It’s unquestionable that The Legend of Zelda is one of the most successful gaming franchises ever, but what exactly defines a Zelda game? To some people, what defines the franchise is how it allows players to explore the world. To others is the vast arsenal Link uses to overcome obstacles. To me, one of the essential aspects of any The Legend of Zelda game is the memorable boss battles.
As a longtime The Legend of Zelda fan, I’ve finished most of its games, spin-offs included. Little did I know that the biggest challenge would be ranking the ten best bosses of the franchise. The Legend of Zelda has 18 games in the main series, with 159 unique boss battles. This impressive number counts multiple-phases bosses as a single battle and omits minibosses to help the task to become more maneageble. Also, to be as fair as possible and to spread the love as much as we can, this ranking follows two rules:
- Only a single boss per game is allowed.
- Only a single version of a recurring boss is allowed.
Even with self-imposed restraints, there’s no way to avoid subjectivity altogether, especially with a diverse franchise. It’s ok, then, if we disagree. One last disclaimer is in place: this ranking contains many spoilers for the whole The Legend of Zelda franchise.
10. Helmasaur King (A Link to the Past)
A Link to the Past hit the Super Nintendo 30 years ago, but it still holds up as one of the best franchise installments. More importantly to us, this is the game that refined the concept of using a temple’s tool to kill its boss. Found a bow in the temple? You’ll need the bow to kill its boss! While the first two The Legend of Zelda games played around with this idea for some temples, A Link to the Past made it into a staple of the franchise.
Among all the creative boss battles in A Link to the Past, none is more memorable than the Helmasaur King, the final challenge of the Dark Palace. Wielding a brand new hammer, Link must face a fire-spitting dinosaur with bone armor covering its face. The hammer (or bombs) allows the player to crack the armor, revealing the Helmasaur King’s weak spot on top of its head. Reaching the second phase of the battle makes the Helmasaur King spit more fireballs around and move its scorpion tail faster. On top of all that, the boss room also has spike hazards limiting player movement and stopping you from cheesing the battle. It’s a tough but fair challenge that demands the player to use a new tool creatively, and it has two distinctive phases. There’s a lot to love here.
9. Stalblind (A Link Between Worlds)
A Link Between Worlds reuses A Link to the Past’s Hyrule to offer a whole new adventure, with upgraded versions of most of the bosses we’ve already beaten on the Super Nintendo. While still familiar, the 3DS game becomes unique by including a brand new ability that allows Link to fuse with walls. A Link Between Worlds‘ best boss battles, of course, use this new mechanic.
Many boss battles in A Link Between Worlds force Link to merge with a wall to avoid attacks or force an enemy to hit against it. However, only one fight makes the player think outside the box and merge with the boss itself. Stalblind is the skeletal version of A Link to the Past’s Blind, now holding a giant sword and a shield that deflects all of Link’s attacks. Unfortunately, Stalblind’s arena is also floating in the darkness, with no walls to use. So how to defeat the boss? Merge with its shield and uses his confusion to hit it in the back! Stalblind eventually throws away its shield and sends his head floating around to shoot Link, like in the original encounter. However, the added puzzle mechanic elevates the boss fight and uses the most of the wall-merging mechanic, as well.
8. Crayk (Phantom Hourglass)
Both Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks deserve a lot more love than they get. Yes, they have their issues, but using the DS double screen as a boss-battling mechanic is a genius stroke. The best example of how two screens can be creatively used in unique challenges is Phantom Hourglass’ Crayk, a giant hermit crab that guards the Temple of Courage.
Crayk wanders around the boss room until it decides to rush in Link’s direction, crushing our hero. Link must shoot an arrow at him to stop the giant crab just as he’s rushing. It’s all a matter of standing your ground, aiming, and firing. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, what if Crayk is invisible? Link fights against an invisible boss in one of the DS screens, while the other screen shows Crayk’s point of view. That means players must synchronize their shots by paying attention to Link’s positioning and also using what Crayk sees to reveals the invisible boss position. Few bosses are as creatively designed as Crayk.
7. Stallord (Twilight Princess)
Stallord is a giant skeleton of an ancient beast brought to life by Zant, one of the biggest baddies of Twilight Princess. Located in the desert-inspired Arbiter’s Grounds temple, Stallord is partly buried in the sand, which forces Link to move around using the Spinner, a skateboard that resembles a Beyblade. The player needs to stay above the Spinner while riding tracks on the wall to avoid attacks before finding an opening to spin towards Stallord’s fragile bone spine. There are smaller enemies in the way, and if Link hits anything, he gets thrown away from the Spinner. It’s an adrenaline-infused battle that uses the most of the Spinner. But, wait, there’s more!
Once the boss is defeated and the victory music starts playing, the sand disappears, and Link needs to activate a lock to get out of the room. Then, a massive stone pillar elevates from the center of the arena, Stallord’s head starts to float around, and a second surprise battle begins. Now, Link needs to climb the stone pillar with the Spinner while evading the fireballs shot by Stallord’s head and trying to hit the boss. The Legend of Zelda is usually a pretty straightforward franchise, so a surprise battle is always appreciated.
6. Mazaal (The Minish Cap)
The Minish Cap’s unique ability makes Link shrink down and explore a whole new Hyrule hidden in plain sight, so bosses who incorporate this size-changing ability are obviously well-ranked. Mazaal comes first by the way it not only uses a unique ability but also forces the player to think fast and juggle all their tools to defeat it.
Inspired by Aztec idols, Mazaal tries to grab Link with its colossal stone hands. It wouldn’t be a Nintendo game if Mazaal didn’t have weak spots on its hands that need to be hit both with the arrows and then with the sword to stun the boss. While Mazaal is on the ground, Link must use the Minish Cap to shrink down and go inside the stone colossus, destroying pillars that hold it together. After Link hits the first pillar, Mazaal fills his insides with sand, forcing the player to quickly equip the Mole Mitts to dig around and find the right pillar to hit. This is a puzzle battle that uses Link’s diverse arsenal and special abilities, making it highly memorable.
5. Koloktos (Skyward Sword)
Skyward Sword is one of the fans’ least favorites installments of The Legend of Zelda, but one of the best bosses in the franchise is there. From the start, it’s pretty obvious what Link should do to take down the giant six-armed colossus Koloktos: Hit it in its pulsating red heart. However, Koloktos protects its weak spot with two arms while attacking Link with the other four. So Link needs to dodge attacks and take down Koloktos’ arms with the Whip to create the opportunity to hit the boss’s heart. It’s a simple strategy until Koloktos gets angry, rises, and closes his chest with a big iron grid, impossible to be broken by Link’s attacks. As Link keeps dismembering Koloktos’ limbs, however, the boss’s swords drop on the ground. Link can grab these giant blades and used them to tear every piece of Koloktos appart.
Koloktos fight is not complicated by any means. However, there’s a special joy in swinging the Wiimote around and watching as Link dismantles Koloktos. What’s even better, Koloktos completely regenerates a couple of times, giving you the satisfaction of tearing him down all over again. Sometimes, all a boss needs to be memorable is to be fun to beat.
4. Monk Maz Koshia (Breath of the Wild)
There’s a lot to love about how Breath of the Wild takes The Legend of Zelda franchise into a whole new direction. Unfortunately, there’s a lot to dislike, too, since Breath of the Wild has only four actual temples and the boss battles are, in general, disappointing. It was a great surprise, then, that The Champion’s Ballad DLC gifts us with one of the best bosses of The Legend of Zelda franchise.
Monk Maz Koshia guides Link through Hyrule, asking the Hero to undergo a series of trials to prove his worth. Once all the challenges are complete, the mummified monk stands up and reveals himself as the ultimate challenge. Link is immediately transported to a floating arena in the sky, where Breath of the Wild’s most demanding battle occurs.
Monk Maz Koshia doesn’t hold any punches. He’s fast, hits hard, can become a giant that creates shockwaves, and uses copies of himself to take Link down. The fight has three distinct phases, and Link needs to perfectly dodge or deflect a lot of the boss’s attacks even to have the opportunity to hit him. It’s the perfect challenge for players who have fully upgraded Link and one terrific addition to Breath of the Wild, well worth the DLC price.
3. Bongo Bongo (Ocarina of Time)
It’s tough to choose only one boss from Ocarina of Time, a game that objectively has some of the most memorable boss fights in the whole The Legend of Zelda franchise. Phantom Ganon is, deservingly, a fan-favorite choice. However, I’ve been haunted by the sound of drums since I’ve first visited the Shadow Temple.
The Shadow Temple is scary, so it makes sense for it to have a scary boss. Bongo Bongo is a being made of dark energy with two giant hands disconnected from its body, while its torso is invisible. Link needs to constantly use the Lens of Truth to even see the boss during the fight, a tool that depletes your magic bar.
Bongo Bongo arena is also a huge bongo (!) floating in the dark that the boss plays rhythmically with his disconnected hands. Each time Bongo Bongo hits the musical instrument, Link jumps slightly, except if the player is using the Hover Boots. Jumping around is not ideal, as the player needs to aim at Bongo Bongo’s hands to force the boss to come out of the shadows and hit its big red eye. Bongo Bongo can grab Link and squeeze him until the player breaks free, and it’s one of the most challenging fights on Ocarina of Time, especially for new players. For haunting my dreams ever since we met, Bongo Bongo gets a high position on this ranking.
2. Igos du Ikana (Majora’s Mask)
There’s a boss outside the temples in Majora’s Mask that provides a very special challenge. Igos du Ikana is the skeletal king of a cursed land, doomed to stay alive long after his body decayed and his once proud kingdom succumbed into ruins. Igos du Ikana has a tragic background thoroughly developed, a rare feat concerning The Legend of Zelda bosses. Besides that, the battle against the king is engaging enough to make Igos even more memorable.
Once Link reaches the throne room of the Ancient Castle of Ikana, Igos send his two Lackeys to fight the hero. The Lackeys are skilled swordfighters that crumble into a pile of bones when hit enough times. A few seconds later, however, the Lackeys will stand up once again and keep fighting. Forever. Link needs to use fire arrows to burn curtains in the throne room, allowing the sunlight (or moonlight) to come in. Once the Lackeys are dropped to the ground, Link needs to reflect the light to their bones to burn them and free them from their curse. The battle against King Igos starts once both Lackeys are dead, and it pretty much uses the same strategy, with the difference that the King is much more agile and aggressive. However, the overwhelming presence of the Igos through the whole fight, standing in his throne while watching you fight his Lackeys, makes the king an imposing figure that’s well-deserving of our recognition.
1. Puppet Ganon/Ganondorf (Wind Waker)
There are a lot of great Ganon fights in The Legend of Zelda franchise. The best multi-phase Ganon fight, however, is in The Wind Waker.
After a long quest to restore the Master Sword’s power and collect all the fragments of the Triforce of Courage, Link is finally ready to face the reborn Ganondorf. But first, Link must defeat the shadow puppets created by the villain. Link must hit Puppet Ganon’s weak spots with lightning arrows to win the battle while avoiding its attacks and the minions that show up in the arena. First, the puppet takes the shape of a giant pig monster. Then, it becomes a spider that drops from the ceiling, forcing Link to use the water reflection to evade it appropriately. Finally, Puppet Ganon mimics a Moldorm, the recurring worm-like boss in the franchise.
The Puppet Ganon fight is already diverse and challenging enough to stand the test of time. The next phase of the battle, though, is truly unforgettable. Chasing after Ganondorf and Zelda, Link ends up at the top of Ganon’s Tower, the highest point of the submerged Hyrule. There, Ganondorf finally reaches his ultimate goal and unites the three pieces of the Triforce. Before he can take control of Hyrule, the old King of Hyrule’s spirit touches the Triforce and uses its powers to wish for the Kingdom’s destruction. The battle against Ganondorf happens after these events, when the villain has nothing left to lose and is completely consumed by revenge.
Ganondorf’s battle at the end of Wind Waker is cinematic as no other. This is the final confrontation between the villain, Link, and Zelda, while the waters of the sea rain down around the arena, promising to engulf everything they touch. Zelda is also an active part of this fight, shooting lightning arrows against Ganondorf while Link tries to take the villain down with the Master Sword. It’s challenging, epic, and should forever be remembered as the best Ganondorf duel in The Legend of Zelda franchise.
There are glimmers of light in Chris McKay’s ‘The Tomorrow War’, but they’re constantly overshadowed by the demands of sci-fi action.
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