Part 8: The Water Temple
Perculia: Outside of Hyrule Castle Town, Zora’s Domain has the most striking visual changes in the interim seven years–it was saddening to see how it was all frozen over. The frozen lake, slippery sounds, and total lack of life turned this zone from gorgeous to creepy instantly. While Kokiri Forest had frightened villagers huddled away from menacing enemies, the basic life of the town was recognizable and there was still hope it was inhabitable. Goron City was abandoned, but Child Link brought warmth to the narrative and an explanation as to why the villagers left of their own accord. In Zora’s Domain, it’s just empty, save for King Zora encased in ice. There’s no sign of any life, not even hostile monsters. I was disappointed not to interact with Princess Ruto at least (and was curious to see what became of her engagement agreement).
With no real guidance, stumbling upon and starting the Ice Cavern is unsettling. Interaction with actual enemies is kept to a minimum as the beginning room just have frozen crystals, icicles, moving silver machinery, and an introduction to the Silver Rupee mechanic. At first, I wasn’t sure if this was the actual instance and if the lack of human contact was meant to symbolize how much Zora’s Domain was affected by the ice. It had elements of a real dungeon–similar enemy mechanics, a map, and compass, but elements felt off. As I progressed in the Ice Cavern, it felt a bit more like dungeon meta-humor: the map only reveals one level of an instance, there’s a Piece of Heart when instances don’t include them, and fighting an easy mob yields a loot chest. (And looking back, it was clever how the silver rupee mechanic was introduced here, without distractions like additional mobs. After completing two puzzles, it’s clear that silver rupees come in sets of five, do not grant currency, but do unlock a puzzle when all are accessed–some involving jumping from precise directions.)
Hamlet: They actually give 5 Rupees, a fact easily missed because you were focusing on the puzzle and money is mostly irrelevant in this game and/or you were capped. Your point is right though–they teach you the mechanic in a place where there’s nothing else going on and it’s not a hard puzzle. Teaching the player mechanics the “old-fashioned” way–using a game room that shows you how it works rather than something clunky like out-of-game text–is something that Ocarina generally does right, as we’ve talked about a number of times.
Mini-dungeons that nominally obey dungeon rules are kind of neat, especially since the game only has 5 adult dungeons before the final tower. The Bottom of the Well is probably more interesting than the Ice Cavern, but both have their own mood that’s slightly distinct from the corresponding Temple.
P: Although I had taken the time to use Blue Fire on all the crystals, quickly unearthing the heart piece, I failed to make the connection between the red crystals in the instance and the red ice in Zora’s Domain. Perhaps I was impatient and just warped to the Water Temple after learning the Serenade of Water, but this did lead to some initial frustration when I wasn’t able to breathe underwater for an infinite amount of time in the early Water Temple. I hadn’t thought to revisit Zora’s Domain since I’d only visited Goron City and Kokiri Forest after completing their respective temples.
H: I can easily see how that happened. If I recall, I clued you in that you were missing something, which I’ve generally avoided doing as much as possible, because going through the Water Temple with a breath timer sounded really annoying. Like I said earlier, the vests are just not that interesting here. They don’t work as an “optional bonus” because the penalty of not having them in the dungeon that needs them (timed death) is not fun, just annoying.
P: As for the actual Water Temple, I understand now that a lot of people really dislike this zone. I came in prepared to find it somewhat annoying, but found it fairly relaxing since the instance was formulaic–the puzzle in most rooms was simply finding out how to access it by determining the proper water level beforehand. After running and swimming around a few times to memorize the central paths to each water triforce and doors on each floor, it became much easier. Keeping the actual floorplan in mind was less useful than memorizing the available rooms at each three water levels–thinking in terms of three vertical maps with changing connecting tunnels, instead of three horizontal floors.
H: The Water Temple was my favorite dungeon. People got stuck in it a lot, but that probably has more to do with them being 12 years old and not really good at exploring in a methodical way. I’m not saying it’s good that people got stuck; there are a few rooms/keys that are kind of hard to notice and one of their desired changes in the 3DS remake was to fix that. Even small things like the camera angle as you enter some rooms are adjusted slightly to hint at things better. Overall though, the dungeon gets a bad rap when all it required at any point was a careful search of the rooms you’d already been in. I think it’s fine for one Temple to focus on being more maze-like than the rest (and you note below the underemphasis on combat compared to the Forest and Fire Temples). Dungeoneering is a skill which, as we’ve already discussed, the game trains you in with gradually increasing complexity. This is the one Temple that challenges you on that axis.
P: It wasn’t without challenges. I got stuck in the center column, where the activator to the second water level was located. At first, I didn’t realize that some of the blocks could float, so I ignored a freshly-floating block that would have allowed me access to a lower level. I definitely spent some time making loops around the instance instead of proceeding down the correct path. I also spent a lot of time trying to figure out if I could hookshot to higher-placed doorways, which led to some initial dead ends. But really, discovering that blocks could float made everything click, as well as remembering that the initial water level merely granted access to various Temple wings–there were only three activators, and once I was in a wing, I didn’t have to worry about resetting the water level for a few minutes.
H: Yup, the overall structure of the place is pretty elegant once you get used to it. There are three water level activators and you can traverse them in a loop pretty quickly. I said just now it was my favorite dungeon; one of the reasons is that on repeat playthroughs where I knew where all the keys were, I could cycle the water level once, collect everything on each level along the way, and move on. It felt like a reward for knowing my way around really well.
P: Instead of combat-related challenges, the Water Temple focuses on environmental puzzles, and not just navigating the water levels. (Fighting Dark Link was a notable exception–in this case, the environment faded to white without any objects in sight, and all my energy was directed to fighting the lookalike enemy with deadly attacks. I’m not sure how Dark Link relates thematically to the instance, but it offers some character insights in that the player experiences first-hand how strong Link is in combat, and how he could have easily used this power for evil instead of good, if he had a different type of character like Ganondorf.)
The player is introduced to shifting dragon-head statues that can be hookshotted at various heights, which are controlled by the water level. One room requires players to cross it via hookshotting statues and manipulating the water level via a central crystal. This in turn prepares players for the statue leading to the end boss’ area. There are movable blocks and bombable walls as in other Temples, but these puzzles are more sophisticated than the preceding Temples–the walls are less intuitive to bomb because they’ve been previously covered by water, and the blocks require pushing from multiple angles to successfully manipulate. Even swimming is challenging (or even walking in Iron Boots), due to water currents and sinkholes–a mechanic hinted at by the slippery floors in the Ice Cavern. And even before players obtain the Longshot, their hookshotting skills are put to the test in a visually striking room with floating blocks descending in a waterfall.
H: I don’t know how Dark Link fits either, but he’s so awesome that I’m pretty sure everyone gives him a pass. That fight is one of the more memorable set pieces of the whole game; I’ve heard a lot of people say as much.
Great bits of detail here.
1) When you first run into the reflecting-pool room where you fight him, there’s a detailed reflection of Link on the surface of the water. After running past the tiny center island, the reflection is gone. When you turn around and come back towards is, Dark Link is standing on the island.
2) Dark Link fades from transparent to solid black over the course of the fight.
3) The number of Master Sword hits he takes to kill is equal to the number of Heart Containers you have.
P: The architecture of the Water Temple also prepares the player for the addition of the Longshot–the most notable example that comes to mind is a dungeon gate that opens for a very short period of time when an arrow is shot at a golden eye. With some choreography and the proper water level, players can reach the gate’s ledge quickly, but are still too slow to pass through it before the timer runs out. With the longshot though, it’s pretty easy to enter in time, which in turn made me excited to explore other places that were formerly out-of-reach. Doorways that previously frustrated me when I mistakenly thought I couldn’t access them due to the wrong water level were all reached by the Longshot.
H: You didn’t mention Morpha but he’s probably the game’s weakest boss. A really bland fight.
P: Ruto was fun to see again and her personality hasn’t changed at all growing up as she instantly begins arguing with Link. I am glad I didn’t have to carry her around this time– although it was ironic how I’m initially feeling lost without her as she runs out of sight. Her transformation into a Sage was also poignant as her dialogue shows how she’s struggling to reconcile her feisty personality with her new role that’s removed from Zora’s Domain. She wants to grant Link her eternal love for helping her purify the Water Temple, but knows that time has passed. Even in this brief exchange, her straightforward humor and blunt opinions remain intact. I also like how her presence balances out those of the more traditional and mild-mannered members in the Chamber of Sages: having a wide-ranging group of Sages shows that they’re normal inhabitants of Hyrule with outstanding personality traits, instead of adhering to stereotypes on impersonal and perfect deities.