Ahh, battle. What would Zelda gamers like us do without it? All the games have had a fantastic cast of enemies, even if they do fit neatly into fantasy clichés. But how does The Wind Waker stack up to its predecessors? Many reviewers, such as IGN, have said that battle is simply too easy. Are they right? That’s the question which prompted me to critique the design of each and every enemy in the game. Here’s what I think of the first 23 baddies.
Before I tell you what I think of the first 23 baddies of The Wind Waker, let me remind you that most of the bad guys in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask were not that difficult to defeat. But that usually wasn’t the point of battle in the first place. The battles mostly functioned to add life to the world, and also to help break up the gameplay. The challenges themselves were usually not in the individual battles, but in quickly flipping between various unique strategies to take out diverse enemies. Also, battles were often simply entertaining from a cinematic and story standpoint. But there were also those few enemies in which swordplay took precedence. These battles, the battles that some gamers feel are missing from The Wind Waker, were greatly satisfying and provided a much needed intensity to the gameplay.
(Note: don’t send me alternate strategies for defeating certain enemies. I’m well aware there’s quite a few ways to do battle successfully, but that isn’t my main focus here.)
Keese — Initially, I was pleased with the keese design. But when I discovered that they hover in front of you for several seconds before attacking, I was greatly disappointed. “Hey! I’m here! Please hit me with a sharp impaling object!” Come on, keese were harder before.
Rat — Brilliant. I’m certainly glad they brought these creatures back from A Link to the Past. The stealth level at the beginning even brings rat behavior to the fore. The idea of scampering, thieving rats who will snatch rupees and store goods in their holes not only sucks you deeper into the Zelda world, but provides interesting gameplay as well.
Bombchu — Great comic relief. Hordes of rats throwing bombs at you-now that’s entertainment. Weirdly, the chaos that ensues put me at a greater risk than most battles with the supposedly “hard” enemies.
Magtail — I wouldn’t change a thing about these baddies! You must actually using timing to attack them properly, and their unique property of rolling up into a ball adds an interesting dynamic. They’re not the most challenging enemy in the world, but you wouldn’t expect that of them either.
Boku Baba — They may be bigger than your average Deku Baba, but they are quite easier than the giant ones found as an adult in Ocarina of Time. They pose no threat, for a simple hit from the boomerang will dispatch them. If you don’t have a boomerang, unrelenting swipes from the sword enables you to dispatch them without taking a hit yourself.
Mothula — Of all the enemies, the mothula is my favorite graphically. It truly shows the ability of the cel-shading to evoke that classic Zelda look. The Mothula does not provide much difficulty at all, but it sure is pretty to watch and battle.
Morth — I love morths. For one thing, they employ the classic emphasis on eyes in the Zelda series. But it’s their behavior that truly sets them apart. Once again, they don’t provide much of a challenge at all, but they do provide atmosphere to the game.
Red ChuChu — These are run-of-the mill enemies, so there really isn’t much to say about them. They’re not challenging, but they certainly aren’t supposed to be. This isn’t to say that I’d take them out of the game, of course. It is interesting that the villagers of Outset Island are terrified of them, by the way. Red potions are not very valuable at all, but the idea of harvesting them for the jelly is an interesting one. More importantly, they provide a good contrast to the yellow, blue, and dark varieties.
Green ChuChu — See above.
Yellow ChuChu — Neutralizing their electrical charges and then slashing them would normally not be difficult, but the changing water levels in the Tower of the Gods can create some interesting situations which prevents easy kills. I certainly got banged up a good bit by these baddies.
Blue ChuChu — These don’t really do very much other than add variety to the Zelda world. (Who needs blue potion when you have soup and fairies?)
Dark ChuChu — Again, a brilliantly designed enemy. For several minutes, I was baffled as to how to kill these. The challenge isn’t in defeating them, but rather in figuring out how to defeat them in the first place, and then later using them in puzzles.
Floormaster — These baddies really show of the stylized look of cel-shading. It can be easy to accidentally get caught by one, so in that sense they provide a decent bit of challenge. On the downside, they aren’t nearly as creepy as the Wallmasters were.
Beamos — This is actually a case in which the enemy is actually upgraded in difficulty from Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time. But unlike those games, The Wind Waker doesn’t put you in any situations in which killing them is truly critical.
Redeads — I have no complaints about the design of these baddies. They play mostly as they did in the older games.
Armos — I was quite pleased with the challenge these enemies provide. As usual, i’s always unnerving to have the statue pop to life. At first, I found it tricky to circle around and strike the mark without getting impaled on the spikes. Until I found out you could freeze them with arrows, that is. However, this special method of dispatching them is not a bad thing. Zelda games often have more hidden ways of killing enemies.
Armos Knight — These massive statues spooked me out the first time I saw them. Battle isn’t hard, but their challenge is supposed to be mostly in figuring out how to defeat them rather than in actually fighting them.
Miniblin — Many folks find these critters to be annoying. The first time I discovered these was when I was on Outset Island at night and ventured up towards the bridge. I was spooked out when one of these freaky little buggers jumped out at me! The idea of hordes of freaky little herd-critters piling on top of you from the walls, the ceiling, and the floor is a good thing in my book. However, I never really had any trouble with them. Supposedly the Skull Hammer works great against them, but that never worked well for me. I simply attack like crazy. And that, my friends, is what the game seems to emphasize too much of in the combat-unrelenting aggression as the answer to nearly everything. On the one hand, it is kind of cinematic, and it does make Link look rather like the kick-butt elf-boy he is. On the other hand, it means that you’re not afraid of dying because they’re so easy to defeat. But I frankly don’t think that’s the intended goal with the Miniblins. For one thing, hordes of weak enemies add the feeling of balance. What’s more, the graphical look of Miniblins, as well as their strange movements and sounds, suck you into the Zelda world all the more. You really do feel harried by countless mysterious antagonists of the shadows.
Bokoblin — These creatures are not really challenging at all. As with Miniblins, unrelenting sword swipes take care of them all too quickly. If you grapple hook them first, they’ll be taken back for a minute in surprise. That moment of surprise means that they don’t have a second to fight back. I really don’t have any problem with Bokoblins being easy, however. Early enemies like that aren’t supposed to be difficult. And someone who is nervous about them will likely be more timid and therefore defensive. Playing defensively means that the goblin will get a chance to attack, making the battles more interesting. I never had any trouble with them, and I would assume you didn’t either. Their function, as with Miniblins, is more to draw you into the Zelda world rather than to function as a gameplay mechanic.
Moblin — These spear-wielding baddies aren’t much more trouble than Bokoblins. Grapple hooking them from the start not only gives you a skull necklace, but their incredulous reaction gives you the chance to thrash them with the sword. Once again, unrelenting aggression enables you to destroy them quite quickly.
Stalfos — This is an enemy I’m quite disappointed in. The Stalfos in The Wind Waker are well designed, but I would have preferred that they be called another name, because I would have brought in the Stalfos from Ocarina of Time. The Stalfos in Ocarina of Time were probably the most challenging enemies in that game, and perhaps also the most fun. I actually died in my earlier battles with these baddies, whereas I usually could beat even a boss on my first try. The sword fighting with these skeleton warriors was rewardingly tense. These enemies are at the top of my wish list to include in the next Zelda game. That said, I do think that Nintendo designed the Stalfos of The Wind Waker well, as long as they are thought of as a lesser enemy in comparison to the Stalfos of Ocarina of Time. The variability of these Stalfos is interesting; for instance, if you pick up its massive club, it will use a snapped arm in its stead. Smashing its head when it’s dismantled can be a bit challenging, but in the actual combat there isn’t much challenge involved. As with moblins and nearly every other enemy, aggression is the key. The Stalfos simply doesn’t have time to swing that club if you keep slashing it. On a positive note, I found its spin attack to be fairly dangerous.
Darknut — I fail to see the difficulty posed by these warriors. The main problem is that they simply don’t take off enough hearts to pose much of a threat. I realize that the Iron Knuckle is not the same thing as a Darknut, but they are parallel enemies, at least. An Iron Knuckle could take off something on the order of 5 hearts with one blow, and the blows were actually harder to avoid than those of the Darknuts. Provided you didn’t use bombchus, the Iron Knuckle could pose quite a problem. For the Darknuts, it’s simply a matter of tapping “A” at the right instant, which is no real difficulty at all. When they are in groups, they can provide a challenge, and yet even then they tend to kill each other with their own sword blows. Battling darknuts is fun, but certainly not because the gameplay is tense; it’s fun simply because it looks cool.
Mighty Darknut — They don’t really pose that much more of a difficulty than their weaker counterparts. I would consider the differences to be negligible.
From the enemies profiled thus far, we have seen that battles in The Wind Waker maintain the traditions of the previous games in providing a wide array of enemies that require diverse strategies, and in providing enemies that truly add to the feel of the Zelda world. However, there does seem to be an area that’s lacking. I think that IGN was right-the “hard” battles are simply too easy to win. In Part Two, after looking at the remaining 23 enemies (including the bosses), I will try to see if there are some ways they could improve the next Zelda game in this area. But for now, let me close with this simple observation: there is far too much emphasis on offense. It works well in some ways, but it makes the swordplay unchallenging and inauthentic. At least we have no doubt about Link’s warrior skills!