Monday, July 20, 2015

Top 10 Final Battles: #7: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Like Final Fantasy, one of these final battles had to be from the Legend of Zelda series.  The franchise consistently cranks out the best bosses in gaming, almost always requiring problem-solving and good old-fashioned skill with a variety of weapons.  Every final battle in each Zelda game is memorable in its own way, with multiple phases and ever-creative transformations that make the climax to each story an epic one, barring the ones, in the words of Chris Hoffman, "in which Link looks like he chugged a gallon of drain cleaner."

The final battle of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a classic for the generations, and its ending is critical in the overall Zelda timeline, but technology has moved on and I find that the battle of Twilight Princess, arguably the second most acclaimed game in the franchise, is even more satisfying.


Twilight Princess takes quite a turn midway through its story.  For much of the game you fight the evil king of the parallel dimension known as the Twilight Realm: Zant.

It's revealed that Zant is acting on orders of the series villain Ganondorf (because of course he is), whom Zant believes to be a god giving him a mission.

Several years before the events of Twilight Princess, Ganondorf was to be executed after the young Link from Ocarina of Time told the king of Hyrule about what his treachery leads to in the future he traveled to.

"..... I want my phone call."
The sages attempted to execute Ganondorf using a blade of pure lightbut due to the Triforce of Power Ganondorf holds, it could not kill him.  All it did was leave a big glowing crack in his body.  After Ganondorf effortlessly killed one of the sages, they trapped him in the Twilight realm in desperation.  There, he appeared before Zant as a god, gave him power and convinced him to take the Twilight realm from its princess and have it overtake the realm of light, including building a big barrier around the kingdom's capital, Hyrule Castle.
Zant's first thought was probably "I want that to be the logo of my rock band!"
Much of the first half of the game is spent purging the Twilight Realm from the realm of light and gathering super-powered artifacts called the Fused Shadows with the Twilight princess herself, Midna, who has been reduced to a minuscule imp form.  Unlike the wolf form you spend the game switching between, she's stuck that way.

About halfway through the game, Zant steals the Fused Shadows, takes them to the Twilight Realm and exposes Midna to light, which being a twilight being, would have killed her if the trapped princess Zelda herself hadn't given up her body and spirit to give Midna immunity to light.

With this newfound power, you then gather the three macguffin pieces you need to get into the Twilight Realm where Zant is and finally fight him in an awesome, multi-setting, zany boss fight.  Bosses like Zant are the Zelda franchise's signature.

But the final battle with Ganondorf is an even moreso.  Before Midna kills him, Zant explains that since his power came from Ganondorf, her curse will never go away.  What's more, Ganondorf is brought back to the realm of light, taking the throne in Hyrule Castle, so using the Fused Shadows, Midna turns into a giant monster to break the barrier around Hyrule Castle, still trapped in the Twilight Realm.

Inside, Link fights his way to the top floor, the throne room, where Ganondorf waits along with what is apparently another body for Zelda.  It's possible that the new body for Zelda was some sort of effect of her Triforce of Wisdom.  Those things can do anything.

Ganondorf tells Midna about how her people gave him the power he needed, but they never matched the raw power of the gods that come from the Triforce.  That is what he truly needs.

In a brilliant bit of calling back, the music used is Ganondorf's leitmotif from Ocarina of Time, indicating that this is indeed the same person as in the childhood part of the game.  He's not the one that was defeated and more humble like in the other timeline where he was defeated.  He never succeeded or learned his lesson, he's still trying to get his power.

Midna declares complete defiance to him as a ruler (since Link can't talk), to which Ganondorf is all too willing to let her try.
But he notices that Midna isn't as self-serving as she used to be.  Being the villain that he is, he takes advantage of this by turning himself into a twilight particle form (normally used for teleporting) and uses it to possess Zelda.  Midna tries to block it, but it goes right around her.

With Ganondorf in control, Midna tries to kill him while he's inside Zelda's body, but she can't bring herself to kill the one who saved her life.

So she's force pushed outside the room and blocked out by a barrier before Link has a chance to help her.  That leaves him to fight the possessed Princess Zelda.

Phase 1

You would think that the idea of fighting a possessed Zelda would have been used by this point, given the power that she holds.  Plenty of people have been controlled like this before in a Zelda game, but never the holder of the Triforce of Wisdom you're usually trying to save along with the kingdom.  That's a good way of raising the stakes, especially since you don't want to kill her.  Luckily, either to protect the body or to not risk a possible bluff from Link, Ganondorf does not take advantage of this and doesn't give you an opportunity to carve her up with your sword.  I think the King would be quite upset seeing his daughter covered in more scars than Randel Oland.

Instead, to further demonstrate that this is indeed the Ganondorf from the Ocarina of Time, he uses his tactic from that game's final battle by firing balls of lightning for you to hit back for a shock that is presumably non-lethal.  Remember that in Ocarina of Time, electrocution only left him open for a hit from the light arrow that did the real damage.

The hits from Ganondorf's own lightning balls eventually become too much of a strain on Zelda's body and Ganondorf stands down, unable to maintain his barrier.  That gives Midna her chance.  Using the power o plot convenience granted to her from the Fused Shadows, her giant monster form encloses Zelda in its hands and purges Ganondorf from her body.  That does not kill him though  That was only a warm-up.

Phase 2

Like Link, Ganondorf has apparently learned to master his own alternate, twilight form.  Instead of forming back into his initial visage, he comes back as his more powerful, signature bestial form, the dark beast Ganon!

In most Zelda games, Ganon has been portrayed as a bipedal pig monster with some form of tridents as weapons.  I suspect that the reason this one is on all fours is because previously his hideous transformations were brought about by invoking his Triforce of Power.  Here it's instead an effect the Twilight Realm has on those from the Realm of Light, and perhaps like Link, he can transform into it at will.  No matter what he looks like though, Ganon's entrance means the real battle is about to begin!

Ganon in Ocarina of Time.
Without his tridents, this Ganon can only rely on his animal instincts and brute force.  Like a boar, he takes a liking to charging with his huge tusks, but this boar goes through twilight portals so that it can come from any direction and doesn't have to stop to turn.

Ganon's weak point  is obvious.  That scar from his failed execution carries over to his bestial form and is even bigger, going nearly entirely across his belly.  The trick is flipping him over.  There are two ways to go about this, both extremely badass in their own right.

As a human, you can use an arrow to shoot the jewel on Ganon's forehead as he charges straight at you, in a rather ballsy move.  That causes him to veer away and fall on his side to leave his scar open.  If you choose to turn into a wolf for a beast-to-beast battle, you can take the old boar-fighting advice and grab him by the horns to throw him aside!  You have to time the grab right, so it's arguably just as ballsy as the arrow shot and demonstrates the incredible strength Midna and Link's wolf form have when they work together!

The bestial option is probably the best one thematically, since it utilizes one of the game's core gameplay elements, and it feels more natural by not forcing it through a contrived narrative leap.
Whether it's by wolf bite or sword, you can feel how much deeper the scar gets even without blood.  You're constantly scraping away at it as Ganon reels in pain until he can take no more.  No wonder this game's rated T.

Ganon falls to the ground and begins to burn with a soft glow, like other slain monsters have in Zelda games.
As if being called there, the light-filled soul Zelda left with Midna returns to her body.

I thought that usually took a keyblade impalement.

Zelda is restored to her former self, and she and Midna have a brief exchange, with Zelda explaining that nothing needs to be said.  When she fused her heart with Midna's, she felt everything Midna did.
It's that concise storytelling without words that makes the Zelda games such great tales; ones that don't require monologues to explain everything.  In truth this entire final battle can be finished within 20 minutes, but because of how the story paces itself, that time leaves a lasting impact.

Ganon's ethereal glow turns into the burning image that Ganondorf used to present himself to Zant, but this time, it's not Link's fight.

Midna prepares the fused shadows one last time and, as she has done throughout the game, warps Link and Zelda out to Hyrule field.  Whatever it is she does after that apparently completely destroys the castle.  Midna is so grateful to the ones that have helped her she is willing to sacrifice herself for them.

Too bad it didn't work.

Phase 3

Ganondorf stands triumphant on his badass horse, leaving the ruins of Hyrule Castle behind him.  With Midna down, he charges at the last two Triforce holders with a group of ghost riders, weilding the very sword of light that once tried to kill him!

The duo seems powerless, but Ganondorf seems to have forgotten that they're back in the realm of light now, and the spirits of light you've met over the journey hold power there.  The light spirits transport the two to safety and Zelda calls upon their power.  In Zelda tradition, that power is brought to them in the form of the franchise's anti-Ganon weapon: the light arrows.

Zelda asks that Link lend his power one last time to end it, and they are brought back to the field on Link's horse for some evil-smiting horseback sharp-shooting.

You don't fire the arrows yourself.  All you have to do is get Zelda within range of Ganondorf on horseback so she can get a good shot from the arrows on him to stun him, after which you have to go in for a few slices.  The entire way you also have to dodge his ghostly companions' swipes and his own shots of dark energy, as well as manage your acceleration to keep up with him and stay on target.  It's a fun, high-speed chase battle akin to action movies in which guys fight each other from moving vehicles, all with the test of your horse fighting skills.

Phase 4

With enough punishment, Ganondorf slumps right off his horse and tumbles onto the ground, but he'll be damned if that takes him down.  Defiant to the end, Ganondorf challenges Link to one last showdown, one-on-one, man to man, Master Sword vs. Light Sword.  The game reaches its ultimate climax with a good old-fashioned sword duel, complete with dramatic wind and a lightning storm for for good measure.

After all the gimmicks and abilities you've used up to this point in the fight with Ganondorf, it comes full circle by relying on your primary weapon.  Nothing else is needed.  It's a battle of wits, full of dodging, waiting and sword locking, showing Ganondorf that you don't just have a bag of tricks.  You have raw skill and strength to back it up!

Play Duel of Fates at your leisure.

Although no other weapon is needed in this battle, there is a weapon in your inventory so powerful even Ganondorf, the holder of the Triforce of Power, is rendered powerless by it.  Like the sword, it is one that you have had since the beginning of the game and has allowed you to slay countless abominations:

The fishing pole!

Yes, really.

This is a very well-known trick to those who have played this game.  Apparently Ganondorf has extreme ADD because if you throw out your fishing hook during the final sword duel, he will stop what he's doing to turn his head and look at it in the same way a cat would look at a dangling toy before pouncing for it!  The contrast after all the buildup to this epic battle is one of the funniest things I have ever seen in any Zelda game.

This can apparently work to your advantage if you distract him with the fishing rod and immediately switch back to your sword to hit him while he's open, but I've never been able to pull that off because he switches right back to sword fighting mode once you put the rod away.  Besides, fighting fair is much more dignified.

"I'll teach you to dangle things in front of my face!"
Like the battle with Ganon, the target is that big scar (more like a crack in his human form) on his gut.  That is where the sword always connects each time you strike him.  All the punishment culminates in the mother of all blows to the crack by means of a sword plant that finally finishes the guy off!  For the first time, Ganondorf screams in pain.

The hours of Super Smash Brothers finally paid off.

Still clinging to life, Ganondorf rises one more time to tell them that the cycle of violence between light and shadow will continue even without him.  With those final words, his Triforce of Power fades away, Zant mocks his moment of death from the afterlife, and Ganondorf dies standing up, with the master sword still stuck in his crack.  That is how you go out with style.

Not as stylish as this, of course:

Much like Gruntilda, this final battle is a final exam, testing your timing, wolf form fighting, horseback riding and swordplay, all done in quick succession thanks to the subtle non-verbal storytelling and the even pacing of the overall game.  All of that is coupled with the Nintendo-quality orchestra and graphics optimization for a final battle with a strong payoff.

Even though this one is strengthened by subtlety, we can't dismiss the final battles that have monologuing and overblown giant monster battles.  See why when I go over number 6.

P.S. I hope everyone loved SGC this year!

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