Ocarina of Time was released in 1998 to general acclaim with an E for Everyone rating. The game was revolutionary in its gameplay mechanics and graphics and had a more developed, richer story to go along with it. We’re introduced to a new Hyrule with expanded characters in the Kokiri, Goron, Zora, Gerudo, and the Sheikah races. Each race you meet leads you to a temple, and while all of them house a specific threat, no other temple seems quite as ominous as the Sheikah-related Shadow Temple.
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!
The temple is well secured even without any enemies or bosses in the immediate vicinity of it. To gain access, you must first use Din’s Fire to light a plethora of torches, but you cannot get past the first room of the temple without backtracking a bit. “The Shadow will only yield to one with the eye of truth, handed down in Kakariko Village,” you’re told by a wall featuring a ghostly smiling face. Return with it, and you learn this wall is a fake, as are many others inside the dungeon.
I remember working my way through the earliest rooms in the temple, carefully watching my magic meter to make sure I didn’t run out of energy while using the Lens of Truth, and the only thought that was on my mind — besides “where can I find the next key?” — was that this temple was dark. I didn’t mean dark as in the absence of light, I meant in the sense that the temple had a dark presence to it. As you pass through certain areas you’re greeted with some backstory of the temple, the Sheikah Tribe, and Hyrule itself.
“Shadow Temple… here is gathered Hyrule’s bloody history of greed and hatred…” you are told as you enter a room with a dirt floor and insidious looking paintings covering the walls. “What is hidden in the darkness… tricks full of ill will… you can’t see the way forward…” The voice repeats. These messages pop up at random as you traverse through hidden doorways using your Lens of Truth; there’s nothing you do to trigger them — they just appear. It’s almost as if the temple is whispering to you.
These early rooms are but one-quarter of the temple, and you cannot reach the latter half without obtaining the Hover Boots. To do that you must fight an abomination of a boss that everyone always remembers: Dead Hand
After crossing the bottomless pit that leads towards the other half, forced to enter a gaping mouth as you proceed, the temple switches from ghostly, whispering walls to a gauntlet of sorts. Spinning blades threaten to slice you limb from limb, guillotines and dropping spikes are positioned along walkways, forcing you to time your steps to avoid injury or death. Stalfos lurking on cliff sides waiting for you to walk too close, forcing you to watch your step as they circle around you on land and through the air. Gibdos and Redeads linger in empty rooms, invisible
Despite its macabre aesthetic, the Shadow Temple holds some of my favorite moments in Ocarina of Time. Getting to the final area of the dungeon is a treat as you ride atop a ghostly ship, a double Stalfos fight greeting you as the ship moves along. It’s frightening, yes, but it’s also wildly creative, as was toppling the towering bird statue to cross into the final area. The final boss, Bongo-Bongo, creepy and misshapen as he is, is always a fun fight, and it’s great closure to see the familiar Impa again after such a dark and ominous experience.
But the temple itself has always left me asking questions. Aside from the ones I always have regarding how the temple was built and how many people in Hyrule actually used it, the Shadow Temple leaves me wondering what it’s for. The Legend of Zelda: Encyclopedia gives us a little insight, telling us the temple itself was taboo to speak of because of what it was used for, and mentioning that the Sheikah as guardians of the Royal Family often took criminals or traitors there for interrogations — or worse. But even with this information, years later I’m still asking questions about the Shadow Temple, and it’s a location I always look forward to when I replay Ocarina on my own time.