The Room Where It Happens: The Temple of Time From ‘The Legend of Zelda’

The Legend of Zelda

[Editor’s NoteBritish spellings have been preserved upon request.]

There’s no denying that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the most enduring games ever created. Even if you haven’t played it, you probably recognise its characters, locations, and music. But, as in many games, there is one area that encapsulates the whole experience for me—a place where everything came together, a place that I think of immediately when the game comes to mind, and a place that serves as a microcosm of what makes the game great. Examining those areas or levels is the intention of this series: “The Room Where It Happens.”

Even though I played Ocarina of Time long after it originally came out, I didn’t know anything about it. When my sister and I played together, I would use the controller and she would tell me where to go and what to do, and we slowly giggled our way through this Hyrule adventure during the course of one summer.

Following the opening, player character Link is tasked with collecting three spiritual stones. This is a hefty quest, requiring one to beat three dungeons complete with puzzles and boss fights. Since we also spent plenty of time just exploring the world and were generally playing in short bursts with lots of time away from the game, this felt like a long undertaking.

When we finally had three glittering gems to show for it, I was pleased, but also disappointed. We had succeeded; the stones would open the Temple of Time, allowing the power of the mystical Triforce kept within to defeat the evil in the world of Hyrule. Great! But my sister and I wouldn’t have anything to play together anymore.

This is not, of course, how it plays out. Link takes the stones to the temple. Inside, a shaft of light beams down from the vaulted ceiling, illuminating the Master Sword. This is the culmination of the expected story; the moment when Link, like in Arthurian legend, pulls the sword from the stone and is victorious. Instead, Ganondorf, Great King of Evil (not the subtlest of titles), shows up and takes the Triforce, giving him power over the entire land of Hyrule. Link, on the other hand, awakens seven years later into an unfamiliar world and even a new body.

This is certainly a key plot moment in Ocarina of Time, but it’s more than that. The Temple of Time demonstrates great examples of everything that makes this game so powerful.

The Legend of Zelda

Firstly, Ocarina of Time—and the Zelda series in general—is renowned for its soundtrack, and the Temple of Time makes use of its music better than anywhere else. The key moment itself when Link pulls the Master Sword from the stone sends the soundtrack crescendo into a moment of glory, which immediately cuts to Ganondorf’s menacing theme, giving the player an immediate and clear association before there’s any visual evidence of the plot twist.

The Temple also has ambient music, which is, in my opinion, the most beautiful song in the game other than “Song of Storms.” But where the “Song of Storms” is merely catchy and fun, the “Temple of Time” is used to convey information about the significance of the temple itself. It can be heard previously and later in the game in ocarina format, which makes sense as the ocarina is one of the few tools and motifs that continues from young!Link to older!Link.

However, in the Temple itself, the “Temple of Time” is choral. This is what makes the temple really feel like a temple. It also foreshadows the choral track that plays in the Chamber of Sages upon Link’s awakening, and the similarities in the music of the two areas makes sense, as the Chamber of Sages is described as “the last stronghold against Ganondorf’s forces” whilst the Temple of Time was also supposed to be the place for the Triforce to be kept safe against the forces of evil.

The choral “Temple of Time” also conveys a sense of maturity versus the ocarina version, reflecting how Link is about to change from a weirdly capable child to a young man who carries the hope of the entire world on his shoulders. However, this song plays before and after he awakens in a body aged up by seven years, expected to be ready to wield the Master Sword and become the Hero of Time. In fact, older!Link begins less well-equipped than he once was as many of his weapons and tools were suited only to child-sized hands, a mechanic that speaks to the disorientation this sequence of events must have caused him.

This older!Link is immediately returned to the Temple of Time, which looks and sounds exactly the same as it did before. It is the only part of the world that hasn’t changed (more on that later!), but here it suggests Link’s continuity despite appearances; just as the temple is unchanged, so is he. This is reiterated later in the game, as Link can return the Master Sword to the temple in order to return to the world of seven years ago. Link can hop between these times freely, and as the temple remains constant, so does he in all but appearances.

The Legend of Zelda

Upon his initial return to the temple, Link meets Sheik who is (spoilers!) actually Princess Zelda in disguise. (Again, the musical cues here are wonderfully designed. The track that plays during Sheik’s introduction is the same that plays when you first speak to Zelda in the palace gardens.) Link is also tasked with finding his childhood friend Saria, who has matured into the Sage of the Forest. He later comes across other characters he previously knew, such as the Zora princess Ruto, or sees his influence on the world such as a young Goron named after him due to previously saving the Goron people and their home.

And it isn’t just the people who are different. Hyrule is now dark and threatening; monsters roam the streets and fields and the people are gone. Immediately stepping out of the Temple of Time, the player is confronted by a halo of fire surrounding the appropriately named Death Mountain, set against a black sky. By juxtaposing this against the world in which the player had previously been exploring, there is new meaning given to the story and to Link’s task. His motivations are obvious and it’s easy for the player to buy into them, as they too are invested in seeing the former world restored. Yet, as previously stated, the Temple itself remains a constant—a reminder of the old world and a hope for its return.

While the Nintendo 64’s graphical capabilities and the small screen of the DS can’t render the temple’s beauty in the same way that, say, Rise of the Tomb Raider does, the Temple of Time is beautiful. It makes great use of the colour coding that plays strongly into The Legend of Zelda series and its themes of cooperation and balance. The spiritual stones themselves, which we only see together in this area, represent the green of the forest, the blue of the water, and the red of the earth. The areas they symbolise are dulled by the changes of this future world, but the stones remain the same within the temple—a preservation of the best of the old world.

Similarly, in the moment when Link awakens, he is surrounded by the stages where the medallions will eventually sit and, again, each of these have a specific colour. By bringing together these disparate collections and completing the set of complementary shades first seen here, Link can turn back the tide of evil, returning the world to the stable peace that endures within the temple itself.

It is in these ways that the Temple of Time is emblematic of everything great about Ocarina of Time. It uses its music to draw the player into the plot twist and to foreshadow future ones. It represents a key moment in which everything changes, allowing the player to really feel this juxtaposition, while still remaining the same itself as the only bastion of continuity—symbolising the hope of Hyrule enduring. And its unique aesthetics set it above the rest of an already beautiful game, as well as underpinning Link’s thematic and literal journey for the rest of the story. It’s a truly masterfully designed area and one that deserves celebrating.


2 thoughts on “The Room Where It Happens: The Temple of Time From ‘The Legend of Zelda’

Add yours

  1. I think the sense of place created by setting in small(er) spaces is not nearly explored enough in discussions on game art and design. Thank you for exploring this! It is too often that open world games forget the effect those key places we return to as characters can set the tone for the rest of the game, as well as act as a sanctuary against the unknown threats outside its doors.


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