Notes on Ocarina of Time, Part 6: Forest Temple

This is a continuation of our Ocarina notes project. You can see all the parts here.
Part 6: The Forest Temple

Forest Temple

Perculia: I’m liking the aesthetics of the Forest Temple, from the first moment where I had to hookshot off a tree to enter–stained glass, lots of sinister gardens, passageways that are relatively empty, paintings, dignified stairs. It seems mysterious and overrun, yet strangely welcoming. I felt that I was constantly in danger in Jabu-Jabu’s belly, but in the Forest Temple I get the impression that I’m in a foreboding, yet not openly-hostile, environment. It felt peaceful just exploring and getting keys due to the soothing environment, shady coordiors, and pastel doors. If I hit a dead end, I was trained now to retrace steps and the scattered monsters in each room weren’t overwhelming.

Hamlet: The Temples are really the fully-formed Zelda dungeons of this game, which the child dungeons as a sort of training sequence. This is what I was discussing a bit in Jabu-Jabu’s Belly–now you’ll be expected to navigate around on your own, retraverse areas multiple times, find where to go with particular items, etc.

They’re fully-formed aesthetically too, as you notice immediately. I think you’ll enjoy all of them that way, although Forest is really one of the best.

P:  The center room looks awesome, all dark grey with the neon fairies floating away in the center. It’s funny, I really do get a sense that it’s in a peaceful sunny forest and this is a cool and shady central room. In exploring the side rooms, I liked seeing the hearts above the columns, the vines, and levels/doors above me. In the left wing, I notice how there’s an eyeball I can’t interact with just yet–the hookshot doesn’t work.

H: Yup, getting the hang of every (properly made) Zelda dungeon. You’re always presented with some things that require the dungeon’s main item, before you have it.

P: Multiple small keys unlocking further segments is new–I can see that I’ll have to be constantly retracing my steps to find more keys. Jabu-Jabu’s Belly was good practice for this, forcing me to retrace my steps whenever I dropped the Princess.

The twisted room is so cool! I love the concept, it’s eyecatching with the white twisted walls and red carpet strip, and how the different blocks veer off with ladders going nowhere. Of course, not as much a fan of the hand (does this look like the Crawling Claw?), but being picked up did let me explore the first room again, and also gave me a glimpse of an ornate treasure chest.

The poes flashing in the portraits looks awesome–another evocative set of rooms with the richly colored paintings and vines on the stairs.

You’ve mentioned having to fight multiple mobs at once as an adult–getting more of a sense of that now. Being presented with Stalfos scattered in the early rooms have reinforced the idea of mobs that parry, so I’m now prepped enough to fight two mobs at once that must die at the same time. It’s like the game knows this will be tough, so there’s pots that give hearts around the corners of the room.

H: This is what I was thinking of when I discussed combat a few segments ago–fighting a pair of Stalfos. Just as with dungeon exploration, the game is also now expecting you to deal with real combat. They’ve built up to this nicely as we’ve discussed, with smaller versions of the same encounter gradually being introduced, and now the Stalfos pair emerges as a big set piece in your first adult dungeon.

Something interesting about this though. Even when I was young I realized I wasn’t really fighting two at once–one would hang back mostly while the other engaged me. Only later has it really become clear that they struggling bring Zelda combat to 3D. Zelda games going back to the original always had you fighting a bunch of monsters in a room, and there were no special AI patterns helping you out. But even though Z-targeting solved the problem of aiming in the 3D transition, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a lot harder to be aware of the movements of multiple enemies all around you. So they borrowed a trick from movies–one bad guy attacks a time. The story from the devs is that they actually had this epiphany while watching a performance of chanbara-style combat at a movie studio theme park in Kyoto.
While it has the desired effect here, I’d say it’s an example of where some depth (ironically) was lost in the transition from 2D to 3D. Having you meaningfully fight multiple mobs is not something they’ve learned to do yet.

P: While I had the option to progress further, I backtracked to the rooms with the portraits, since every room has a purpose, not just visual flavor. Shooting the Poes was instant bow practice–learning about minimum/maximum range and the time it takes for a mob to aggro (the time a portrait will disappear/also if you get too close). The red and blue Poe mini-bosses also provide practice for using the bow–while you can brute-force them by slashing them in a corner, it’s easier if you shoot from afar. 

At this point, I’ve discovered that I’ve missed some chests with the compass, and I can unlock these additional rooms by backtracking and shooting the eyeball with the bow. Really neat how the twisted rooms can be straightened to reveal rooms/holes below–but at a price, you can’t proceed forward to the portrait staircases now. Again, not a fan of the baby hands at the bottom of the hole, but it’s another lesson in having to attack multiple mobs in quick succession before they do something awful.

H: I hated the one hand in the side room that split into 3 little hands. The first time I played that room they grabbed me, and every other time since I always readied Din’s Fire to mash immediately after it split.

P: The untwisted corridor in the right half of the temple provides some crooked symmetry to the twisted equivalent on the left half of the time. The room in which you can twist the corridor is reminiscent of the means needed to acquire the heart in the Kakariko windmill–jumping onto a center revolving ledge and then aiming for an important item near the wall. Normal arrows don’t work though and I feel a bit impatient to aim perfectly through a fiery torch, so I surround myself in Din’s Fire. It’s a success, and I’m glad I found a way to use an optional item to speed things up, as we’ve discussed earlier.

The checkered room was a visual departure from the grey stones and green vines of the rest of the instance. In solving this puzzle, I was thinking about how I was on edge constantly fighting monsters in Jabu-Jabu’s belly and comparing it to how I feel more relaxed being able to fully process all the visual details before ‘defeating’ this room. Figuring out the solution was even more fun than actually ‘beating’ this room. In addition to figuring out the checkerboard, this puzzle also ramped up the difficulty on the hookshot and bow targeting with the floating floor preventing you from having as much time to aim.

I love moving the blocks around for the green poe–it’s in the spirit of the other two, since it’s related to a painting, but I like how they didn’t do the same routine of having to summon the poe by shooting it. I also like that while you get slightly more time if you fail the puzzle, the pieces change looks so it’s not totally easy.

H: This is the right way to provide leniency to players, as opposed to so many modern games I complain about. Gradually back off the difficulty while still making you try to learn how to do it right.

P: I brute-forced the last poe apparently. I noticed that sometimes when I shot one, the other three vanished, and sometimes they didn’t. This reminds me of how I was mindlessly fighting the Sons of Sun in Chrono Trigger’s Sun Stone side quest–it took me a while to figure out the mechanics of rotating mobs where only one was vulnerable.

H: Yeah, there is actually a tell–the real Poe will spin one extra time after they split. Good design here though: since the clue is subtle, you can still brute force through if you miss it.

P: Like I commented upon first seeing the room with the disappearing poes: the room looks really awesome now with the neon lights against the dark stone. Once again, the instance is designed where the boss’ room is close to the entrance, with a clever trick to access it at first–spinning the walls around, discovering treasure in the process.

I like the ‘faux’ start where you think it’s just a nice room with paintings until you try to leave. The first part seems relatively safe, and if you hit the wrong target, you’re just out an arrow and have to dodge the electricity.

H: Don’t you take damage if you shoot the wrong one? Because you’ll be standing there after shooting and the real one will run you over.

P: The floor shoots electricity, if that’s what you’re referring to–but it can be avoided by standing outside of the arrow’s paths. I didn’t notice taking any damage for just hitting the wrong one, as I was standing off to the side, but if you’re sloppy enough, you’ll run out of arrows.

Navi’s advice as usual didn’t make a ton of sense for part 2–I…respond to a magical bolt by hitting it with my sword? I tried to treat the boss like a Poe and get enough distance to have additional time for my attacks, especially when I’m in a volley with him. I like how it’s not a guarantee that a reflected spell will damage him, but if you keep it up, eventually the odds will be in your favor. and if a reflected bolt doesn’t hurt him–you’re not hurt either, it was just reflex practice.

H: This is a well-known Zelda boss mechanic. Playing ping-pong with the boss is a new twist though–in the Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening iterations if you reflect back correctly it would always hit him.

All in all I think Phantom Ganon is one of the weaker bosses. He doesn’t fit the dungeon at all, both thematically or in how the fight works. (P: Shooting the portraits with the arrows reminds me of the Red/Blue Poes.) Phase 1 feels tacked-on just to keep the “use the item you found in the dungeon” rule (which at least they do, some later games ignore it completely).

Curious to see what other figures will show up in the Temple of Time–it’s bittersweet again seeing Saria stuck there, and it’s hard to see what other potential figures could rival her connection to Link, as a childhood friend.

Biggoron Sword

P: I’m happy to see defeating the Forest Temple cleansed Kokiri Forest. At this point, Link’s background makes a bit more sense–the cute baby Deku Tree reveals that link is from Hyrule, explaining why he grew up unlike the other Kokiri children.  It’s another detail contributing to his outsider hero vibe–at the start of the game, he doesn’t fit in because he’s missing a Fairy. He later doesn’t fit in with the Kokiri because he grows old, but he’s a stranger in Hyrule, just a scrappy kid sneaking into the castle.

It’s neat playing the Sun’s Song in Kokiri Forest as an adult–I previously only explored this zone as a child before I learned that song.

At this point, I decided to ignore Navi’s advice about Death’s Peak and instead investigate a side quest that was flashing on the map. After I presented the blue cuckoo to a sleepy guy in the Lost Woods who needs medicine, I had to quickly head back to Kakariko Village–a bit of non-mandatory in which Epona was a huge convenience. Completing further steps of this quest series, I’m taking to Gerudo Valley, an area I haven’t been to before–wandering the Southern section of Hyrule Field right after Kokiri Forest as a child led to sudden monsters and me literally screaming. Fortunately, isn’t as bad as an adult–the music is cool here (reminds me of another zone–will investigate later) and I like the training with Epona and jumping. It’s been neat to see how this quest series takes me around all the new areas, showing me what’s been changed as an adult.

H: Showing you where to go next in the trading game is a new bit of handholding, it wasn’t in the original. I really don’t like it–the point of a trading sequence side quest is that you have to figure out whom to give each item to, often by trying to keep the current item in mind as you go about your business, trying to see if you come across anyone to try to give it to. (P: Ah, see, I assumed the point of the quest was to introduce you to all the different areas. If that’s not the point at all, then it clearly failed at what it was meant to be :P) It’s supposed to go on for a long time while you adventure around the world, occasionally coming across the right person. The point is lost when the game just tells you where each one goes and it simply becomes a side quest you do at once by running back and forth a lot. This kind of excessive handholding of the player is becoming the norm in Zelda and other games (it was particularly bad in Skyward Sword), and the adjustments to Ocarina in this vein have not been good.

On your first trip into Gerudo Valley using Epona, you saw the second dramatic horse-jumping-over-camera shot that I alluded to previously at the ranch.

P: Goron City is a bit emptier–the vendor is sealed shut, the king is hidden, and the rotating vase I wanted to bomb is gone. However, the vendor behind several bombable walls on the medium level is still there and wants to sell me a knife…I don’t trust him though. What am I going to do with two weapons? I eventually found his brother at the top, but unfortunately, things ended here as Zora’s Domain is frozen in ice still. I think that this is a problem caused purely by the map’s hand-holding–it’s easy to complete the earlier steps and get ahead of your character’s progression, instead of naturally finding characters to talk to as you unlock zones.

I did notice along the way that I can move slightly faster as an adult, as I was able to jump around Zora’s River without the help of chickens, and was able to easily reach two heart fragments. I don’t know if that was intentional, but I was somewhat disappointed that I missed out on completing these games the proper way.

Before stopping for the day, I went back to the Temple of Time, and learned the Prelude of Light, also getting hints from Sheik about replacing the Master Sword to warp to the past. I see what you mean how the world remains literally accessible at any point now–all of child Link’s world is unlocked now. I feel a lot better about those old quests now I didn’t get to complete.

2 thoughts on “Notes on Ocarina of Time, Part 6: Forest Temple

  1. “While I had the option to progress further, I backtracked to the rooms with the portraits, since every room has a purpose, not just visual flavor”

    You guys addressed this later on in the post more generally, but to me, the Forest Temple accomplishes this exceptionally well. If I had to choose, I’d say the only other temple that manages to do this on a similar level is the Spirit Temple (aka the final one).

    My other favorite thing about the Forest Temple (and you touched upon this as well) is how the richness of your surroundings hook you into their story. The level of detail and flavor really is stunning, and I still find myself wondering who lived there, collecting those paintings and tending to those secret gardens. It has always felt more like a grand manse full of intrigue than a temple. While all of the Temples in OoT are very distinct, the Forest Temple and the Spirit Temples are the ones that I thought did the best job of establishing their own defined “material culture”.

    Looking back, I don’t wonder if that’s why places like Dire Maul/Karazhan/Ulduar in WoW appeal to me as much as they do–all are instances which not only fit into the established narrative but hint and tease the player that there’s more to explore beneath the surface: the stained glass in Uld/the books held in the Athenaeum/and just why DOES Medivh have an actual in-home theater??

    Anyway, it’s been great to read your response to it. It’s one of my favorite locations in any gameworld, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I’ve thought a lot about why the Forest Temple and the Spirit Temple have always been my favorite areas of OoT as a kid and now an adult replaying Zelda games. Part of it might simply be the anticipation and emotion of them being the first and last dungeons. But the FT provides some tough challenges, too, that evoke an incredible sense of accomplishment regarding fighting technique (I’ll never forget how difficult the fight with two stalfos was, nor how surprised and ecstatic I was when I finally beat them the first time, which included me screaming “die die DIE!” a lot), puzzles (giant blocks and twisting rooms), and in terms of the story, as Link reunites with his friend Saria (seeing them paired as adult Link and child/sage Saria was more sad and touching my last go around). It’s these challenges that develop your skills and inspire a sense that Link can now take anything on. The previous commenter’s discussion of the rich atmosphere, mysterious back story, and I’ll add specifically the music (still haunts me in a good way) truly envelop you as you explore this first dungeon, and I agree, in the last one, too.

    I’m disappointed to hear about the increased “handholding” elements in the updated OoT. The exploratory and trial-and-error elements of the original are part of what make it an ever-interesting and satisfying replay.

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