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In case you haven’t heard of it, a little game called The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time launched in 1998 on the Nintendo 64. With the franchise back in the limelight due to the release of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the new Nintendo Switch, I thought there was no better time to take a look back at my favorite in the series. The temples in Ocarina of Time represent large challenges and opposition. Overcoming them is a feat, and one that feels very rewarding. I consider temples the best element of Zelda games altogether; a true culmination of the skills and ability you have gained.
I love the series for my own set of reasons, and by proxy, not everyone will agree with this list. Ocarina of Time is regarded as one of the best games ever made, hands down. With that kind of popularity, everyone has their own opinion. I recently interviewed Zelda speed runner Ben Stephens (most well known as BenStephens56), and he regarded the Water Temple as his favorite. If you’ve played Ocarina of Time, you’ll know that it’s an odd choice. Nevertheless, there’s a reason to love every temple in the game. Here’s my list of all the Ocarina of Time Temples, ranked from worst to best.
Just a small note, the child dungeons and things like The Well and Ice Cavern will not be included on this list… I’ll save that for another time. Without further ado, let’s get to listing.
5. The Water Temple
I didn’t bury the lead here guys, the Water Temple sucks. For years, myself and many Ocarina of Time fans have considered the Water Temple the worst of the bunch. It’s a multi-leveled dungeon in which you raise and lower the water level to access rooms and areas. It sounds easy at first, but knowing where to go and when to do it can be incredibly frustrating. I’m not the only guy with this opinion, either. In fact, when Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3DS for their handheld system, they made a few changes to ease new players into the experience. Of those changes, easier navigation of the Water Temple was a front runner.
Despite the frustration and head scratching that comes with this roadblock temple, I can see the love for it. Ben Stephens had a point when we discussed this, citing the Water Temple’s complexity and depth. It’s a very forward thinking dungeon, one where you have to think before you act. For whatever reason, that didn’t gel with me. Also, the boss is a pushover. So, that’s another knock. The greatest redeeming quality of the entire temple is the showdown with Shadow Link. He’s easily bested by a quick Megaton Hammer hit (or twelve) to the face, but it’s a cool concept.
4. The Fire Temple
The Fire Temple is also pretty complex in its own right, but not always to its advantage. The Fire Temple has a great style, and the constant presence of lava and giant boulders add a specific intensity. Each temple usually has an objective in addition to the difficulty of the dungeon, or some sort of story motivation to push you through the challenge. The Fire Temple has you freeing numerous imprisoned Gorons, one of the distinct races in the game. It feels a little fetch questy, and there are some frustrating moments as well. Midway through the temple, there’s a maze of flames you must navigate, except the flames only appear right before you run into them. There’s also a maze-like room that has you dodging giant boulders from a top down angle, reminiscent of the original Legend of Zelda. Unfortunately, they come off a bit more annoying than entertaining.
The Fire Temple isn’t all annoyance though, it has a great boss. Going toe to toe with a giant dragon in a game of whack-a-mole was pretty fun in 1998, and still is today. It also houses the Megaton Hammer, which is one of the best feeling weapons to use. The Fire Temple is often more about exploration than it is about puzzle solving, but struggles to distinguish itself in a meaningful way. It’s an enjoyable dungeon, but not a standout.
3. The Shadow Temple
Here’s where I start to struggle as I write this list. In my mind, my top 3 Ocarina of Time dungeons are ever shifting. In fact, I might disagree with this list next year, as I play Ocarina of Time each year and discover new likes and dislikes. However, I know for a fact that the Shadow Temple will always be near the top. This is mainly due to my bias towards the horror genre.
The Shadow Temple is creepy, there’s no doubt about that. This dark and ominous collection of dangerous rooms makes the other temples look like child’s play by comparison. There’s a distinctively creepy tone and feel to the temple apparent by the eerie music and dark visuals. Much like the Fire Temple, the Shadow Temple contains a constant sense of danger and intensity. Instead of fire and lava, we’re treated to giant scythes and false walls. The whole temple seems to be tricking you at every turn, and solving it involves using a pretty cool item, the Lens of Truth. This item lets you see invisible platforms, obstacles, and dangers. The knowledge that death can be right in front of you, just invisible at the moment, presents a certain stress that I enjoy.
The boss of the Shadow Temple, Bongo Bongo, is one of the most creative in the game. He’s a huge floating entity, with one lone eye. His disembodied hands strike at you with speed and power, all while you bounce on a giant bongo drum. It’s an intimidating fight, and an imaginative one as well. I definitely consider Bongo Bongo to be among my favorite bosses as well.
2. The Forest Temple
This is something I’ve battled with every time I come up with a temple list. If you’re following along, you know what #1 is at this point. For a long time, the Forest Temple occupied that space, but after this year’s playthrough of Ocarina of Time, I realized it wasn’t my favorite anymore. Whether it was due to rose-tinted goggles or not, my appreciation has wavered. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Forest Temple. It’s a very cool dungeon, and while it’s not entirely original or inventive, the layout is very well put together.
Like the Shadow Temple, the Forest Temple has an eerie and unwelcoming feel. As soon as you step through the double doors and run down the first hallway, you immediately feel like you’re trespassing. The creepy factor is pushed up a bit after you’re introduced to the four ghosts you must defeat, whom scatter themselves across the temple and wait. As you hunt the ghosts and traverse the temple, it starts twisting and turning around you. Revisiting rooms that have been completely flipped is a refreshing design aspect, and one that only makes an appearance in the Forest Temple. The Forest Temple also pushes you to get better with the bow, an item that is synonymous with Zelda inventories since the original.
There’s a thick layer of atmosphere to the Forest Temple that really makes it stand out. This is punctuated nicely by the boss fight with Phantom Ganondorf. Instead of dueling with swords and strength, this boss fight encourages reflex and timing. You play a game of what I call “lightning tennis”, smacking an orb of electricity back and forth as the boss emerges from paintings on the wall. The Forest Temple is also the first temple you will complete, making it a solid introduction for the challenges to come.
1. The Spirit Temple
There’s a lot of reasons that Ocarina of Time is great. One of the biggest gameplay features is the ability to travel back and forth from a child to an adult. Despite having this ability throughout the entire game, once you become an adult, you rarely have to go back to being a child. The Spirit Temple is the only temple that forces you to enter as both a young boy and a grown man. This pairing with the standout mechanic is one of the many reasons that the Spirit Temple tops this list.
There’s a big disconnect between Adult Link and Child Link, each having their own set of items and strengths. When you approach the Spirit Temple, the last in the game, you feel powerful and unstoppable. It’s funny then, that in order to truly overcome the temple, you have to revert to your less powerful self. As a whole, the Spirit Temple falls in line with the game’s overall concepts. Traveling back and forth through time, altering the past to affect the future, etc. Sure, all the other temples are fun, but what’s the point in having a time traveling mechanic if you’re not going to use it?
Honestly, the Spirit Temple isn’t insanely impressive room by room. You grab the Mirror Shield here, which is the coolest looking shield by far. Using this, you often deflect sunlight to solve puzzles and trigger switches. It’s a bit more of a thinking dungeon than an action dungeon, and maybe I’ve come to enjoy that more with age. The Mirror Shield also plays a crucial role in many players’ favorite boss fight, Twinrova. She’s a huge towering witch that casts ice and fire beams at you, which you store up and fire back at her. I wouldn’t call it the most inventive boss battle, but there’s a neat duality between the ice and fire that shines through in the fight.
It may not be the popular opinion or align with yours, but the Spirit Temple takes the cake when compared to the rest.
Honorable Mention: The Temple of Time
Participation trophy time! While the Temple of Time isn’t a giant obstacle for you to overcome, it’s still a pretty cool temple. The Temple of Time is kind of like that reliable friend or family member; you might not visit them all the time, but you know that they’ll always be there when you need them. Like I said, you rarely travel back and forth through time, and the Temple of Time is where that all takes place. Even if it’s only two rooms, it’s the most important temple in the game.
The Temple of Time is a prominent building in the story, and a symbol of the Zelda franchise just as much as Link. Look no further than Breath of the Wild, which features a similarly looking Temple of Time within the first few hours. While it may not contain any fearsome foes or obstacles to overcome, the Temple of Time deserves a spot on this list. If anything, it can stand the wrath of seven years of Ganon, all while housing the grand Master Sword. That’s worth the spot alone.
Here’s to you, Temple of Time. Keep on… being a building, I guess?
What’s your favorite Ocarina of Time temple? Drop a comment and let me know, I always love hearing opinions from other Zelda enthusiasts!