It’s one of the most infamous temples from the entire Zelda series: Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple frequently makes it into people’s least favorite dungeons lists and causes them to grimace just from hearing its name. But does it really deserve such disdain?
In many ways, yes, it does. However, to me
Tingle’s Maps is a series in which we explore the endless lands of Hyrule in search of our favorite places in The Legend of Zelda. We’ll explore everywhere: the beautiful landscapes that make us put down the controller in awe; the deadly terrain that threatens Link with the harshest of elements; the bustling towns that bring the game to life; and the abandoned grounds that evoke peace and sadness. As well as the grand locales, we’ll also discover all the secret caves and hidden crevices that lie between. Let’s adventure!
Now, don’t get me wrong: the tedious opening and closing of the menu to rise and sink in water is painful. Luckily, Nintendo saw this error and corrected it in the 3DS version of the game. I do wonder if things would be different if the original Ocarina of Time was released in this modern era of patches and modding, as it probably would have been corrected overnight after release. But in any case, I think it’s a shame that the Water Temple relied so heavily on the Iron Boots, as being able to navigate underwater with them and the Zora Tunic is a great feature that opens up the world into an interesting new plane. Sadly, they were definitely a major reason that many people lost their patience with the Water Temple. I reckon a lot of people even took a prolonged break at this point.
Funnily enough, I was one of those people, but for a completely different reason. In fact, it led to me having a soft spot for the temple. 10-year-old me was hooked on Ocarina of Time and had just made it to the Water Temple, but due to certain family-related circumstances, I had to stop playing it for a few months. When I came back to it, I was greeted with Link resurfacing into the entrance, with the words ‘Water Temple’ appearing on the screen. I’d missed playing the game so much that I was more than happy to have the Water Temple welcome me back into the series.
Anyway, I digress. Let’s talk about the good and the bad beyond the boots.
Something I rarely see people talk about is the lack of enemy variation in the Water Temple. This, to me, is a key aspect of what makes it tedious. Unlike previous dungeons, rooms in the Water Temple don’t have a lot of interesting enemy encounters. There are some stingrays and clam-type enemies, but for the most part, everything in the Water Temple is what we’ve seen before; Keese especially, which are as common and frustrating to encounter as Zubats in Pokémon. I think there could have been all sorts of interesting designs created especially for the Water Temple. What about piranhas? Sharks? Octopuses? Eels? There could have even been a dark room where you use an anglerfish’s light to navigate or something. There was potential for all sorts of possibilities!
However, if we’re gonna talk about the enemies in the Water Temple, then we must also acknowledge the great, and that is Dark Link. Who can deny how iconic the battle with him is? That eerie room, with the singular dead tree and the endless sheet of water, is truly unforgettable, and so is the first badass moment when he lands on your sword, causing Link to momentarily freeze. I remember being blown away by the concept of fighting an evil version of myself, who had a deeper, more distorted voice than Link. It was the first time I’d ever seen Dark Link (as I hadn’t played The Adventure of Link) and I loved every second of the fight, despite the frustration of trying to figure out how the heck to hurt him. Having said that, I love that you get no advice on how to beat him. Even Navi has nothing for you: your only clue is that you must defeat yourself! He’s truly an underrated mini-boss, no thanks to the infamy of the Water Temple.
It’s also worth remembering that winning this battle rewards you with what is, to me, one of the coolest items in Ocarina of Time, and another underappreciated aspect of the Water Temple: the Longshot. Up until now, Link had to settle for being able to access only slightly unreachable distances, but now with the
The Longshot is really an excellent dungeon item, as it opened up the Water Temple greatly. It minimized a lot of tedious water navigation and finally allowed Link to defend himself more reliably underwater. The only downside is that it came a little too late, as by this point I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say I was fed up with the sluggish underwater movement and constant water-level changing. It was great to finally revisit rooms that I previously couldn’t explore fully, but on the flip side, this involved backtracking to uninteresting, samey rooms. Aside from Dark Link’s arena, most of the rooms in the Water Temple are pretty forgettable, and I think this feeds into the tedious nature of the temple as a whole. It was a drag pulling yourself around in Iron Boots from one identical, uninspiring room to the next. Couple that with the lack of enemy variation and you’ve got yourself a recipe for boredom.
Having said that, one thing in particular for me that alleviated the tedium was the music. Some people probably now have a trigger in their brain that hears the Water Temple theme and cringes deeply, but I always loved it. It sounds so mystical and exotic, and the instruments and melody they play are so fitting: they sound like they’re rippling and cascading like water. Without turning this piece into a Medli’s Melodies, let’s just say I think it’s an underrated atmospheric piece that is beautifully composed and helps to redeem the Water Temple.
All in all, there’s certainly lots to dislike about the Water Temple, but I think people are too quick to join the hatred bandwagon. It makes them overlook all the iconic moments and creativity in it, which make it more memorable than we give it credit for.