The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess’ dungeon design | Boss Keys


Hi. My name’s Mark and this is Boss Keys. I’m researching the dungeon design in the
Legend of Zelda franchise, to see how Nintendo creates these imaginative spaces. This time, I’m playing the GameCube and Wii
game Twilight Princess – though, I used the HD remaster on Wii U for this video. To me, the real strength of The Legend of
Zelda: Twilight Princess is giving each dungeon a unique personality and providing iconic
moments that stick in your brain. Moments like waking on the ceiling, skateboarding
around a temple, and basically just being Spider-Man. These enjoyable moments maybe hide the fact
that these dungeons have moved far away from the intricate level design of classic Zelda. Or the fact that almost all of the dungeons
in this game are eerily similar in their design. Let me show you what I mean, starting with
the Forest Temple. Here, you work your way into this nice central
room, and find three directions that you can take. Left and up happen to be dead ends so
you go right, and explore the east wing of the dungeon to save a monkey. Then you come
back to the central room and can now access the west wing of the dungeon to save more
monkeys. You come back to the central room again, and now have enough monkeys to go up.
Okay? Now, look at City in the Sky. It’s the same.
And so is Arbiter’s Grounds. And Lakebed Temple is almost identical but here, the boss door
is in the central room itself. Snowpeak Ruins and Palace of Twilight have slightly different
directions, but this knotted structure where you come to the central room three times is
the same. And, so, what does this mean? Well, I’m not
saying that Nintendo was lazy or that this makes Twilight Princess crap. I mean, I never
realised the full extent of their similarities until I started mapping the dungeons out for
this series so it didn’t immediately impact my enjoyment back in 2006. But it does, perhaps, explain why the dungeons
all feel a bit unremarkable, and why we remember them for their atmosphere, boss fights, and
crazy moments, instead of the actual intricacies of their level design. It also makes the game feel a bit flat, with
no real progression in the complexity of the game’s dungeons. Though, there are a few anomalies:
the second dungeon, Goron Mines, is a lot more linear. And the final dungeon offers
a bit more choice. And then there’s the Temple of Time which – well, I’ll come back to that. Now, this repeated structure – on its own
merits – is actually pretty good. I mean, they replicated it six times for a reason. For one, it splits the dungeon into small
chunks that can be accomplished in isolation. In one of these chunks you might turn a giant
water wheel, track down a ghost, or play with fans. In most cases, those chunks can then safely be
ignored altogether once you’ve finished exploring that area – which stops the dungeon from ballooning
out into this massively complex space that you need to traverse. There’s nothing stopping
you from going back to an older chunk, but nothing pushing you there either. This structure also keeps the player focused
on their long-term goal in the central room, which might involve pouring in water so you
can swim to the boss door, defeating poes to light these four torches, or finding Yeta’s
bedroom key. And by repeatedly bringing the player back
to that previously explored room, it feels less linear than just putting the chunks in
a big row, one after the other – which is effectively how you’re going to play them.
But when set up like this, you get a hint of that lovely Zelda-like sensation of carefully
unpicking a dungeon’s knot. Now, while the layouts are similar, these
dungeons do have some tweaks that make them feel different to play – and a lot of
it comes down to the criteria I laid out when talking about “find the path” and “follow
the path” dungeons in the previous episode. Well, there aren’t many branching paths, outside
of the multiple doors in those central rooms. And there aren’t many choices to make, outside
of some monkey business in the forest temple. But the backtracking and hand-holding stuff
does play a role. So, I kinda lied about the Forest Temple.
Once you get the Gale Boomerang from the north section, you actually do go back to the east
wing to access this final chunk and fight the boss. And so you have to backtrack to
this area and it’s up to you to remember where However! The game does something very simple
but rather clever to help you do so. Earlier in the dungeon, when you’re trying to unlock
this door, you need to divert from your path to get a key – which just
so happens to be in a room that is otherwise inaccessible because this bridge is facing
the wrong way. Later, you get the Boomerang and use it to
twist some bridges, and hopefully you put two and two together and think “aha!”, I should
check out that room again. So the game placed a key to ensure every single player has visited
that backtracking point, and has the opportunity to add it to their mental map. Smart stuff. Lakebed Temple is another dungeon that trusts
you to figure stuff out. And this time, it pulls on the stuff we talked about waaaay
back in the Majora’s Mask episode, about considering these dungeons as massive interconnected pieces
of architecture. The central room has a staircase that can
be rotated in 90 degree notches. Because of these walls, you need to twist and climb this
staircase carefully to get around them and access the different doors in the central
room. And you need to use the staircase to send water from one side of the dungeon to
the other, because the water turns a waterwheel that was previously blocking your path. That’s a wonderful eureka moment and part
of why Lakebed is my favourite dungeon in this game. There’s also a brilliant second puzzle where
you deliver water to the other side of the dungeon but it’s just for some optional item.
That would have been a great place for the boss key, if you ask me. Anyway, the other dungeons are far less trusting
and essentially guide you through the loopy structure – a lot like the Temple of Droplets
dungeon from Minish Cap, actually, which also shares this layout. Hmmm. So yeah, in Arbiter’s Grounds, the rooms lead
you through the east wing and bring you back to the central room – but now on the second
floor so you can hop on over to the west wing… where you get lead back around to the central room
again. in Snowpeak Ruins, Yeta literally draws markers
on your map to tell you where to go, and she unlocks one door after the other, which is all, to be
honest, a bit crap. And then you get to the sliding block puzzles and, remind me why people
love this dungeon again? Okay, so using the cannons to smash ice is
kinda cool. And the dungeon is less obviously split into chunks than the others because
it’s laid out like an actual mansion rather than four long corridors like most of the
other dungeons. So you’ll find yourself skipping back over
to previous chunks to pick up a cannonball. And then getting that cannonball to the cannon
involves a tiiiiny bit of spatial reasoning which… well, i’ll take what I can get at
this point in the Zelda series. Sadly, the cannon stuff is pretty quickly
sidelined when you get the key item: the Ball and Chain which is used to waste enemies and
smash ice. Generally, though, Twilight Princess does
a good job of showing you the benefits of each dungeon’s item by giving you enemies
that are a pain to kill with your current tools – and then effortless to defeat with
the new item. And the item also lets you get around the dungeon more easily: the Clawshot, for
example, makes the central room of the Lakebed Temple easier to traverse. Right. Temple of Time. Surprisingly, I don’t
hate this dungeon! Commenters kept betting that I would because it is completely linear
but the dungeon is interesting because it leans heavily into that linearity. It does
something interesting with its straightforward design. So you go through the whole thing, solving
some puzzles and killing enemies. until you get to the end where you kill the mini boss,
get the dominion rod, and then take control of this massive statue. Now, the goal is to
bring the statue back to the beginning of the dungeon – now doing all the puzzles in
reverse and taking into account that you have to guide this heavy statue. It’s not massively
challenging. but it is clever, it is interesting, and by golly it is different. Lots of bonus
points, right there. And Twilight Princess does have some good
puzzles! In Arbiter’s Grounds it sets up this system where you pull a chain to lift a chandelier,
and then run under it before it smashes down on your head. Later, you do the same thing
but just wind up at a dead end. You’ve got to figure out that you need to drop the chandelier
on your bonce so you can climb up on top. That’s a good’un. I also really liked these
swinging platforms in Snowpeak that you bat about with the Ball and Chain. Better than
a sliding block puzzle! I haven’t shown any graphs in this episode
because, frankly, they’re pretty boring in Twilight Princess. Forest Temple is probably
the most interesting but, for the most part, the graphs all look the same. Which makes
sense. In the Wind Waker episode I talked about warp
pots, which help you get from the beginning of the dungeon, to the middle, or to the boss
door. Twilight Princess doesn’t have any of that stuff: probably because the looping structure
means everything is pretty close to the central room anyway. But more so because if you die,
the game just lets you retry from the last door you went through, rather than kicking
you to the beginning of the dungeon. Which, well, let’s not get into a whole thing
on Nintendo and difficulty. But I will say that the bosses in this game are easier than
ever. They all use the key item from the dungeon, which makes them a bit trivial, and they all
telegraph moves and highlight their weak points super clearly. Oh, and this one is a total
Shadow of the Colossus rip-off, right? Bit cheeky. Commenters ask me to talk about the atmosphere
and aesthetics of the dungeons. and so, here we go: They’re good! Right? They look nice,
they look different from one another, the music’s good, and you can pretend that the
Zelda games have some kind of connected universe or lore or whatever by noticing all of the
interesting similarities to the Ocarina of Time dungeons. But yeah, Twilight Princess. I think these
dungeons are pretty good. Inoffensive, at least. They hide their simplicity better than
The Wind Waker, and are full of those memorable moments. But this is, ultimately, a long way from where
we started. This video series is about how Nintendo builds intricately designed spaces,
with clever architectural puzzles and interconnected layouts that test your spatial awareness.
And at this point… finding anything that speaks to that legacy is like picking for
scraps. Oh well. Next time on Boss Keys, grab your
sword and grab your stylus because we’re going to find out how making your own maps affects
the dungeon design of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. And maybe Spirit Tracks.
We’ll see. Boss Keys is made possible thanks to all of
my supporters on Patreon.

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