finally time for me to review the Forsaken Fortress. This dungeon is easily The Wind Waker’s most iconic. Dragon Roost Cavern was shown a lot in trailers, but the Forsaken Fortress featured in numerous pieces of the game’s artwork, is home to most of the game’s most significant enemies, and is visited twice due to its great story importance.

The Forsaken Fortress is an odd case. While there are a few other dungeons in the series that must be visited multiple times as part of the story — which probably follow the Forsaken Fortress’ example — this one is the first and it also deviates a particularly large amount from traditional dungeon structure and, more importantly, the defined structure within its own game. Unlike in other dungeons in The Wind Waker, you won’t spend time solving puzzles and fighting enemies as you navigate through many rooms, locating a Dungeon Map, Compass, new weapon, and Big Key on your way to a boss. You do locate most of these items — barring the Big Key — but in odder ways. Little focus is placed on the Map or Compass because the dungeon’s layout is simple and not meant to challenge your navigation skills, the Skull Hammer is awarded to you almost immediately after returning on the second visit, and the way to the end is blocked only by searchlights and barricades designed for the Skull Hammer. So the dungeon is unusual. How, then, does this odd dungeon perform in terms of quality?

Speaking first of the dungeon’s art and sound direction as always, I’d say it performs extremely well. The Forsaken Fortress is one of those funny areas where it’s always night — and traveling there during the day will cause a rapid sunset — and that goes a long way towards giving it a great atmosphere. The island and fortress’ actual design is iconic and striking, and putting it to the backdrop of the night while lighting it up with daunting yellow searchlights and window lights gives the dungeon’s appearance itself a lot of personality that is noticeable whether you’re sailing to it, watching it in a cutscene, or exploring it firsthand. These visuals are present any time you’re outside, whereas within the dungeon’s halls all of the rooms resemble the corridors and facilities of an actual fortress; there’s a kitchen, a barracks, a boathouse, and a jail. It feels like a real place but does so within the dungeon’s aesthetic and atmosphere — due to Moblin interior decorating — and as a result feels extremely realistic and believable without sacrificing style. It also has an excellent sense of scale, with the outdoor areas giving an extremely clear picture of the shape and nature of the place, while the interior areas mesh well and feel like actual parts of the same building.

The dungeon’s music is simple and repetitive, but it’s an extremely fitting song that helps define the tone of Link’s journey through the dungeon, synergizing with the dungeon’s theme to deliver a pretty powerful atmosphere. And, while it’s silly, what I especially love is how the music’s beat is completely in-tune with the footsteps of the Moblin guards. This isn’t noticeable in other areas of the game or on the revisit, but the first time through, while sneaking through, it was impossible for me not to notice how the Moblins step in perfect timing to the music. While this may be unintentional, I think it goes a long way towards anchoring the individual elements of the dungeon — its music and its foes — together while befitting the entire game’s cartoon style; it reminds me of actual cartoons where silly but intimidating music will play when some badguy appears, and distinct physical actions will have musical accompaniment. Accidental or otherwise, I think this was a cool aspect. The music can get repetitive after sneaking around for a long time, but I would blame that more on the gameplay rather than the music itself.

Speaking of its gameplay… well, yeah this is basically where the dungeon falters. The art-design of the Forsaken Fortress is fantastic and it brings all of its themes together extremely well, but the core gameplay underneath that is extremely bare-bones, uninspired, and tedious.

The main idea during the first visit to this forsaken place is that Link has lost his sword — due to being shot from a catapult in a barrel and colliding into a wall, of course — and must sneak past the dungeon’s foes in order to retrieve the sword and then save his sister. Stealth gameplay occurs often in the series these days, and isn’t really any kind of surprise here in The Wind Waker after so many games prior included such sections. However, if you’re going to implement moments like these into a game that is otherwise not a stealth game, you basically have two options: Either you flesh these moments out really well and give them something at least sorta close to the elements used to provide thrills in full-on stealth games like Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, and Deus Ex, or you make these sections short and unintrusive. It doesn’t really matter if the special sections you put into your game for a change of pace are really amazing in their own right as long as they’re short; brief sections of alternate gameplay, so long as they’re not completely terrible, still inject variety into the experience and give the player new ways to experience the game world. The problem is when you give these sections length without also giving them suitable means to entertain at length.

Sneaking through the Forsaken Fortress involves literally nothing more than creeping around under barrels when Moblins aren’t looking, and doing the same around searchlights when outside. Again, sneaking around such simple obstacles wouldn’t be anything to complain about and would have been really good fun if not for the fact that it lasts the entire duration of your stay in the dungeon your first time through. This is also right at the beginning of the game, before the player gets to do any serious puzzle-solving or fighting. This is all extremely unrewarding. You get nothing out of it except basic progression; the experience of simply waiting for a slow-moving Moblin to walk by is not exciting in and of itself. Beyond that, it’s repetitive and tedious. This section should have been trimmed to be extremely brief, or fleshed out so that the gameplay here alone created exciting and stimulating moments with enough variety or room for experimentation to entertain the player during its length.

On the bright side, the rest of the navigation is a little interesting. There is nothing here in the way of puzzles, really, but navigating through the halls and walls to find the searchlight operators so you can sneak along the outer walls of the tower and finish the dungeon is kinda fun, as is dodging away from swarms of miniblins. You can also avoid a lot of the sneaking simply by platforming over them on the second floor. This is especially easy to do on subsequent playthroughs when you already know the dungeon’s layout. It’s not an excuse for having tedious stealth, nor is it exciting in itself, but at least it’s a means of bypassing repetitive gameplay. The dungeon definitely doesn’t feel like a dungeon; it plays more like a normal area.

The second visit removes the stealth but offers little in return. Immediately upon docking, Phantom Ganon is fought in a brief but pretty cool battle with awesome music. After that, however, you’re immediately awarded the Skull Hammer, which is basically it as you blast your way through now-easy fights against a few Moblins and some, admittedly cool, swarms of Miniblins, and make your way back to the tower by smashing away pegs and switches with the Skull Hammer. Not exactly an enthralling set of challenges… although for whatever reason, every time I go through them it takes me forever to think of using the Deku Leaf to glide across the now rope-devoid gaps on the way to the tower; not my proudest moments. The revisit would have been much more exciting if either there had been a new section — perhaps an underground basement — to explore in order to, say, find a Big Key, or instead the dungeon was basically now militarized against Link and provided a succession of tough battles and perhaps new music. The only examples of any increase in the forces against Link are the swarms of Miniblins, and again, they’re cool but not hard to fight by any means. The ultimate fight against the Helmaroc King is awesome in terms of presentation — actually, nearly unbeatable in that area — but it’s not in any way challenging. Most of his attacks miss easily, he spends most of the fight flying around passively, and when he does land to attack and expose his weakpoint, he’s easy to dodge and his weakness easily struck. I also feel that the unveiling of his real face was lame and underwhelming; he’s basically a glorified demonic chicken — theories about Cucco evolution, anyone? — but that’s a complaint for another day.

Bottom line is that for all of his buildup and cinematic presentation, the eventual battle against the Helmaroc King is way too underwhelming. It’s much more offensive here than it is with other bosses because of how significant and iconic the foe is throughout the game, and it creates a big disconnect between the epic battle theme and the floundering chicken you fight to it.

But, regardless of the dungeon’s follies — whether they be in repetitive and unrewarding navigation or underwhelming battles — it definitely succeeds in style, and also in another area: Cinematic presentation. Some of The Wind Waker’s coolest moments happen in the Forsaken Fortress, and there’s a lot of cool scenes during both visits, so no matter how you feel about the dungeon itself, you’re sure to enjoy your time there on some level as you experience its awesome story moments. A clear case of style over substance? Maybe. But it’s certainly not a horrific experience where the gameplay is completely torturous; is just doesn’t offer much. I enjoy visiting the place because of the story and its overall style and presentation, even if I feel its gameplay is sorely lacking. The dungeon should have been designed much better, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here if you know how to look at its high points, because those high points are about as high up as they can get. All in all, the dungeon is a good one. Not great, not terrible. Just good.

How do you feel about the Forsaken Fortress during both of its visits? Do you think its stealth gameplay is uninspired like I do? Do you think its presentation is top-notch? And do you think the Helmaroc King is an underwhelming boss? Or do you think something different? Tell me your thoughts on this dungeon in the comments, and look forward to next week when I review the Earth Temple!

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  • oozy the wolf

    First comment! love this dungeon

    • rjhewgyrfu (aka ruifgyqforug)

      Omg, there’s no super-long reply thread with heated arguments after your comment! This is an amazing achievement for the community!

  • lukeguy

    This was the only dungeon in Wind Waker that ever struck me as gimmicky. The other dungeons focused on mixing together all of the items and gameplay mechanics you had uncovered thus far. Forsaken Fortress, being the first dungeon, didn’t have many gameplay mechanics to make use of. You’d think that the developers would remedy this by introducing a very dynamic mechanic that would keep the dungeon interesting. They didn’t. Notice how the stealth mechanic is only used in this dungeon (unless you count that one bottle sidequest with the poor girl). This is because of how formulaic the stealth segments in the dungeon were. It was the same thing every time: walk slowly in a barrel, stop when a bad guy is near you or a light shines on you. There just wasn’t anything to it.

    I also really didn’t like the dungeon’s overall structure. Every time you get caught, you get sent back a certain room, no matter how far you got. The only “checkpoints” within the dungeon are the guys controlling the lights that you can kill with sticks, even though the Moblins are the real threat. There are no shortcuts you can open as you progress that will make it easier to get back up, you simply have to go through everything again, which takes forever because of how slow the stealth mechanic makes progression.

    The second visit is less tedious, but it doesn’t add anything other than the two okay boss battles. It also highlights just how needlessly convoluted the dungeon is. It’s so easy to run through the dungeon for ten minutes and suddenly find yourself right where you were ten minutes ago. All of it is so samey; most of the hallways are identical.

  • Mseevers95

    Honestly this dungeon is kind of forgettable, it just kind of exists but i don’t love it or hate it.

    • Roth

      It may not be by design, but I think it makes you feel all the more empowered when you finish it the first time, so you kind of put it behind you. Then by the next visit it’s not a major thing, you’re just kicking down doors to get to your sister.

  • mZuzek

    Cucco evolution? Come on.
    Cuccos are much more evolved than this weak thing.

    • Marvel

      Cuccos don’t fight alone.

  • zombie_eat_flesh

    It’d been funny if the Helmaroc King summoned more Helmaroc Kings to chase (and maybe make your game end) you near its death.

    • Roth

      Or if it called Miniblins to endlessly climb up the turret and poke at you during the latter third of the fight.

      Miniblins make everything better.

  • Erik I

    I didn’t even think this was a dungeon…more like a mini dungeon.

    • Roth


  • JeredenDonnar

    The first visit is the reason why it took me months to get through my first play-through when i was younger.

  • Roth

    They really should have made more use of the wall sidling mechanic for sneaking and avoiding Moblins. Seriously, there was never a reason to do that except for crossing ledges, when it could have been pretty MGS-like.

    In fact, this concept has prompted me to reflect more than once on what Zelda could be like if you couldn’t just go charging into battle and expect to be victorious; not every Link has had legitimate sword training, chosen hero or not. But, future article, mumblemumble…

  • me

    i was literally stuck in the forsaken fortress for three months on my first playthough…i was 8 years old and it was my first game ever..i just walked past the big door on the second floor over and over and over

    • Roth

      I first played it in the hospital and therefore didn’t take the time to read big-brain’s tutorials, so I never got across the ledge you have to sidle over during my visit. That changed when I got my own copy and read the manual. I still read manuals for Nintendo games, for some reason…

  • luky1971

    Most of Wind Waker’s bosses lack significant challenge, so I think your criticism of the Helmaroc King is irrelevant. Wind Waker bosses have more value for their presentation, and as you said, Helmaroc King excels in this area.

  • K2L

    This was one of the most intriguing dungeons in TWW, and that’s why it’s one of my favorites as well. It’s a shame some people don’t considers this a dungeon despite having the basic elements of one (dungeon, compass, boss and miniboss), and yet they call Hyrule Castle Tower from ALTTP a separate dungeon despite only being an extensión of the regular Hyrule Castle. Hypocritical, I know, but that’s the Zelda fanbase in a nutshell.
    One thing that’s worth mentioning is that, even if you miss the Heart Container from the boss, you can still retrieve it in the área where you fought Phantom Ganon. This is good, because you can’t return to the área where you fight the boss, which would normally have rendered the Container permanently missable.

  • Sean20

    The first time I visited this dungeon, where you have to be sneaky, I had such a hard time beating the dungeon. It took me an entire night to finally sneak past everyone. I thought the sneaky thing was a cool Idea but it just didn’t work that well.
    I thought the second time was way more exciting. With the cool phantom Gannon fight and actually getting to bash the brains out of that darn Helmaroc King, it was really fun. Even though they weren’t that difficult, they were in my opinion some of the most enjoyable fights in Windwaker. And the second time around you get to be face to face with Gannondorf and talk with him for the first time. That was cool. .

  • dfdfdssd

    I hate this dungeon the first time you play it. Its long and tedious, everything looks the same and i can’t do anything else until i have beat it.

    That said, it does set up the bad guy in the story, although i wouldn’t say it does it well…

    I do like the helmaroc king fight also.

  • Matthew Shannon

    the first couple times i played through forsaken fortress (both visits) i struggled horribly. But, once you get the hang of it, the more you play it the less obtrusive it becomes and you appreciate it for its cinematics. WW is definitely my favorite Zelda as far as Cinematic value goes.

  • Yahoo12

    I think this is a perfect first dungeon!
    I remember the first time i played it.. And yeah, i though it was funny to sneak past the guards.. Even though i failed pretty much.. I learned more about the game.. And yeah, that is why i love Wind Waker! :D

  • ALoserWhoWins

    Honestly some of the most phenomenal music in the series.

  • pokemon brown

    The first time I played this game it took me what seemed like forever to figure out I had to climb the towers and kill the bokoblins controlling the searchlights, and please tell me I’m not the only one that had a lot of fun smacking miniblins with a skull hammer spin attack.

  • Magnum J. Fox

    You can find most of the music on to download. The quickest way to find an exact song is to just search the composer with the stage title (e.g. koji kondo forsaken fortress). If you trace the link to its original source you can find the entire game soundtrack.

    I just finished downloading Skyward Sword’s entire soundtrack….5 hours worth of music.

    In case anyone hasn’t tried this, here you go.–>search–>koji kondo forsaken fortress. Download instructions are on the right near the ads.

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