Notes on Ocarina of Time, Part 10: Spirit Temple

This is a continuation of our Ocarina notes project. You can see all the parts here.
Part 10: Spirit Temple and Gerudo Valley

 

Gerudo Fortress

Perculia: Gerudo Fortress quickly establishes itself as a fresh area–you’re stuck in prison immediately. The thieves, seemingly without a leader, have thrown terrified carpenters into prison, and if you get too close to them or fail to block their signature attack, you’ll end up back in prison too. While the guards are hostile, they don’t seem wholly evil from the start–it’s more that they’re testing you to become a better fighter, up to their standards. I admit I struggled with this part at first, trying different combat moves against them and getting discouraged when I was sent to prison before I really knew what happened. I ended up being able to defeat the guards in contrasting ways–gaining distance, side-stepping attacks, and slashing right after, as well as staying in close range, cornering the guard, and waiting for the right moment to attack. I also paid attention to the large commonrooms in between the passageways and cells–by jumping onto a floating block via hookshotting the ceiling, I learned I could avoid patrolling guards below. I also dodged the patrolling guards, but I was curious about the presence of the stone platforms and their function. As it turns out, hookshotting the ceiling was the solution to bypassing a hallway blockage leading to a rooftop chest and heart piece.

Hamlet: One stealth sequence in every adventure game or RPG is a trope that’s about as old and pervasive as they come. Ocarina’s isn’t bad. The game is not exactly cut out for that sort of hide-and-seek gameplay, but they keep it short and come up with a few distinct obstacles. The Hookshot is your only heavy-duty non-combat tool (Hover Boots are pretty unexciting), but they definitely get some mileage out of it here.

As far as the guards, they’re just ramping up the combat a little. Basic Stalfos fights should be cake by now, so they add a twist, especially when they have to sprinkle a few interesting combats in a non-dungeon sequence. The one-shot ability that knocks you out and sends you back to the start of the stealth crawl is basically a message: you’re grown up and should not get hit by slow attacks with big obvious wind-ups. Obviously you might get hit a few times before you see what it is, which from what I recall you did, but before long you had the basic routine down. You’re near the end of the game now so they’re making sure your fundamentals of combat (in Zelda, dodging and counterattacking) are shipshape, in a nonthreatening environment. It would be a lot more frustrating if you had to learn this lesson against the high-damage Iron Knuckles in the Spirit Temple.

P: At this point leading up to any other Temple, I would have received a useful item by now (Lens of Truth, Hookshot, Red/Blue Tunic). However, all I’ve gained is access to the menacing desert, as well as neutrality with the Gerudo. As this whole area is unchartered territory (it was blocked off to Child Link), there’s some fun in playing up the suspense angle and making the exploration truly an epic experience. In the previous zones, we were already familiar with the areas, and the dramatic effect instead came from seeing how Ganondorf had corrupted the environments.

H: Also, Gerudo Valley and the Gerudo are new to Ocarina. Most of the other major areas/races are reprises of the Link to the Past world.

P: The Haunted Desert is unforgiving, standing in stark contrast to the now jovial and wisecracking sunny Gerudo Fortress. Both the Hoverboots and Lens of Truth are needed, and I always felt one step away from getting completely lost. The green things coming out of the sand (H: Leevers) towards the end constantly chipping away at my health didn’t help either. This part really emphasizes your lack of direction–after getting used to the Ice Temple and Bottom of the Well providing you with maps, being stuck in the desert is disconcerting. As for the immediate desert outside the temple, I instantly grew hooked onto the music. Maybe it was the feeling that I survived wandering in the desert, and was relieved to see the sun again and could outrun the Leevers as much as I pleased, but something about the initial jaunty hanging cadence drew me in.

H: The Desert Colossus is a pretty rewarding reveal. It fits for being the last main location you visit after being inaccessible for most of the game. Since the other 4 Temples were all in places you’d been to as a child, the last one has this mysterious Indiana Jones feel to it, and they really play into that. The puzzles in the dungeon itself continue the motif as well, with all the mirrors and big moving contraptions.

Spirit Temple

P: The Spirit Temple felt like the culmination of the adult temples, not only thematically, but also in complexity. It builds upon several formulas: there’s a mini-instance with a few challenges to prep you for the actual Temple, items acquired in the instance are used to solve key puzzles including the final boss, a sympathetic character that assists you will become a Sage and grant you a medallion upon completion, and there’s unique-themed puzzles exemplifying the mood of the instance. However, the Spirit Temple makes you review all of the items you’ve acquired thus far–both as Child and Adult link–to solve puzzles, presents you with a potential Sage that’s both unfamiliar and evil, and uses contrasting instead of unifying elements (light and darkness) to set the mood.

H: You have the basic scheme figured out. The Spirit Temple being a bit of a review is kind of interesting, because that’s the function usually served by the final dungeon of a game. And really it’s true here as well–the Spirit Temple has its own identity, but it has a wide array of puzzles because they have to keep pulling out new tricks (and the first new item, the Silver Gauntlets, doesn’t have much puzzle-solving utility). So aside from a few Mirror Shield puzzles you’re basically using familiar items. When you go through Ganon’s Tower though, you’ll see how it really is a recapitulation of all of the game’s dungeons.

P: The concept of time travel was first explored in the Shadow Temple, where I had to enter the well as a child to obtain the Lens of Truth. However, that was less complex because the actual Temple took place as an adult. While I’d gone back several times to finish side-quests as Child Link, I hadn’t been challenged to use all of my items, and felt a bit rusty when I suddenly had to use them, especially on the first Stalfos I encountered (H: making you fight a full Stalfos a child is new, and gives you a little child combat practice before dealing with the Iron Knuckle at the end of this segment). Even running from the warp point to the instance was amusing, as those infinitely spawning green blobs were more annoying to fight. In one room, I had to aim a Boomerang precisely for it to swing around a chainlink fence and activate a crystal that would open a bridge–reminiscent of a similar puzzle towards the end of Jabu-Jabu’s Belly. Other rooms seemed to taunt me with solutions I didn’t have the equipment for–a gap that could be closed with Hoverboots, a monster that could easily be hookshotted. However, this segment did rely upon a Bombchu–the first that’s required one so far (H: and the only Bombchu-required puzzle, I believe): having it crawl up the wall and bomb rocks to let light into a room. Another room utilized Deku Sticks, Din’s Fire, and old-fashioned blocks. And the final mini-boss, Iron Knuckle, is vulnerable to all sorts of things from bombs to slingshots–and would have also been a good time to use Naryu’s Love to reduce damage from his slashes.

As an Adult, you’ll use the Silver Gauntlets, Goron Hammer, Lens of Truth, Hookshot, Ocarina, Hover Boots, Arrows, and Mirror Shield, even though just the gauntlets and shield are from the Spirit Temple. This poses thematic challenges so each room doesn’t seem like a disjointed puzzle showing off an item, which I’ll cover more below later, but the overall visual motif of dark hallways offset with beams of light unifies the various items. The Silver Gauntlets aren’t actually used that much, but they do allow you to move large dark blocks, which is a nice visual contrast to the streaming light, and also integral to opening up a passageway to an elevator (H: the heavy-lifting powerups are never all that interesting, but Zelda games often use them as a clean way of unlocking progression in some areas). I found it clever that the shadowy Lens of Truth was used to solve a puzzle with beams of light, and how the interior statue also carried useful information on her palms, like the outdoor statue. I also found the boss fight both amusing and clever–from opening the passageway with the reflective mirror and longshot to discovering mid-fight that the shield only reflects one type of magic. And it’s always fun to note why characters that have only a few lines of dialogue are so memorable–the two witches are devoted sorcerers to a misguided cause, but they’re also close friends that aren’t above petty bickering over their age, little details which elevate them above stock villains. Special note also goes to the room with activated statues and the blue temporary switch–timing kiting the statues while hovering close to the locked door was tricky. We’ve come a long way since we can drag and drop statues how we like onto switches.

H: A lot of good stuff here. First, on the progression of puzzles, this one is an example of great buildup over the course of the game. Floor buttons and Armos statues (the living kind that animate and chase you) have both been around since the beginning of the game. Now they make you do something that would have seemed very tricky early on.

The boss is great, both for mechanics and character. Both Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening had a Mirror Shield found in some dungeon, but neither of those games found a way to use it against the boss–it was a just a convenience upgrade for laser enemies. Twinrova is a fun fight, and makes use of something you haven’t had to play with much so far–aiming your shield around with the control stick while you have it out. Analog control was still somewhat novel when Ocarina first arrived, and integrating it into familiar mechanics like the shield was fun.

You’re not the only one who thought Kotake and Kuome were memorable with just their few lines of dialogue. They’re on the long list of little bits from this game that returned with much more prominence in Majora’s Mask (alongside things like masks, the Ocarina and certain favorite songs like the Song of Time and Song of Storms, Skull Kid, the Happy Mask Shop owner, the man from the windmill, and many others).

P: With so many different puzzles, it’s important to have a connecting ingredient. In this case, it’s pure beams of light in a rough dark cave. The shafts of light are a striking aesthetic choice, and also integral to solving puzzles with the reflective Mirror Shield and turning mirrors to reflect light at different angle (H: which also found a natural use for the ability to wave your shield around). I found the temple a bit disjointed as a child, encountering rooms with chain link fences that seemed more derivative of the Fire Temple, but it felt more thematic once I came across the light/darkness motif.

It also raises questions about faith in Hyrule–the Spirit Temple is a temple of the Gerudo, different architecturally from the Cathedral in Hyrule. The Gerudo worship a sand goddess instead of the three fairies (ironic, how Naryu’s Well is right outside the instance), but both faiths have been corrupted by Ganondorf. How do you show both faith and corruption? There’s no overt references to worship, and the female Sand statues are relics from past times. To access the temple in the bright desert, you first have to traverse through a dangerous sandstorm and utilize shadow magic to navigate it as well. The place feels pretty abandoned and sprase, with the light itself as a powerful, yet controllable, force–maybe the one constant thing in times of changing gods and turmoil. Ganondorf becoming the leader of the Gerudo by tradition certainly encourages us to view these customs critically.

Sage

P: Nabooru differed from the other Sages in that you weren’t introduced to her as Child Link, and she undergoes a process of redemption, instead of being a natural choice for a wise sage. Saria is a childhood friend, King Goron helps you with Dodongo’s Cavern, Princess Ruto shows up in Jabu-Jabu’s belly, and Impa gives you Zelda’s Ocarina. There’s a challenge to make her both a convincing sage and a sympathetic character you feel a connection to. The design of the Spirit Temple aids in her character depth–in the process of exploring the temple as both a child and an adult to utilize all combat items, you have more opportunities to interact with Nabooru. And you’ve already had an extended introduction to the culture of the Gerudo thieves, which was memorable since you started off hated and thrown in prison by a group of skilled assassins without a real leader–on top of first being introduced to the culture through Ganondorf in a cutscene in Hyrule Castle. (Again, misleading, as he’s the one male member of the tribe in 100 years (H: I always love how many parts of Zelda stories constantly make you go “wait, how does that work?”)).

When you first meet Nabooru, Link is a child. You’re familiar with the Gerudo as an adult, but this is the first time Nabooru meets Link, when you go back in time.  (It’s refreshing how someone doesn’t have a vague recollection of Link in the world of Hyrule.) Finding the Silver Gauntlets for her ends in disaster when she’s sized by the two witches and tells you to flee. Even from this brief exchange, we see how she’s a well-meaning protective character, in spite of shady morals as a thief. In the interim seven years, we’re led to understand that she’s been forced to aid Ganondorf against her will, which is apparent in the room before the boss encounter when she’s revealed underneath the Iron Knuckle’s armor and allusions are made to brainwashing her again.

H: Nabooru also sneaks in some of the subtle romantic appeal you occasionally find in these games. It’s basically left up to your imagination, like with Malon (and most tantalizingly, with Marin, if you ever play Link’s Awakening). Nabooru’s line that she’ll give you something “great” when you hand her the Silver Gauntlets seems like a throwaway at the time, but it’s definitely recalled in her farewell after giving adult Link the Spirit Medallion seven years later: “If only I knew you would become such a handsome man, I should have kept the promise I made back then….”

P: The process of transformation and redemption is more personal after completing the Spirit Temple. Instead of saving a place like cleansing Kokiri Forest or restoring order to Kakariko Village, you helped save someone’s essence. While the other Sages are more traditional royalty, Nabooru is an outlaw that is deemed worthy to be a Sage. It’s not as obvious as seeing a city suddenly restored, but it’s powerful how someone brainwashed can be completely restored to their former self–or an even better, more noble version. Thinking about it more, Gerudo Fortress probably did undergo a subtle transformation as well–the women had to accept Ganondorf as their ruler as he was the first man born in 100 years, and freeing Nabooru’s spirit would give them hope that they regained some autonomy.

Something I’ve been covering a lot for Mists of Pandaria beta are zone designs and previews, and one of the highlights is how there’s been a distinct effort to integrate dungeons into each zone’s questing experience. Outdoor versions of new instances were created so players could interact with these areas while questing, instead of viewing instances as static areas separated from the main storyline. The outdoor segments in the Spirit Temple reminded me of how this can effectively be done.

H: The ability to do this is just in the nature of non-MMO games. At this point the two single-player games you’re tried since moving away from WoW are Chrono Trigger and Ocarina, and I’ve already heard a lot of comments from you about starting to see the kinds of things that single-player games do with story and world.

P: The first outdoor segment is also a clever way of subverting instance expectations and keeping the player off guard. Upon entering the temple as an adult, you realize that there’s no way forward, you’re too big to crawl through the tunnel, and you haven’t learned the Requiem of Spirit yet (H: and you expect that you’d have learnt it by now based on experience with past dungeons, so you’re thinking about it). There’s no choice but to head outside without much of a plan–but that’s precisely what’s needed, as you learn more about the temple, learn the song, and meet with Sheik there. And when you loot the Silver Gauntlets as a child, located in a chest in the outside statue’s palm, you immediately view a cutscene where Nabooru has been captured by the two Witches, is swallowed up by a bubbling pit of magic, and begs you to flee (H: I think you also see that there’s another big chest on the opposite palm, which gives you something to look forward to). With how elaborate it was to traverse the desert and how important the contrast between Darkness and Light is in the Spirit Temple, both aesthetically and in puzzle design, it’s effective to have segments in the desert.

While there isn’t much of a payback in seeing how the zone was ‘redeemed’ because we get that trajectory with Nabooru while having no point of reference for Gerudo Valley 7 years earlier, the city did grow friendlier to Link after he completed their challenges. Like the other areas, there are prizes to get if you look hard enough. In Gerudo Fortress, you can now complete an archery mini-game which rewards a heart piece, or enter the Gerudo Training Grounds, a series of puzzles utilizing all the Adult Link items (foreshadowing the variety in the Spirit Temple). I ended up trying this before the Temple, but was forced to abandon halfway through as one puzzle required the Silver Gauntlets. It’s an excellent refresher course at everything you’ve learned so far, as well as managing your health since there aren’t any groups of stray mobs dropping consumables or hearts, and you definitely take damage while rushing.

H: The Training Ground is a great optional mini-dungeon, with the only downside being that its reward (Ice Arrows) is something I don’t remember ever using for anything. It suffers from the basic Zelda problem we’ve talked about before, and will again in the mini-games/sidequests segment coming up, that it’s hard to come up with optional rewards that matter. Everything required for progression is given to you at a certain time, and you can rarely to never use optional items to bypass puzzles (that would be hard to make fun), so pretty much the only possible use is facilitating combat. But most of the time you come up with an easy, repeatable way of dispatching any enemy after meeting it a few times, so you never have need to update your routine with fancier items, especially ones that use up limited supplies like arrows.

This may somewhat be casualty of a the 2D-3D transition. In the 2D games, a combat encounter was a whole room full of monsters, and more powerful spells would help you handle more strenuous combinations. Now in 3D, for reasons we’ve discussed before, for practical purposes you handle one enemy at a time, so once you know how you handle each kind there’s little variation or scaling.

P: With all medallions collected, the final chapter of your play begins. I admit to wanting to prolong this (which I’ll get to in a different post with side quests), but I did like reflecting on Zelda’s reveal as the Sheik. I commented earlier that while she was absent for much of Child Link’s adventures, she still occupied a position of agency because it was her ocarina, seal of Hyrule, and Lullaby that commanded power–Link was just the messenger. The twist at the end of the Temple sequence emphasized more distinctly how she’s not a passive presence, or a damsel waiting to be rescued. As the Sheik, Zelda was responsible for teaching Link all of his adult songs, information that’s just as valuable as combat prowess. It also sheds a new light on casual interactions–the Sheik throwing nuts at Link, watching Link get comically mauled by the beast in Kakariko village, causally referring to him as “kid.” There’s a degree of candor in her interactions that’s at odds with our stereotypical notions of a mythological princess. Even with her musical presence in the Child sequence, she came across as a princess removed from the action. Here, in disguise,  she had the freedom to both teach and tease Link, the one person in Hyrule seemingly not asking him for any aid or favors. Her reveal and capture is both effectively dramatic–and I’m curious to see how her fate will be tied to Link’s and also Ganondorf’s, as all three of them now share the current Triforce.

 

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