The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple is infamous for its tedious Iron Boot-swapping, which actually hides the best dungeon in the game.
The Water Temple has a terrible reputation among The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time fans. Its original incarnation was incredibly tedious, forcing players to constantly hop in and out of the menu to swap Link’s Iron Boots on and off, and its complex structure and length made it feel all the more burdensome. But beneath the annoyance hid the game’s best dungeon, revealed by a few simple changes in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time‘s Nintendo 3DS remake.
Found beneath Lake Hylia, the Water Temple can be accessed once Link has the Hookshot and Iron Boots (and, for most players, the Zora Tunic). Within is a creature called Morpha, boss of the dungeon and the source of the curse that froze Zora’s Domain. It’s a twisted, multi-leveled maze that challenges players’ spatial awareness, as they must use three switches hidden around the dungeon to manipulate the temple’s water level, allowing them to access new areas throughout.
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In the original version of Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64, the temple was a poorly lit mass of samey rooms, leading many players to aimlessly wander its corridors for a way forward. Constantly needing to jump into the game’s menu to take the Iron Boots on or off – which was then followed by a slow floating or sinking to Link’s destination – killed the dungeon’s pacing, and some of its keys were so easily missed as to leave players feeling cheated. It all added up to a place dreaded by the game’s fans, so Nintendo implemented some smart fixes in Ocarina of Time 3D, making the Water Temple an dungeon so much smoother that it beats out all the others.
Why Ocarina Of Time’s Water Temple Is The Game’s Best Dungeon
The most obvious Ocarina of Time 3D change is the ability to toggle the Iron Boots at the press of an item button. Even more significant is the addition of color-coded markings leading to each water level switch, making navigation much less confusing, as well as a short camera shot that hints at the location of a commonly missed key. With the annoyances of the temple’s original iteration gone, Ocarina of Time 3D lets players see what always made the Water Temple special: its uniquely challenging design.
As explained in game design YouTube channel Game Maker’s Toolkit, the Water Temple’s layout differs from every other Ocarina dungeon. While the rest lead players on mostly linear paths, the Water Temple is a “puzzle box.” Rather than solving individual puzzles room by room, players need to be aware of the entire dungeon’s layout and how it’s affected by the changing water level. In the N64 version, this led to frustration, but the extra challenge compared to the other dungeons makes the Water Temple Ocarina of Time 3D‘s most satisfying activity.
The experience is further enhanced by the Water Temple’s stellar atmosphere. Its ambient theme rivals Donkey Kong Country‘s “Aquatic Ambience” in the contest for gaming’s best water level music, and its Eastern instrumentation fits perfectly with the temple’s Eastern-inspired architecture (which looks even better with Ocarina of Time 3D‘s improved textures). The remake’s brighter lighting takes away some of the original’s forebodingness, but the strange, non-humanoid enemies and submerged areas still give off a lonely feeling unmatched by the game’s other temples; it’s not as most overtly frightening as the Bottom of the Well or the Shadow Temple, but the Water Temple is clearly not somewhere Link is meant to be. And then, of course, there’s the mini-boss.
Partway through the dungeon, Link suddenly finds himself in a room with boundaries that appear to stretch far beyond what’s physically possible. Shallow water covers the floor, mirroring dark reflections of the few items in the space – two small buildings that house the room’s exits, a half-sunken archway, a large stone, and a single, dead tree in the center. Then, after Link has wandered the room for a bit, a dark, ghostly version of himself appears, wordlessly assaulting him and easily countering his attacks. Ocarina‘s Dark Link battle is one of its toughest fights and is visually and thematically distinct from everything else in the game. It’s an unexpectedly modern-feeling encounter, and it helps make Water Temple The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time‘s most memorable and playable, even after 22 years.
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