From Aquamentus to the Calamity Ganon
For 35 years, The Legend of Zelda has been inspiring imaginations and captivating audiences with its sprawling adventures across a land of swords, shields, and skulltulas. For the next seven days, we’re looking back at its three-and-a-half decades of entertainment, and I wanted to start off this retrospective week talking about one of the best aspects of every Zelda game: the boss battles.
From its humble beginnings on the Famicom Disk System to its most recent outing on Switch, The Legend of Zelda has managed to introduce outstanding dungeon boss battles that transcend their technological restraints and graft themselves onto the minds and hearts of its fans. Aquamentus may be just a simple 8-bit unicorn dragon, but as a child, my mind painted a far more elaborate picture of how daunting this creature actually was.
As technology improved, I didn’t have to fill in the gaps as much as I used to, but Nintendo has used each and every jump in processing power to create more iconic boss battles that pushed the limits of what we expect from a Zelda game. I’ll never forget how my jaw dropped when I first fought Koloktos in Skyward Sword.
We all have our favorites, and with so many amazing options worth mentioning, I asked the Destructoid staff and community to help me out with this post and answer the question: What is the best boss battle in The Legend of Zelda?
GoofierBrute: I’m going with the final battle with Ganondorf from Wind Waker. It isn’t the flashiest fight, but its simplicity combined with its great music, the cutscene beforehand, the water level rising, and you and Zelda working together make it a really amazing send off to my favorite Zelda game.
Also, the fact that Link stabs Ganondorf through the head with the Master Sword makes it all the more epic.
Mullon: The only thing that comes to mind is the Ganondorf fight in Wind Waker.
PatBateman17: Look, I can’t say it’s the best, but Ganondorf and final Ganon form in Ocarina of Time blew me away. That whole epic game is forever a part of my favorite childhood memories – the gold cartridge, that wonderful N64, playing Zelda in 3D! After putting who knows how many hours into it, scaling the castle and basically playing tennis with Ganondorf … to then escape the castle and still have one epic fight left. Man. That game was as close to perfect as possible. What a great fight.
welshmetalhippy: I don’t even know his name. But the horse dude from the first palace in Zelda 2 was a beast. You needed to use several spells like shield and jump to even have a go. He made Ornstein and Smough seem like childs play. (I’ve checked Wikipedia and his name is simply Horsehead).
taterchimp: Shadow Link in 2 and OoT are good. Trinexx is a great boss after a hard ass temple, and Blind always has a special place in my heart. Gohdan is so iconic that he appeared in NieR and a few other games. Militron is great, too.
Neronium: For me it’s between Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker Ganondorf, and Zant from Twilight Princess. Zant was a huge plus for me because of how upset and more erratic he gets the more the battle goes on. Wind Waker Ganondorf because he basically knows he’s lost for good that time and thus wants to take everyone out with him. Majora’s Mask is creepy and unsettling and also becomes erratic like a child not getting what they want.
CJ Andriessen: The debate over whether I like The Wind Waker or Breath of the Wild more is an argument that my head may never be able to settle. The former takes everything Nintendo got right with Ocarina of Time and gave it a nautical twist, while the latter reimagined the Zelda formula and redefined what we should expect from open-world games. It’s tough to pick between the two, but once place Wind Waker easily rises above Breath is with its boss battles.
The power of the GameCube was put to good use with Link’s first outing in the 128-bit generation. Everything Nintendo could do on the Nintendo 64, it did bigger with the ‘Cube. There are a lot of great boss battles in this game, but for my money, nothing beats the penultimate battle when you stand opposite Puppet Ganon. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for puppetry, so to do battle with a gigant puppet was a real joy to my younger self. Fighting his second form as a giant tarantula puppet, that’s another story.
It’s not a terribly difficult battle as you just need to make like Pinocchio and cut his strings to hit the orb on his tail. Pretty standard for a Zelda game, but it’s the imagery, the scale, the spectacle, and the animation of this fight that endears it to me. It’s a grand battle, one that fills me with awe and a great preview of how video games would find new ways to astound us as technology improved.
AtomicBanana: STALLORD MOTHERFUCKERRRRRRRRRR
Boxman214: The best boss I’ve encountered in a Zelda game is Argorok from Twilight Princess. It’s a dark dragon that you fight atop a flying city, high in the clouds. You fight it after obtaining the double hookshot, which essentially turns you into Spider-Link. You swing around the arena while fighting a large, flying beast. It doesn’t get more epic.
maycausecancer: I always thought Bongo Bongo from Ocarina of Time was a very creative boss battle. Also the design of it is so weird which fits The Shadow Temple well.
Seymour: It’s not necessarily a “boss fight” (more of a mid-boss than anything else), but I’ve always gotten a huge kick out of the simple joys of knocking back Phantom Ganon‘s energy balls in Wind Waker. The cherry on top being the amazing audio feedback.
If they were common enemies throughout the overworld, I’d seek out every single one.
Adzuken: Do you not remember Dead Hand? It’s probably because your brain sealed it in a vault and buried it with the rest of your traumatic childhood experiences. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has quite a few unsettling moments to it, but I’d say nothing compares to the Bottom of the Well. The dank, gloomy sewer level undertaken as young Link is creepy enough, but it all caps off with a confrontation of Dead Hand.
Technically just a sub-boss, Dead Hand is a disgusting mass of bloodied flesh equipped with an impressive pair of dentures. His rope-like hands rise from the ground, trying to grope at you, and the only way to make Dead Hand vulnerable is to allow yourself to be grasped. He then gradually shimmies his way to you, biting your head if you’re unable to free yourself in time. To add insult to injury, you’re then tasked with fighting him again as a more muscly adult link.
Dead Hand is not nearly the most mechanically complex boss in the series, but he wins out for me by being straight-up terrifying.
Mamekuma: Majora’s Mask is one of my favorite games of all time, despite not really caring for Zelda as a franchise. Just about every boss is unique and fun in their own right, but I’ve always loved the spectacle of Goht. He’s a giant, robotic bull that charges straight ahead no matter what, and having to speed along beside him as Goron Link was incredibly fun and visceral, especially for a N64 game.
ScionVyse: Koloktos from Skyward Sword is a pretty easy pick for my favourite Zelda boss. Not only does it look really cool (being modeled after the hindu mythological Asura), and its theme is awesome, but it’s such a well designed fight.
The first phase is pretty standard Zelda fare, dodging attacks until its arm are vulnerable, then using the new Whip item to pull them off, and get hits on its weak point. Phase 2 is much more interesting. It stands up, pulls out six swords, and gets a whole new bunch of abilities. Once you pull of his arms again, he drops his swords, and you have to pick one up in order to damage it. You chop his legs off, then go to town on the weak point.
And its death scream being a bunch of children’s laughter adds a point of creepy on top.
Such a great boss.
Tricerapops: Queen Ghoma is not only quintessential to the spirit of the series, that fight is what made me realize “Holy shit they actually pulled off this 3D Zelda thing.”
Zelda has always been about secrets, discovery, and wonder. Childhood, for me. Traversing a legit creepy dungeon full of spiders set inside a giant, dying Deku Tree is the kind of playfully spooky stuff I lived for when I was a kid. Well…still do. Then you fight a fuck-off giant arachnid in it’s own layer with a sling shot. That’s some Zelda-ass Zelda.
Gimic300: The first thing that came to mind was Queen Gohma. Ocarina of Time really had a lot of bits that felt like straight up horror. I’ll never forget fighting my way through a dying, sentient tree only to be trapped inside of a pitch dark arena with a giant one eyed spider that hung from the ceiling and shat spider babies at me. Stuff of nightmares for an 8-year-old.
Trevlyn: I won’t list best, but some memorable moments. The first time I saw Koloktos, thinking how hard of a battle it was going to be only to easily take it apart and then realizing it was just a practice run, and not the real fight.
There was the fight with the Pyroclastic Fiend Scaldara, yes it was a easy battle but I am a sucker for lava levels and the boss music was so good. If you haven’t heard it go check out the the pyroclastic fiend boss. The music changes depending on what you are doing in the fight.
Stallord boss battle, with the undead soldiers. Felt like a pinball game using the spinner to break its back. Then in the second phase using the spinner to climb higher and higher and gaining more speed, dodging the fireballs was intense and so much fun.
Jonathan Holmes: Demise is the culmination of everything good about Skyward Sword. While the game is often gets maligned for its small scope and excessive hand-holding, this fight spits in the face of that criticism by throwing you into an endless arena with a brutally effective swordsman, then saying, “OK, figure it out.” You’ll need all the physical coordination, attention to tells, and strategic thinking that you’ve developed so far to even survive.
He seems impossible to defeat at first, but with patience and practice, you’ll eventually learn to get some hits in, and eventually, you make even learn to beat him without taking a hit. Then, if you’re really into it, you may gain the speed and skill to beat him in less than a minute. At one point, the world record for getting through him was at around 25 seconds!
If I’m being real, I’d say that deep combat systems are not generally the Zelda series’s greatest strength, but Skyward Sword is the exception to that rule, and this fight rules.
Exber: Demise from Skyward Sword, hands down. The fact that both this antagonist and our protagonist share similar abilities tied to the motion controls makes the fight even more personal than that of Ghirahim before him. Both swords serve their masters to the very end, and how quick thinking & reflexes help this battle feel fresh is a plus. Cole & Malladus from Spirit Tracks deserves an honorable mention, too. Zelda and Link fighting together the WHOLE two consecutive fights? If controlling the princess wasn’t great already throughout the campaign. Need I say more?
Silver the 3rd: Can I say Zant? I love Zant.
lokhe: I’ve always loved the Spirit Temple from Ocarina of Time and Twinrova is such a fun fight, with the opposite elements and the witches’ charm <3
RiffRaff: I don’t have it in me to write a long comment, but beating Agahnim with the butterfly net is one of my favorite Zelda moments. Majora and Wind Waker Ganon also get shout outs!
NeoTurbo: The beyblade battle in Twilight Princess.
Fuzunga: All the bosses from Breath of the Wild, because you can beat them any way you want. In other Zelda games you have to use an item you got in a dungeon to expose their giant glowing weak point which is the only way to damage them. It felt great coming up with my own strategies in Breath of the Wild.
CelicaCrazed: I can’t think of any from the traditional games at the moment but I’m not sure any top the feeling of beating my first Lynel in BotW. I was so scared but I didn’t run away.
Xabier: Majora, no contest. It has the best combination of build up, spectacle, and game design. It’s the most satisfying, too. It taunts you the whole damn game and, unlike Ocarina of Time, this time is deeply personal. You get to meet Majora and interact with it in a significant way before you know it’s a real threat.
Zach Bennett: The Phantom Ganon fight from Ocarina of Time spooked the hell out of me as a child. After obtaining the Master Sword and becoming Adult Link, the Forest Temple that follows becomes a benchmark for your newly acquired power. Phantom Ganon lies in wait at the end and locks you in a small, circular room surrounded by paintings of the same ominous path leading out into some obscure, mountainous landscape. Where most bosses in the game demand center stage as Link locks on and revolves around them, Phantom Ganon immediately jumps into a painting on the wall, leaving Link alone in the middle of the room.
Surrounded by paintings, you have to figure out which one Phantom Ganon will reappear from and shoot an arrow at him as he emerges. He can show up on multiple walls at a time, and pulling out the bow changes the camera perspective to a sludgy first-person view, making the search for the real Phantom Ganon all the more suffocating as you spin around the middle of the room. Finding the real one becomes a mini-horror game.
After a few hits, he ditches the horse and floats around the room throwing glowing balls of energy at you. Using your trusty new Master Sword, you hit it back at him and engage in one of my favorite Zelda boss tropes of all time: the pong war. Phantom Ganon embodies the darker parts of the series I love and, to this day, remains the most memorable boss I’ve fought as Link.
LaserPirate: The Phantom Ganondorf battle in Ocarina of Time is the most memorable for me. I thought the phantom running in and out of the portraits was the coolest thing ever as a 12 year old playing for the first time and still tense up every time I replay it.
Frostyflakes: Stalblind from A Link Between Worlds was always a fun fight. It’s mechanics were rather simple but melding with his shield so he got confused and opened himself up was always amusing and neat way to do a typical sword and shield boss. Solid 6.5/10.
cockaroach: From the actual Zelda‘s I’ve played and beaten, Lttp, OoT, MM, and WW, my favorite boss fight is a hard decision.
From LttP, definitely the Turtle Rock boss, it requires a certain amount of skill juggling between the ice and fire rods to kill the fire and ice heads effectively, and then you destroy his shell and becomes a giant snake.
OoT: this is a tough decision, bit I think it’s Ganondorf. The volleys back and forth in the first stage is a nice body to LttP, and kinda required proper aiming to work. Then the whole race to the bottom and Gannon retuning powdered up, ugh. Masterstroke.
MM: Each boss fight is so unique, it’s hard to decide, but my favorite is more mini boss than anything. I loved the garo/ninja castle near the stone temple area, and fighting those two skeleton kings in the throne room was very memorable, especially doing all the mask related quests there too.
WW: The giant bird with the mask. It felt so satisfying cracking it’s mask once you had the hammer. And it’s a giant fucking bird. I love that shit.
Jetter Mars: Ook. This fight always makes me laugh.
beatlemaniaxx: Agorok – Twilight Princess : Eox – Phantom Hourglass : Ganon (Final Form) – Ocarina of Time
Roager: The Armogohma fight in Twilight Princess stands out for me. The Temple of Time was a really fun dungeon for two reasons: nostalgia and the gimmick item that let you control statues. Coming to the boss room capped off both, and instantly took me back to being a kid when I first did the Deku Tree dungeon in Ocarina of Time. It was exciting to see a version of the same boss in (relative) HD, and getting to hammer-thwam it this time around was really satisfying.
Deadgar64: Any version of the sand worms!