Alright, well here we are. Time to review the last of The Minish Cap’s dungeons before the last hurrah in Dark Hyrule Castle. It’s not my favorite dungeon in The Minish Cap — that award still goes to the Temple of Droplets — but it is my second-favorite and it’s also the only wind-themed dungeon in the series that I like. I’m sure you’ve noticed the trend if you’ve been keeping up with my Dungeon Reflections, how I’ve bashed the City in the Sky and the Wind Temple both, even how I dislike The Wind Waker to some degree… and I’m sure many of you must be assuming I had a close shave with a tornado and have since begun a crusade against the cursed winds. But nah! I like wind and it can be done well. Like here, for example!
There’s a few things to discuss regarding the dungeon’s thematic design, but for once I think I’m going to start off with its music. My god, but it’s glorious! This is the only dungeon theme in the game that has a peaceful side like this, barring the eerie and beautiful calm of the Temple of Droplets. I love how the music starts off with a noble, peaceful sound, bringing in drums and making it feel like a noble march of some hero — oh, that’s right, Link! It befits not only the themes of freedom and beauty of the sky, and the peaceful Wind Tribe, but also the fact that this dungeon is the last leg of Link’s journey to gather the elements. It’s as much his victory march as it is a theme for the dungeon itself. Then the theme picks up into a scarier, dangerous-sounding portion, and while I will admit that this is what makes the theme fit in with the other dungeon themes in the game as well as the danger of being up in the sky in this perilous trap-filled palace, it’s also everything that’s wrong with the theme.
The dangerous-sounding portion of the music needs to be there, but it should have looped differently. As it is, the only part of the dungeon’s theme that loops is the perilous-sounding part, so the amazing intro to the track is never heard again except after the dungeon’s mini-bosses. Had they fixed the loop, I’d have had no issues, and it’s important to note that the latter part of the track still needs to be there as it carries half of the Palace of Winds’ themes alongside bringing back the almost Arabian vibe of the Castor Wilds and Wind Ruins themes that was unfortunately missing from the Fortress of Winds’ music. The dungeon’s music does carry all the aspects of the dungeon quite well, even if I have gripes about its looping. I suppose one could say, however, that the bad loop is a blessing in disguise since the peaceful, heroic march part does end up playing only at the beginning and after each mini-boss. Still not ideal, but oddly fitting!
The dungeon’s outer portions are floating platforms and walkways, connected by grating and catwalks. I always liked to think of these like the outer walls of your run-of-the-mill, real-world surface castle, though that’s really just my own interpretation. The inner halls are sometimes dark, ancient ruins filled with traps, skulls and undead. It accomplishes the feeling of a guarded palace quite well, and its many pits and drops both inside and outside the main structure make it feel high-up.
It’s a really neat-looking dungeon that has a lot of cool little touches to bring it together. Outside there is floating rock and debris among the walkways and walls of the palace, and inside there are holes that don’t show the blackness other dungeons do but instead the sky below, and beautiful ornate windows showing the sky outside. Everywhere there are both ruined and intact carpets. All of these touches bring the dungeon’s themes to life and make it feel visually unique from other dungeons, like the Fortress of Winds, which it otherwise feels similar to. Those similarities are a strength here, as they connect two dungeons that are supposed to be related, and yet both dungeons still feel distinct from one another. That’s what I like to see!
Gameplay-wise… the Palace of Winds doesn’t exactly carry the wind theme as much as you might think at first glance… as much as the other wind dungeons I referred to at the beginning of this review. Mostly, though, that’s a product of the perspective of this game and how difficult it would be to make really heavily wind- and air-focused puzzles since those would largely require 3D spaces. However, I think that within the 2D plane that The Minish Cap takes place, the Palace of Winds makes maximum use of its themes. From fans that can blow you off platforms, carefully placed in locations that make such traps very perilous, to many height puzzles asking you to drop off in order to reach lower rooms, to an abundance of platforming as well as combat on narrow walkways… the dungeon is actually very focused on its themes.
It’s the only dungeon in the game that makes heavy use of The Minish Cap’s innovation of actually showing a representation of the floor below when looking at a hole that will lead you to that floor, creating situations where you’ll want to try to spot the platform in the previous room that you want to drop down to. It also sports the most platforming of any dungeon of the series, more so than even the GameBoy games that introduced jumping items to Zelda; the Roc’s Cape is acquired early and used throughout the dungeon to overcome many platforming challenges, all of which are well-designed. This platforming serves to challenge your mind in terms of puzzle-solving — as you try to figure out how to navigate the next jumping section — as well as your endurance as falling or hitting traps will drain your hearts… and that’s on top of the many enemies you will have to face on these narrow pathways or while making jumps! The brutal Ball & Chain Soldiers and tricky bone-chucking red Stalfos will give you a rough time, and other returning enemies like the Crows are tough in the situations they’re presented as well. The rest of the time, foes like the Bombarossa function more like traps and serve that role well. There are also a ton of Wizzrobes of three freaking varieties and they are quite a challenge to defeat.
The best part about the dungeon is it uses a little bit of everything. All of the items are represented here, and it’s a true final test of all the skills and abilities you’ve acquired up until this point. I love dungeons like that at the end of a game, and the Palace of Winds really delivers, even while managing to introduce things we haven’t seen before in the game or even in the series. It crafts its challenges out of everything available to it while still being totally fresh.
And, on top of all this gosh darn good design, the dungeon boasts huge length — presumably to accommodate the massive girth of all the items it had to make use of — and a serious curveball around the middle. Like in the Temple of Droplets, you will find the Palace of Winds’ Big Key a while before entering the boss chamber, but unlike that dungeon, this happens way later in when it’s an actual trick. In the Temple of Droplets you get the Big Key early, but it’s so early that there’s really no way you’re going to assume the boss is actually behind it. Well… it was behind it, but you couldn’t fight it yet alright?! In the Palace of Winds, however, the player will explore the entire outskirts of the palace and some very outdoorsy rooms before acquiring the Big Key and opening the boss door, but all that will get them is the entrance to the palace’s interior, guarded by a Darknut.
What was great about this part for me is that I knew what the boss was before playing this game. I know I was going to fight a gigantic flying manta ray at the end of the Palace of Winds. So when I saw the shadow floating below the ledge on the other side of that boss door, I didn’t think it was a platform; I thought it was a giant friggin’ manta ray! So it REALLY threw me off to find out I was only halfway done with the dungeon, a surprise that Ezlo himself echoes immediately upon entering the Palace’s interior. It’s a great surprise, and a good one too since more dungeon is a good thing as long as the dungeon stays fun (which it does). Having Ezlo comment on it too is a fun bonus.
And speaking of that manta ray boss, Gyorg Pair is definitely one of the game’s most interesting fights, despite confusingly sharing its name with good ol’ Gyorg from Majora’s Mask. I guess the idea is that the Gyorgs in Majora’s Mask and The Wind Waker are sea creatures and so is a manta ray? And somehow that’s okay despite one being a giant piranha, the other being a shark, and the third being a ray? Whatever. Point is, Gyorg Pair is an awesome fight, and it again makes amazing use of the wind theme. It’s an airborne battle, on the back of giant monsters, with no ground anywhere in sight. Can you even imagine this in 3D? Conceptually this beats the hell out of the Argorok and Molgera fights from the series’ other wind dungeons. The fight can be quite challenging too — though not as hard as the Big Octorok, granted he’s basically The Minish Cap’s That One Boss — with plenty of means of draining your hearts and interrupting you while you try to expose and damage its weak point. Relegating the Roc’s Cape to a means of traversing the boss “arena”, if it can be called that, is an appropriate move considering… well, you know, it’s an item used for movement. Great boss and an excellent finale for the pre-endgame boss lineup.
So how does the dungeon fare overall? Pretty great, actually. It’s an excellent dungeon with awesome music, awesome visuals, great usage of all the game’s tools, tons of new ideas, and some fairly challenging fights and platforming sections. Its challenge is very fitting for being the second-to-last dungeon of the game. Its attention to detail and generally awesome design make it one of the best of the game, as well. Its music loop is unfortunate, because I can’t think of any other flaws here. An awesome experience.
But what did you think of the Palace of Winds? Is it the only wind dungeon of the series that you liked, or did you like the others? Do you even like it at all? Do you agree its platforming, puzzles, and fights were great, or did you have problems with them? How about its music? Tell me in the comments, and join me next week when I review the final dungeon of the game, Dark Hyrule Castle!