May 12, 2017
The following post contains SPOILERS for Breath of the Wild.
Ganon has acquired attention across almost every legend in Hyrule’s history. Breath of the Wild deviated more from series norms than any previous iteration, however it kept true to the spirit of Zelda and was rife with allusions to previous entries as well as recursive characters, including Calamity Ganon, a re-imagining of the classic villain. That said, many have put forth a notion that the final fight in this game was disappointing for one reason or another. Whether the argument alleges he is an easy fight relative to past encounters, or that his second phase is not worth the time it took to defeat, there is something that leaves a bad taste in some players’ mouths. I hold conflicting opinions about such problems, so I would like to explore what could be done to avoid them in future games, or even in the upcoming DLC pack for the game.
“Easy” is possibly the word I hear most frequently, but I question if this is the primary problem. Mechanically speaking, Calamity Ganon’s first form is the most difficult enemy in the game, as a final boss should be. Many compare him to his blight spawn inside the Divine Beasts, saying he only outclasses them by the skin of his teeth. Consider, though, the fact that he brought together the elements of each one. Looking objectively at his attacks and abilities, he was roughly as powerful as the four combined, and I would even go so far as to say that in essence he was the four combined.
I would quell this quandary, since those who denigrate this villain for such a reason generally do not consider the differences in Link himself between these fights. Upon battling a blighted boss for the first time, it is likely that the player has gone (more or less) on a straight path from the Great Plateau to Kakariko Village to the dungeon, probably with a few excursions to discover shrines along the way, and I find it unlikely to imagine they have more than six hearts. At that point, this boss most likely kills them in one or two hits, but as players continue through the other dungeons, they increase their heart count and discover more powerful recipes easing each subsequent boss.
The four had equivalent health and dealt as much damage as each other, which is a sensible way to approach bosses of this kind in an open world experience. The downside to this progression is that it does not account for Link’s empowerment through heart containers, and thus artificially alters these fights and causes them to feel condensed compared to the last when in fact they are equivalent in power. Since this is true for the regular bosses, does it not affect the final boss as well? If the second boss feels like less of a challenge than the first by a matter of three heart containers, then mathematically the Calamity, as I described previously as being four times the difficulty, should be easier by a much more meaningful margin.
For example, many players I have seen and conversed with went out of their way to complete every shrine before completing the story. If this is the case, Link can hold a maximum of thirty hearts, and if we consider the first one was at six, as I estimated, Link is now five times more powerful than he was, and Calamity Ganon is only four times. Perhaps not every player maximizes his heart containers, though, so where does the average lie? There is no good way to find a concrete answer to this, but for argument’s sake, I wager it evens out around twenty to twenty-four hearts (or four times) putting him on par with the Calamity.
So there we have it, Link is evenly matched with Calamity Ganon, argument settled! Somehow I have the feeling it is not that simple, though. With an estimated average, I believe most players are on par, but many will feel overpowered and others overwhelmed. The problem, I believe, is derived from a point which players praise constantly; the game presents itself as being as easy or difficult as any player makes it. At any point players are able to go to Hyrule Castle and fight the final boss, so why not just go from the start? Obviously, players would have trouble getting used to a new control scheme, item mechanics, and would get one-shot by literally every enemy in the castle if they did this. One pleasant thing about Breath of the Wild is that you are given that option, but you may also choose to do any number of other things beforehand to prepare you for the fight. In fact, if you proceed through the story line and then go to face the last challenge, you are gifted four incredibly useful magical abilities, plus the first form of the boss is robot lasered to half health. If that is not preparation enough, Link himself also gains heart containers just from completing those dungeons without going to any shrines. If that is not enough, there are the shrines. If all these things combined are still short of your preparatory desire, you can farm the best weapons, armor, and food in the game. In fact, the game teaches you basically how to do just that by the way it presents the four dungeons in the first place. After four dungeons, players are used to stocking up on heart increasing and full restore foods, stamina replenishing food, energy resistance food, and other “buff” food to supplement as necessary.
Taking our example from earlier, the average Link is (roughly) four times as powerful as he was fighting the first boss and Calamity Ganon is four times more powerful than the same boss. However, Link has a free revive from Mipha’s Grace, effectively doubling his life pool and mathematically that means he is eight times more powerful. In addition, every full restore item he holds adds that many hearts again, effectively increasing that multiplier by another four. If you have ten full restore foods and Mipha’s Grace, you are forty-eight times more powerful than you were, and that is only factoring in heart count. I could go on about the Champion’s powers and your exceedingly powerful equipment, but with just the hearts, do I even have to?
With how over-prepared I felt after the fight was done, I could not help but wonder how this error could be rectified for the boss of the bonus content releasing soon, or other games looking toward the future, and what this means for Calamity Ganon’s rank on the chart of my favorite Zelda bosses. The issue facing the player base is that they were presented a traditional Zelda boss in a nontraditional Zelda game. I actually enjoyed the first stage of the fight. This boss, I feel, was well designed and fit the series splendidly, even doing the iconic antagonist justice by creating a new fun, and climactic confrontation. If Calamity Ganon were at the end of Skyward Sword as a secondary form of Demise, or any other game as just Ganon, I think he would have garnered the same respect players have for the Ganons of A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, and Twilight Princess.
I did expect a higher difficulty, though. Ganon barely dented my massive store of hearts, and I had enough food to avoid using Mipha’s Grace or retrying even once. I think this could easily be fixed by granting him more powerful damaging attacks and integrating mechanics the game used to make other great fights such as the Hinox and Talus battles. If you had to stun Ganon, then climb up him to find a weak point, or just shoot a weak point from the ground, a layer of Breath of the Wild would be added to this very Ocarina-esque scenario.
Another necessary addition would be a second phase that was more immersive than riding around on your horse shooting targets. Honestly, I do not even know if he was attacking during the second phase. A final boss really should amp up the difficulty compared to a mini game from 1998. With as many options as players had to prepare for the fight and how many ways they were learning to defeat enemies, by the time you reach him, most players have forgotten how a simple enemy with an awesome arsenal of attacks and an enormous cache of hit points can be a compelling challenge. Calamity Ganon was the villain Breath of the Wild needed, not the one it deserved.
What do you think? Do you like this incarnation of the series’ staple villain? Do you think he could use an overhaul? Are you just plain tired of Ganon and wish Aonuma would remember Vaati held his weight in a few games? Let me know and I would love to carry on the discussion via comments.