The bosses of Zelda are some of the biggest features of their respective games and in many ways have influenced boss designs in the industry as a whole. From the introductory minions like Queen Gohma to the epic final confrontations with foes like Demon King Demise, a boss can be the thing we anticipate most in Zelda dungeons. But what makes a good battle? What makes these encounters so tense or symbolic? Let’s explore these questions while we design our own boss! Feel free to create your own alongside me and post yours in the comments below.
What Makes A Good Boss?
This is the most important question of all, as if we don’t have this down, then nothing we create will stand the test of time!
First, our creation must fit the theme of the dungeon they reside in. Let’s take Phantom Ganon from the Forest Temple in Ocarina of Time as an example. The Forest Temple is mysterious, whimsical, and creepy with its twisting hallways and eerie lighting. Did I mention the mini-bosses are ghosts? All of this leads to a strange room with paintings of a seemingly haunted castle and dead trees. Upon stepping into the fenced-in arena, our Phantom leaps from one of the paintings, surprising Link. What follows is a teaser of the final battle of the game to come many dungeons later and is a perfect opening foray into the meat of Ocarina of Time. Thematic fit? Check.
Next, our boss needs to have sound mechanics that involve the usage of whichever key item was featured in their dungeon. In this instance, Stallord from Twilight Princess serves as a good template. For this skeletal dragon, Link must use the Spinner he finds to not just stay afloat in the sand, but also to damage Stallord’s weak lower vertebrae. The boss isn’t alone however. Stallord summons Staltroops to assist it. This adds an element of additional danger that Link must be aware of while attempting to take down this monster.
Stallord is such a great sample though, so we’re not quite finished using him. A good Zelda boss needs phases as well. In this case, once Link has fractured Stallord’s vertebrae enough (I’ve been through this, so I feel for the poor guy), its spine will shatter with only its skull remaining. This isn’t the end of the fight though. In pain and as angry as Ganon at the end of every game, this dragon will summon a giant pillar in the center of the arena and fly towards the top. Fortunately for Link, this same pillar happens to have neat grooves running up the sides, allowing him to once again use his key item to ride along to the top Six Flags-style. Once our hero is high enough above Stallord, he can knock the skull back down to the ground to punish it with his sword attacks. But wait! There’s more! In semi-third phase, bladed traps will now appear in some of the grooves, adding yet another challenge for the intrepid Link.
Last but not least, our boss needs not only theme music, but a weak point as well. Every baddie in Zelda has a weakness. Some bosses need to be fought with a bit first for their weakpoint to be revealed during later phases of the fight, while others’ weakpoints are visible right from the start. In the examples above, Phantom Ganon is weak to his own tennis ba… er, lightning ball, which when returned to sender will knock him on his butt, allowing for excellent use of jump attacks. Stallord has a neat little Scimitar of Twilight that’s only visible during the second and third phases of the clash, as one must knock the wayward skull to the ground in order to smack it with the Blade of Evil’s Bane.
Alright, we now know the fundamentals of good boss design in Zelda. So let’s get to actually designing ours! First, we need a good theme. Now, since my favorite dungeon in all of Zelda is the Forest Temple from Ocarina of Time, I’m thinking I should create something mysterious and freaky. Of course, we DO have to maintain an E for Everybody rating, so I can’t go too crazy. Let’s say my dungeon is an underground tomb. Perhaps it’s Ganondorf’s tomb after he’s slain in Twilight Princess. The tomb itself should be a maze of tunnels, burial chambers, and ritual rooms. A better puzzle for poor Link. Redeads, Gibdos, Poes, and perhaps a Wizzrobe mini-boss are all appropriate here for the build-up to my creation.
In tune for this, the final battle will take place in the main tomb itself. Upon opening the stone coffin, Link finds… Ganon’s corpse? No, too obvious and also too much of a copy of our source, the Forest Temple. Instead, he’ll find it empty, only for the actual boss to drop from the ceiling behind him, wreathed in shadows! Once Link steps forward, the introduction begins and the boss will reveal its form.
Now, something we haven’t seen very much of in Zelda are vampire-like creatures. I happen to think that Ganon would enjoy summoning or molding a vampire with his Triforce of Power.
Stepping into the light, Link sees a well-dressed, pale Hylian with a cloak. It’s eyes will be normal, but with a crimson color. In its hand will be an elegant longsword, and it smiles evilly at Link, revealing four elongated fangs. Thus, the battle begins.
Mechanics, Phases, And Weakpoint
Now that the theme is taken care of, we can cut to the meat and potatoes of our boss: mechanics. Since my tomb is a square arena, I’ll need to design additional boss mechanics that will either increase the volatility of the environment or reduce the amount of space Link can use to fight effectively. Also, let’s call my boss Strahd, ’cause I’m utterly shameless about my D&D passion. Strahd will primarily use his longsword to attack Link head-on, as I feel Zelda does not have near enough sword duels for a game that features a damn sword as its primary weapon. Speaking of which, I almost forgot to mention what the key item would be in this dungeon: Light Arrows.
In this case however, we’re going to have a bit of a twist. Instead of the Light Arrows being used throughout the fight, we’ll save that mechanic for later and instead introduce a feature to this new Zelda game called a parry. Link will learn this technique halfway through the game so he has a bit of time to practice this before he reaches our tomb.
Strahd will have five different moves throughout the first phase. The first will be a simple three-slash combo with the sword that must be dodged or blocked with a shield. This combo cannot be parried. His second attack will be a quick slash followed by a slow, heavier downward strike. Parrying requires good timing and this move will be the one that Link should go for. We don’t want it to be too easy, so the first slash will imitate the first combo to trip up our hero. Strahd’s third attack will actually be his own version of a parry. Since parries will allow Link to get a free shot in on enemies, Strahd’s will likewise give him a benefit. If Link attacks Strahd while he is in his parry stance, he will grab Link and bite him, restoring a little bit of his life and draining a larger amount from Link’s pool. The fourth move will be the summoning of keese. These keese will do low damage and come in waves of three to four in order to help Strahd box his opponent in. Last, but certainly not least, Strahd will rarely cast a medium-sized fireball at Link that must be dodged or reflected via a shield bash.
After Link gets in a few parries, Strahd will enter the second phase. In this segment, his attacks will become faster and he will gain a new sword attack in which he charges for a moment, then unleashes a horizontal slash that emits fire. Link must either hit Strahd twice during the charge-up or back away from him in order to not take damage.
Phase two will be short, as phase three is where the fun really begins. After taking some more damage, Strahd will become desperate and transform. His cloak will shred and turn into keese-like wings, his fangs will grow longer, and his arms will transform into blades. During this part, his attacks will have greater range than before, and he gains a new move. Periodically, he will fly into the air and attempt to dive at Link with his bladed arms or cast two fireballs at him.
This is where his weakpoint comes in. Since Strahd has now assumed his true evil form, he is now supremely vulnerable to both the Master Sword and the Light Arrows. Shooting Strahd while he’s in the air preparing to strike with the Light Arrows will drop him from the sky and stun him for a couple seconds. Once enough damage has been dealt, he will enter a final weak state in which a final stab from the Master Sword will cause him to transform into a swarm of keese that slowly melt away in a beam of light.
Granted, this is a lot more involved than traditional Zelda bosses, but I feel that with the evolving difficulty presented in Breath of the Wild, mechanics and increased challenge could be merited in a future title.
So what do you do you think of Strahd and his boss battle? Do you have a boss creation you’d like to share based on the elements we discussed above? Let us know in the comments below!