Posted on November 23 2018 by Euan Crombie
Of the eight main dungeons and four mini-dungeons in Ocarina of Time, which would you say is your favorite? A lot of people opt for The Deku Tree — it’s simplistic yet effective, and it’s the first major 3D experience a lot of gamers had. Others prefer the Shadow Temple, with its creepy atmosphere and even creepier mini-boss.
For me, however, the choice is a tough call of two: the Spirit Temple and the Water Temple (No, put that pitchfork down). To me, both shine through the murk of the other dungeons in the game (which, generally, I am not a fan of) for differing reasons. But ultimately, the Spirit Temple takes the prize, for combining both a complex temple layout, unique and interesting challenges, and something that no other temple in the game makes use of: time travel.
Upon first venturing out to this temple, you’ll need to be in adult form. Only Adult Link can enter Gerudo Valley and rescue the carpenters, after all. And once you’ve made it across the Desert Wasteland, you find the Desert Colossus, quite possibly the grandest structure in the entire game. Already, before you’ve even entered the temple, it’s made a bigger impression on us than any other so far in our journey.
In the first room of the dungeon, the path splits. On your left, a crawl space only big enough for Child Link to crawl through. On your right, a block which is too heavy for Adult Link to push. That’s weird, we can’t progress here at all. Every other dungeon has at least pointed us in a general direction. Even if it hasn’t, we’ve always been able to do something. Stumped and possibly a little confused, we leave the temple…
Only to be met with Shiek, who proceeds to give us another warp song: “The Requiem of Spirit”. “Big deal,” you might think. “We still can’t do anything to progress.” That is, until the player starts problem solving, and realizes that, by using the warp song as child, they can return to the temple with a smaller stature and explore through the crawl space.
The temple structure itself is being used as a puzzle before we even come across any standard puzzles within its walls. Very few other temples in this game even attempt this. Taking just Ocarina of Time, only the Spirit and Water Temples really play with their layout. The Great Deku Tree makes a weak attempt with spider webs that can only be broken by jumping from a large height, and both Dodongo’s Cavern and Jabu Jabu’s Belly have very simplistic spatial puzzles, but nothing quite on this level.
So we’re back in the first room, this time as child. And here, we meet a Gerudo, standing in our way. She introduces herself as Nabooru, second-in-command to Ganon. Normally, this would set off all kind of alarm bells ringing, but she quickly explains her opposition to the Gerudo King and her plans to infiltrate his castle, using the Silver Gauntlets that lie beyond this space. Already she’s given more story, more complex motivations than most other characters in the game. She has conflict within her character, but we’re drawn to help her, as she is fighting the same cause.
Through this crawl space lies some relatively linear gameplay, which ultimately culminates in Link entering the central hub of the dungeon, featuring a large statue of a human-shaped figure. Perhaps this monument is symbolic of some God or deity once worshiped here? As with any good mystery, all will be revealed in time.
We finally make our way to the right hand of the Colossus. From here, we can see both the endless desert stretching out in front of us, and the opposite hand, with an obvious path leading to somewhere undiscovered. For me, dungeons should be all about seeing something and thinking, “How do I get there?” This opposite hand provides that feeling, but we have no time to dwell on it…
We hear a commotion from below, and we watch as Nabooru is captured by the dreaded witches Twinrova. Someone we’ve only just began to trust, the only real character we’ve found who would fight for us in the future, has just been taken away by Ganon’s forces. If saving Saria wasn’t enough motivation for you, this should be all you need to want to take down Ganon for good.
This feeling applies to the Silver Gauntlets too. These items aren’t just a rope, a stick, and some stones. These Gauntlets were Nabooru’s, considering Link’s promise to give them to her, a piece of her plan to stop Ganon. And now she’s gone, so it comes down to you to use them in her place.
No other dungeon item in the game has this sort of meaning behind it. By associating them with a particular character, and an emotion tied to this character, these gloves are elevated above the simple “Item” category. They mean something to you as the player, they weren’t just found kicking around a chest somewhere.
For now, that’s all we can do in the dungeon. We can’t wear these Gauntlets as Child Link, and there’s no way we can reach the opposite hand. Reluctantly leaving that mystery unsolved (for now), the only option is to leave and come back as an adult. This itself is a puzzle. Many players will return into the dungeon, searching for more progress. It may even take some time before the penny drops, and players start to think outside the box, in a way which no other dungeon in the game has yet required.
On our return, we push the giant block out of the way of our path, and head into the unknown. We discover that over half of this dungeon was completely unexplored when we were here last, and all of a sudden it feels much bigger. Soon, we find the compass, and this vast, unexplored dungeon, filled with the unknown, starts to unravel before our eyes.
Then, we emerge on the statue’s left arm. Without even realizing it, we’ve made our way to the place we once thought unreachable. This is the resolution to the tension we felt earlier, staring over at this location and thinking, “How do I get there?” Most dungeons do that in some way, but the delay in resolving it in the Spirit Temple makes it all the more rewarding.
From here, the temple features a large number of puzzles involving light. This is to be expected, since we did just pick up the Mirror Shield, and the game has an obsession with using puzzles linked exclusively to new items, but it also trains us up for the final puzzle in the dungeon, which involves aiming a stream of light at the head of the statue in the main room.
This puzzle in itself requires some spatial thinking, lowering a platform into the central hub area and reflecting light onto the statue’s head. This process doesn’t quite have the same effect as raising and lowering the water level in The Water Temple however, as the natural progression of the temple leads us to this point, there’s very little thinking required on the player’s part.
The resulting reflection causes the human head to crumble, leaving both a snake’s head in its place, and a path to the final boss. There’s all sorts of symbolism that could be mentioned here: fake gods, heavenly light, true characters. No other dungeon conveys lore in such a meaningful way.
Quite the contrary, in fact. Once again, if we look at just this game’s temples, how many would you say had some sort of story to them? External factors such as Saria being the sage of the Forest Temple, and Volvagia having a backstory but also residing in the Fire Temple don’t count, in my opinion — we’re looking at the buildings themselves. The only examples that come to mind are the three child dungeons, the Shadow Temple, and the Bottom of the Well.
These dungeons all contain, through both explicit and implied methods, some sort of context. The Great Deku Tree is a guardian, infected by Ganon’s magic. The Spirit Temple was used as some sort of place of worship. The Shadow Temple is… well… creepy. In contrast, the other dungeons feel sort of bare. The Water Temple is a building submerged in water. The Fire Temple is a building within a volcano. There’s not much more to these locations than the puzzles we solve and the enemies we fight. The other mini-dungeon, The Ice Cavern, especially feels barren. With absolutely no context given, it feels as if it was just tacked on for the sake of filler.
From here, we come across Twinrova again in a small chamber, except, they’re not the final boss? We’re now faced against another Iron Knuckle, which is strange considering we’ve already defeated two of such enemy in this dungeon. Something is off here…
We land the final blow, only to reveal that our foe was in fact our friend, Nabooru. We barely met this character as a child, but the nature of time travel and the promise we made to her seven years ago strengthens our bond, and we feel a duty to help her. Seeing her not only trapped, but forced to fight against her will sends some very conflicting signals to the player. The shock we feel at this point, combined with the adrenaline from the battle, fuels an anger and frustration towards Twinrova, the true boss of the dungeon.
This time, however, we aren’t powerless. We’re in a position to avenge our friend, and that’s likely the first thing on our minds. I like to think that, even if Twinrova were an optional boss, most players would opt to defeat them, due to the feelings and emotions inflicted by the previous battle.
This boss fight stands out in its own right as one of the best fights in the game. Of course, this is Ocarina of Time, so we’ll be using the item we just got, the Mirror Shield, to best our opponent(s). It isn’t quite so easy, though, as the player is required to keep both witches in sight, and understand their attack patterns in order to damage them. Then, in the second phase, we see the two witches combine into one, setting this multi-layered encounter even further apart from other boss fights in the game. With cleverness and resolve, we build up a huge, devastating blast of energy, before finally dealing the final blow.
Depending on the order in which you complete the final two temples, this final blow could mean much more than just your sixth Medallion. All of the anger, frustration, and determination you’ve built up through the course of not only this dungeon, but your entire adventure, it all builds up to here. This was the final hurdle in reaching Ganon, and you’re now ready to finish the job, and reach the end of your journey. This isn’t just the end of a temple, it’s the end of an era. No more playing about, Ganon, we’re coming for you.
The Spirit Temple isn’t perfect. It suffers from many of the same problems the rest of Ocarina of Time has to deal with: questionable controls and mechanics, forgettable music at best… It does, however, make use of the game’s main gimmick, time travel, and, in such, a way that it draws the player in and gives them motivation to complete the temple and avenge their new friend. Not many dungeons in the game can say that, can they?
Let me know what your favorite temple is, and what you think of the Spirit Temple in particular in the comments!
Euan Crombie is an Associate Editor at Zelda Dungeon and he firmly believes The Water Temple is a good dungeon, it’s just a little misunderstood.
- Featured image, “Spirit Temple,” by KlausBoss.