The Zelda-themed Defenders of the Triforce escape room is a test of puzzle-solving skill

As a lifelong Zelda fan with a Master Sword hanging on my wall, an Ocarina of Time on a shelf, and several figures and collector’s editions of books and games, my personal anticipation heading into the Zelda-themed escape room experience was extremely high. The collaboration between Nintendo and SCRAP, aptly titled Defenders of the Triforce, was a mixture of iconic franchise elements and fresh ideas that added up to what can only be described as a massive scavenger hunt.

Most escape room experiences task small groups of people with solving puzzles and deciphering riddles to break out from and escape a confined space—hence the events being called "escape rooms." Defenders of the Triforce, on the other hand, was different in many ways.

Not Your Average Escape Room

In this "escape room" you don’t just enter a room as a small group of friends with any sort of privacy. Instead, my group sat at one of over two dozen tables all crammed together in a large ballroom-type setting. Each table had a rule sheet and other materials to be shared among everyone, but that’s about as closed off or private as it gets.

Once the man dressed like a Sheikah on a stage in front of us all was done explaining the general rules (such as no running, work as a team, etc.) we watched a short introductory video. Through the use of stock art work and screenshots from Ocarina of Time, it tells a simple story. Ganon is after the Triforce and your group of heroes are all that stand in his way. The only way to get the Master Sword and stop him is to, for some reason, solve a series of puzzles in one hour or the world is doomed. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and the adapted game footage was littered with typos.

What it lacks in narrative appeal and canonical tie-ins, the room makes up for in mentally engaging puzzle designs. Most other escape rooms involve moving around and exploring a small space to uncover secrets and answers, but the majority of our time at the Defenders of the Triforce experience was spent at our table.

Acquiring the Triforce

Some puzzles were simple word games, anagrams, and visual riddles that took a few minutes to decipher, but others involved a lot more analysis than was readily apparent. Remembering each and every piece of material that you’re given from the moment you walk in the door is crucial— as is paying attention to double meanings and reading between the lines. 

Just like in an actual Zelda game, Defenders of the Triforce was full of moments where the solution would suddenly dawn on you, making you feel like an idiot for not realizing it all sooner. Due to the nature of huddling over pieces of paper around a tiny circular table though, it was difficult to collaborate on some of the late-game puzzles as time was ticking down. Often times it was easier for a single person to just tackle something, leaving the others to either look for clues elsewhere or simply not do anything.

Between cracking puzzles at our table, we’d have to get up and travel through the packs of other groups to dedicated areas featuring costumed employees playing the part of Gorons, Kokiri, Zora, and others. We’d have to present the answers to riddles to gain passage or simply ask the right question to gain access to problems in the latter stages of the experience.

The back-and-forth traversal projected the feeling of exploring a dungeon in a Zelda game, or the Hyrule Field overworld, albeit with much less danger. Some elements of the experience (such as a shoe-horned green/red cap time travel mechanic) felt more confusing than liberating. In some instances, it was almost better not to know the franchise well because the references weren’t always accurate. I found myself often getting tripped up on trying to understand a reference that didn’t fit with the lore properly instead of just analyzing a puzzle.

Potential for the Future

The Zelda-themed Defenders of the Triforce was far from a perfect experience and it clearly has a lot of growing left to do, but it ended up being a fun time regardless. It doesn’t enrich the Zelda lore at all and often times felt like it had no business being tied to the iconic franchise, but being able to hoist the Master Sword at the end (we were one of only four groups out of the over two dozen that showed up to solve it) was a very appropriate reward. We finished with literally only a minute to spare.

After the event was over, I kept my green and red tunic caps, but we weren’t allowed to keep the plastic Master Sword, Ocarina of Time, treasure chests, or other replicas we used. Luckily I’ve already got those in my home office anyway.

I don’t feel like the Hero of Time, but I do feel smarter having defeated Ganon and his diabolical series of puzzles and riddles. Thanks to us, the Triforce—and Hyrule—are safe from his evil.