Water Dungeons and their Infamy

Starting with the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time, water-themed dungeons in the Zelda series have developed a special reputation for being challenging or frustrating dungeons. Because of the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time, the term “water dungeon” came to be used for more than just identifying the core element or theme of a dungeon: It carries other connotations as well and always makes people think about difficulty or design. It’s become, in the eyes of some, a title of infamy.

Honestly I’ve never agreed with the issues people seem to have with these dungeons. For the longest time I was completely lost, actually, not understanding it at all. I mean, I’ll admit that the Water Temple was a little bit more difficult, a little bit more confusing than the rest of the dungeons in the game. It was one of Ocarina of Time’s more challenging dungeons, for sure. The same was true of the Great Bay Temple in Majora’s Mask, although honestly that dungeon was not as hard as Stone Tower Temple in the same game, which wasn’t a water-themed dungeon at all. All this led me to personally believe that there was nothing unusual about water dungeons, that the ones that were hard were just hard independently from their water theme.

I still think that this is true to a degree, and I think that in a number of ways the Ancient Cistern in Skyward Sword proves that. At the same time I’ve come to realize that there is something a little unique about the water themes: Three-dimensional puzzles.

That might seem odd to say considering that Ocarina of Time and all subsequent main console releases were all 3D games, but when you think about it, outside of certain aspects of these games, the gameplay is largely handled in the same way it was in A Link to the Past or other 2D Zelda games. Again, with certain exceptions, much of the time you might as well be playing an overhead Zelda game. The huge exception is the bulk of the water dungeons. Using the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time as an example, it forces the player to think with all of their surroundings, including what’s above and below them. All around them is an environment that must be interacted with. This is what makes these dungeons more complex. This is also true of the Great Bay Temple and to a much lesser degree, the Lakebed Temple in Twilight Princess.

That said, I don’t think that makes these dungeons bad. A hard dungeon isn’t a bad thing. In fact a lot of gamers — myself included — enjoy the challenge. And similarly, just because it’s a bit more complicated doesn’t mean it has to be harder; it’s a matter of watching out for your surroundings and paying attention to the higher number of variables. I will admit, though, that this is a highly personal thing that’s going to affect each player differently.

So bottom line is the water dungeons are a little more complicated, but that doesn’t make them bad and I think they deserve more credit for their excellent design (especially the Lakebed Temple, which I feel is one of the more well-designed dungeons of the series.) But what about you? Do you find the water dungeons challenging? Which dungeons do you qualify as water dungeons? Do you find them fun or frustrating? Tell me in the comments!

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