It wasn’t for lack of trying. I actually set out to do the one thing I hadn’t tried in the overworld: I went through each screen — every single one — one by one, and bombed, burned, pushed, and whistled my way through them. I found a small pile of secrets to everybody. I found many more grumpy old men who made me pay to fix their doors. I found a couple of shops, some old ladies selling potions, and a shocking number of money making games.
And yet, I never found the seventh dungeon.
As a fun fellow who calls himself Octopus Prime mentions in this thread, “It lies concealed under a completely innocuous shrub on a screen full of shrubs.” Even as I willed myself the patience of exiting and re-entering each highly forested room to try and burn down every god forsaken tree, I never found it. My suspicion is that I “missed” – that my attempts to burn multiple trees at once in order to reduce the time it took to go through every single one got slightly lazier than it was allowed to; that while I thought I had tried to burn that bush, I never actually did. Once I was done with that room — once I could assure myself that I had tried everything there was to try in that room — I never went back. There was no reason to, unless I wanted to try bombing trees.
Thankfully, I never did try bombing trees. While I did go ahead and force my way through dungeon 8 before I ever found dungeon 7 (something that goes against the pseudo-OCD behaviors I typically display while running through games like this), I never got desperate enough to think that maybe shooting arrows at rocks would help, or anything like that. This is where, long ago, the primitive sort of crowdsourcing was the only way to win; advice from a friend, or a couple of hours of play in the hands of my brother. I can confidently say I never would have found that dungeon, and I’d have put the game down having still (still!) never finished the second quest.
I’m glad even my stubbornness has its limits. If I had spent another 10 hours looking for that dungeon, eventually finding it, and then almost immediately finding the red candle that lives in it, I’d have had to seek a refund for my shattered 3DS on account of “a destructive sense of irony”.
That out of the way, and free to get back to the business of exploring things whose existence I had not yet come to doubt, it didn’t take all that long (comparatively) to finish out the rest of the game. Even finding the red ring and silver arrow didn’t feel like terrible awful trudges through the unknown. Other than a mildly insidious multi-room moving block puzzle in the final dungeon, it was pretty straightforward the rest of the way through. Awful blue wizzrobes here, awful red bubbles there, and a couple of awful triple dodongo rooms later, Ganon showed himself once again, and with no new tricks up his sleeve, he quickly fell to dust once again:
There’s a beautiful balance that The Legend of Zelda strikes, between setting a certain set of expectations and rules, and then slowly breaking them down. You see this a bit in the first adventure — figuring out that you can bomb your way into rooms unmarked on a dungeon map is one of the great little secrets that everyone who conquers the first adventure eventually has to come to realize, since finding these unmarked rooms is actually necessary in the final dungeon. The second adventure, however, is full of this — between walls you can walk through, advice whose meaning changes, and whistles that could blow open a staircase pretty much anywhere, the second quest is a tremendous mash of “everything you know is wrong”. There are even old men more ornery than the “door repair charge” guys, old men who demand either 50 coins or a heart container(!) before they allow you to proceed.
The beauty of it is that if you’ve put the time into conquering the first quest, none of the second quest will really feel impossible. It’ll throw you for a loop, sure, but the ways in which the rules break in the second quest are introduced just as gradually as those same rules were set in the first. Throw your assumptions about what you can and can’t do out the window a bit, and you find an open world that’s even more “open” than the first quest even suggests.
Maybe you won’t find everything, but it won’t be because the game cheated. It’ll only be for lack of diligence.
Even as it delayed my progress on other things, taking on the second quest was a pursuit worth doing. Best of all, I can finally claim the mastery of it that should accompany my other Legend of Zelda-related claim: namely, that it is the best game the NES ever saw.
Took long enough.