The main reason for the existence of dungeons is to house a prize that Link must collect. Throughout the series these items have been different; Link collects fragments of the Triforce in the original The Legend of Zelda, pendants and crystals in A Link to the Past, musical instruments in Link's Awakening, and other items throughout the other games. In The Adventure of Link, the goal is not to collect, but to return gems to magical statues in the dungeons.
The dungeons that Link visits are home to valuable items and treasures for Link to collect, ranging from item upgrades to unique tools and weapons. Many of these items will prove to be essential to the completion of Link's goals. With the exception of The Adventure of Link, almost every dungeon that Link encounters contains a set of items usable only in that dungeon. These include a Dungeon Map, which displays the layout of the dungeon (but may still omit certain secret rooms). The original use of the Compass was to display the location of the boss of the dungeon, but as the games moved into a 3D style it has come to also pinpoint hidden secrets within the dungeon. The Big Key is used to open specially locked doors (and sometimes chests). It is sometimes called the Boss Key since its use usually signals that the boss fight is about to occur.
In The Legend of Zelda, the dungeons retained the same format as the rest of the game: the player, as Link, maneuvers each area from a top-down perspective, facing everything from dead ends to invincible and usually strong enemies to complex traps, puzzles, and maze-like passages. From this game to A Link to the Past, there is a trend revolving around almost all the dungeons sharing a common audio theme. Unlike most of the other games in the series, the dungeons can be completed in any order, and it's the least linear entry in that aspect. This entry is also one of but a few in the franchise to feature a special Second Quest after the challenges of the first one are overcome, or by the player entering "ZELDA" as the file name. In either case, the second quest proves more challenging, offering nine dungeons similar to those in the original quest. However, not only are some of the dungeons' locations mixed up in the second quest, but they are generally more difficult, with a different layout, the items being hidden more carefully and stronger enemies and bosses introduced sooner. The general layout of Hyrule remains the same, but the locations of items scattered across the overworld are also hidden in different places.
The Adventure of Link saw a major change in the original Zelda concept, in that, though the top-down perspective remains, it only does so when Link is wandering Hyrule Field. Most of the action takes place in a side-scrolling format, adding other platforming elements (i.e. this is the only Zelda title to date in which the player can press one button to make Link "jump" without the aid of items or special moves). The side-scrolling element adds difficulty to the overall game (and the dungeons especially), in that certain enemies are much more difficult to defeat than they were in the strictly top-down perspective offered in The Legend of Zelda. On the other hand, the addition of certain abilities, most notably the downthrust technique, which is one that allows Link to jump up in the air and come down sword first, make effective tools in Link's fighting repertoire.
A Link to the Past returned to the fully top-down perspective, going back to the series' roots, thus removing the platform and side-scrolling elements that featured heavily in The Adventure of Link. However, they still suffered some alterations, as they have become multi-leveled, the puzzles are more complex and they're less focused on defeating enemies. Because of the game's use of the Light/Dark dichotomy, some dungeons in the Dark World are in the exact same places with dungeons located in the Light World. The dungeons also start featuring Big Keys, required to open the main dungeon items' chests and to access the bosses' rooms.
Link's Awakening also retains the same format, but they also include portions of side-scrolling navigation, as in The Adventure of Link. Also, each dungeon can only be accessed after collecting the proper entrance key.
3D Era (1998–2001)
After a five-year absence on the market, the Zelda series returned with its fifth installment, titled Ocarina of Time. Its series-new 3D graphics allow the game's dungeons to be far more individual, and more unusual settings are used, such as the humongous insides of both a tree and a giant fish. Due to this, each dungeon has its own music themes as well (except the first two, which respectively reuse the two cavern/grotto themes). The game also introduces another first in the series: an optional dungeon, the Gerudo Training Ground, in which, if he completes the challenges therein, Link will obtain the Ice Arrows, which are not necessary for completion of his quest.
Though not included in the original release of the game for the Nintendo 64, the GameCube release of Ocarina of Time carries a Master Quest, which is a similar revisiting of the game to that of the Second Quest from the original Legend of Zelda. One major difference of note between the second quest and the "Master Quest" (from Zelda and Ocarina of Time, respectively) is that, in the second quest from The Legend of Zelda, both the overworld and dungeons undergo radical changes, but in Ocarina of Time Master Quest, only the dungeons change, offering new puzzles and traps, as well as different locations for the items within and stronger enemies introduced sooner. For Ocarina of Time 3D, Master Quest is implemented with the same cartridge, and made even more difficult due to it being mirrored east-west (like Twilight Princess for the Wii) and making enemies inflict twice as much damage as before.
Majora's Mask employs the same game engine used for Ocarina of Time, but so far has not offered a second quest. In fact, the game's dungeons are the lowest in number in the rest of the series: 4 main temples, with two mandatory mini-dungeons. However, they have become more complex in various aspects, and they're thematically unique (the third dungeon, for example, serves as a waterwheel factory, while the first one is a stone and wood temple used by the Deku for their worship). One of the new elements is the game's time-based gameplay device, which make the dungeons resettable, meaning that all the puzzles solved, enemies defeated and keys obtained are reverted every time Link travels back in time (he retains the Map and Compass). However, when cleared for the first time, they allow Link to directly confront the bosses through the warp spots that activate in the dungeons' entrance rooms. Likewise, stray fairies can be collected in these dungeons so that Link can return them to the fountains they belong to, in exchange for special rewards. The game's first three dungeons require Link's new respective forms (Deku, Goron and Zora) to be completed, while in the fourth one, Link makes use of all of them to reach the temple's boss; all main temple items in this game also pertain to the Bow.
The handheld games Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages retain the top-down perspective from the earlier 2D games. Additionally, thanks to the Linked Game feature, the overall quest between the two games offers a total of sixteen dungeons, a record only seen previously in the first The Legend of Zelda game with both Quests.
3D Era (2002–2005)
Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures brought back the top-down perspective, but introduced into the gameplay another first in the series: the first and so far only multi-player Zelda adventures, making for more varied and interesting puzzles and gameplay, which can only be conquered when the individual Links work as a team.
The series' next installment, The Wind Waker, saw more breakthroughs in graphics and changes to the way the game is played through the dungeons. In this installment, the use of dungeon items become more prominent when it comes to puzzle solving. This game also introduces the ability to manipulate other crucial characters and inanimate objects (such as statues), adding another layer to the gameplay and challenging puzzle elements that are hallmarks of the series. Other additions include the availability of Warp Jars that help Link to return to previous rooms more quickly, as well as the collection of Treasure Charts that pinpoint treasures that can be found later while exploring the Great Sea.
The Minish Cap once again uses the top-down perspective of many of its predecessors, and the overall plot is to tell the backstory to Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures. Although Link once again gains the ability to split himself into up to four Links (as in the other two games), this game does not feature a multi-player mode, but the complexity of the dungeons once again takes a turn and keeps the player on his/her toes. Adding a new layer of puzzle challenge to the game is the Minish Cap, which allows Link to shrink to the tiny size of the Picori who inhabit most of Hyrule. This item and ability combination grants Link access to places he could never have gone before, such as inside certain enemies and into the homes of the Picori, who live in everything from mouse holes to shoes to tree stumps. However, this newfound freedom to go where he wants is replete with new dangers, too, from cats to giant Chuchus, which become deadly enemies when Link is only the size of the Picori. Most of the dungeons Link visits in this game require him to be this size—or require that he shrink at certain places while he traverses the dungeons to either enter the dungeons or access otherwise inaccessible areas. The Minish Cap is also the first game to exploit the concept of Pieces of Heart locations within dungeons.
The Legend of Zelda series continues in late 2006 with Twilight Princess, which returns the player to the 3D perspective after Four Swords Adventures and The Minish Cap, and features a higher number of dungeons than both Majora's Mask and The Wind Waker, matching the amount shown in Ocarina of Time. Additionally, it adds a new element of puzzle and gameplay: the ability Link gains to turn himself into a wolf. Certain puzzles can only be solved and obstacles overcome by Link when he is in wolf or human form. The items play a heavy role in puzzle specifications once again. Statue manipulation also returns to stretch the player's abilities and test his/her puzzle-solving skills. Thematically, the game's dungeons vary significantly, including a mining cavern, an inhabited mansion and a temple trapped in time, among others. As in The Minish Cap, there are also Pieces of Heart within, usually obtained after solving optional puzzles or obstacles.
Phantom Hourglass (the sequel to The Wind Waker) and Spirit Tracks once again use cel-shading and similar puzzle elements. A new addition to the series with these games is the almost-exclusive use of the stylus. The stylus is used for movement, swordplay, using items and picking up objects. For instance, the player can use the stylus to control the movement of Link's Boomerang, to plot his path through dungeons, and highlight dungeon items and chests. The map and compass are absent in both games, as now the availability of two screens provides the properties and benefits that were formerly reserved for those items. The Boss Keys must now be carried by Link manually, who must keep an eye for the obstacles and enemies that seek to impede him from reaching his destination (the Boss's lair entrance). Thus the keys are generally found in the same area as the Boss Door itself.
Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks also contain a "master dungeon" (Temple of the Ocean King and Tower of Spirits respectively). These master dungeons are rather large, and Link must visit them between regular dungeons to acquire Sea Charts and Rail Maps, respectively, which guide him to previously unexplored areas. Both dungeons themselves contain Phantoms, which are enemies that will seek to impede Link's progression through his quest. The Temple of the Ocean King is filled with fog, which limits the amount of time that Link can spend in the dungeon to the amount of sand remaining in the titular Phantom Hourglass. Link cannot defeat the Phantoms until he acquires the Phantom Sword in Phantom Hourglass. The time limit (only in this temple) and the Phantoms are nullified by the various "safe zones" throughout the dungeon. In Spirit Tracks, Link has to collect three Tears of Light so that Princess Zelda is able to possess the suits of armor of a Phantom (though the Lokomo Sword later makes this step unnecessary), and help his partner through the floors of the tower. The Safe Zones now simply hide Link from the Phantoms' sight.
An oddity is that, for the first time in a 3D game, every single dungeon in Phantom Hourglass, including the Temple of the Ocean King, has the same audio theme, and no minibosses are found either (with the exception of a group of Phantoms near the end of the aforementioned central dungeon). Spirit Tracks partially reverts these changes, with three different dungeon themes. However, because Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks make us of a top-down perspective, they are technically 2D games.
For Skyward Sword, a new visual style combining the characteristics of both realism and cel-shading is accompanied by several changes that were made to the dungeons, as hinted by the developers long before the game's release. Most of them are more compact than those of the previous games, and the Compass is absent (instead, the map incorporates its properties). The compact size is compensated by the size of the rooms, where various puzzles and obstacles are packed within, as well as the enemy diversity. Boss Keys are replaced by other, differently-shaped Boss Door Objects, which are manually placed in the doors with the help of the Wii Remote's orientation.
Notably, the overworld (which underwent several alterations as well) is explored akin to the dungeons, as Link has to make use of his tools and skills to make his way through the areas, as well as to meet the various conditions and items to gain access to the actual dungeons. He does still interact with characters, but the gameplay is still akin to dungeon exploration.
In A Link Between Worlds the dungeons can be completed in no specific order. A Link Between Worlds mostly features dungeons which appeared in A Link to the Past, with the addition of 3 new dungeons: the Ice Ruins, House of Gales and Lorule Castle. Some of the dungeons that feature share similarities or to the game's spiritual prequel such as:
- The Eastern Palace reusing the same exterior and similar layout as the previous version
- The Tower of Hera returning with a new layout (e.g Moldorm being fought outdoors at the top of the tower)
- The Desert Palace reusing the several entrances also with the previous version
- The Skull Woods with the several entrances
- The Thieves' Hideout still uses conveyer belts. Also, the boss Stalblind is the Lorulean counterpart of Blind the Thief.
The dungeons require Link to merge into walls in order to reach different rooms or platforms. Some of the main dungeon puzzles in the are new (e.g Link needing to remove obstacles in the Dark Palace for light to reach the bottom floor as this allows access to the boss), whilst some are recycled from previous titles (e.g Having to manipulate water currents to reach new places in the Swamp Palace, much like the Lakebed Temple.
There are several criteria to classify a dungeon, including the following:
A dungeon can be classified according to its architecture. Some types include labyrinths, palaces and temples. Not infrequently, several games have portrayed common types of building (for example, the labyrinths are exclusive to the original The Legend of Zelda, the temples are mainstream for the 3D games, etc.); and depending on this, the dungeons themselves may be crafted for a specific quest purpose. Besides the aforementioned types of dungeons, there are also caverns (characterized for having little, if any, artificial architecture within), towers (large buildings that have a more prominent purpose, such as guarding a pearl that bring protection to the user from dark influences, or guarding the entrance to the ruins of an ancient kingdom), or organic entities, among others.
The dungeons in the Zelda series cover a wide variety of elements, themes and environments. Among the most well-known types of dungeons, according to this criteria, are forest, fire and water dungeons. See Dungeon Themes for a complete list. Depending on the element present in the dungeon, there may be a determined type of puzzles, bestiary and obstacles to conquer; added to this are the unique mechanics or themes that make the dungeon different from the others. Not all dungeons convey elemental themes, however, and some of them show a heavy ambiguity that makes them more difficult to classify (for instance, none of the dungeons in the NES games can be distinguished this way).
Certain dungeons in the series are of mixed category, meaning that they can cover two or more themes simultaneously. Some of the final dungeons (such as the recurring Ganon's Tower, which encases the elements of most dungeons in the games where it appears) are of this type, as are regular dungeons like the Arbiter's Grounds (shadow, desert) in Twilight Princess and the Sword & Shield Maze (fire, ice) in Oracle of Seasons, among others.
Some Zelda games may feature main dungeons and mini-dungeons. The main dungeons are the most important, as they're directly related to the game's plot, and are usually the largest and most difficult to conquer, not to mention the mandatory presence of a boss in each of them.
The mini-dungeons are mid-way stages that show one of these two characteristics:
- They may be required to complete for reasons not as prominent as those that motivate the young hero to complete the main dungeons.
- They are optional.
Having either condition, they may not house a boss or even a map and compass, or they are smaller in size. For example, the Ice Cavern in Ocarina of Time has the Iron Boots, which are required in a future dungeon, but it's pretty small in comparison to the temples, and no boss is found. A dungeon lacking a map and compass is the Ancient Castle of Ikana in Majora's Mask. An example of an optional dungeon is the Gerudo's Training Ground in Ocarina of Time.
As mentioned above, both Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks introduce the "master" dungeons, which have an even more significant role and must be visited numerous times so that Link can achieve success in his quest. Partial examples of master dungeons include the earlier Hyrule Castle in A Link to the Past and Forsaken Fortress in The Wind Waker, as they're only visited twice each, but they're still heavily plot-critical and are places for twists in the storyline.
In all games, a final dungeon is in place. Though similar in various aspects to the regular dungeons, they also show new characteristics that accommodate to their role as the ultimate test for Link and his adventure. In addition to housing the Final Boss, they show puzzles, obstacles and enemies that will test each of the young hero's skills. So far, there have been three types of final dungeon. For the first type, it is simply longer and more imposing that any of the main dungeons, often consisting of a very high number or rooms, and even sporting new enemies and features. In other games, the final dungeon is multi-elemental, and is divided into paths or routes that mimic (both in layout and in content) most of the previous dungeons in the adventure, mimicking the corresponding bestiaries as well. Finally, the supposed final dungeon might simply be an area of the overworld where the final boss awaits Link for the decisive battle (the boss may even have moved from a former location, such as its usually-residing dungeon).
|Gameplay Elements of The Legend of Zelda Series|