Thursday, May 11, 2017

Breath of the Wild Has a Boss Problem

Breath of the Wild did a lot of new things right, but I could not shake the lackluster feeling the bosses left after conquering each divine beast. Even the final encounter with Calamity Ganon felt abrupt and overly simple. Something was missing and I could not put my finger on it. I went back to previous Zelda titles to try and find why these newer encounters seemed to lack the intensity the older bosses held and why I still have nostalgic memories of so many older bosses to this day.

-The Boss Build Up-

The boss room was your final test; An arena only unveiled once you stepped through an intimidating door sometimes requiring a special key used only for that room alone. Link would cautiously enter the room, door closing abruptly behind him, as he glanced at his surroundings he moved forward slowly to the center of the room. This left the player guessing as to what could possibly come out and surveying the environment where they would do battle.

Bosses keep their keys in the most obvious of chests...
We all remember the long climb up the stairs as the organ music got louder when approaching Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, the feeling of the heavy chain and lock falling from the gargantuan door as you proceed through, and the uneasy suspense when you are given control to walk around an arena with no boss yet revealed.

In BoW, the boss room is part of the already accessible map from the start, and after a few of the divine beasts were completed, you got the pattern; Unlock all five terminals, return to the big terminal usually in the middle of the beast and activate it to start the fight, then fight some iteration of Ganon. There was no looming door, no sense of surprise in opening to a big intimidating domain, and no real sense of buildup to what you could face. Which brings me to the biggest gripe...

-Keep it Fresh-

Blights of Ganon are all you really tackle in BoW, save Calamity Ganon himself and one additional boss not featured in a dungeon. They each harness a different element, but you knew what to expect after two dungeons. I am in a lightning based dungeon, I will face a ThunderBlight Ganon, fire dungeon means FireBlight Ganon, etc.

Today you face a giant flaming Mike Wazowski chasing you down a corridor
Zelda bosses, unless unveiled in a trailer, were always a bit of a surprise in both look and approach. I never knew what waited beyond that initial build up besides something associated with the theme of the temple. Sure, if I was in a temple featuring ghosts I would expect a ghost, but nothing along the lines of Jalhalla from Wind Waker, an obese ghost that you must throw into a spike layered pillar who then breaks into tiny ghosts that run around like chickens.

You also had expectant appearance from franchise staples like Ghoma, but these usually had a hitch to them. Ghoma varied greatly in style; from his first terrifying appearance in Ocarina of Time, to his molten counterpart in Wind Waker, to Twilight Princess in which he was fully armored spider only damaged by massive statues around you. On some occasions the bosses morphed into something else entirely with Twinrova fusing together to battle you as a single entity, or Stallord turning into a chase up a tower using the Spinner. Bosses were interesting and always different than the last in both appearance and tactical approach.

-Now You Must Face the Puzzle Itself-

After working through a dungeon reflecting light and changing water levels, the boss always acted like one final puzzle. Rarely straight forward, you had to wait until a boss exposed a weak point and utilize your newly acquired gear to gain the advantage before wailing on them.

Kansas City Shuffle
The Gemesaur King in Link Between Worlds that required you to break his armor and relight the room torches when he frenzied around attacking in the dark, reflecting orbs back at Phantom Ganon in an intense game of energy ball tennis, or Trinexx's dueling heads in LttP in which the opposite element can damage the corresponding head. Needless to say running up and slashing usually got you nowhere, whereas observing openings or actions that coincide with the dungeon item you gained become moments of clarity in how you were to topple the imposing figure before you.

For the Blight Ganons, it usually boiled down to simply attacking. Everything usually did damage to the boss in some minimal way. You could still stun them by hitting them with an arrow in the right spot but the majority of the encounters went like this; Windblight Ganon? Shoot him with arrows. Waterblight Ganon? More arrows. Fireblight Ganon? Literally run up close and slash him. Thunderblight Ganon was the only of the four requiring timing and parries to overcome. Halfway through their healthbar each would frenzy and introduce some new mechanic to dodge but ultimately became far too simple to overcome. 

-It's a Great Big World Out There-

That is not to say Breath of the Wild did not have some enjoyable boss encounters, just not the ones within the actual divine beasts. It is something to say in a game when I have more fun fighting the overworld enemies than the actual bosses.
Time to battle the Gorignak
Climbing onto a Stone Talus and slicing away at its heart, battling Molduga while surfing on a shield being towed by a sand seal, and even rolling under a Hinox to get a few slashes in on its legs is a blast. Even the Lynels require a lot of preparation and timing to overcome with feelings of satisfaction that overshadowed anything I fought in the divine beasts.

There were a plethora of creatures from looming robotic Guardians to massive dragons that offered such potential for a memorable boss encounter. You could argue they were staying true to the story or it would not have made sense for Dodongo to overtake a giant robot, but surely the blights could have possessed entities that made for far more interesting battles than what was offered. 


It is hard to fault Breath of the Wild for trying something new. I love how they opened the main world up to exploration, I enjoy the divine beast mechanics of moving one aspect of the temple to turn a dungeon on its head, and I even do not mind the new inventory system of throwaway weaponry; but the bosses are the main thing I look forward to when playing Legend of Zelda. When I think back to the first time I started attacking Koloktos with his own arm in Skyward Sword, the first time I was able to hookshot onto Argorok's back to slam him to the ground in Twilight, or growing ten times my size to battle Twinmold in Majora; those are memorable moments of satisfaction in both gameplay and visual appeal; a feeling I did not match in Breath of the Wild's boss encounters.