I love a good villain. Heroes save the day, but antagonists are often the ones who drive the plot forward. While Link and Zelda are reacting to Ganon’s plots, he gets to go wild unleashing things like the Calamity and the Upheaval. But having the same big bad gets a little stale, and Ganondorf is truly the most prolific boss in all of the Zelda games, only occasionally yielding ground to a secondary antagonist, like Zant.
Which is a shame, because I like a little bit of variety in my villains. There’s an excellent, untapped source of boss fights in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, but they never really quite get to shine.
[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.]
The Yiga Clan first show up in Breath of the Wild, posing as common travelers on the road, only to reveal themselves in assassination attempts. They show up in the background throughout BotW, attempting to assassinate Link and Zelda and leveraging an informant in Kakariko Village. Link later infiltrates their HQ and bests Master Kohga, their leader, sending him plummeting into a pit in a cutscene laden with foreshadowing. Kohga isn’t exactly a dignified foe; you simply interrupt his Sheikah Slate casts and bonk him on his silly li’l noggin.
After dispatching Kohga, Yiga agents will show up randomly in the overworld to try and get some revenge, but we don’t learn too much about them otherwise. So when I found my first Yiga outpost in Tears of the Kingdom, I was beyond psyched. The idea of a Sheikah splinter ideology, opposed to our heroes but using the same powerful tools, is fascinating. There’s a lot to explore there.
At first, it looked like the Yiga Clan might have been able to live up to my sky-high expectations. I found their settlements down in the Depths, guarded by Ultrahand machines. I found notes suggesting Kohga had survived somehow, and I began hunting him down. The Depths add a gravitas to the proceedings, and I was eager to see the new Kohga, shaped by his defeat and the darkness around him.
There’s certainly more Yiga Clan members in this game, and it’s cool to see how they’ve built up their defenses. But upon chasing down Kohga, I ultimately learned... he was working for Ganondorf the whole time, and on top of that, he’s still a big goofy goose. There’s more of a lead-up to the boss fight, but I once again use his Ultrahand tools against him and then launch him out of the Depths with all of the grace of a Team Rocket goon.
For what it’s worth, I do enjoy the Yiga content we have. I like this clan, and their focus on stealth over strength. Just like in Breath of the Wild, Yiga assassins continually show up to try to get some revenge, and I use their weapons and cosmetics often.
But I also can’t stop thinking about a hypothetical Yiga Clan that could have been, one where they’re not a series of miniboss encounters and slapstick comedy bits. What were the circumstances of their original split with the Sheikah? How do they feel about Hyrule’s use of this technology? What do they get out of a partnership with Ganondorf?
Weirdly enough, the side game Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity addresses this with the character of Sooga, Kohga’s right-hand man. We see that Sooga was saved as a child, so he’s deeply loyal to Kohga. He’s a badass in his own right, and he eventually even joins the roster of playable characters. But Age of Calamity is non-canon, and so Sooga is just a tantalizing possibility of what could have been.
Don’t get me wrong — Ganondorf is a good villain, and I’m not saying he needs to get thrown out or anything. But the Zelda franchise could use a few new antagonists to shake things up and add variety to the franchise. Hyrule has changed dramatically between Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, and I wish the Yiga Clan had changed more in turn. Perhaps in the next game, they’ll finally strike a genuine sense of fear in me. I hope, at the very least, I won’t have to dunk on Master Kohga anytime soon.