Final dungeons in Zelda games are sort of an interesting topic all by themselves. I’m not sure if it’s a widely-discussed topic, but there’s certainly a lot of different ways of executing such areas in Zelda games, as I’ve written multiple times in the past. The Wind Waker might by my least-favorite Zelda game (don’t stab me!) but I’ve certainly liked some of its dungeons, so how do I feel about the very last stretch of the game?
Ganon’s Tower is certainly interesting. Thematically it takes after A Link to the Past’s final dungeon of the same name, but in many other respects it follows Ganon’s Castle of Ocarina of Time more, and certainly paves the way for dungeons like Hyrule Castle in Twilight Princess. To put it bluntly, the Ganon’s Tower of The Wind Waker is a fairly lacking dungeon; it’s pretty short and simple, and it never uses its ideas to their fullest potential. That said, it definitely has some really interesting parts. This review will differ slightly in structure from previous ones; instead of reviewing the thematic design of the entire dungeon then its gameplay, I will instead separate it by the individual sections of the dungeon, as each section is distinct and intertwines its themes and gameplay pretty closely. So let’s dig in!
The first of the three sections is probably the most memorable. It opens in a cavern filled with skulls while what initially seems like a very traditional piano arrangement of Ganon’s theme plays, but quickly another sound is introduced — an eerie electronic wail — to make the theme more unique. Then the player comes to a lava-filled room that recycles a lot of its visual effects from Dragon Roost Cavern. That’s not a bad thing though, as they were pretty amazing and little-seen throughout the game. The chamber does a fair amount to feel unique, as well, with its intimidating decorations unique to this dungeon. This is the section of the dungeon in which the player must journey to four wings — each a straight corridor with obstacle course-style challenges — themed after Dragon Roost Cavern, the Forbidden Woods, the Earth Temple, and the Wind Temple, in order to reach a trippy boss rematch at the end of each. Each wing of the dungeon recycles gameplay concepts from its respective dungeon while also providing a version of the Ganon’s Tower music that resembles each dungeon’s theme, while each boss rematch is fought to a strange distorted version of that boss’s music. The dungeon has so many individual themes that even I can’t really justify linking to each and every single one of them. Oh, wait, I can. Shamelessly.
This was a pretty cool part of the game, all in all. The musical combinations that you hear throughout this section all sound good, giving the player both a sense of the new area through Ganon’s theme and a sense of the familiar with the returning bits in the music. The sections are very, very brief, but they’re fun little moments whose gameplay feels both familiar and new, and it’s nice to see the final area make use of every previous dungeon’s ideas. These corridors fade into gray before a big, iconic doorway to the boss rematch, which is fought in a gray version of its room, again some cool visual effects, although I would have liked it better if the graying was more gradual throughout the corridor and not sudden at the end. I felt that most of the music for these boss rematches sounded worse than the originals, and certainly each boss was much easier now, but it was still a fairly entertaining part and it definitely brings to mind the original Ganon’s Tower from A Link to the Past, which had the player re-fight the Light World bosses. A cool throwback, and a well-executed recycling of content. If I’d designed the game, though, I would have made it so the entire task resets if you leave the dungeon, and you’re offered no recovery items in pots or the like in-between starting this task and unlocking the next portion of the dungeon, turning it into a harrowing obtacle-and-boss gauntlet. I would have also made these four wings a little more diverse and containing more than just a simple obstacle course, because doing close to the same thing over again was annoying. Depends on the order you do them in I suppose, but it’s for this reason that I found the Forbidden Woods and Wind Temple sections annoying. The Earth Temple one is probably the most distinct but it’s much of the same as well. They certainly got a bit too simplistic and samey.
If the first area covered recycling and reusing dungeon elements from throughout the game, then the next area has some more of its own ideas… though a number of them are still recycled. After clearing all of the boss rematches, the player enters a series of dark and mysterious rooms, in which an unusual tinkly electronic theme plays. Initially the player must solve an obnoxiously simple “puzzle” to unlock a midway point of sorts where the King of Red Lions can take you back to the surface to restock — a gesture which would have been much better if the first section had been more challenging as I suggested — but it’s annoying because it’s a simple “hit these switches in the right order” puzzle that yet the game insists on blatantly showing you the answer to if you go into the two relevant rooms in the right order, in which case there’s a sequence of zooming in on each switch in order that you cannot skip. Regardless, after this the player is basically told the answer to another puzzle — go in the direction that the hilt of Phantom Ganon’s sword points — and defeats multiple Phantom Ganons (or one reappearing one?) in one hit to find their way through the maze in a Lost Woods-style series of four-door rooms. The maze also has numerous rooms filled with tough enemies and one treasure room, but I fail to see the point of these when the puzzle you use to find your way is told to you right off the bat. If you can’t lose your way, why are there challenges put to you when you lose your way? Why didn’t they put their energy into designing challenges that could MAKE you lose your way instead? Most soundtracks identify this area’s theme as “Illusionary Room”, so why not have the entire section be comprised of illusions and tricks designed to mislead you from solving it according to the deceptively simple-sounding solution you were handed?
This could have been a much more challenging, much more interesting, and much more enthralling area, if only the puzzle weren’t so obvious or there were additional challenges put to the player. I mean come on… did it really need a hint at all if things were so simple? The way the sword falls to the floor in a specific direction is pretty distinct. There’s some really cool ideas in this section — and indeed the design and concept of the area is good; it looks cool — but it lacked good execution. I’m also not convinced the music was a good choice, especially since the sections before and after play the menacing Ganon’s theme, and this theme sounds so… I don’t know. Certainly not scary… just strange. Maybe that’s fine next to the more intense Phantom Ganon battle theme that plays constantly in this area, though.
Furthermore, the only real fight against Phantom Ganon was earlier in the Forsaken Fortress; this Phantom Ganon is defeated in one hit, and even when it’s time to face him for the last time after acquiring the Light Arrows, he still dies in one shot. So it was an unfortunately anticlimactic end for this cool boss.
The final stretch is a short trek up some stairs one-shotting some Moblins and Darknuts with the Light Arrows — which admittedly was fun — before facing off against Ganon. Right off the bat I’ll say this: The cinematic presentation is excellent here. I know I say this constantly, but if there’s one thing The Wind Waker nailed, it was its story; the game is just great at giving you an epic tale and presenting it how it should be presented. All of Ganon’s speeches during every stage of this fight, the camera angles during cutscenes, the music, everything… it’s all perfect. So I’m not complaining about the cutscenes or story when I say that the final battle — barring the very, very last of Ganon’s four forms — is really lame.
Puppet Ganon was an awesome concept, but I think he was really hard to take seriously with how goofy he looked. A small argument in a cartoon-style game, perhaps, but I feel that the battle could have been much more intimidating… even with the same design if they’d just made him move and act differently. Fight-wise, aside from appearing silly, the first form is alright. Nothing groundbreaking, but it’s fairly challenging trying to take out his strings while making sure you have the time to get an angle on his tail with the Light Arrows before he regenerates. The second form — the spider — was a cute idea and a neat miniature puzzle with the water reflection, but is painfully easy, much like Gohma. So how about its final form? Well, certainly difficulty isn’t a shortcoming here… but it’s still a problem. I complain about The Wind Waker being too easy all the time, but expecting people to fight a massive and fast-moving Moldorm-like foe, avoid getting rammed, and to have good enough timing, reflexes, and aim to hit its tail even at that speed, is not a good way to make up for everything before being too easy. As it stands, even if you know to slash him in the face to stun him momentarily before aiming, defeating this boss is frustrating and honestly feels like it’s luck much of the time. Making this part center on the bow was an awful idea, and it ruined an otherwise awesome reappearance of the classic Moldorm boss. The three different themes that play during these fights are all good, but honestly none of them wow me. They feel epic and climactic, but they don’t feel that memorable, and unlike the rest of the dungeon and even the boss itself, they’re not interesting.
Thankfully the true final battle against Ganondorf, in his human form, doesn’t disappoint. This sword battle has an epic arena of falling rain (er, ocean?), a great battle theme, and a unique fight that’s unlike any previous Ganon battle in the series, indeed serving as the original sword-fight against Ganon. Fighting alongside Tetra to duel Ganondorf with a sword and blast him with the Light Arrows was an awesome fight. It is one of The Wind Waker’s few moments of truly appropriate difficulty, giving the player quite a challenge. Awesome finale to the dungeon and game.
So all in all? Ganon’s Tower has a lot of cool ideas… but I don’t think it has enough meat. If perhaps it had predated Skyward Sword’s Sky Keep in its ideas, it could have been much better; the first section should have featured bigger areas themed after the other dungeons, with a variety of puzzles and challenges both familiar and new, perhaps having you solve some puzzles in those dungeons’ style with items you didn’t have or use in the original dungeon. Phantom Ganon’s rooms also had cool ideas but were just as disappointingly short and simple. Ganon’s Tower ended up being a short romp through a few interesting ideas, not a big final challenge. It should have been a much more fully-realized dungeon; it should have provided some more length, and given the player more time to enjoy its cool ideas.
I enjoy the ideas present in Ganon’s Tower, and I certainly think it’s interesting and even fun. But it’s just not really a full dungeon. It’s half of one, if that, and that’s disappointing. It still delivers apart from length and quantity, however.
But how about you? What did you think of Ganon’s Tower? Did you like its ideas? Do you think they needed expansion or were they fine? How about the battles against Ganondorf and Puppet Ganon? Tell me your thoughts on this dungeon in the comments!