July 23, 2019
If you have followed the site for a while, you may remember that I posted a celebratory piece for my fiftieth TGPZ article, listing my top fifty favorite enemies from Legend of Zelda. I decided to do the same for the milestone of seventy-five as well, and list the top seventy-five dungeons in the series! A short ways into compiling the list of my favorites, I decided that perhaps it would have behooved me to do this in the opposite order, since enemies are far more plentiful than dungeons, and I eventually had to find myself cutting it down to only fifty dungeons as well, since I had to really think about some obscure ones to complete the list. So now the moment you’ve all been waiting for since you clicked the link, THE LIST!
#50: Level 1: The Eagle (The Legend of Zelda)
The first on the list is an oldie but a goodie. This introductory level to the very first game in the series is at the forefront of my mind when I think of the game. Defeating Aquamentus was one of my earliest Zelda achievements, little though it was, when compared to my further exploits. An excellent dungeon in every regard.
#49: Temple of the Ocean King (Phantom Hourglass)
This dungeon gets a lot of flack for its frankly stupid timer mechanic and the sheer number of times you have to enter it, but hidden behind these is one of the largest and best designed dungeons in the series. If this was a final dungeon that you never entered more than once, it would easily hit the top ten on this list. Sadly, it is a painful experience to play through Phantom Hourglass due to this dungeon, making it the only game I have not restarted even a single time to replay. It’s hard to imagine how this dungeon could be so bad and so good at the same time, but there you go.
#48: Jabu Jabu’s Belly (Ocarina of Time)
The layout of Jabu Jabu’s Belly is among the best in the series. It’s confusing enough that you can’t easily run straight to the finish line your first time, but not so overwhelming that you feel a need to stop playing. If Ruto wasn’t so annoying to cart around, this dungeon would probably rank quite a bit higher.
#47: Level 9: Spectacle Rock (The Legend of Zelda)
As incredible an introduction as The Eagle was, Spectacle Rock was just as powerful an ending. Possibly the most confusingly laid out dungeon in the series, it’s full of unmarked bombable walls, corridors leading to different parts of the dungeon, and the hardest bosses in the game just shoved into one little box. Plus Ganon is just unfair, and he makes you start it over again and again until you’re sick of it. This is the kind of punishment mid 80’s games are known for, and it’s awesome. Dark Souls got nothing on this.
#46: Ice Cavern (Ocarina of Time)
Blue Fire and Silver Rupees. Bitchin’.
#45: Sand Temple (Spirit Tracks)
I honestly loved the Sand Rod in this game, and the puzzles in this dungeon were tailored to it perfectly.
#44: Color Dungeon (Link’s Awakening DX)
It seems funny now to think that Nintendo was using color as their gimmick, but that’s how it started. I would argue that this was the best use of the gimmick for the system, which is funny because I played this game on my original Gameboy.
#43: Eagle’s Tower (Link’s Awakening)
That boss fight, bro.
#42: Arbiter’s Ground (Twilight Princess)
Desert dungeons are great, and just go look up any fan theory on this one, and you’ll have a good time.
#41: Temple of Time (Twilight Princess)
The Dominion Rod was much more straightforward than the Command Melody, and that made for great puzzles with the “control a statue” mechanic. Thematically, I was also ecstatic to have a full dungeon in this temple. It felt like a great way to add to what it stood for in Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker. The progression overall moving from a plot-centric area with no other features; to an enemy gauntlet; to a full dungeon made for one of the most satisfying dungeons in Twilight Princess.
#40: Inside The Deku Tree (Ocarina of Time)
Ocarina being the introduction most gamers got to 3D Zelda, the game would not have had nearly the impact without such a great introductory dungeon. The design is fairly simple, but the whole time it is teaching you the basic mechanics of the game while simultaneously challenging your puzzle-sense, and from the moment you enter, it never fails to be an engaging experience.
#39: Lakebed Temple (Twilight Princess)
I love the fact that several rooms you visit connect to the central room, and the puzzles therefore seem like they are affecting the entire dungeon. In addition, the hookshot/clawshot is among my favorite items in the series, and the puzzles have seldom been better than this introduction to the item.
#38: Woodfall Temple (Majora’s Mask)
This place is spooky, thematically unique for the 3D games in the series, and has the best first boss a Zelda game has ever had. Odolwa feels like a mid-level boss, in scale and mechanically, and is one of my favorite fights in Majora’s Mask.
#37: Dodongo’s Cavern (Ocarina of Time)
Sword-fighting velociraptors as a sub-boss, a fire-breathing monstrosity for the primary boss, and the roundabout design bringing you easily back to where you need to be made this a truly unique experience.
#36: Etsu Korima Shrine – Path of Light (Breath of the Wild: The Champions’ Ballad)
This was among the standouts that really sold me on the concept of shrines. The lengthier, more unique ones make it so you hardly miss longer dungeons.
#35: Trial of the Sword (Breath of the Wild: The Master Trials)
You’re naked and there’s a crapload of enemies. Farm weapons as you go. What doesn’t sound fun about this?
#34: Face Shrine (Link’s Awakening)
I was lost in this dungeon for literal years.
#33: Turtle Rock (A Link to the Past)
You know why this is on the list so I won’t bore you.
#32: Hyrule Castle (Twilight Princess)
Jumping across the rooftops was among the most satisfying moments as Wolf-Link. Then exploring through the sewers and some of the towers had a nostalgic feeling, reminding me of a similar experience at the beginning of A Link to the Past. Revisiting the dungeon in Hylian form put this dungeon over the top.
#31: Den of Trials (TriForce Heroes)
The idea of an enemy gauntlet has been done before, but not to this scale. The prize at the end is totally worth it too, since the Fierce Deity Costume is probably the most overpowered item in the series, the only possible exception the boomerang from Link’s Awakening.
#30: Divine Beast Vah Naboris (Breath of the Wild)
It was electric. So frantically hectic. Awkwardly inserted classic rock references aside, the puzzle design and boss fight were almost the best in Breath of the Wild. Almost.
#29: Eastern Palace (A Link to the Past)
This is the point at which it felt like the game began. Sure, it wasn’t technically the first dungeon, but the intro in Hyrule Castle is hardly comparable to this. I think one of the reasons we all look back so fondly on Link to the Past is because it started strong with a story and a bare-bones intro dungeon that could cram in several story elements, and then immediately after hit you with a dungeon that could match the might of any of the others.
Too often you look at the first dungeon and think the focus on teaching you the game mechanics is the focus, rather than the actual fluidity of the dungeon. This is not inherently bad, but it does inherently make the first dungeon feel less interesting than those that come after. In this game it thrusts you into the fast lane quickly, and if it hasn’t hooked you already, then by the time you’re done you can’t help but want more!
#28: Noe Rajee Shrine – The Four Winds (Breath of the Wild: The Champions’ Ballad)
This was easily the best use of the paraglider in the game. The concept was simple yet compelling, and deducing how to shoot all the switches on the cylinder in the center was more challenging than you would think at first glance. The DLC is worth buying for this shrine alone.
#27: Divine Beast Vah Rudania (Breath of the Wild)
As the Divine Beasts go, this was my favorite. The mechanical puzzles in all of them were clever and engaging, but never more so than here. Plus entering in the pitch dark and having to find the light switch (so to speak) was a simple but fun way to bring you into the dungeon.
#26: Skull Dungeon (Oracle of Ages)
The Switch Hook is possibly my favorite one-off item in the series.
#25: Gerudo Training Grounds (Ocarina of Time)
As optional dungeons go, most often they just feel like something stapled on at the end, but this felt like a great way to challenge players who had completed (or nearly completed) the game. Easily one of the hardest dungeons in the game, and with such a unique reward, however pointless it may be by that time in the game. I’m a Gerudo for life.
#24: Desert Palace (A Link to the Past)
Several outside elements, as well as a crazy, nonlinear structure in general, make for possibly the coolest sand level in any game ever. The obvious exception being…. Well… You’ll see.
#23: Unicorn’s Cave (Oracle of Seasons)
MAGNETIC GLOVES! Seriously, these are one of the most underappreciated items in the series, and the puzzles in this dungeon were not only a perfect introduction to the item, but also the most memorable from Oracle of Seasons anyway.
#22: Cave of Flames (Minish Cap)
Better than Mine Cart Carnage but not quite as good as Sawmill Thrill.
#21: Palace of Winds (Minish Cap)
The verticality of this dungeon has never been replicated by any other 2D game apart from Celeste. So you literally have to make players climb a mountain to make the verticality better.
#20: City in the Sky (Twilight Princess)
The only thing better than a clawshot is TWO clawshots. I’m Spider-Link, baby!
#19: Great Bay Temple (Majora’s Mask)
I got the Ice Arrows so late in Ocarina of Time that I never considered them a puzzle item in this game, which led to me circling the dungeon about eight billion times before it finally hit me that I could freeze that waterfall. I’m not proud of it. The only thing more confusing than the layout of this dungeon is how to pronounce “Gyorg.”
#18: Tower of the Gods (Wind Waker)
It’s basically two dungeons, and both of them are great. Plus of all the “Disembodied head and two hands” bosses we’ve had, this is the best. Sorry, Bongo Bongo.
#17: Korgu Chideh Shrine (Breath of the Wild)
Better known as “Stranded on Eventide,” This shrine quest takes away all of your equipment and leaves you on a beach, and expects you to find three orbs guarded by the fiercest of monsters from Bokoblins to Hinox. I came up with a clever plan when I did this quest to farm literally every weapon on the island to fight the Hinox with, but on Master Mode his health regenerated enough between stuns I actually ran out of melee weapons and arrows, and had to finish him off with remote bombs.
#16: Spirit Temple (Ocarina of Time)
Light-themed puzzles are always the most fun in Zelda, and they’re never better than in the Spirit Temple.
#15: The Divine Trial (Breath of the Wild: The Champions’ Ballad)
Okay so I said Vah Rudania was my favorite Divine Beast, but if this thing counts, I changed my mind. This dungeon is as good as the other four put together, and features the best boss fight in the game. Plus when you beat it you get a freakin’ motorcycle. What more could you ask for?
#14: Snowhead Temple (Majora’s Mask)
From the story of Darmani to the fight with Goht, this is easily my favorite area and story of Majora’s Mask. The dungeon itself is complex without being difficult to navigate, giving it the edge over the Great Bay Temple.
#13: Water Temple (Ocarina of Time)
I’ve been playing this game for twenty years and I still have to think about where to go next. That kind of design doesn’t come around very often.
#12: Shadow Temple (Ocarina of Time)
The undead themes in the enemy design and the decor make for the darkest themed dungeon in the series. Everywhere you go in this place it feels like something totally f-ed up happened here, and you have to wonder what “Hyrule’s Bloody History of Greed and Hatred” was supposed to mean. The fan theories around this temple are always my favorites.
#11: Sky Keep (Skyward Sword)
It’s a slide puzzle.
#10: Stone Tower (Majora’s Mask)
Dumdum Dumdum Dumdum DUM,
Dumdum Dumdum Dumdum DOM!
There. That’s stuck in your head now. Sorry, not sorry.
#9: Hyrule Castle (Cadence of Hyrule)
Didn’t think this indie gem would miss the list, did you? Of course it’s hard to place on the list for certain because of the roguelike nature of the game’s dungeons, but Hyrule Castle was one of the most fun conclusions to a game I have ever experienced. It was an incredible journey from start to finish, and without this glorious final dungeon, it would not have left quite the impression on me.
#8: Fire Temple (Ocarina of Time)
Spooky-ish theme and decor, haunting music in the background, Gorons, and lava. I will never forget my Sworn Brother and his people, nor how epic that hammer is. Even Thor’s mighty Mjolnir wets its pants at the sight.
#7: Earth Temple (Wind Waker)
While the light puzzles individually were not quite as good as those in the Spirit Temple, this dungeon goes the extra mile with a creepy undead theme to go with it, a hilarious boss fight, and an awesome tag-team mechanic with Medli. Very few dungeons spotlight characters other than Link, and this one did so in a special way I can’t even describe. I’d be in love with Medli if her face weren’t so pointy.
#6: Forest Temple (Ocarina of Time)
Another one with a creepy atmosphere and background music. This one also feels like it was built in the forest for real, using outside elements to diversify the dungeon beyond what we had seen in the other Ocarina dungeons.
#5: Ganon’s Tower (A Link to the Past)
Holy crap it’s big. I love nonlinearity in dungeons, and this one takes the cake since you not only have to traverse floors in wacky orders to find your way around, but also find out what to do on certain floors to even access other ones. Plus the sheer size of it; even if you just had to go through sixteen floors with easy navigation it would be intimidating.
#4: Hyrule Castle (Breath of the Wild)
This is what I have wanted from Zelda dungeons since forever. Big, explorable, full of traps, treasure, badass enemies, and an epic theme song to cap it all off. What really sets it over the top as well is that it is the only dungeon in Breath of the Wild designed with climbing in mind. You can explore all over the dungeon underneath, the castle corridors, or climb up the side, and from what I have seen, most people do a combination of all these things and have totally unique experiences with the dungeon. Some people never found the Hylian Shield. Some didn’t know there is a library. Personally I never fought either of the two Lynels until my fifth or sixth time entering the dungeon on my second play through. It’s just how the dungeon works, and it’s wonderful.
#3: Skull Woods (A Link to the Past)
Outside elements being used in the dungeon design like the Forest Temple are cool, actually integrating the overworld into the dungeon with a ton of exits and entrances all around makes this the best dungeon in A Link to the Past by a long stretch.
#2: Goron Mines (Twilight Princess)
#2: Sandship (Skyward Sword)
All right, so a tie seems kind of strange to me too, but I counted wrong when I initially listed the dungeons in preparation for the article, and these two are the ones I flip-flopped on the most when determining the order, and at long last I decided to just give the top spot to both of them, then at the last minute I switched it with the current number one. Both of them are similar in that they feature indoor and outdoor elements, as well as a mechanic never seen in any other dungeon in the series. Timeshift stones for one and magnet-traversing iron boots for the other. Plus both of them had an incredible boss fight. Well, the Sandship technically had an incredible miniboss fight (Tentalus actually makes my brain physically hurt) but the point of the story is that Fyrus and Scervo are two of the most memorable fights in the series, and the fact that these are only backed up by incredible puzzle and exploration design lead to indescribable epicness that no other dungeon could touch.
The icing on the cake is that these dungeons had a reason for existing. The Goron Mines were where the Gorons… mined…. Anyway, it made sense to go visit a mine in the mountains, and the fact that it was overrun by monsters only made it more fun to check out. Then the Sandship had enough mystery behind its origin that it kept you wanting more, but the little tastes you got of the robotic pirate crew who had once operated it was enough to sate your thirst for lore.
#1: Ganon’s Castle (Ocarina of Time)
Imagine if you took half of every primary dungeon in the game and stapled them together at the end, then had a small gauntlet of powerful foes, the best boss fight you had seen so far, an epic escape scene featuring the gauntlet again, followed by a boss fight even better than the best boss fight which you had just bested. That’s the idea, and it works swimmingly. This was a last minute decision to swap this with number two, but I really feel strongly that this is the best final dungeon in any video game ever, and words cannot express how every time I beat this game it feels like an accomplishment, and moreover reinstates my love of this game and my belief that no other game can be called the best of all time. Every single thing in the game leads to the moment where you finally deal the killing blow to Ganon, and for me, no moment in any game will EVER top this one. This game has no equal, and this dungeon is the capstone of the story, gameplay, and emotional journey I have undertaken in every playthrough for twenty-one years. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go dry my eyes because um… allergies… and then play some Ocarina of Time.
Taking a step back, that was one of the most comprehensive articles I think I’ll ever do, and it was a ton of fun reminiscing about my favorite dungeons, but the point of all that work was so I could turn it over to you. Which would you pick if you had to have a number one? Would you say I should have included any other dungeons like the much beloved (not really) Jabu Jabu’s Belly from Oracle of Ages? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter, or the TGPZ Discord server.