The Earth Temple is my favorite dungeon in The Wind Waker, and has been for a long time. Because the things it succeeds at are less nuanced than those of Dragon Roost Cavern, it’s the only dungeon in The Wind Waker that I loved outright, whereas it was only upon further analysis that I came to understand why I appreciated Dragon Roost Cavern. That lack of nuance combined with the fact that the Earth Temple’s problems are few — regardless of their size — are the reason why this review will be much more straightforward than usual.
Being one of The Wind Waker’s two temples, which are both buried down in Hyrule but accessed through mountaintop (island) entrances, there is no real sense of scale to be found here; the Earth Temple is located entirely underground, so the themes I’ve talked about regarding outdoor sections in the previous dungeons are simply not relevant here. Perhaps that makes the Earth Temple less deep in terms of themes — as opposed to its literal depth underground! — but I think the dungeon makes up for it in other ways.
With the Earth Temple being The Wind Waker’s spooky undead dungeon, it used to be popular to complain about how the Earth Temple didn’t really have anything to do with its namesake element, especially when compared to its sister dungeon, the Wind Temple, which has a lot to do with its element. Initially it does seem like a disconnect, but the dungeon does have relevance to the earth: Rather than being a dungeon that literally plays around in the dirt with rocks and whatnot, the Earth Temple is instead a descent into the earth, populated by the things that you might find there. The Earth Temple is a tomb, and where are tombs? In the earth. Maybe this is odd, and maybe Nintendo only attempted this idea because they simply wanted a scary dungeon, but I think that regardless it manages to work fairly well.
The Earth Temple doesn’t however go the route of the Shadow Temple, trying to make everything utterly scary. Instead the dungeon has some frightening moments — within the context of The Wind Waker’s brighter artstyle — while giving it all a more unusual atmosphere. I think this at least prevents the dungeon from seeming like it’s trying too hard to be something it’s not (scary), although on the downside it means the dungeon is even less scary than the Shadow Temple already was (for me at least). The dungeon’s music is of a distinctly Australian style, and this has an interesting effect on the dungeon. It still has creepy vibes from the high-pitched droning, and it also has a tribal sound that feels at home with the tribal-looking ReDeads and gives the place a sense of ritual burial and perhaps even voodoo if you don’t consider everything strictly Australian. But perhaps most of all, these familiar sounds of the outback give me a sense of the wild, of earth, so it does tie things together really interestingly. It does however feel odd during the scariest sections, like the encounters where ReDeads burst from their sarcophagi, so perhaps it would have benefited from multiple variations — the normal version and a scary and tense version — like you see in some of the dungeons in newer Zelda games. Regardless, it’s an acceptable and creative tune… mate.
Gameplay-wise the dungeon is extremely good… but with a few running problems. The Earth Temple has nearly flawless design in almost all respects. The battles are usually fairly enjoyable, with the familiar Moblins and ChuChus, with the addition of the more nuisance enemies in the Poes and Floormasters, and also a few more challenging moments against ReDeads, Stalfos, and even a Darknut. But where the dungeon really nails it is puzzle design, and I think these are The Wind Waker’s best puzzles right here.
Part of the reason the puzzles are so good is the involvement of a second character to work with throughout the dungeon, Medli, who you do light reflection puzzles with. I found most of these to be enjoyable while being easy enough to figure out, and most of the time exploring rooms and figuring out how to progress was really enjoyable, especially with cool twists like the black ChuChus that are invincible unless you turn them to stone in the light, and the blue fog that disables your weapons, making the blue-fire Bubbles with the same effect extremely dangerous.
Unfortunately this dungeon suffers from at least one core design problem: The Command Melody. The Zelda series needs to stop relegating basic and frequently-used abilities to songs that you need to replay many times, and certainly this happens too much in The Wind Waker in particular with this song and the Wind’s Requiem. The Command Melody is far worse though; while you need to change the wind often while sailing, you still get bare minimum several minutes of sustained travel before having to play the song again. With the Command Melody, you will have to do it repeatedly within the same room in a much shorter span of time. This should never have been a song you had to replay. You should have been given a button for this, perhaps even a temporary item to assign to your main buttons that in fact just switches control to the partner. It seems like a small drawback, but it grows increasingly irritating throughout the dungeon and drags it on considerably. It’s an unneeded frustration in an otherwise very well-made dungeon. The partner mechanic does still manage to overcome this problem overall, and controlling Medli is fun, but switching could have worked a lot smoother.
The dungeon boss, Jalhalla, on the other hand, was basically a complete disappointment for me. Continuing the game’s building trend of the bosses being ridiculously easy and taking it even farther, Jalhalla’s primary attack (dropping flames) can only extremely rarely hit you if you stop moving, and usually only if he was moving a lot prior to doing it. His only other attacks are either entirely nonlethal — his body slam that gives you the possession effect that the Poes give you — or only performed immediately after damaging him. Jalhalla simply can’t do much of anything to you if you only stand still; you only have to worry once you’re ready to move, and even then he’s still childishly easy.
I also think that, design-wise, he’s a mess. Jalhalla is nothing more than a silly, fat Poe. His introduction was eerie, and his fight music reasonably fitting for the dungeon and battle, but in the end I think that considering how much buildup this dungeon has with the melancholy introduction of the Sage Laruto and the revelation of Medli’s status as a Sage (both of which have very powerful and distinct themes), along with the strong implication that Jalhalla is in fact Laruto’s murderer, the boss itself is way too anti-climactic and hard to take seriously. I dig it that Jalhalla is a big host of Poes fused together — and indeed probably every Poe in the dungeon was a part of him or an underling of his — but he should have been something a little creepier and certainly more fearsome. Something that fit the dungeon’s tribal flavor while also giving the player a sense of accomplishment, of closure, of putting an evil to rest and granting peace to those of the temple it corrupted. Jalhalla is ironically my least-favorite boss in The Wind Waker.
So, all in all, the Earth Temple has really interesting thematic design, if perhaps a little offbeat at times, and excellent puzzle design alongside good enemy design. It suffers from a poorly conceived central mechanic that functions awesomely in gameplay but is annoying to activate, along with a poorly designed and anti-climactic boss, but it still manages to be a cool experience. Despite its flaws, the Earth Temple remains my favorite dungeon in The Wind Waker even after my latest analysis.
So what about you guys? Do you think this spooky dungeon measures up to previous ones like the Shadow Temple at all? Do you think it fits the theme of earth? How about its puzzles and enemies, controlling Medli, and the boss? Tell me in the comments, and look forward to next week, when I review the Wind Temple!