At the start of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, your arm is torn off by an ancient evil and replaced with a gauntlet. It’s not a bad trade, considering your new arm lets you fuse objects together to create jury-rigged vehicles, reverse time, and even swim through solid rock, like a salmon up a waterfall. No, not a bad trade at all.
It’s a good thing, too, because every temple you find across the land of Hyrule, most of its shrines, and many of the tasks handed out by The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s characters require you to use your newfound superpowers to solve puzzles. In one shrine, for instance, you must fuse wheels and metal plates to make a car stable enough and large enough to drive through a lava flow without the magma touching Link, Hyrule’s hero.
By the end of Tears of the Kingdom, you’re an expert puzzle solver, schooled in the arts of makeshift vehicles, time reversal, and rock swimming. Why, then, don’t you use those skills in the final battle with the Demon King Ganondorf?
As I say in my The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom review, the game’s brilliance, like Breath of the Wild before it, is how widely you can approach the problems its world poses.
More than once, I reached a part of Hyrule only to discover I had sidestepped a more straightforward route, like a burglar cutting a pane of glass out of a frame and lowering themselves into a building only to find the front door was open the whole time. However, rather than feeling like an idiot (and not cut out for a life of crime), I patted myself on the back for strapping a rocket booster to my shield and launching myself up a sheer cliff face obstacle. (I maintain that this is one of the best weapons in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom).
However, the battle with Ganondorf had little of that flexibility, and, in fact, the style of play it demanded made me think I’d been playing the wrong game.
Ganondorf lurks in caverns below the ruined Hyrule Castle. He is at the end of a long enemy and poison-filled tunnel. Step in the toxins or take hits from the monsters that protect him, and your heart health bar will become corrupted. The first time I reached the Demon King, I had just two usable heart containers.
After too many failed attempts to defeat him, I returned to the surface and reran the gauntlet, so I arrived at the boss battle with more health and better gear. Still, that wasn’t enough. I then sought ingredients for Sundelion-laced foods – they really are some of the best recipes in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – which let me rid the poison from Link’s body. It was using the game’s systems, but it wasn’t using the skillset I had honed over my 70 hours with the game.
A climactic multi-stage duel with the villain wouldn’t be surprising or even frustrating in any other game. But, in Tears of the Kingdom, it’s not what the game trained you for.
Before facing Ganondorf, I spent little time in extended combat. Sure, I’d knocked off hundreds of bokoblins in my travels, but these were brief scuffles, where the club-wielding monsters rarely got close enough to teach me how to time a perfect dodge.
In the fight with The Demon King, I had no alternative but to learn how to duel. And I did. And after many attempts, I killed Ganondorf, reaching The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s ending. But, in games where you spend hours developing a skill set, learning how to read the environment for the specific tells that are relevant to that unique world, and hyping yourself up to take on the final boss, it is crushing to hit a wall and realise how ill-prepared you are to climb it.
I’m happy that to beat Ganondorf, I created recipes that countered gloom and raised my attack stats, that I fused my sword with a creature’s bones to increase its damage, and that I swapped into some of the best armor in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom to raise my skills further, but I was hoping for a superpowered solution in the vein of a rocket-powered shield to help me over that final obstacle.
I wanted to send projectiles back at The Demon King with my time reverse ability, to fuse plates of metal into a wall against his assaults, or to swim through some rocks to, er, confuse him.
The Ganondorf boss battle would be a great end to many games, but it’s the wrong one for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.