Stepping Up the Challenge of Combat

While I’m sure everyone can agree that Zelda falls into the Action-Adventure genre, I can’t help but notice that the “action” part has felt somewhat lackluster as of late; particularly in the 3D titles. Though Skyward Sword took steps in the right direction, fighting enemies was still not even close to the challenge it had been in older games. I know there have been quite a few complaints these days about the combat in Zelda being too easy, but let’s take a deeper look into why that is, and several possible ways it could be developed into a more polished element of the series. It is about time for Nintendo to take a look at how it’s done in other games, and to try learning from the success of others. In order to keep myself from rambling, I am condensing the combat issues that Zelda is currently facing into two categories, consisting of the behavior of the artificial intelligence, and the way the enemies are encountered. Now understand that these issues have to both be fixed accordingly, or else the combat will not evolve to its fullest extent.

The AI

Let’s take a look at the average combat scenario. The majority of the enemies follow a similar pattern; they advance toward you, and when they get in range, the fiendish monsters stand there and ogle at you for a bit. Eventually, the little demons decide that they don’t like that ugly face of yours, so they do what any evil minion would do: Prepare to attack you. I say prepare because that’s as far as the majority of them seem to get. When the Bokoblin lifts up his weapon, he holds it in the air and leaves himself completely exposed, as if to say “Please, after you.”

Now let’s take a look at the enemy situation we have going on in the original Darksiders, a game that I will be making many comparisons and references to, given its many, many similarities with Zelda. If we analyze the attack patterns of the Phantom Guard, the standard cannon fodder of Darksiders, we will see several similarities with the enemies of Zelda, but several key differences as well. Firstly, the nasty little demons, when they take notice of you, charge in and try to get the jump on you immediately with a jump attack, after which they will back up to a somewhat safe distance and move around you as if they’re Z-targeting. While one enemy does this, his buddy moves in from the side and takes a swipe at you while you are focused on him.

Though they are not a major threat, they tend to be accompanied by a larger baddy or two, who seem to serve the purpose of leading the smaller enemies into battle. The actions and attacks of these larger enemies are rarely interrupted by your standard attacks, and you had best get in and out quickly before he takes a third of of a lifebar away.

Having large groups of enemies, each with their own, highly distinct attack methods is part of what keeps you on your toes during combat in Darksiders, and though Zelda seems to do this, the majority of enemies follow a similar pattern to that of the first paragraph of this section, even if it’s done with different animations. In Skyward Sword’s case, many enemies, such as Lizalfos, simply need their weak points to be exposed before they’re hit.

This is not to say that combat in Zelda isn’t fun, but it tends to lack challenge for many players, or at least becomes too predictable for it to pose a challenge after the first few hours.

Encountering Your Foes

Something I’ve recently noticed in Zelda is that combat is treated as a series of individual encounters, and what I mean by that is that consequences of previous encounters with enemies are often irrelevant to any future encounters. You can easily find hearts to replace the ones you’ve lost after a fight. This would be fine, if enemies did sufficient damage or showed up in numbers that would constitute a threat. However, because hearts seem to drop nearly as often as green rupees, you will likely be completely ready for the next fight ahead. The short little encounters do not serve much of a purpose, then, if they do not wear you out for the fights ahead. Health should not be so common as to be worth less than the least valuable piece of currency in the game. It would be better to make health scarcer, or only available in certain locations, as with the chests in Darksiders.

Enemies also ought to be encountered in greater numbers, or a spawn system where more enemies arrive after you kill one of them needs to be put into place. This would contribute to wearing you down for the upcoming big fight or mini-boss. If the Dark Lord’s lackeys are truly expendable, he should not hesitate to send more to join the onslaught.

Zelda has implemented this before, somewhat, with the Stalkin and ReDead Knights of Arbiter’s Grounds in Twilight Princess, but the Stalkin posed no real threat and the ReDead Knights could easily be picked off with a bomb arrow or two. In a recent article, our good buddy Axle mentioned that he really enjoyed the Stalfos of Twilight Princess. They were good fighters, and if combined with the improved AI mentioned in the previous section, they could pose a true challenge. One of my favorite enemies of the 3D games was the Stalfos from Ocarina of Time. They were probably one of the most challenging “standard” monsters of the game. Enemies like these have good concepts behind them, but sometimes seem to lack polish.

Of course, Nintendo has been around long enough to know what they’re doing, but taking a leaf out of someone else’s book could, in my opinion, change things for the better with Zelda’s combat. I feel like combat is starting to fall from its own category and into that of the puzzles. Seeing Zelda Wii U with enemies that always pose a threat to our hero could make for a truly legendary adventure.

What do you guys think of the combat in Zelda? Should the enemies be more aggressive, or should we leave them alone? Perhaps you have other ideas on how to alter the current state of the combat system. Please leave your thoughts, feelings, and feedback below!