The Zelda series is filled with tons of awe-inspiring dungeons to explore and conquer. But what makes a dungeon worthy of the top tier? What makes it memorable and enjoyable, and just plain good? In my own experience, I’ve always wondered if it’s the overall theme of a dungeon that makes it memorable. Each game in the series usually has a plethora of themed dungeons that range from desert, to lava, to water (everyone’s favorite, right?). I feel like a good theme always raises a dungeon’s place on my personal favorites list. But as I’ve considered my own favorite dungeons in the series, a few being Arbiter’s Grounds in Twilight Princess, the Forest Temple in Ocarina of Time, the Earth Temple in The Wind Waker, and the Ancient Cistern in Skyward Sword, I see a common thread: evocative atmosphere.
I feel my favorite dungeons that have a place in my personal S tier have the perfect balance of puzzle-solving, musical themes, enemies, and feelings of peril and uncertainty that create an overall eerie yet endearing atmosphere that truly tests the limits of your courage. Dungeons like the ones stated above have a stand-out atmosphere, including a hint of sinister surprise within that sets them apart from the rest of the game that makes them memorable and much more satisfying to topple.
The Ancient Cistern, for example, looks like a beautiful water-based dungeon, but imagine my surprise when there was a hellish underworld lurking beneath the paradise. The same goes for The Wind Waker‘s Earth Temple. By the time you enter this dungeon, you’ve gotten used to the cel-shaded, more cartoony feel of the Hero of Winds’ adventure, but the whole mood of the game shifts in this crypt-like temple and takes a more serious and sinister tone from then on out. (Also The Wind Waker‘s rendition of ReDeads make their first appearance in the Earth Temple, and they will always be the enemy I love to be afraid of in this game).
Overall, when a dungeon has a strong sense of atmosphere that seems to encase and transport you into the dungeon alongside Link, filling you with courage, fear, and surprise around every turn, that is what I call a top-tier dungeon. One can only hope Tears of the Kingdom can bring some great atmospheric dungeons to the Zelda table.
What about you? Do you agree that a solid atmosphere makes for the best type of dungeon? Or something different? Let us know in the comments!
Chakell (pronounced shuh-kell) is an associate editor for Zelda Dungeon! She has loved The Legend of Zelda series since she was a little girl because of its equal mix of princesses, besting bad guys, and heartfelt stories. Chakell lives in the overall tame state of Utah, but holds onto her childhood hopes to find an adventure in her backyard one day. She has a degree in English and is a full-time editor for a magazine that dear to her heart. You can usually find her gaming (obviously), laughing with her husband, Jeffrey; taking a long time to tell stories because she keeps getting distracted; getting sucked into books and podcasts; or snuggling her cute Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Ella.