The Legend of Zelda is home to a wide variety of high-quality and iconic bosses; perhaps more so than any other video game franchise. As such, it was difficult to pick out a handful that I would consider the best, but I do believe that this group best showcases what the Zelda franchise has to offer in terms of boss battles. I’ve chosen these based on three criteria: design(what the boss looks like), presentation(music, buildup, etc.), and mechanics(the fight itself). Note that this list does not include final boss fights. I wasn’t sure whether to judge those on how well they live up to being a final boss, or whether to judge them relative to standard Zelda bosses. So, I decided to save those for a separate ranking down the line.
Without further ado, here’s number ten…
10. Ghost Ship – Phantom Hourglass
Yes, yes, I know. How could I possibly give Phantom Hourglass, what is widely considered to be the worst Zelda title, any credit?
Well, let’s start with the design: it’s a FREAKING GHOST PIRATE SHIP. That alone earns it considerable sway in the design category, though I do have to admit that its “transformation” makes it considerably less intimidating and that it suffers a bit from that as a result.
The presentation is actually really well-done, as far as the portable Zelda titles go. The boss fight has fantastic buildup: just as Link and Tetra are finally reunited, Bellum kidnaps Zelda and holds her hostage from within the Ghost Ship. What I love most about this sequence is that Linebeck snaps into action and orders Link to take the cannon while he takes the helm, and all throughout the battle Linebeck is giving orders and shouting encouragement at Link. It really showcases the character’s development as at the start of the game he would have fled and left Tetra to her fate. The music works well, too, as it’s a perversion of the game’s sailing theme. And there’s just something so endaring about the sight of the little steamboat going up against this massive supernatural ship.
As for the battle’s mechanics, there’s one thing that makes this boss stick out from the rest: it’s the only boss battle that takes place while sailing. Against another ship, even. And note that Wind Waker, the vastly superior title with more of a focus on sailing, couldn’t be bothered to have a boss fight at sea. The closest you get is the Big Octo “battle”, which just consists of Link slowly sailing around a stationary enemy that doesn’t even attack. While the battle itself is fairly simple, as you’re just firing at the ship while destroying projectiles before they hit you, the fact that the fight takes place while engaged in the sailing gameplay really makes this boss earn its spot in my mind.
9. Skeldritch – Spirit Tracks
I know, I know. How could I possibly have two bosses from the DS games on the list, and in a row, no less?! Well, the truth is that despite the relative mediocrity of these games, they each have one really good boss fight. Both involving giant skulls, interestingly enough. While the Ghost Ship was Phantom Hourglass’s best, Skeldritch is Spirit Track’s.
This thing’s design is just incredible. It’s a massive skull wearing a horned helmet, sitting atop a spinal cord that consists of cannons with spikes stacked atop one another. It’s a pretty nightmarish sight that one normally wouldn’t find in a Zelda boss. It really leaves an impression, and had more played Spirit Tracks I’ve no doubt this would be hailed as one of the best-designed Zelda bosses.
Presentation-wise, eh, the boss is pretty standard. It doesn’t have any story relevance or buildup throughout the temple, like, say, Volvagia. As you approach a skull lying in the sand, its eyes glow red and it begins writhing, coming up out of the sand and revealing its kickass design. Music isn’t particularly noteworthy. The presentation is this boss’s weak point. Would’ve been nice to have read passages on the dungeon walls telling of a brave adventurer who made it to the end of the dungeon, only to find out the adventurer met his demise and became the eldritch abomination that is Skeldritch. Ah well.
The mechanics of the fight itself are pretty neat. You have to use the Sand Wand(Wand or Rod, the sand sticks are some of my favorite Zelda items) to block boulders fired from Skeldritch’s cannons and then move them towards catapults. You use these catapults to launch the boulders at the boss, knocking his spinal column out segment by segment. It’s a really fun fight that makes great use of the dungeon item.
8. Bongo Bongo – Ocarina of Time
Now we’re out of the DS games and onto what many would call the greatest Zelda title. I considered putting Volvagia here instead, but screw it, that fight was just a glorified game of whack-a-mole.
So, Bongo Bongo. His design, like the previous boss on this list, is easily his high point. He consists of a giant, headless human body with severed hands and an eye in the center of where the neck should be, with the skin of the neck peeled out like a flower. It’s such a grotesque design that, like the last boss, feels more like a Dark Souls creation than a Zelda one. The entire dungeon is like that, really, and getting this monstrosity as the boss of it is great payoff. And yes, it is another of the classic Nintendo “head with hands” bosses, but this is easily the best one.
The presentation is great, too! Link falls into the boss chamber, which is a giant drum. Bongo Bongo’s disembodied hands start banging the drums, causing Link to be sent bouncing as the boss is playing its musical introduction. Sadly, the theme then devolves into the standard Ocarina boss theme, which is very forgettable, but ah well. The boss has a bit of buildup as it’s established that Ganondorf broke a seal set by Impa to keep the monster at bay. And, of course, there’s the cutscene with Sheik being flung about by an invisible Bongo Bongo like a rag doll. The build-up is exquisite.
The fight itself isn’t really great. You’re firing arrows at its hands to get it to reveal its “eye”, which you then have to aim at. You do have to use the Lens of Truth, but it’s still a very standard Zelda boss as far as the battle itself is concerned. But that’s alright, because the design and presentation is enough to make up for it.
7. Goht – Majora’s Mask
Majora’s Mask has bad bosses. Odolwa is forgettable, Gyorg is a mess, and Twinmold is an even bigger mess. Goht, however, stands out.
Well, not so much in terms of design. It’s a giant mechanical goat with the face of an old man. That might sound cool, but it really isn’t. I don’t have much else to say as far as its appearance is concerned.
The buildup is kind of neat: short, but sweet. You find Goht encased in ice. Upon firing a fire arrow, the ice melts off and Goht regains its senses. It then charges forward, as Link attempts to run but is quickly and hilariously knocked aside, with Goht smashing some rocks as he runs off. You can also tell how close you are to beating Goht by the amount of smoke coming out of it, which is a neat touch.
The boss fight itself is what puts Goht at this spot. As Goht endlessly races around the track in circles, not unlike a NASCAR driver, you put on the Goron mask and have to roll after him, dodging lightning, bombs, rocks, and stalactites so that you can knock Goht over and really start hammering away at him. It’s an extremely unique boss fight that takes advantage of its corresponding transformation mask far better than the other bosses do.
6. Molgera – The Wind Waker
It’s at this point that I feel we’re getting to the more obvious picks. Anyone could’ve seen Molgera coming, but it’s for good reason.
It’s design is certainly… something. The best way I can think of to describe it is as some kind of massive, flying, serpent-like antlion. Its design sticks out, so that’s… something.
The presentation is pretty great. As Link enters the boss chamber, Molgera gets a surprisingly long introductory cutscene as you see the sand slowly rising before the beast pops out and flies about menacingly before eventually soaring back down into the sand, completely out of sight. And the music is one of Zelda’s more famous boss themes. Also it explodes into sand when you beat it, which is fun.
The actual boss fight is just sublime. You have to move towards the center to get Molgera to stick its maws out above the sand so that you can hookshot its tongue and cut it up. Do enough damage and it’ll fly out of the sand as its larvae leap around, forcing you to fend those off while Molgera swoops down, trying and catch Link in its jaws. It’s easily the best boss fight in Wind Waker.
5. Aganhim – A Link to the Past
When I first made this list there wasn’t a single boss from A Link to the Past on it. That didn’t seem right, and I began pondering how that could be when it hit me: I forgot Aganhim! And thus, Twinrova was booted off the list.
Design-wise, Aganhim is simultaneously incredibly unique and nothing special. What I mean by that is that it’s his nothing-specialness that makes him special: rather than some great beast to fight, you’re doing battle with another man. This rarely ever happens outside of a final fight against Ganondorf, and I wish it happened more often.
The build-up is quite nice; after racing up Hyrule Castle to rescue Zelda, you witness her fall victim to Aganhim’s magic, disappearing completely as Aganhim quickly follows suit and teleports away. You move forward and slash open the curtains at the front of the room to reveal a boss chamber where you face off against him. Good stuff.
The main reason I put Aganhim on this list, though, is that he established a long-standing Zelda tradition: dead man’s volley. The method through which you fight him is by swiping your sword at the right moment in order to knock his projectiles back at him. While this mechanic would go on to overstay its welcome, I still have to give credit to Aganhim for having done it first.
4. Phantom Ganon – Ocarina of Time
And here we have what I consider to be the best boss fight in Ocarina of Time. Though for the record, I’m including the fight against Ganondorf as part of the final boss in addition to Ganon, which is why that fight didn’t make it on this list.
Design-wise, well, it’s a phantom version of Ganondorf atop his majestic black steed. It’s not outstanding in terms of appearance, but it’s nice to see Ganondorf’s model get some more time on-screen.
After hearing Saria’s cries for help, Link journeys to the Forest Temple in an effort to save her. After trekking through the dungeon, you open the door to the boss chamber to discover a circular room that can best be described as some kind of art gallery. It’s very jarring; there’s a bunch of identical paintings lining the walls with roping around the center platform with a kind of “don’t reach out past this line, no touching the paintings” sort of feel to it. It really does look like an art gallery, and it’s not at all what you expect going into it, though in hindsight it does work thematically, given the Poe paintings you dealt with prior. After looking around in confusion, Link turns to see Ganondorf standing before him. Ganondorf chuckles and tears off his face like a mask, revealing a ghostly visage before riding off into a painting. The build-up is glorious. And once beaten, the poor thing is cast into oblivion by Ganondorf, who is disappointed with its performance.
The fight itself consists of having to continuously turn around, scanning each painting to see whether Ganondorf can be found galloping toward Link from inside. He’ll ride out of a painting and cast lightning magic before riding into another piece of art. You have to try and fire arrows at him in the brief time he spends outside of the paintings. After dealing enough damage he’ll ditch the horse and the paintings, opting to just start floating around above the platform. At this point you play a game of dead man’s volley, which, while not the most interesting mechanic, hadn’t been done to death by this point, so I won’t hold it against Phantom Ganon. All in all it was a great battle and deserving of the “Best Ocarina Boss” title.
3. Stallord – Twilight Princess
Twilight Princess has a few good bosses, but only one boss I’d say is truly great: Stallord. This is such a no-brainer choice that I don’t even really need to justify it, so here’s a minimal-effort summation.
Design: It looks like a Dark Souls boss.
Presentation: Zant appears and sticks a badass-looking sword into its skull.
Battle Mechanics: It makes better use of its dungeon item than any other boss fight in the series.
2. Koloktos – Skyward Sword
Another boss that doesn’t really require an explanation. But I’ll explain anyway, because I absolutely adore this boss.
So, design-wise, Koloktos sticks out. You’re fighting a massive golden six-armed Buddha bot dual-wielding giant throwing axes. And that’s just its first phase: upon entering phase two you’re fighting a massive golden six-armed Buddha bot hexatruple-wielding giant swords. I can’t even fathom what a potential third phase might look like. This boss just… WINS in the design department.
Presentation-wise, it’s a mixed bag. The music is glorious and even transitions into a more intense version upon entering the second phase. And the musical introduction the boss gets after its “Ancient Automaton” title card displays… UGH, SO GOOD. And it fits thematically with the dungeon, so that’s a plus. And the death animation involves Koloktos smiling and making a noise akin to that of a little girl giggling, so… points for that, I suppose. The problem I have with its build-up, however, is that Ghirahim shows up but barely says anything. Throughout every other pre-boss appearance he makes, Ghirahim delivers a top-notch cutscene with an entertaining monologue. Here he just declares he doesn’t have time for this and disappears almost as quickly as he appears. It’s pretty disappointing and sours the boss fight for me a bit.
As for the battle: it’s just incredible. The first phase is very tame. You simply have to avoid its slow attacks and wait for it to reveal its weak point so you can hack away at it. It feels very subdued and underwhelming, though that’s sort of the point: after you deal enough damage, the robot starts actually trying: it pushes itself out from the floor, revealing legs and six giant swords. From henceforth the fight consists of trying to avoid its attacks and wait for an opportunity to tear its arms off using the whip. Then you can wield his own weapons against him as you pick up a giant sword and start hacking him to bits, first cutting off his legs and then slicing away at the torso until you reveal his weak spot. You just feel so… EMPOWERED doing it. Though they do incorporate those stupid zombie Bokoblins into the fight, so that’s a notable negative to hold against it.
1. Ghirahim – Skyward Sword
Yes, I think Ghirahim is the best Zelda boss. And I’ll tell you why. But note that I’m referring to the first boss fight against him rather than the second(which is too derivative of the first) and the third(which I would count as a part of Skyward Sword’s final boss sequence, and thus won’t include on this list).
Design-wise, Ghirahim is pretty polarizing. Many are turned off by his more effeminate appearance, though personally I think he strikes the perfect balance between fabulous and creepy. I just love everything about his design, from the diamond motif to the glorious mantle(the thing looks so freaking cool). His design pops and makes him the center of attention in any scene he appears in, and his fights are no different, even if he loses the cape. And as I’ve said previously, I love boss fights against humanoid enemies rather than the cliche giant beasts that you would come to expect.
His presentation is just fantastic. You first see him preparing to strike down a door with his sword, but upon hearing Link’s approach he pauses and allows his sword to dissipate into thin air. It’s quite an impression. And then he goes on to deliver a monologue that manages to be both absolutely chilling and meme-worthy. He’ll talk about his strong appetite for bloodshed in one second and do his famous tongue-maneuver in the next; he’s creepy yet deliciously entertaining, and it’s the perfect build-up to his boss fight. The boss music is catchy and fits his character as well. The fact that he’ll steal your sword and scold you for telegraphing your attacks is also totally unexpected and unprecedented as well as hilarious. Something that I feel warrants mentioning is that demo footage Nintendo had shown off of Skyward Sword pre-release had Moldarach as the boss for the forest temple so that players were expecting to fight that after they completed Skyview. Having pulled the old bait-and-switch by putting Ghirahim there instead was a neat tactic.
And the battle is one of a kind. As Ghirahim confidently puts his hand out to catch your sword with his bare hands, you have to swipe from the opposite angle to hurt him. If you fail, he’ll catch your sword, steal it from you, and slash at you before eventually hurling it back at you. Not only is this awesome mechanically, but it also lets the player know that this guy means business and is totally capable of ending you; he could have just kept the sword if he wanted and you’d be helpless. And HE’S THE FIRST BOSS. If you do manage to hit him, you’ll find that damaging him isn’t a simple matter of hitting him three times the help of a dungeon item; rather, it’s a matter of laying into him and slowly chipping away at his massive invisible health meter. And again, HE’S THE FIRST BOSS. He’s designed from the ground-up to throw off Zelda veterans. And once you enter his second phase he starts to go on the offensive with a sword of his own, teleporting about, charging, and summoning daggers to send flying at Link. His fight is surprising in terms of both difficulty and mechanics, which is only made more surprising in that HE’S THE FIRST BOSS. I just can’t emphasize enough how incredible of a battle this is. I truly do believe that he is the best Zelda boss, and that we need more like him.