The Fire Temple
Perculia:Entering the Fire Temple required specific items, like the Forest Temple–but with a more sinister twist. If you didn’t have the Red Vest on, you would eventually burn to death. You could also easily kill yourself improperly exploring the area outside of the Fire Temple, by falling into lava or executing a jump imperfectly. Acquiring the Red Vest wasn’t as complicated as winning the hookshot from Dampe, but it held sentimental value as Goron Link gives it to you as a gift.
Hamlet: I never thought the vest mechanic amounted to much. Need the red one for Fire Temple, need the blue one for Water Temple–never anything interesting about it. I guess what I’m really saying is that the whole equipment system in this game never pulls any weight (worth pointing out especially since it’s the first Zelda game where they do something like it). The only exception is Master Sword vs. Biggoron’s Sword, which is an actual decision based on the combat situation. Once you learn to manipulate the controls to instantly pull out your shield even after using the two-hander though (keep a one-handed item like Hookshot equipped, mash Hookshot and block in quick succession and you’ll block, even if you had the two-handed sword out a moment earlier), even that’s degenerate. The whole equippable-items system is bloat in this game.
P: The mobs in the Fire Temple appeared especially menacing–perhaps because I was trying to complete this on a turbulent airplane, but maybe also because there were actual prisoners behind bars as a result of their actions. The penalty for being sloppy against these monsters were high, most notably in fighting the Like Like, which (temporarily) ate all of my armor. Definitely panicked a ton the first time I heard my armor had vanished.
The mood of the Fire Temple was completely the opposite of the Forest Temple. The previous temple was tranquil and empty–it felt a bit like walking through an abandoned (bot not haunted) house. In the Fire Temple, it’s a scalding hot prison with Goron prisoners locked in every corner. Architectural details like bridges over hot lava, a chainlink fence with nearby flying birds, a maze with moving spikes, and precariously-curved stairs over a 3-story pit added an additional element of danger to the Temple. The lava in the central area was avoided by jumping between narrow bridges and sinking rocks–being careful to dodge flying birds that could knock you off. The chainlink fence was dangerous (and it took me a while to realize it was climbable) because nearby flying birds could attack you.
Another room appeared normal at first, but contained both invisible fire walls and hostile fake doors that knocked you down, contributing to the unsettling mood. The room with the Like Like contained floor tiles that came to life and needed to be dodged. And the most frustrating part of the instance was trying to navigate very narrow stairs before the timed switched turned off and an important chest was surrounded by fire once again. It was a long way down to the bottom floor of the instance when falling off the ledge.
H: In the 1998 release, this was the music we heard in the Fire Temple: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOmOzWdHzHU . It sets a great theme. Unfortunately, the chanting is in (barely recognizable) Arabic (listen at around 0:40). Fast forward a few years, and this was changed in rereleases going forward, including the version you heard: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZSi6FdBnlQ&feature=relmfu . We won’t get into speculation here about why they changed it, but it’s pretty obvious that the original is the one that was intended by Koji Kondo–if you listen to the second one, the chanting track has simply been replaced by a remixed version of the groans from the Shadow Temple music. It doesn’t fit the mood nearly as well as the original and pretty obviously is merely brought in from a different part of the game to patch over the removal of the chanting.
Interestingly, in a presumably related change, the Gerudo symbol used on pushable blocks, the Mirror Shield, floor buttons, and random other things in the game changed as well. Here’s the old (star and crescent) and the new (stylized mask) as seen on the Mirror Shield:
P: The Fire Temple not only reminded me of Goron City, but also Dodongo’s Cavern, which the Gorons asked me to investigate as a child. I noticed similarities in these two instances, both in the emphasis on harmful lava and stone designs, but also in the types of dangers and combat faced. The second-floor maze in the Fire Temple, which has a forced vertical perspective and hostile rocks behind every corner, was reminiscent of the maze towards the end of Dodongo’s Cavern. And similar to the child maze, there was a later point at which you revisited the maze at a higher point and completed a puzzle by jumping across the wall plateaus. Bombs were also an important element of both dungeons in solving puzzles–most notably slowing down Fire Dancers and dropping bombs onto crystal switches to activate them.
H: Having a whole dungeon full of puzzles themed after one item is really nice, most Zelda dungeons aren’t able to take it quite that far.
P: Stripped of its dangerous elements, the Temple had similarities to Goron City, which added a layer of pathos as all of the grownup inhabitants were captured. It was a touching moment when I met Goron Link, reminded of how Child Link was told he was now a Goron brother after completing Dodongo’s Cavern. However, as I muse on how the Goron prisoners add an emotional element to the dungeon, I also wonder if they’re also too-obvious puzzle shortcuts since they all impart so much information about the dungeon and its mechanics, instead of letting you discover things on your own. Interacting with the prisoners is an effective way to give them personalities, but I think it would have been more effective if they just gave flavor dialogue. However, if they were totally useless, some players would skip them (H: you can’t because they give you the keys). And the Fire Temple is less linear than the Forest Temple, so if players were overwhelmed and temporarily forgetful, tips like these could get them back on track.
Several Gorons give advice that players should use bombs–on walls, fake doors, switches, and the Flare Dancers. As the instance shares similarities to Dodongo Cavern and bombs are a signature item of the Gorons, this was a bit redundant to hear that bombs were useful in combat. And if you’ve done a bit of exploring or simply have the Shard of Agony, you’ll see how bombs are effective at uncovering rewards behind suspiciously-cracked walls. I hadn’t been aware that attacking bombable walls produced a different sound, and did find that useful–it was a quirky tip that didn’t impact the overall progression of the instance. I found the tip to bomb the doors less useful because it seemed logical to chuck a ranged bomb at a stationary mob instead of trying to fight it in melee range.
H: It’s probably fine for them to give you general-purpose tips. Probably less clunky than a lot of games where you get passwords or similarly “necessary” info to progress, which is distractingly immersion-breaking on repeat playthroughs.
P: The remaining tips weren’t as obvious but reinforced basic points for being relatively progressed in the game. The tip to slash your sword or roll if you catch on fire was a good optional tip, similar to listening to the varying sounds of bombable walls. But being told to play the Ocarina if I can’t get somewhere was basic–at this point, I’ve learned to use the Ocarina to warp across the map, including warping to the Fire Temple as a child which wasn’t possible earlier on. At this point, it’s clear that most instances have the boss located in a central location, and that after journeying through part of the instance, a shortcut or elevator will appear to make things easier. The tip hinting to smash a block in the central room also seemed a bit redundant with this knowledge. And after acquiring the Megaton Hammer, I wanted to smash everything in sight, which also made the tip to visit a smashable statue somewhat obvious.
The Megaton Hammer is a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed smashing random rocks with it outside of the instance simply to see if they’ll reveal any treasure. Foreshadowing the ways in which the longshot and water levels changed my perception of the Water Temple, acquiring this item changed my perception of the Fire Temple’s floorplan. By acquiring the Hammer, I learned that some rooms are meant to be inaccessible until later items are acquired–it’s not that I haven’t found a passageway if a room is blocked off. The Hammer was also utilized well in the boss fight, which was thematically tied better to its temple than the final boss in the Forest Temple. I thought that Volvagia was designed to both make good use of the Hammer (if you don’t stun the dragon, you’ll take tons of fire damage), while also rewarding the player for having good situational awareness in the air phases with rocks.
H: Volvagia is one of the coolest bosses by far. It’s one of the better fights mechanically too, you actually have to learn to pay attention to a few different things, and he’s constantly in motion so you can never totally relax. The way he changes behavior partway through (feinting once or twice in the whack-a-mole attack before finally staying up) is a way of giving you more to learn over the course of the fight too. Zelda bosses work out a little more interestingly when the dodge/attack pattern you learn at the very beginning of the fight can’t just be repeated all the way until the end.
P: Completing the instance was poignant on multiple levels in much the same was as clearing the Forest Temple–you’re reunited with old friends and observe first-hand how a particular area is freed from Ganondorf’s evil. Most of the Gorons are back in Goron City and celebrating, and there’s additional rewards you can acquire with your new hammer. I commented before that it was fun to see how the grown-up version of Kokiri Forest had Skulltulas and a Magic Bean–Goron City doesn’t have any beans, but it does have a room with brown smashable rocks hiding treasure chests.
It’s still sad though how Darunia became the Sage of Fire and won’t be reunited with Goron Link now.
H: I never thought too hard on the significance of the characters becoming Sages. It’s a bit too much to really try to make sense of I think; I just went with the flow of appreciated a sort of contrived scene each time whose only real point was to let Link have some dialogue (sort of) with someone he’d met earlier and who had been important to the adventure. If you think about it too hard you get into the Harry Potter syndrome–it’s not really immersive or believable when every aspect of the world somehow turns out to revolve precisely around the hero and everyone he knows.