Into the belly of the beast
Odds are you've traversed hundreds of dungeons in your time as a gamer, from underwater fortresses to futuristic compounds. Some are a part of the main adventure; others are simply a way to find some secrets and extra loot. But not all of them are created for your joy. Actually, many of them seem to be crafted specifically to break you.
No matter how good a gamer you are, there's always that one dungeon which seems destined to halt your progression. Be it on account of dastardly puzzles, a lack of hints, or just an unrelenting force of enemies and bosses, these dungeons are some of the most brutal gauntlets that gaming has ever seen. While not every dungeon is necessarily a cakewalk, these areas cruise right on past difficult into sadistic territory.
Nortune's D-Block Sewers (Xenogears)
When it comes to dungeon difficulty, one thing will always cause blood-boiling fury: confusing, maze-like design. The Nortune's D-Block Sewers begins with a murder mystery, and ends with players vowing to never traverse another sewer. The area is dark and dank, and you're bound to get lost when everything looks the same.
Fei and his team don't exactly have a map on hand, so it's easy to get turned around. Oh, and the area is full of poisonous frogs ready to whittle away your valuable hit points. If the tough enemies weren't enough, one of the hardest bosses in the game, Redrum, makes it a chore. When a boss can poison, confuse, and steal life to add to his own, you're in for a rough time. Hanging up your coat and calling it a day wouldn't make you a quitter--it would make you wise.
Deep Sea Research Center (Final Fantasy VIII)
There was a time when random enemy encounters were the norm in roleplaying games. Usually your hero would get a few good steps in before the screen would stop and you'd be launched into a battle to the death. Final Fantasy VIII's Deep Sea Research Center takes this to an extreme--you're launched into a battle every one to two steps. Have fun!
Now, preparing with a healthy amount of items may seem like a way to mitigate the trek down--except it's not. Enemies are tough, and an ongoing puzzle where players are required to run between valves to adjust steam pressure to get to lower depths made it more than just a dash (or in this case, slow crawl) to the big baddie waiting below. Then, if you finally did make it to the bottom after over an hour, your party could be wiped out by the Ultima Weapon-holding Eden, leaving you to curse to the high heavens before doing it all over again.
Spike Dungeon (Ninja Gaiden 2: The Dark Sword of Chaos)
Ninja Gaiden. Spikes. NES-era difficulty. Yes, this is the stuff of nightmares. If that trio of items caused you to cower in fear, it's understandable. Ninja Gaiden games are known for their brutal, relentless difficulty, and this area doesn't disappoint. It's known online as the "spike dungeon"--though "spike and hellfire dungeon" seems more apt.
It turns out that trying to dodge fast projectiles thrown by jerk enemies who come at you from both sides is infuriating when jumping up leads to sending a spike down into your noggin. Thankfully the dungeon is a rather brief area, but Ryu's platform jumping and evasion skills have to be perfect to keep him on his quest to fight through more devastating levels created solely to silence the ninja once and for all.
Water Temple (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
A sinking sensation sets in early on during Link's investigation of the water temple--and it's not because of the Iron Boots. H2O is synonymous with life, vacations at the beach, and general happiness. Here it becomes the basis for an aquatic hellhole as you try to guide Link out of this godforsaken temple.
Whether you survive or not is largely up to luck, or reliance on a guide (unless you're playing the significantly easier 3DS version of the dungeon). Pointing the Hookshot at every little hook you see to hopefully find a way you hadn't gone yet soon results in confusion-- and constantly having to change the water level adds to the disorienting feel of the temple. It may be only the sixth dungeon in Ocarina of Time, but for many, it was also their last. Ganon should forget the Triforce and order the construction of dozens of similar temples for Link to perish in.
Purgatory (Shadow Hearts: From the New World)
The Shadow Hearts series is downright bizarre. It mixes flamboyant vampire wrestlers, a giant alcoholic cat, and an alternate timeline that seems to have been created by someone who slept through History class. In spite of its outr trappings (and somewhat non-traditional RPG mechanics), it does contain something that almost every game of its type has: a frustrating romp through a murky dungeon.
After taking over 100 photographs and sprinkling a picture hanging on the wall with holy water (dont ask), it's time to be whisked away to Purgatory, an optional dungeon, but one containing all sorts of good loot. Purgatory earns its name by pitting your main hero, the heroically named Johnny, against a host of bosses representing the sins conducted by your entourage. Players will have to scour through increasingly difficult mazes to get to them, and will only get a save point and chance to restock items at the very end of it. How nice!
Professor K's Dungeon (Lost Odyssey)
Technology can be a scary thing, and Professor K (not the Jet Set Radio one) is ready to drive that point home. But before that, Kaim and his ragtag bunch of heroes are going to have to, as in most dungeons, get to the bottom floor to find the boss. There they'll encounter the aptly named Killalon--Professor K's mechanic monstrosity that K rides as if it were some kind of twisted steed from hell. It also kinda looks like a vacuum design gone horribly awry. It's kind of hard to tell.
The Killalon is very, very good at fulfilling death orders. Gamers should expect nothing less from a professor who has a backstory that reads like an evil scientist's diary. Like most dungeons on this list, Professor K's remaining resting place is full of normal enemies that hit harder than most bosses. If you're lucky enough to meet with K, all your team members will have to be highly leveled and outfitted for a war of attrition. If not, kiss your life goodbye.
Icecrown Citadel (World of Warcraft)
Any dungeon in the frozen wastes almosts already guarantees a horrible time. And yet, a freezing tundra is exactly where World of Warcraft's elite face the Lich King--who's not quite the benevolent kind of royalty--in a battle that requires perfect execution. The foreboding citadel sits around the Frozen Throne, and is populated with some of the toughest undead Scourge enemies you'll ever have to tank.
The Lich King and undead enemies are just a small part of the citadel's defenses. Made up of four floors, the area also houses 11 other boss encounters to test your mettle. Learning how to use the correct teleporters to traverse the expansive construction is a major key to survival. Simply reaching the fourth floor to face the Lich King is fraught with all sorts of danger, but facing the lord of the Scourge is a test of true patience and coordination. And this being WoW, you're also sort of at the mercy of the other dozen or so people on your team. Pray they aren't AFK.
Cave of Trials (Star Ocean 2)
Unless you've reached over level 100 (yes, Star Ocean 2 lets you break pass the common 99 cap and go up to the somewhat arbitrary 255), this cave will be your final resting place. The Cave of Trials is littered with enemies able to wipe the floor with your heroes in mere seconds, while the puzzles preventing access to new floors will stump even the wittiest dungeon crawler. Heck, just getting the purple penguin to boot you in the right direction of the dungeon can be a bit confusing.
The 13 floors don't contain any save points, and exploring more than one floor at a time is nearly impossible. Of course, getting far enough to explore the entire dungeon may never happen. The puzzles are mind-bendingly difficult, and vague clues as to what has to be done to get to each floor's boss are only sparingly handed out. Here's one of the worst puzzles: visiting each room on a floor just once. Hope you like drawing maps!
Tomb of the Giants (Dark Souls)
Sure, Blighttown is rough, but at least it's outside--The Tomb of Giants is proof that fearing the dark is something grownups can do as well. Dark Souls is already a grind-you-into-the-mud kind of game; it wants you to scream for your mum, and hiding hideous enemies like giant skeletons (who have no qualms about kicking you to death) is just the way to do it. Combine them with skeleton dogs, tiny paths along steep cliffs, and arrows that come out of the darkness when you least expect it, and you have the making of a terribly troubling dungeon.
If players are lucky enough to make it through the horribleness that is the tomb, what awaits is a repulsive boss made up of countless skeletons able to inflict a debilitating poison status. And, keeping with the skeleton theme, it's accompanied by--you guessed it--even more skeletons.
Ikuto Dungeon (Phantasy Star II)
The original Phantasy Star's first-person dungeons all look the same, pixel for pixel. You'd think that the sequel's switch to a more "traditional" view featured in games like Final Fantasy would seem to mean an easier time--but Sega scoffed at the idea of making anything easy in its sci-fi RPG series. Instead, it aims to keep the theme of confusing dungeon design alive and healthy.
Ikuto Dungeon is a horrible experience due to its focus on trial and error. Much like the first game in the series, this dungeon eschews different landmarks or any sort of iconic visual elements. Instead, it's just a hazy dungeon made up of carbon-copy, blue or gray stones and statues. In order to get through it you simply keep falling down pits; these dark holes teleport you to another section of the dungeon. It's basically an exercise in dumb luck.
Meat Circus (Psychonauts)
Psychonauts stars Raz, a boy with special psychic powers forced by his family to join the circus. After running away from home, he meets up with others who are like him in a summer camp that's basically Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, except for psychics. Thus begins a rather charming 3D platformer--at least until you get to the very end, the Meat Circus. You won't like the Meat Circus.
This fleshy three-ring circus has two major issues: an NPC to escort, and god-awful platforming segments. If you're a fan of burgers--and really, you should be--you'll never look at another slab of beef the same way. Keeping your partner safe from mutated rabbits is hard enough, but when it comes to trying to perform perfectly timed jumps only to plunge to your death over and over again well, let's just say this is one circus we wish had nothing but clowns.
Tough it out
Although it may seem like the worst thing to go through at the time, defeating a punishing dungeon is cause for celebration. It feels extremely rewarding to finally defeat the final boss after the umpteenth try and snag whatever secrets the dungeon holds. Have you guys been able to defeat these dungeons? What are some of the most difficult ones you've ever set foot in--and did you make it out? Let us know in the comments!