Hanyou covered the topic of optional dungeons recently in an editorial of his own, but I wanted to expand the topic a bit: Some of the recent Zelda games have begun to expand the role of dungeons. This technically started a while back with optional dungeons like the Color Dungeon and Gerudo Training Grounds, but has continued to be seen in many different forms. I think it’s good for the series to give dungeons a little more of a role than just “the levels” that you must visit and conquer to progress.
A good way to do this is to have the optional dungeons, and I think Nintendo should include a lot more of these in future games; they’d enhance the drive to explore by rewarding it in a big way, and they would make for some awesome content. There’s another way to do that, though, which is to expand the amount of content within each individual dungeon.
Twilight Princess is my favorite example of this. In that game, every dungeon is filled to the brim with chests. Chests are everywhere, and you can find just truckloads of rupees through them. Maybe this is simple — and it could be easily expanded by having a treasure system with collectibles you can only find this way — but I think it makes the dungeons more believable and gives me a better sense of adventuring, of finding treasure in old temples and caves.
Still more is the idea of revisiting dungeons, and of giving dungeons more plot relevance. Because in the early games, the dungeons had none of the latter. But now you see stories for the dungeons more often. Most every dungeon in Skyward Sword at least made sense, and most were visited in due course of the storyline, with the player often finding and conversing with characters within the dungeon or at the conclusion. The Skyview Temple in particular, with its importance as a sacred, well, temple, was revisited to acquire its magical water.
Revisiting a dungeon was also seen in Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks with their large central dungeons, and while a lot of people didn’t like the execution there (or perhaps merely the length) I think the concept has a lot of potential. In that game there were many secret paths you could unlock and new rooms to find to advance in the game, and I think seeing dungeons take on a more active role in the series like this is a good idea. You could find yourself revisiting them because of their continued relevance and importance to the plot, or simply to explore new rooms you couldn’t enter before. Imagine finding a hidden network of scary tunnels beneath the Ancient Cistern? How about using the Sandship to sail to a new destination?
Any number of these ideas could be used or combined together, and I think this would enhance Zelda games a lot, especially in making the dungeons feel like real places within the game world. However, obviously none of this is required for the dungeons to be good; merely something that struck me as an excellent idea to capitalize on.
How about you? Did you think these concepts were cool and do you want to see them expanded? Do you like my examples? Tell me in the comments!