Get ready to pull out your hair and snap your controller as we take a look at the 20 toughest Zelda dungeons of all time!
Writing any article about my favourite series of all time is always a pleasure, until I’m forced to relive 20 levels that have caused me pain and suffering over the years, that is.
I’m all for difficult levels in games; we don’t want them to be over and done with in a couple of seconds after all. Still, the following 20 dungeons have caused me to swear more than Ozzy Osbourne after dropping a hammer on his foot.
We’re talking levels that I and thousands of other gamers have got lost in or lost all our hearts in, doomed to replay the same segments over and over for hours at a time.
If you’re new to the series and want to go back and have a bash at previous titles, then hopefully this article will prepare you for what is to come and when to plan some much-needed mediation into your daily schedule.
Good luck; you’re going to need it!
Table of Contents
20. Bottom Of The Well (Ocarina Of Time Master Quest)
The bottom of the well in Kakariko Village has always been creepy and a little stressful, but with hidden switches, more zombies, and that weird pale man to go up against much quicker in the dungeon, the Master Quest version of the level really messes with your head.
I remember this being pretty straight forward the first time I played Ocarina. I mean, I was following a Nintendo Official Magazine guide, but still… it didn’t seem this tough.
With more puzzles and elements that have been mixed up and changed to the original, you’ll soon find yourself scratching your head and crying out in anger at falling down into the zombie pit AGAIN!
19. Ice Palace (A Link to Past)
Next up on our list of the toughest Zelda dungeons is the Ice Palace from A Link To The Past, which could have been renamed ‘the slip ‘n slide from hell’.
Every step on the icy floors is a potential slide in the wrong direction, and when navigating dangerous obstacles, your hearts can deplete faster than any cake that is put in front of me.
Nintendo know that this feature is stressful too, and they’ve made you backtrack through previous rooms in order to find previously unattainable areas, making you cross treacherous rooms multiple times.
Those sneaky devs!
18. Tower of Spirits (Spirit Tracks)
For those that haven’t played Spirit Tracks, it’s a lot like the Temple of the Ocean King in Phantom Hour Glass in the sense that it serves as a dungeon that must be visited multiple times.
And you’ll be glad that you don’t complete it all in one go when I tell you that it has 30 different levels to it.
Unlike Phantom Hourglass, you don’t need to go through all the previous rooms completed in earlier stages in order to get to a new location. That would have taken Tower of Spirits all the way to Number 8, never mind 18!
So why is it so hard?
Well, there’s a lot of possessing going on in this level, and if you go the wrong way or make a wrong move by placing a knight in the wrong spot, then you have to start all over again.
It’s not quite The Adventure of Link-style hair-pulling-out gameplay, but it’s definitely irksome.
17. Cave Of Ordeals (Twilight Princess)
The Cave of Ordeals is relentless. I mean, it just never seems to end, and with a name like that I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, right?
Wave after wave of enemies that you both can and cannot see, the need to change into Wolf Link and tonnes of Iron Knuckles to battle up against. It’s not an official dungeon, but it’s one that many people will want to tackle at some stage during the game if they want to grab the Great Fairy’s Tears.
It’s also one of those dungeons that once you start, no matter how many times you die, you’re going to want to complete come hell or high water.
I played this recently again on Twilight Princess HD for the Wii U and almost threw the Game Pad across the room. You get so far and then BANG, it’s back to the beginning.
Definitely rack up your hearts and stock up on fairies before you head down into this one!
16. Spirit Temple (Ocarina Of Time Master Quest)
Twinrova remains my favourite boss to fight in Ocarina of Time apart from the final showdown with Ganondorf and, of course, Ganon. Still, the master quest version of the Spirit Temple makes for a tricky playthrough if you don’t keep your wits about you.
This level can be a bit of a handful anyway due to all of the hidden chests and the need to play as both Young and Adult Link. And getting there through the Gerudo Desert isn’t exactly a piece of cake either.
You’ll have to use all of the gadgets you’ve picked up thus far in order to proceed, and the lens of truth is going to be draining that magic meter as you try to find chests in the main statue room while dodging the Floormasters.
Those hands still give me the creeps!
I remember the first time I used the Mirror Shield to shine light onto wall markings and blocks, and the Master Quest has tonnes more nasty surprises up its sleeves along the way, including some nasty Iron Knuckles!
15. Ice Ruins (A Link Between Worlds)
The Ice Ruins from A Link Between Worlds has a lot of different components that make it one of the toughest Zelda Dungeons in the canon. Dropping down through to different floors, using multiple items, and navigating hard paths makes for some edge-of-your-seat gameplay.
The enemies have a strong habit of reducing your hearts down to nil incredibly quickly too, but by the time you get here you should have a lot anyway, so that shouldn’t be a problem.
Getting to the Ice Ruins is pretty darn difficult too, and you can’t actually get there from Lorule. Players need to give Irene a call and access it once they’ve picked up the Hookshot.
It’s almost like it’s somewhere that Link really shouldn’t be venturing into… this kid loves danger!
14. Ancient Sistern (Skyward Sword)
Skyward Sword really brings the thunder when it comes to the toughest Zelda dungeons. Koloktos is a great boss and easily one of the most satisfying to beat, and the Ancient Cistern has some stunning scenery to take in while playing.
If you loved Ocarina’s dungeons, and the level of difficulty in the puzzles found within, then Ancient Cistern is definitely going to scratch that Zelda itch.
In terms of it being tough, I think it’s the fact that the central tower moves up and down and that there are multiple levels to this dungeon creates that dreaded Water Temple feeling.
And, as you’ll hear me say throughout this article, the control system in Skyward Sword twinned with water makes for a very stressful experience.
And, as the word ‘cistern’ would imply, water is sadly a huge part of this dungeon.
13. Earth Temple (Wind Waker)
Any temple where you have to carry another person and be responsible for their well being is tough. We all remember Jabu Jabu’s Belly and how annoying it was to carry Princess Ruto everywhere, right?
Well, The Earth Temple in the Wind Waker sees players taking Medli around with Link, using her to fly across gaps and into new areas. If you leave her somewhere, however, you’ll have to go back to a certain point to get her.
This level isn’t as taxing as some of the other dungeons in this list, but it is long and can get confusing. There are just so many rooms, and if you’re the type of player to get every single chest, the you’ll be cursing yourself as you go back and forth messing around until you curse the 20 rupees you’ve just picked up.
12. Snowhead Temple (Majora’s Mask)
Goron Link packs a serious punch (that’s one of his main moves, after all), but controlling him is anything but easy. Add that to the fact that you’ve got so many rooms that look similar with a very specific order to go through, and you’ve got a confusing mess on your hands.
I love Zelda – you all know this. But, this level just feels a little like it has been made difficult just for the heck of it. The main room is more than enough to make you feel a little unhinged, and as I said above, entering the wrong room can leave you scouring for a workaround for hours.
I like a challenge, but Snowhead really takes the biscuit!
11. Great Palace (Zelda II: The Adventure of Link)
Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link is my least favourite Zelda game of the whole bunch, and I know that this isn’t an opinion that will shock many readers.
Forget the facts that if you run out of lives you have to go all the way back to the beginning when you die, it also just doesn’t feel like a Zelda game at all.
If anything, it’s like a Zelda game with a MetroidVania mask on.
Actually, don’t forget that dying fact I told you… that is one of the main reasons this game is in this list, after all.
If you go up against Dark Link on the Final Dungeon and die, then that’s it until you make your way through the entire game again.
If I’m being honest, it’s just not a fun concept due to the sheer difficulty factor and, as it’s the last boss in the entire game, the chances of you having very few lives is incredibly real.
10. Turtle Rock Dungeon (Link’s Awakening)
If you have read our Links Awakening review, then you’ll already know how much I love the remake of this game for the Switch. It’s a perfect remaster of the game and a great way of bringing an older story to new generations of gamers.
A new generation of gamers that all now know how hard Turtle Rock Dungeon is. I mean, you’ve got to beat back a mini boss before you even go inside the dungeon!
For me, this is the quintessential ‘old-school Zelda dungeon’. It requires you to use every item you’ve picked up so far while progressing to the very end. You’ll need to jump, use bombs, throw the boomerang, and solve some long-winded and tricksy puzzles along the way.
If anything, it’s like a final test to see if you are ready to beat the last boss. Prove yourself worthy and you’re ready for the final showdown. If you don’t have enough hearts, then don’t even bother!
9. Divine Beast Vah Naboris (Breath Of The Wild)
I’ve recently started playing Breath of the Wild again, and this time I’ve headed straight to see Riju and the Gerudo in order to tame Divine Beast Vah Naboris and acquire Urbosa’s Fury.
It’s the only level from BotW to feature on our toughest Zelda dungeons list, with the other divine beasts not really posing much of a problem for the avid Zelda player. Still, the electricity element of this dungeon and the rotating platforms make it a nightmare for those wanting to get all the chests available.
Plus don’t get me started on the stress of stasising that chest and then hitting the magnesis button like crazy with the hope of it not plummeting to the desert floor.
Thunderblight Ganon is also the toughest form of Ganon to crack too, other than the half-mutated mess at the end of the game, of course.
It took me a while to figure out how to use those lightening rods to shock Ganon to the floor, and going up against this guy as your first boss means that you’ll definitely die a couple of times if you don’t have good armour.
8. Great Bay Temple (Majora’s Mask)
Water levels are just a pain, aren’t they?
While I admittedly preferred Ocarina of Time to Majora’s Mask, I do enjoy playing as the Zora as it feels most like Adult Link.
Apart from the Fierce Deity mask, of course!
Even though this rock-n-roll Zora musician is cool, his level is hard as nails. I think Nintendo thought ‘everyone loved all that messing around with water in the Water Temple… so let’s do that again’.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Messing around with water currents and trying to navigate the level while swimming isn’t fun. It makes me angry just thinking about it, especially because of the fact that you’re being timed due to the 3 day system the entire game is based on.
Gyorg isn’t exactly Thunderblight Ganon in terms of difficulty, but it’s definitely not a chilled out day with a mate either! Keep those fairies close by, you’re going to need them.
7. Palace Of The Winds (Minish Cap)
The Palace Of The Winds takes the 7th spot in this list of the toughest Zelda dungeons, and it’s also one of the longest levels in Capcom’s Zelda outing.
We’re huge fans of the Minish Cap and have recently been enjoying playing it again on the GBA Virtual Console on the Switch while having our morning coffee.
One thing I’m not looking forward to is cloning myself in the Palace of the Winds again though; this level is seriously hard and has so many drops in it that are far too easy to fall down.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love this level really and enjoy seeing Link gliding with the Rock Cape across big gaps. Just be prepared to snap your Switch in half once you start playing.
6. Stone Tower Temple (Majora’s Mask)
Any dungeon that makes players repeatedly play a song called ‘The Elegy of Emptiness’ before even allowing them to enter is already doomed to be the worst level in existence, surely?
Before I go on, I should say that I do like the concept of this level. As someone that likes to search through every nook and cranny of a level to get that 100% completion status, flipping the map to see rooms from every different angle is something I can get on board with.
Still, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t get incredibly tedious after about 10 minutes, especially while concentrating on solving puzzles using all 3 masks and mixing things up to fight rock-hard bosses.
And don’t forget that time is constantly ticking too…
5. Death Mountain (The Legend of Zelda)
This level doesn’t look like it should feature in our list of the toughest Zelda dungeons, does it? Still, Death Mountain on the original NES game is incredibly long and filled so many enemies.
50 rooms make up Level 9, the final path to a showdown with Ganon. Link must battle some of the most powerful baddies in the series as he makes his way to the final chamber, enemies like Wizrobes that still cause us problems in BotW today.
This level came to us in 1986 and it’s still one of the most difficult dungeons as I write this today. Is this part of the reason as to why I am bald?
Yes, yes it is!
4. City In The Sky (Twilight Princess)
There are so many elements to the City in the Sky level on Twilight Princess. It’s not the case that it’s terribly impossible to complete or that you’ll be tearing out your hair after losing all your hearts for the 18th time, but it is taxing on the brain.
The fact that players must use double clawshots to get around the level, with ivy strewn in obscure places, hook points, and spinning platforms dotted around the place that make it difficult to navigate.
More than once I’ve been left wondering where the heck I am; it has a habit of disorientating you and making you retrace your steps, or just arriving back in a previous room by accident!
Plus those Ooacas freak me out a little.
3. Trial Of The Sword: Part 3 (Breath Of The Wild)
The trial of the sword is tough all the way through, but it’s the 3rd segment that handily makes the 3rd spot in this list of the toughest Zelda dungeons.
I mean, starting with no armour and weapons and having to battle against hordes of all the creatures in the game including Lynels and Guardians is tantamount to suicide, right?
Completing this final section gives players the chance to have the Master Sword at 60 damage at all times, giving it a nice glow fitting for the sword that seals the darkness.
The trick here is to not use your ancient arrows on the room filled with static guardians; beat them the old fashioned way using your weapons and then save your ancient arrows to dispatch the Lynels with one hit. Sorted!
2. Sand Ship (Skyward Sword)
If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times; Skyward Sword is hard to play because of those motion controls.
They were fun at first and on the whole the game was well made, but those old controls really make my blood boil when I play this game again. It even feels a little clunky on the Nintendo Switch version too, and I much prefer controlling Link through BotW.
While I tend to think that the swimming segments of this game are toughest, the fact of having to fight all the enemies throughout the most combat-heavy dungeon with ridiculous controls makes it one of the most frustrating Zelda levels of any game.
But it’s not just that; the time stones are a nice idea but make things very difficult to keep track of. It’s like Nintendo wanted to replicate the idea of the Spirit Temple from Ocarina but went a little too far.
1. Water Temple (Ocarina Of Time Master Quest)
Topping this list of the toughest Zelda dungeons is the pain inducing, controller breaking, mind numbingly tough entity that is the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time: Master Quest.
This level was tough enough the first time around, with players needing to raise and lower water levels and hookshot to certain areas. And the keys… why was there never enough keys!
Now, the master quest has turned this level into an absolute minefield. Messing around with the iron boots was a pain before, but now with way more enemies to deal with and lots more problems to solve (and still not enough keys), it takes more brain power than a human possesses to get through it.
Opening doors in the right order is important, otherwise you’ll really find it tough to get ahead. It’s almost a relief when Dark Link shows up so that you can do some normal gameplay!
And that’s a wrap. Thank’s for checking out our top 20 toughest Zelda dungeons of all time Hopefully now you’ll remember to stock up on fairies and Lon Lon Milk when they come around, and fingers crossed you beat them first time.
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Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 33 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.