And now we bring the Ocarina of Time Dungeons series to a close with my review of Ganon’s Castle, the game’s final challenge. As I wrote when I talked about Skyward Sword’s Sky Keep way back, there are multiple different styles the Zelda series has used for its final dungeons. Ganon’s Castle uses roughly the same style as the Sky Keep: It’s a lengthy dungeon of full or nearly full size, made up of parts taken out of other dungeons. The key difference, aside from the fact that Ganon’s Castle is the first game in the series to do this, is that Ganon’s Castle executes it a whole lot better.
In some ways I prefer the Sky Keep because of its challenge and clever puzzle design, but aside from puzzles, Ganon’s Castle definitely has it beat. I criticized (read: whined about) the Sky Keep having an interesting and unique look for its first chamber and its own unique song, but never actually using them much and instead defaulting to the look and sound of the other dungeons in the game. Ganon’s Castle doesn’t do that; while you will definitely go through rooms themed off the main temples of Ocarina of Time, they don’t depart entirely from the look and feel of the main area of Ganon’s Castle, functioning more as hybrid rooms rather than entirely copying previous dungeons in the game. This goes a long way towards giving Ganon’s Castle its own distinct identity, which I think is a bit important in the final dungeon of the game, especially in a game as iconic as Ocarina of Time (likely one of many reasons it is so iconic).
The dungeon’s unique theme itself is fairly straightforward, being, well, exactly what Ganon’s Castle looks like it would be from a distance: A dark, evil castle. Stone walls, skeletal gargoyles, dirty literal dungeon feel… but with regal carpets strewn about here and there, because class. It plays a fitting song that, while very similar to the one from Dodongo’s Cavern, I felt was very distinct and lent Ganon’s Castle a great atmosphere, selling it as a menacing, dreadful place. (Though, sadly, it can be hard to hear its subtleties without headphones.)
I actually think this marks a dungeon where the copied themes allow it to diversify its own core design. Not in the sense that you have a bunch of aesthetically unrelated areas to check out within the dungeon, but in the sense that, because these copied themes don’t completely overtake the main one, each themed wing of the dungeon actually comes across as a different chamber of the castle in a very tangible way. This is unlike the Sky Keep where, as far as the player can see, they just stepped into another location entirely.
The layout of the dungeon is pretty uninspired, being simply a hub with branching, linear paths that you never need to revisit, giving the feeling of an obstacle course in some ways. It works for getting you to keep moving, at least, and works well with the urgency the game radiates as soon as Zelda is captured. The puzzle design isn’t amazing, but it is solid and gives you quite a few challenges throughout. The Shadow Temple and Spirit Temple areas, for example, always bend my mind a little.
One interesting note is that some people take the fan-filled Forest Temple section and Ice Cavern-based area for the Water section (instead of the Water Temple itself) as evidence of the theory that both dungeons used to be a Wind Temple and Ice Temple, respectively. This has little impact on the dungeon itself though.
Finally, after going through all of the elemental areas and breaking the central barrier, the player enters Ganon’s Tower, the final section of the dungeon. This is a linear climb with an awesome rendition of Ganon’s theme that gets progressively louder the higher you climb due to it being literally played by Ganondorf on an organ at the top of the tower. This regal-looking set of stairways and chambers is in contrast to the dirty castle below, which I think is interesting regarding Ganondorf himself; he lets his castle become a dark and dirty place, while he makes his tower rather posh. Reminds you of the kingdom itself, falling into ruin and evil under his rule. Another thing I liked is the barred passages to the sides of each of the decorated chambers between stairways, which in my head I always think of as where Ganondorf keeps many of his minions, lying in wait in the darkness.
There’s not a lot else to say about Ganon’s Tower. Aside from the visuals and some Keese swarming you in the stairways, it’s just a set of miniboss fights against some of the game’s toughest foes, including more Iron Knuckles (sweet!) and the fire-breathing Dinolfos, which only appear here and in the Gerudo Training Grounds. As far as I can tell, Ganon’s Tower exists primarily for cinematic purposes, functioning as dramatic buildup, as well as a throwback to the dungeon of the same name in A Link to the Past.
Anyway, at the top of the tower is the final confrontation against Ganondorf.
Honestly, I’m not 100% sure how I feel about Ocarina of Time’s final battle. The story and cinematic presentation at this stage in the game are top notch, but the battles aren’t particularly enthralling from a pure gameplay perspective. The Ganondorf battle definitely deserves some credit though, for being one of the original tennis matches, and therefore not as boring as that concept has become in more recent games. (I’m aware Phantom Ganon did it first, but I always write this off as something done to make him more like Ganondorf himself, and clearly since he is a phantom of Ganon, this was the intent within the story. First in gameplay, but not in spirit! This is science!)
After defeating Ganondorf’s first form and escaping the collapsing castle and one final ReDead with Zelda, you face him again as Ganon, the classic pig demon beast, in the ruins of the castle. Again, not a particularly inspired fight but definitely a fight of epic presentation. These fights might not be creative or, for me, particularly challenging, but they are well-made and manage to have some awesome style, so I can’t really fault them. Not my favorite final battles of the series, but worthy of Ocarina of Time and of Ganon’s Castle.
All in all, a solid dungeon with some skillful reuse of previous dungeon themes. Decent puzzle and battle design — enough to carry the epic presentation through a satisfying finale — and an excellent way to end off the game.
And that brings my Ocarina of Time Dungeons series of reviews to a close. Be sure to tell me what you thought of Ganon’s Castle, and give me some input on which game to cover next!