Skyward Sword Dungeons: Fire Sanctuary

Ah, the Fire Sanctuary. Second to last dungeon of Skyward Sword and the last of the game’s main dungeons, this one is found in the depressingly brief Volcano Summit area of Eldin Province, and I would definitely say it’s the second worst dungeon of the game. Again, though, that feels a bit strange to say because if there’s one praise I can extend to Skyward Sword as a whole, it’s that it has killer production value. For all of Skyward Sword’s flaws in its concepts and design (and it has a lot), what it does have is polished virtually to perfection. This is exemplified best in the Fire Sanctuary.

The dungeon’s actual design is very good. There’s a lot of rooms, a lot of fights and puzzles to do in those rooms, and just a lot of cool navigation as you go through the dungeon. Again, it’s nice to see at least one dungeon built as a series of corridors like a classic Zelda dungeon in Skyward Sword, a game where the dungeons tend to be filled with wide-open, content-dense rooms. The unfortunate part is that there aren’t really any highly original ideas in the Fire Sanctuary. Arguably the Mogma Mitts digging sections could be considered original, but I have a hard time distinguishing them from other crawling sections throughout the series or moreover considering them original in any way unless you exclude every game outside of Zelda.

The lack of any real originality would have been completely acceptable to me if it had been the lone example of this in the game. But as I discussed in the last post about the Sandship, this basically describes Skyward Sword’s second half. The way Nintendo ended Skyward Sword’s main dungeons off with one that’s completely traditional seems like a very poor move. It feels weird to criticize the Fire Sanctuary because, once more, the production values here are so high that it’s hard to realize at first just how uninspired its design really is. It was definitely an enjoyable dungeon, but like I said about the Sandship, I feel like it could have and should have been more.

But since I enjoyed the dungeon, let me go over the things I liked about it before moving on. Both versions of its music are great, and I love how it has a barrage of miniboss fights, all with one of the game’s coolest fight songs. It’s got some nice NPC interaction with the Mogmas throughout, good length with a lot of neat puzzles, and some challenging sections. The rematch with Ghirahim is the dungeon’s boss, and it’s arguably one of the game’s best fights. While I refuse to pick between any of the Ghirahim battles for my single favorite boss (Ghirahim as a whole is my favorite boss of Skyward Sword), his fight in the Fire Sanctuary is an excellent contender for the title.

Regarding the style and atmosphere of the Fire Sanctuary, I will begin by saying it looks good, but it lacks what the Sandship and most of the other dungeons of the game had, which was a unique and thick atmosphere. The Fire Sanctuary has some aspects of its look and feel that are unique, and it definitely has a different architecture than the Earth Temple, but ultimately, in terms of visuals and setting, the Fire Sanctuary is by far Skyward Sword’s most generic dungeon. I’d have more to say about how the dungeon feels and what kind of atmosphere it’s laden with, except there’s really nothing of the sort to speak of.

The dungeon is much more uninspired in this area than it is in the gameplay and puzzle design, and honestly it feels as though you’re simply playing through a new version of the Fire Temple from Ocarina of Time or another similar dungeon. There’s very little to set the Fire Sanctuary apart from other dungeons in Skyward Sword or even from throughout the series. The poor theme and atmosphere design makes it a very underwhelming experience compared to its predecessors — except perhaps in terms of gameplay polish — and therefore feels awkward as Skyward Sword’s last normal dungeon. Like I said before, the dungeons in the second half of Skyward Sword are less interesting overall than the first three, and I think this is highly unfortunate in the game’s second half when you’d think they’d expand what they had going, not drop it entirely.

That’s not to say the dungeon is bad in itself, nor necessarily bad overall, but I think it’s underwhelming when you put it in context and consider what came before it in both the game and in the Zelda series. I definitely don’t think it’s as badly done as the gameplay portions of the Ancient Cistern, but at the same time it does fail to have a redeeming strength like the Cistern did with its atmosphere. It’s definitely the dullest dungeon of the game, though it can still be fun. Again, I would like to reiterate that it is an entertaining run, it just falls short of a lot of the variety that makes Skyward Sword so awesome, and it would have bothered me less if it was alone in doing this instead of taking place right after two dungeons that do the same thing.

But what do you think about the Fire Sanctuary? Did you find it as underwhelming as I did while still having fun with it, or did you think it was entirely bad? Or did you think it was actually a great dungeon and had no complaints? Tell me in the comments, and you can look forward to the final Skyward Sword Dungeons post in the coming weeks, where I will finally cover the Sky Keep!

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