We know Ganondorf is Link’s greatest foe, but The Legend of Zelda series is full of some exceptional boss fights that don’t feature the Gerudo King of Thieves. Link faces a plethora of scary ghouls and vicious beasties, and Nintendo has found a lot of ways to keep these encounters fresh over the years. Some leave an impression because of great character design, some are mechanically unlike anything else in the series, and others stand out because they’re dripping in dramatic tension. We’ve gathered a selection of the best boss fights in the Zelda series, and while we’ll be focusing on a wide array of enemies, we’ve got to start with the king himself.
Ganondorf (The Wind Waker)
Even two decades since I first played The Wind Waker on GameCube, its final fight against Ganondorf remains the most vivid memory I have of playing the series growing up. This fight is a standout in the series’ long history for so many reasons. It exemplifies all the best parts of Wind Waker’s revamped combat, requiring skillful dodges and stylish parries to strike at the saber-wielding villain’s heart. Meanwhile, Zelda offers support by firing light arrows to stun the Gerudo King of Thieves and give you an opening, making it feel like a truly cooperative effort to break the cycle our heroes have been caught in for all of these games.
But while the fight feels really good to play, perhaps its greatest strength is in its visual presentation. The battle between Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf takes place in the ruins of old Hyrule, which are flooding throughout the fight. Once Link strikes the final blow, plunging the Master Sword into Ganondorf’s skull, the villain turns to stone as what remains of the old world is flooded and buried in the sea. The entire fight is a literal washing away of the past that has plagued these heroes through multiple reincarnation cycles. Though Breath of the Wild has since made that sentiment a little fuzzier, Wind Waker’s final battle still sells the notion with a dramatic vigour, elevated by a stellar fight. It’s a stunning moment, and while Ganondorf is returning in Tears of the Kingdom, his final battle will have quite a pair of shoes to fill. — Kenneth Shepard
Dark Link (Ocarina of Time)
Before you start, yes, I know Dark Link is a mini-boss…But it’s such a memorable and iconic moment in Zelda history that it needs mentioning. Before we had a bajillion different lore discussions on what/who Dark Link is, he was just a weird shadowy figure that hung out in shallow ponds and could somehow dodge your Master Sword by jumping on it.
Throughout your travels in Ocarina of Time, very few could match the Hero of Time in a one-on-one sword battle. Sure, giant dragons or disembodied hands could menace, but few enemies were able to provide much of a challenge for Link’s sword-wielding talents. That’s what makes Dark Link so memorable. For the first time in your journey, you’re faced in a one-on-one battle of reflexes with none other than a mirrored copy of yourself.
When at last you deal the final blow, the ominous foggy room dissipates into the familiar blue-walled environ of the Water Temple, and you’re left wondering: Was that just a figment of Link’s imagination, or something far more sinister? — Jeb Biggart
Bongo Bongo (Ocarina of Time)
Bongo Bongo is the culmination of one of Ocarina of Time’s most pronounced detours into spooky, scary shit through the Shadow Temple. It’s a horrifying, ghostly beast juxtaposed against a silly premise: Link faces the monster on a giant bongo drum that it beats on to no discernable rhythm beyond its murderous intent, throwing our hero off-balance on the unstable ground. But the only way you can actually see Bongo Bongo and strike its glowing red eye is to use the Lens of Truth, which helps you see horrors not visible to the naked eye. Even as a kid, I remember recognising that Bongo Bongo was both kind of a pushover, but still a pretty terrifying encounter, and the moment when it clicked in my elementary-school brain that I had to use the Lens of Truth was when what had seemed really scary became just another monster for me to slash through. — Kenneth Shepard
Blind (A Link to the Past)
What makes the fight against Blind the Thief so interesting is that it starts off so unassuming. Link is guiding a distressed young woman through a dungeon, because he’s Link. That’s what he does. It’s in the job description that he’s here to save women who are going through it at the hands of Ganon and his minions. However, when the girl is exposed to sunlight, her true form becomes apparent: a fiery demon dressed in a flowing white robe. As Link swings his sword at the beast, its head detaches from its body and multiplies, each spitting balls of flame to the point that it almost starts to feel like a shoot ‘em up level. Blind’s death releases the girl from its clutches, but not before it’s tricked you into guiding it through the dungeon. They say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but I don’t think this is what they had in mind. — Kenneth Shepard
Phantom Ganon (Ocarina of Time)
In one of Ocarina of Time’s more atmospheric boss encounters, you fight the Forest Temple boss in a shadowy room, its walls bedecked with paintings. Suddenly, behind you appears the “Evil Spirit from Beyond,” a ghostly echo of your nemesis astride a horse, who goes charging into one of those very paintings, ominous laughter echoing in the air.
It’s not just the eeriness of this battle that makes it so memorable, though. Once you’ve shot him a few times, he faces you head-on and sends out energy orbs that you must deflect back. It wasn’t the first time a Zelda boss incorporated this basic idea — A Link to the Past’s Agahnim required you to send his bolts back at him, too — but Phantom Ganon will sometimes send them back at you again, resulting in tennis-like volleys in which you have to keep up the pressure until he finally misses a step. It’s fast, intense, and just plain cool. — Carolyn Petit
Ganon’s Puppet Zelda (Twilight Princess)
A lot of what makes the Puppet Zelda fight is just how charged and haunting the visual of it is. Princess Zelda has had many roles throughout the games adorned with her name, but the throughline of the mutual care she shares with Link has never been in question. That’s what makes one of the final fights in Twilight Princess so memorable, as it is a complete distortion of everything we’ve been conditioned to see Zelda as. Where she has been an ally, someone to be trusted or saved, Ganondorf possesses her and turns her power and your connection against you. The fight itself isn’t particularly challenging and utilises the same “pass the ball back and forth” concept as Phantom Ganon, but this dramatic moment is one of Twilight Princess’ most striking. The haunting encounter is accompanied by a twisted score that reuses “Zelda’s Lullaby” as a motif to remind you of who you’re fighting to save, but to save her, you’ll have to go through her. — Kenneth Shepard
Gleeok (The Legend of Zelda)
By today’s standards the combat in the original Legend of Zelda doesn’t feel great. It’s basic and stiff, without the fluidity and special techniques that make vanquishing enemies in later Zelda games more satisfying. But even then, Nintendo had a sense of drama. The bosses may not look like much on-screen, but the way you can hear their roars from rooms away is both informative and intimidating, building them up in your imagination as a fearsome presence, something to be reckoned with.
The most memorable of these dungeon guardians, for my money at least, is Gleeok, the fourth labyrinth’s multi-headed dragon whose severed heads fly around the room erratically, blasting fireballs in your direction. The first time you encounter the beast, it’s got a paltry (but still annoying) two heads, but before your quest is over, you’ll face three- and even four-headed versions, and good lord, is fighting it while three heads float around obnoxious. Gleeok is a great early entry in the pantheon of Zelda bosses who are just annoying guys, and I’m excited to see what it has in store for us when it makes its return in Tears of the Kingdom. — Carolyn Petit
Koloktos (Skyward Sword)
There’s something incredibly satisfying about tearing an enemy apart and using its broken pieces against it. Horizon Zero Dawn based an entire gameplay loop around that idea, and whatever your thoughts on the whole game, if you don’t think breaking apart a robot dinosaur and using the gun that falls off its back to take it down is the tightest shit on Earth, I don’t know what to tell you. Koloktos in Skyward Sword is that concept distilled into one fight, and it kinda rules.
Luckily, the fight itself is one of the least reliant on the game’s controversial motion controls, making for one less barrier between you and a pretty cool encounter. Koloktos first appears to you as a multi-armed contraption wielding an arsenal of killing instruments that swing at you from a hole in the ground. You can use the whip to grab its arms and pull them right off, tearing the thing limb-from-limb until it gets pissed enough to emerge from its hole and bring out the big guns. Or cutlasses, in this case. The dismemberment continues in the second phase, but now you can grab its giant cutlass to slice off its legs and start wailing on Koloktos’ helpless torso. Skyward Sword’s motion controls often make fighting enemies feel arduous, but Koloktos manages to push all that aside in favour of a satisfying combat design. Swing away, Link. Swing away. — Kenneth Shepard
Majora’s Mask (Majora’s Mask)
Technically, there are two ways to fight the titular possessed mask in Link’s adventure through Termina. One is to don the Fierce Diety Mask, which turns Link into a superpowered being who can shoot beams from his sword and is more or less unbeatable. The mask is a well-earned reward at the endgame, and acts as an instant win button for the Majora’s Mask encounter. But the fight itself is still pretty incredible without it. The multistage brawl features the Mask, well, unmasking its true form, eventually changing from a floating face-piece with tendrils into a full-bodied little freak.
The whole fight has a kind of deranged chaos to it, as this creature just keeps running around the stage and giggling, dancing, and shrieking at every stage. It’s unnerving, disorienting, and a moment of unhinged catharsis after Majora’s Mask’s otherwise meditative tone. You spend all this time watching the citizens of Termina coming to terms with death and grieving, then find the force of nature behind all this despair is this raving mad creature that only exists to sow chaos. To strike it down in its most pure form makes the entire journey to get there worth it. — Kenneth Shepard
Twinrova (Ocarina of Time)
While fighting Ocarina of Time’s Twinrova is pretty fun, the thing that sticks out most to me about this encounter is the absurdity and humour. Twinrova refers to a form taken after Kotake and Koume do the fusion dance and turn into a powerful witch who controls ice and fire. She represents the two’s contrasting magical abilities and personalities, and Link has to use his Mirror Shield to pit their fire and ice attacks against one another. The two seldom feel like they’re on the same page, and the whole thing feels like an allegory for their clearly fraught relationship. Once defeated, the two begin to bicker as halos appear over their heads and they ascend to whatever the Hyrule version of the afterlife is. Much of the latter half of Ocarina of Time is pretty grim, as Link has travelled into a future conquered by Ganondorf. Yet Twinrova offers not only a compelling fight, but a bit of levity in some of the game’s darkest moments. I love these two weirdos, and was glad to see them return as allies in Majora’s Mask. — Kenneth Shepard
Demon Train (Spirit Tracks)
As its title suggests, much of Spirit Tracks revolves around riding in a train and seeing where the tracks take you. That includes a fight against a living locomotive called the Demon Train that marries a high-speed chase with an all-out assault. Both sides are shooting cannonballs and other explosives at one another all while Link has to navigate hazards the Demon Train throws onto the tracks. It’s an excellent showcase for Spirit Tracks’ unusual train gameplay, requiring you to accelerate and decelerate to avoid the onslaught of explosives and lasers. This encounter encapsulates what makes Spirit Tracks special, and there’s nothing else really like it in the Zelda continuum. — Kenneth Shepard
Gyorg Pair (The Minish Cap)
Minish Cap pushes the 2D Zelda envelope in countless ways, which is why the game holds up so well and is considered one of the franchise’s finer top-down experiences. The game is often lauded for its creativity and level design, and no boss captures Minish Cap’s strengths quite like the Gyorg Pair.
2D Zelda bosses are often held within the confines of a small, walled-off area with some sort of enemy patrolling the middle. This all-too-common formula becomes tiresome over time. Minish Cap takes that formula and says, “Fuck it, the boss is the arena, and it’s a giant manta ray, plus you’re flying, oh and there’s two them.”
It’s a unique and refreshing take that feels epic despite you’re being just a lil, itty, bitty Link. Bouncing between the two Gyorgs (Gyorgi? Gyorgeses?) feels badass, plus it’s fairly challenging in comparison to other classic Zelda bosses. Good! — Jeb Biggart
Moldorm (A Link to the Past)
With A Link to the Past, the Zelda series began refining its combat and physics, and found exciting new ways for its bosses to be extremely trolly. Perhaps the trolliest of the bunch is Moldorm, who you first face in the Temple of Hera. Moldorm isn’t particularly tough, but what makes the fight memorable is the way that it takes place atop a tower, on a platform that has a big hole in it and no walls along the edges. When the segmented worm-like creature hits you, it knocks you back a good distance, which means it’s pretty easy to find yourself falling off the edge, sinking a floor or two back into the dungeon, and having to make your way back to its lofty platform to begin the fight with again. Like I said, trolly as heck. — Carolyn Petit
Stallord (Twilight Princess)
Not only do the Arbiter’s Grounds turn Link into a living, breathing BeyBlade that only Tyson Granger could be proud of, it also delivers one of the most iconic boss battles in all of Zelda.
This reanimated ancient skeleton creature attacks with its two huge arms and a poison cloud it exhales. You have to hop Link on his trusty Spinner and work your way around the sand arena until you find an opening to strike the creature’s spine. Seems easy enough, until Staltroops start popping up to wall off its weak spots, plus spiked spinners pose a threat in the outer reaches of the arena. Weaving your way in and out of threats to finally Let It Rip on Stallord’s spinal cord is as satisfying as it is badass.
But what really makes this fight is Stallord’s second stage. Now you’re fighting its floating, disembodied head and you’re bouncing around from wall to wall until you dome Stallord with your Beyblade. Then that beautifully epic music kicks in and you’re bashing away at its weak spot.
Between the unique item, adapting level design, and grandiose proportions, Stallord is a fight that sears into your Zelda-obsessed brain. Unless the Spinner ever comes back in some capacity, Zelda will probably never see a boss quite like the Stallord again. — Jeb Biggart
Yuga Ganon (A Link Between Worlds)
A Link to the Past is understandably one of the most beloved Zelda games. But its climactic fight with Ganon, while suitably dramatic, isn’t particularly challenging or mechanically memorable. The 3DS’ A Link Between Worlds, however — effectively a direct sequel to the storied SNES game — upped the ante tremendously with its intense final encounter. In his first phase, Yuga Ganon evokes LttP’s final battle, teleporting around and sending his trident spinning through the air, though even here, he’s much more aggressive than his SNES counterpart. It’s after this phase, though, that the pigman really pulls out all the stops, hurling multiple orbs that you must parry back at him with your sword, and leaping into the wall — the game’s big gimmick — where you must give chase and strike him with arrows of magical light. This breathless battle perfectly caps off this wonderful sequel. — Carolyn Petit
Ghirahim (Skyward Sword)
Admittedly, none of the points where you fight Ghirahim in Skyward Sword are that interesting mechanically. However, the guy has to get points for serving lewks at every turn. From the emo haircut, the flashy red-and-orange shawl, the tights with the diamond-pattern cutouts, this man is a queer-coded menace who out-fashions everyone else in Hyrule. By the time you reach his final fight, you love to hate this dude. He is beauty and grace, and it’s fine that he keeps doing that weird shit with his tongue because this is a man with rizz for days. It makes his boss fights all the more entertaining, because while they’re pretty standard for a Skyward Sword enemy, Ghirahim’s theatricality oozes off every swing of his sword. The best part is when you’re fighting him the last time and after spending the game composed and cocky, he’s finally fed up with your shit and pulls out a Cloud Strife-arse Buster Sword and just starts swinging. All his poise and style disappear in favour of brute force, and his true nature is laid bare for all to see. — Kenneth Shepard
Thunderbird + Link’s Shadow (The Adventure of Link)
Zelda II is famous for being “the hard one,” and nowhere was this more apparent than in its final palace, a grand labyrinth of samey-looking screens that very much wanted to kill you. Eventually stumbling upon the proper path leads you to not one, but two final bosses. They’re not the hardest things ever but when you go in blind that first time they make a fitting capstone to a difficult journey.
You know you’re in for something big when the screen suddenly stops scrolling, Then in floats Thunderbird, some kind of angelic-looking beast, to nonchalantly start bombing you with fireballs. You try to hit it: No good! But it sure hits you, and a short time later you are down one life and wondering what the heck to use on this thing. (The answer is to cast a certain spell, which opens it up to damage.)
Thunderbird down, you then face yourself in the form of Link’s Shadow. The hardest enemies in Zelda II are the ones who fight like Link, and no enemy apes your style better than this bruiser. It’s hard to know where to start with a foe who seems just as agile as the player, and the answer is really just “go HAM and hope you stab him more first.” Well, childhood me did not go HAM enough.
I only ever called Nintendo’s official gameplay counselors once, and it was to ask them how to beat this guy. They replied, and I quote: “Use your sword.” Maybe that’s the reason I only called them once.
Anyway, I went back and used my sword and Zelda gave me a kiss, nbd. — Alexandra Hall
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