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‘Ocarina of Time’ Dungeon by Dungeon: Fire Temple



In commemoration of Goomba Stomp’s second anniversary staff list champion, our Level-by-Level feature will be diving into The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, dungeon-by-dungeon. Although Breath of the Wild is utterly superb, its reimagining of the Zelda formula is noticeably lacking classic dungeon design. This continuing series will take a look back at the entry that established the 3D dungeon template, in turn altering dungeon design in ways that would dominate and define the series for nearly twenty years. And since the 2011 3DS remaster makes a wide variety of changes to the original but remains equally masterful, I will be looking at that version alongside the 1998 Nintendo 64 release. In this entry, I will be examining Ocarina of Time’s fifth dungeon, the Fire Temple.

The path to the Fire Temple is the most straightforward and least eventful pre-dungeon quest so far. After learning the Prelude of Light from Sheik at the Temple of Time, players can go directly to the nearly vacant Goron City and net a red tunic by bombing a rolling Goron who turns out to be Darunia’s son, Link. Along with handing over the heat-resistant tunic, he also hints at a shortcut into Death Mountain from his father’s lair. From there it’s a short jaunt to the crater, where Sheik teaches the Bolero of Fire and the Fire Temple is made accessible. The player can also enter Death Mountain from the summit, in which case the spiraling downward path to the crater is longer and more treacherous.

The Fire Temple is a straightforward successor to Dodongo’s Cavern in setting and art. Similarly set inside Death Mountain, most of the Fire Temple is comprised of lava and rock, with a handful of metallic interiors. But unlike Dodongo’s Cavern, the Fire Temple lacks a central set piece, instead featuring a dispersed sprawling design. Once again, there are lava floors over which players will be asked to frequently platform. Sometimes the placement of these platforms seems scattershot and sloppy, and the fairly innocuous lava floor detracts from this platforming feeling meaningful since running along that floor is often as viable a strategy as jumping along the awkward platforms. On higher floors, however, platforming is equally essential but more significant since a missed jump can lead to substantial damage or backtracking. While the Forest Temple demanded conscientious traversal through its spatial complexity, the Fire Temple is more concerned with mastery of movement mechanics. Alongside the aforementioned platforming arenas, this attention to movement is also apparent in the dungeon’s plentiful timed challenges, all of which demand diligent planning, quick flexes, and a concrete understanding of a room’s space. They are fun the first time, but can get repetitive when the challenges reset on subsequent visits.

The Fire Temple’s layout is the most scattered so far, a sprawling set of fairly simple paths. These paths often alternate between small and large rooms, with small rooms providing tidy combat scenarios or single-variable puzzles, and large rooms incorporating a more complex array of components. Two of these large rooms are mazes that connect to several smaller places — one is built around rolling boulders the player must dodge and the other around invisible flame walls the player must navigate through. Despite both being mazes, these two areas feel significantly different from each other, but each provides a well-balanced experience and a grander sense of accomplishment than the small rooms. Though the Fire Temple is nearly symmetrical, that fact rarely comes into play outside of a handful rooms that feel dully copy-pasted. These “mirror image” rooms generally feel like a filler, and are disappointing when considering how cool it could be to visit altered versions of past rooms that demand knowledge and abilities the player has garnered throughout the dungeon. The Fire Temple’s layout might not take advantage of its space as thoroughly as the Forest Temple, but it still feels like an evolution of past dungeon design. Even if it it is lacking specific design features that evolve throughout the dungeon, it is built around solid principles that enable a balanced and well-paced overall experience.

Perhaps because of this less theme- or gimmick-driven design, it is tougher to identify design themes in the Fire Temple than in past dungeons, though its rescue mission framework sticks out. While progression through most dungeons simply requires moving from one room to the next, the Fire Temple layers an additional goal of rescuing imprisoned Gorons on top of that. Upon saving a Goron, Link will typically earn a small key and a verbal hint. Finding and releasing these Gorons adds a layer of complexity to exploration and encourages tinkering with the dungeon’s space. Because of this, the Fire Temple requires the most spatial observation of any dungeon so far — both to mentally map complex room architecture and to deduce possible routes to imprisoned Gorons. The downside is that these Gorons are not integrated into the experience as well as they could be, sometimes feeling more like a sidestep than a step forward, in part because their tips are occasionally irrelevant and sometimes seem misordered. But more importantly, their tips are usually totally unnecessary, providing obvious information the player should have already internalized by this point in the game. Ideally, each Goron would provide information so relevant that it would change the way the player would interact with the nearby space. Then the player would be able to access the next area not only because they grabbed a small key, but because they solved a mini-puzzle they probably wouldn’t have been able to solve without the Goron’s help. It’s a lot to ask for, but then keys could have been eliminated entirely, and the experience could have been both streamlined and deepened, while slipping some more puzzles into a dungeon generally lacking in them.

The Megaton Hammer is a slow but powerful weapon Link can use to deal damage in combat, shatter certain obstacles, and press rusted buttons. In battle, the Megaton Hammer typically deals as much damage as the Master Sword, making it generally less preferable, although a handful of enemies are weak to it. Meanwhile, its ability to press rusted buttons feels like filler because the player doesn’t run across almost any rusted buttons until acquiring the Megaton Hammer anyway. The Hammer’s most important use is in obliterating certain obstacles, although even then the player won’t run into those obstacles until after acquiring the Hammer, making the item feel like a superficial upgrade than something that meaningfully changes navigation. This is all to say that the Megaton Hammer doesn’t do much the Master Sword doesn’t already, outside of some context-sensitive actions that seem funneled in. If anything, the Megaton Hammer feels more interesting outside the dungeon, when more enemies react uniquely to it, such as the Gold Skulltulas the Hammer can knock off walls. Given its ability to smack certain heavy blocks aside, it seems like it should be able to similarly smack heavy boxes to move them quickly in a direction instead of having to slowly push or pull them. Unfortunately, the Megaton Hammer’s actual uses are significantly less interesting. As an underpowered weapon with minimal import, the Megaton Hammer is the least appealing dungeon item so far. It’s also worth noting that for all of the Goron’s talk of their “special crop,” bombs are ultimately not used much at all, and never in any especially unique ways.

The only new normal enemy in the Fire Temple is the Torch Slug, a slug whose fire must be puto out to be damaged. Simpler and easier than any of the new enemies in the Forest Temple, they are a sluggish let down. And even though the Megaton Hammer can flip them over and extinguish their flame, the player will likely never use it for that purpose since the vast majority of Torch Slugs are fought before acquiring the hammer. The Flame Dancer mini-boss is also new, and his more complex behavior makes for the most engaging fight in the dungeon outside of the final boss. That said, additional complexity, not having to fight him twice, and requiring the bomb or Megaton Hammer to defeat him could make the Flame Dancer a more engaging opponent. As a whole, the enemy selection in the Fire Temple is neither diverse nor challenging, but well-used pseudo-enemy obstacles like Door Mimics, Fire Barriers, and Flying Tiles partially make up for it. The run-of-the-mill enemy design, though, only underscores how much more the dungeon is concerned with platforming and obstacle-based challenges than combat.

Fortunately, the Fire Temple’s whack-a-mole dragon boss Volvagia picks up some of the slack. The player squares off against Volvagia on a giant rock dotted with holes like swiss cheese. Volvagia pops up through these holes and the player must strike him with the Megaton Hammer to deal damage. Then he flies around aggressively, boulders fall from above, and the sequence repeats. The integration of the boss with the arena works fantastically, asking the player to move around carefully and conscientiously, alternating between periods of offense and defense. That said, the third of the fight where Volvagia homes toward the player is easily dodged by staying put, and could have been improved by having Volvagia exhibit more complex behavior or deploy another attack simultaneously, like breathing fire or dropping bombs. Despite that complaint, Volvagia is a highlight of the dungeon, and the awesome sky-altering cutscene triggered after the battle tethers the player’s in-dungeon actions to the external world unlike anything else so far, giving the sense that Link’s conquest of the Fire Temple has tangible real-world impact beyond some changes to NPC dialogue.

All things considered, I really enjoy the Fire Temple, but it’s hard to put my finger on why. From rehashed enemy design, to repetitive scenarios and architecture, to forgettable artwork, to a lackluster item, there seems to be a ton of room for improvement. But perhaps more so than in any other dungeon so far, the Fire Temple is more than the some of its parts. Although its individual pieces are often rough around the edges, their placement, relation to each other, and sense of pacing they establish all synergistically craft a surprisingly delightful experience. It’s consistently rewarding, widely varied, and it intelligently takes advantage of its diverse spaces, from mazes to platforming gauntlets to a clever boss. It is less united in art, design, and theme than the Forest Temple, and less ambitious in nearly every way, but is still a delightful experience.

For deep dives into other dungeons from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, as well as levels from other classic Nintendo games such as Super Mario Odyssey and Super Mario 64, click here.

Kyle is an avid gamer who wrote about video games in academia for ten years before deciding it would be more fun to have an audience. When he's not playing video games, he's probably trying to think of what else to write in his bio so it seems like he isn't always playing video games.