Modern Zelda Dungeons Are Good, Actually
Image: Nintendo Life

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve been chewing over. Today, Jim spreads some love for the modern-day Zelda dungeon.

Be aware that he discusses Tears of the Kingdom below (not in detail, but he references a specific dungeon), so bookmark this and come back at a later date if you’re still on a media blackout…

It was two days before the official release of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom that director Hidemaro Fujibayashi announced that a more “traditional” take on Zelda dungeons would be making an appearance in the game. Two days. After what had been months of watching each and every trailer frame by frame, picking apart the environments and speculating as to whether they would be ‘real’ dungeons or not, the developers confirmed it on a whim via an in-house developer interview with no fanfare, big announcement or spotlight trailer to speak of.

Looking at this, you would be forgiven for forgetting that over the past six years, dungeons were the series’ hottest topic. Breath of the Wild’s Divine Beasts introduced a fresh way of tackling Zelda’s progression mechanic, where you could head to them in any order that you wanted and complete the puzzles within of your own accord.

So different was this from the traditional Zelda formula, that there are many out there who straight-up deny that dungeons even exist in the Switch launch title, placing the Divine Beasts more akin to overworld puzzles or a collection of shrine rooms than anything resembling a ‘classic’ dungeon.

You would think, therefore, that the implementation of clearly signposted elemental dungeons in Tears of the Kingdom might deserve slightly more fanfare, after having been an anomalous negative mark on Breath of the Wild’s otherwise squeaky-clean record. But it wasn’t, and after having got a couple of Tears of the Kingdom’s dungeons under my belt, I can see why.

It’s because the format hasn’t actually changed all that much, demonstrating that, in fact, modern Zelda dungeons are really rather good.

Note: While I have stayed away from any major details, I will be discussing various dungeon aspects from both Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom from here on out, so watch out for spoilers ahead.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild Vah Rutania
Image: Nintendo Life

Before I get into what it is that I like about this fresh take on the tried-and-tested formula, let me first lay out exactly what I mean by “modern Zelda dungeons”.

Traditionally, dungeons have been the closest thing that The Legend of Zelda series has come to structured levels. You enter a large area and, one at a time, solve a series of linear puzzles to progress, picking up a unique item from a big ol’ chest along the way. Normally, you’ll find a grotesque beastie hanging from the ceiling / under the floor / in the water / behind the curtains at the end, and use your new-found item to beat it in an elegant battle serving as the final lesson in using that item, which you then use to further progress in the wider world. It’s formulaic, yes, but it works.

Or, it worked.

For the most part, getting to a dungeon required you to have first plundered the goods of another one previously. Several prior games in the series from The Legend of Zelda right up to A Link Between Worlds gave us the option to mix up the order in which we would tackle some dungeons, but Breath of the Wild was the first time that our options were truly open.

There was no requirement to visit Vah Ruta before taking on Vah Naboris. You could skip Vah Rudania completely if you so desired, and the final boss was always right there waiting for you to pop in whenever you felt ready. Zelda dungeons had to change, and they had to change fast.

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