Notes on Ocarina of Time, Part 9: Shadow Temple

This is a continuation of our Ocarina notes project. You can see all the parts here.
Part 9: The Shadow Temple

Kakariko Village

Perculia: Seeing Kakariko Village in flames, the one zone that’s remained relatively stable through Adult Link’s explorations, sets the tone for this creepy segment.

Hamlet: Especially going back to some much earlier comments on the Village, and how it’s the oddly peaceful area with random goofy characters set off from the world. It was always a very comfortable place (interesting distinction from Link to the Past, where Kakariko is transformed and no longer safe in the Dark World).

P: This instance gave me the most initial confusion, even more so than the Water Temple (which was easy to figure out once I mentally reorganized the Temple’s map by water levels instead of the actual map floors). Much of this was due to being able to enter the Shadow Temple and obtain the Hoverboots and Dungeon Map without the Lens of Truth–it didn’t cross my mind to return to this segment as a child because I hadn’t needed to when prepping for the other three temples–Forest, Fire, and Water. It’s logical that the Shadow Temple would build upon the complexity of the Water Temple, and part of that would be elaborating the mini-instance required to access the actual Temple. The Forest Temple required you to race Dampe in the Kakariko graveyard, the Fire Temple had you meet Goron Link, and the Water Temple really kicked things up by sending you through the Ice Temple, a mini-dungeon with a map, compass, and loot chest at the end.

With the Shadow Temple, you’re required to enter a mini-instance like the Ice Cavern, but the twist is that you have to access it as a child after playing the Song of Storms. Since I had already experienced some exposition between Link and the Sheik in Kakariko, I didn’t expect there to be anything else at first, especially when I was able to enter the initial rooms. Looking back, I now realize that I should have expected the Temple preparation to be more elaborate, if I had noticed this pattern with the other three Temples.

H: I don’t know if you’d be expected to really guess that. I think it’s more likely that players would have happened to come across the Bottom of the Well just as part of the Song of Storms side quest: as an adult the man in the windmill complains about the kid who played the song, teaches you the song, it clues you to play it as a kid.

This raises an important point though–no player hits 100% of all exploration points on the way through the game. You’ve been very thorough (all but 3 Pieces of Heart as I recall), but never happened on the Bottom of the Well. And the result was some confusion when you got to the Shadow Temple, because it lets you into the dungeon without a required item (which is all separate from the Temple main item, the Hover Boots). I believe this is another instance where either I or Navi had to prod you a little to go back out and get something. This is a bit of an error–the designer can clue players to pick something up, but can’t assume that 100% of players ever will. Good level design subtly leads players in the right direction without them realizing it, but doesn’t rely on them always doing so.

P: The mini-instance under the Well reinforces how much you need the Lens of Truth. While I was able to navigate the first few rooms of the Shadow Temple through remembering correct paths via trial-and-error, the invisible chutes, hidden rooms with treasure chests, and confusing architecture made me appreciate how useful the Lens of Truth could be in more complex situations. Falling through the floor to the bottom underground level with the zombie pool was frustrating, especially when I fell through invisible patches on the floor in doorways by treasure chests. Once I obtained the Lens of Truth, there were still unexplored rooms on the Dungeon Map that I was encouraged to explore because they had chests inside. I remember one room had a hole in the doorway, but with the Lens of Truth, you could enter through a hole in the bars.

H: I never liked the Bottom of Well much because it was confusing to navigate. But then, very early on I memorized a simple path to the boss (run in a straight line from the entrance, dodging one invisible pit near a patch of blood under a big wooden cross) and used that every time. So I’ve basically never explored the place except one playthrough where I was actually looking for Skulltulas. Maybe I should actually learn my way around there if I play through Master Quest sometime.

Shadow Temple

P: This instance did an effective job at conveying a creepy atmosphere by relying upon ominous architecture and illusions. The previous temples highlighted concrete things–forest/nature, fire, water–but shadows are trickier, the absence of certainty. An obvious spiritual example is the Ferry of Death, seen early on and boarded towards the end of the instance. It’s a ship with skulls that floats down a river before sinking, evocative of the mythological boatman crossing the river Styx. Background details in most rooms like fake doors, guillotine gauntlets, and walls next to plunging black canyons helped convey a feeling of uncertainty. One of the rooms towards the end featured two walls that slowly closed in on the player, while other rooms featured Floormasters, never anyone’s favorite enemy. Another room required players to dodge erratic wind currents from ominous-looking fans (or don the Iron Boots), before quickly switching to the Hoverboots to leap over a gap–with the wrong timing, the player would slide back to the start of the puzzle.

But by far the most effective tool at conveying this mood was the Lens of Truth. It both showed that what first meets the eye was an illusion (for example, a dark chasm is revealed to have a platform in the center), but also alerts the player to more possible menaces. A normal-looking room with five silver rupees is revealed to have a large scythe machine in the center, only viewable with the Lens of Truth. Other rooms only displayed Floormasters with the Lens of Truth on. The Temple also conveyed a creepy mood with a constant sense of risk–taking the long route over an empty space and falling, moving the dial in the first room the wrong way and falling to your death, etc.

H: The Lens of Truth really pulls that dungeon together. It’s much more of a sensible thematic fit than the Hover Boots. Even in the final boss fight, the Lens is used in a pretty natural way (although still not the easiest fit for the “use new item in boss fight” rule), more so than the Boots are. All the puzzles you mention, and a there are a few more, are nice plays on what you can do with the Lens. It’s a pretty unique item for a Zelda game. The X-ray visor become a staple item in Metroid more recently, but in Super Metroid (which came out before Ocarina), it was only used to hunt secrets similarly to the Stone of Agony, not to solve X-ray centered puzzles.

P: The Hoverboots were the special item from this instance, and while I thought they could have been integrated more effectively into the final boss fight, they helped contribute to the tense mood of the dungeon–I was never sure when they’d give way and I’d fall to my death. Little details like their distinctive equip sound and fast shuffling feet contributed to their mood (H: the way they mush up the movement controls when you have them on is flavorful, but annoying after a while). The central room with the guillotine was the first time they were showcased–starting off with small leaps between platforms that gradually increased in complexity. They were also used in silver rupee puzzles–which were a step up in complexity from the versions in the Water Temple–as a way to float and reach rupees in the air.

The Hoverboots really shone, both in complexity and atmospherically, when combined with the Lens of Truth. The central guillotine room was much easier when I realized that I could traverse seemingly-huge gaps with the Hoverboots because there were hidden platforms in between. To reach one doorway, I had to land on a moving block, or else the Hoverboots would give way too soon. In the final room before the final boss, I had to use the Lens of Truth to map out the safest route with the Hoverboots, as there were no visible platforms without it. The Lens of Truth also allowed me to see hidden ledges in rooms that had Silver Rupee puzzles.  In short, these items had great synergy, and also interacted well with past items at points, such as the Iron Boots in the blowing fan room, and the hookshot in rooms with hidden ledges and Silver Rupees. In contrast to the Water Temple which heavily focused on map navigation and the Longshot, the Shadow Temple had more variation in items needed for puzzle solving, while maintaining the overall mood. Examples are: bombs that blow up piles of bones revealing keys, playing the Sun’s Song to paralyze undead, and Din’s Fire to destroy the hazardous wooden walls towards the end of the instance.

H: I was never a big fan of the Hover Boots. Their usage was very one-dimensional. The only thing they were for is crossing a gap of a certain length, so it becomes a rote process: see a medium-length gap, and you know to put on the Hover Boots. It had too much of a “use the red key in the red door” feel. Most memorable Zelda items have more uses–Bombs, Hookshot, Arrows, Boomerang. Obviously they’re all pre-scripted puzzles/solutions still, but the process is richer when it’s not so obvious what’s used for what the moment you walk into a room. You found they got some mileage out of it by combinations, but I still think that what made most Shadow Temple rooms interesting was the continual new uses of the Lens, not so much the Boots.

P: Dungeons have done an inconsistent job so far at integrating newly-obtained items into boss fights in a natural way. The final boss in the Forest Temple looked visually cool (shooting arrows through paintings), but seemed thematically removed from the instance’s flavor. Morpha (and Twinrova in the next dungeon) used the item well thematically, as well as building up to the boss fight through previous puzzles. The Megaton Hammer was an important part of Volvagia, but it felt under-utilized when completing previous puzzles. I found Bongo Bongo a bit awkward both in utilizing the temple’s items and tying in with the rest of the instance aesthetically, even though it was a tricky encounter and left me with a sense of accomplishment after defeating it. The Hoverboots in theory help the player deal with being bounced on the drum, but so many other things can go wrong quickly, such as a hand swiping you for a good portion of your health. Hoverboots had previously been used to walk on air, so using them to minimize jumping only during the boss fight felt strange. In contrast to the Hoverboots providing a minimal benefit to the initial phase of the encounter, the Lens of Truth was heavy-handed. If you did not have the Lens of Truth activated, you missed the entire point of the phase and weren’t given any clues in combat (besides Navi, which is a cheap way out). The Lens of Truth is used to view Bongo Bongo’s temporarily-vulnerable head, which is a new way of using the Lens. Previously, it had been used to view secret walls, ledges, and openings. The Shadow Temple also relied upon dark walls, semi-realistic weaponry, and detailed dark blocks to set the mood–seeing a large pair of smooth pale hands felt out of place. Hand monsters (Floormasters/Wallmasters) have always been frustrating in Ocarina and there were several early Deadhands, so there’s that, but the giant hands didn’t seem to mesh well with the stealthy and dark feel of the instance.

H: I mentioned the same thing about Bongo Bongo above–the Lens is really worked in more smoothly than the Boots. That also fits what I’ve said about the dungeon as a whole just above. But I thought its usage at the boss was clever. Yes, you could get stuck (putting aside Navi, which as you say is never a satisfying solution to anything). But it’s a pretty good “aha” moment, and those can often be tough to create. You’ve just done a whole dungeon themed on invisible stuff, and the jump to realizing that part of the boss is invisible is a great ending to it. Again though, it would be even cleaner if the Lens were “officially” the main item of the Shadow Temple, because then players who were paying attention to Zelda patterns would have a more natural reason to think to try it.

P: After Ruto’s in-your-face speech to Link after the Water Temple, Impa is a sobering contrast after the Shadow Temple. She’s a natural choice for the Sage of Shadow, with the Temple’s proximity to Kakariko Village and her backstory on opening up the village to the commoners. Like I commented before on Zelda’s character manifesting itself through the Ocarina songs and the power associated with Hyrule, it’s interesting to see how Impa doesn’t have much direct gameplay time either, but we have a sense of her strength and ideals through secondary details. We know that she’s a member of the Sheikah and Zelda’s handmaiden, also that she opened up the formerly-elite city of Kakariko Village up to the poorer inhabitants of Hyrule Village. Kakariko Village itself is an odd mix of inhabitants and architecture, with humorous carpenters and shop owners next to the House of Skulltula and creepy graveyard infested with Poes. We don’t know a ton about Impa’s motives as to turning the village over, but we spend a lot of time observing the effects of her actions in the village she helped shape.

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