With images courtesy Melora of History of Hyrule and Sprites via Videogamesprites.net!
It's been a while, Zelda side of the internet! I wrote up a review of the original Legend of Zelda bestiary way back in early 2017, which you can check out here. But now, it's 2023 as I write this, Tears of the Kingdom is setting new records and I'm feeling renewed affection for this franchise's creature designs.
I was only three or four years old, I think, when the second Zelda title arrived in 1987. Home console gaming, while not technically new at the time, was still a hip new phenomenon to the general populace, and the first Zelda had already been a global phenomenon. The sequel game, unfortunately, wasn't as well received, partially due to its unreasonable levels of difficulty and partially if not especially thanks to the game's "combat" now playing out in side-scrolling platform segments.
It's funny to look back on this failure of only the second-ever Zelda game, now that there are nearly fifty titles in the franchise and basically every single one of them is remembered like its own miniature Renaissance. Funnier still to look back on the tie-in marketing here in the states, including the notorious Saturday Morning cartoon series. The sarcastic, girl-chasing, screwball teenager Link, normal literal "human royalty" Zelda and cackling evil monster Ganon are far removed from the complicated lore and almost spiritual reverence these characters would come to have in the public eye, but technically, I guess this was "my" Zelda, wasn't it? And I was still a bit too small to wrap my head around how the game is supposed to be played, but I was still as fascinated by its world and its creatures as I was with the first.
I don't intend to review the monsters of every single Zelda title, but I do want to cover the "core" games, the bigger home console releases. Maybe later, I'll do a general round-up of favorite monsters from the remaining, mostly portable entries. For now, here's all the stuff trying to thwart The Adventures of Link:
I'm going to include monsters from previous games as long as there's anything noteworthy about them, and in the case of the Octorok, I like its artwork here a lot more than the original illustration, and I think it's because of the eyes glaring out from under the hood of the mantle. It's cute. It's erroneously shown just holding a rock, as if it throws them rather than projectile-barfs them, but the adorable in-game sprite actually gives it a big, circular lamprey-like maw that opens up to completely hide the rest of its "face," which is a very cool idea for how this creature works!
ACHE & ACHEMAN
The first game had bats known as Keese and their larger cousin the Vire, a four-eyed gargoyle thingy that split into multiple Keese when defeated. In Adventures of Link, we have bats called Ache and their cousin the Acheman, which disguises itself as a red-colored Ache until it lands on the ground and becomes a fire-breathing imp.
The manual art of the Ache is just adorable, isn't it? Look at that grumpy little batty face! The Acheman, meanwhile, has a really fun bat-person design with spindly limbs, an oversized head and a drooling, toothy smile. What a rotten looking bastard! Just plain perfect! As with the first game however, many monsters had entirely new artwork made for third-party publications, while we'll include whenever noteworthy:
Acheman is a much more threatening figure in the game guide from Futabasha publishing. Still a sleazy looking weirdo, but with bonier and deadlier looking limbs, an emaciated humanoid torso, narrow yellow slits for eyes and huge, pinkish wings that beautifully contrast its otherwise brown and yellowish design. It's a much more "vampiric" or "devilish" figure, but still looks like it'd make some kind of nasty cackling, slurping sounds.
This monster was referred to as Rope in some English materials, just like the snakes from the first game, but it's obviously a very different and much more delightful creature all its own. The artwork depicts a big-mouthed, fanged snake with almost invisibly tiny eyes and a body so delightfully short and fat it makes Tsuchinoko look more serpentine. It's almost entirely head and mouth! The sprite is even more appealing to me, looking more like some kind of warty little carnivorous plant head with a slug body. Aneru are actually little more than sprite-swaps of the Octorok, spitting projectiles the exact same way, and the rock-spitting blue Aneru were even replaced with blue Octoroks in the English version, leaving only the fire-spitting red variants.
The Aneru also remind me heavily of the heads of Manhandla, and I'm inclined to think they might have been conceived of as a more unique Hyrulian monster than just a reptile. Back in the day, "official illustrations" were often left more to the artist's own interpretation.
Beautiful! I actually didn't know this enemy even existed until putting together this review, since I never played the whole game and was only really familiar with the monsters they saw fit to share in the instruction booklet. You may recall the more crablike or spiderlike Ghoma and centipede-like Lanmola from the first adventure, which were also blue-shelled, giant arthropods with singular, eerily human eyes.
Aruroda seems to be their scorpion-shaped cousin, though its in-game sprite lacks pincers, and I'm not sure which version I prefer. Giving it both pincers and the stinging tail is a bit "on the nose," you know what I mean? Like oh, it's just a scorpion that's a cyclops, right? But without claws it becomes more of its own thing, in my opinion, that just convergently evolved a scorpionlike stinger.
The fully scorpio'd illustration is nice, though. I like how flattened it is, and it even has the correct number of appendages for a scorpion, which isn't always the case for scorpion-inspired monsters. Remember! The pincers are modified mouthparts, not legs!
This is another with alternate game guide artwork, and this is defiitely a more "alien" creature. Even with the pincers, eight legs and tail, it feels more like a crustaceoid from the Metroid series than an arachnid. I like the sort of fleshy switchblade hinge of the stinger, the little chewing jaws you can see beneath the carapace of the head and the feathery-tipped antennae. The eye in this design also looks "false," doesn't it? It's not just a flat marking, but it doesn't look like an actual eyeball either, but a colorful decoration.
Always love a skeleton fish, even if there isn't a whole lot I can say about its in-game appearance or official licensed art. It sure is a dead fish that's just bones! No complaints!
Futabasha guide does something a little more interesting again; their Bago-bago has a cracked, scaly texture to its grimier looking bones, deep red eye sockets and some sort of yellowish entrails, or something, visible through the ribcage. Is it just a supernaturally animated fish corpse, or an organism that looks like one?
This boss monster is just a big, serpentine reptile that emerges from a pool of lava, but the artwork makes it look more like a Chinese dragon, very King Ghidora or Manda, while the sprite has a more crocodile-looking head with two little horns. Not an unusual monster either way, but "dragons" in the Zelda universe are more interesting for how rare they actually are. I appreciate that this magical fantasy setting kinda holds back on flooding itself with the more predictable dragons and drakes, making them more memorable when they do appear.
Game Guide Barba is the most appealing to me, a scaly serpent with an eel-like back fin and an adorable lizardy head with big, bubble-like red eyes and a chitinous, insectoid sort of surface to it. Very "Metroid" vibes.
This is a peculiar one; some palaces in the game are decorated with dragon head sculptures, but identical dragon heads also fly around as an enemy type. Our "main" artist decided these heads should be identical to that of the Barba boss, even though they don't look alike in-game, though there's also artwork interpreting Ra as dog-like heads.
Game Guide Ra looks more like the broken-off head of a stone dragon, but it also has a clearly organic tongue, eyes and scaly pink head fins. Strange! Is it part of a living thing or does it, for some reason, naturally take the form of a broken statue head? Maybe it just grows in place, like a barnacle, but unlike a barnacle it snaps off its foundation at the end of its life cycle. Maybe that's just how it reproduces, like ti scatters Ra seeds along the way.
The classic fish-person actually leaves the water in this one, running around on all fours like a fat, fishy lizard, and can even be encountered in deserts! I believe the Japanese version confirms that it's a Zora, but the English translation calls it a "Basilisk," and I kinda like it more as its own thing. The artwork leans more into the fishy side, and I like just how big the fish head is compared to the sorta flimsy torso and limbs, more froglike than humanlike. We only previously saw them as heads popping out of the water, so it makes sense that they might have reduced bodies.
Game Guide Zora more closely matches the "basilisk" sprite with a heftier body and limbs, but it's even scalier and spinier here, even more "Creature From the Black Lagoon" save for the smoothness of its fish head. In both designs, the head is full blown fish rather than "humanoid fish," and no offense to great characters like the Gill Man and Undyne Undertale, but fish people with actual fish heads always win.
BIT & BOT
BLOBS! Hooray! The previous game's illustrations for Zol and Gel are hard to beat, but this illustration gives us a gooey wad with a pleasantly dribbly body surface, angry eyes in a single combined "eye socket," and also little hairs all over it, which kind of suggests to me that it's not just a wad of living ooze or jelly so much as a very soft globular creature with distinct organs and tissues, which I daresay I'm an even bigger fan of (sorry, actual slimes!)
The blue version is "Bot," and can jump, while a red version is called "Bit," and cannot jump. More delightfully, there's a purple-colored Bot squatting in a house in one of the towns, and it can talk. All it does is tell you where the rightful owner of the house has gone, as he's an important NPC, but I always love when an RPG has a one-off friendly, intelligent version of a creature. It comes up a bit more than you'd think.
Just like good old Zol & Gel, there's a larger version of the Bots that can split into multiple littler blobs when "killed." Big Bot is however much larger, splitting into five whole Bots. Its artwork also looks even more like that of Zol, extra drippy and melty, but with funnier angry eyes - complete with pupils, this time - than either Zols, Gels, Bits or Bots. I of course love them all.
BUBBLE & KING BUBBLE
"Bubbles" return from the first game, still resembling nothing but small fire-colored orbs, but the artwork depicts them with a core of actual pale "bubbles" sort of forming a foamy skull. Meanwhile, the "Giant Bubble" or "King Bubble" resembles a horned animal skull actually hovering around in a fireball.
Futabasha wins again when it chooses another "more alien" route; the "skull" in its King Bubble is almost more arthropod-like with its larger eye sockets and cute, beaklike set of jaws. It looks more to me like something that might have only ever existed in this flying fireball-head form, a monster specifically adapted this way, rather than a reanimated piece of something else.
BOOOOOOOOON! I love these so much! They're just giant bluebottle flies that drop stones from the air, but I'm a sucker for all giant flies that even vaguely look fly-like enough, and except for the inaccuate presence of four complete wings, the artwork for Boon is marvelously realistic, even specifically looking a whole lot like a botfly, with its fat antennae and lack of any obvious mouth.
The guidebook Boon doesn't do anything special, except that it has more correct fly wings and a more detailed prickly body. Good, but I'm still a tad more charmed by the bigger eyes and face of "official" Boon.
I must also give a shout-out here to the Boons from Captain N: The Game Master; lovably fat, pink-bodied blowflies with comical beady pseudopupils. Creature designs for this series were done by the prolific character designer Fil Barlow, who's worked on a number of other things we've reviewed over the years!
Geru is actually the first case of humanoid lizards in the Zelda continuity, though their modern equivalents in the series are now known as Lizalfos. There's not much else to them besides a guy with a mace and a shield who is also a reptile, but the artwork is cute, isn't it? Looks like a member of the iguana family, I think.
Another reptiloid in this game is a bit more unusual; a big yellow bipedal crocodile with a feathery, reddish head crest that throws axes. Love how gnarly and wretched the official art looks, with the unsettling pure white eyes.
Zelda creature names are so charming, aren't they? Deelers, boons, aches, bots...they don't try too hard to sound cool or dramatic, but feel as believable as terms like "bear" or "dog," and any resemblance to real words in any human language comes across as sheer coincidence. DEELER is some kind of spider-like arachnid, able to hang from a line of silk and everything, but it's antomically not quite a spider as we know them at all, at least not in the artwork. It's portrayed here with two huge yellow eyes and two tinier ocelli, sharply hooked mandibles, a big fat segmented body and eight short, hairy, very mite-like legs!
Fokka THIS guy! Am I right?! Ha ha! I actually don't know how annoying this enemy may or may not be in-game. It's an armored sword-wielding humanoid with a bird head and that's pretty much it.
Okay, jokes aside, there's some interesting things about this one. The artwork depicts essentially a giant eagle with a pair of humanlike breasts, which do seem to be present (intentionally or otherwise) in the sprite, which has a bit of a more humanoid stance. It actually can't fly, but it can leap, and it breathes fire. How does it relate to the similarly named Fokka? Are we meant to gender it by the breasts? Is this one species with humanoid males and winged, firebreathing females? Is a Fokkeru a mother Fokka, if you will? I had to say it but I also mean it, this could just be one of those creatures like we have in real life where the moms are bigger and meaner to better protect the nest while the males are more expendable little guys.
What's downright crazy however is what the Fokkeru looks like in that guidebook, where the artist clearly had no idea what the sprite was supposed to represent and wasn't given anything else to reference:
Holy cow, WHAT are we seeing here?! It's some sort of hunched, chunky arthropod-like humanoid with spindly little arms and a small, otherwise featureless face with multiple yellow spider-eyes, the head nested in a sort of oversized boat-shaped chitinous socket which is nested in an even larger torso socket. I don't know how you could really confuse Fokkeru's sprite to this degree, but I'm so glad that someone did.
So in the game itself, this creature is nothing but a thin, white stalk with two little black horns or mandibles on top, and it's interestingly not one of those chainlink style serpentine sprites, made up of individual sprite segments like our old friends Moldorm or Lanmola, but an unevenly lumpy and fleshy looking white tendril that sticks straight up. It feels very deliberately intended to convey a pale wormlike animal with no appendages, something as unique to the setting as the Leever, and maybe even kind of related?
The artwork, however, opts for simply a huge centipede-like arthropod. It's not bad, I like its big yellow eyes, the cute little segmented antennae distinct from its two blue tentacle-like feelers, and the furry surface of its back. However, the in-game Geldarm doesn't even actually fight. It's just a living obstacle that rises from the sand. That's not very centipedey behavior! I'll always wonder what this creature was "really" meant to be like.
The more streamlined the anatomy of an "eye creature," the better, the absolute top tier being either completely fleshless eyeballs or eyeballs with just the bare minimum of non-eyeball tissues. Girubokku is a great example of the latter; in the sprite it's just a roundish wad of red flesh with one huge eye and what may be a few little stringy bits of dangling skin, while the official art depicts a huge, wet, staring human eyeball with a veiny covering of skin and all-too-human eyelid, even having lovely eyelashes. These obnoxious little shits are invincible when their eyes are closed, and actually start to close them as they orbit closer and closer to Link.
The game guide version is equally valid, a little cartoonier, with a warty egg-shaped red body, wrinkly pink eyelids and those short, fleshy tendrils or cilia implied by the pixels! I especially like its narrowed, shifty stare at the viewer.
This one's a little confusing, because the name refers to both these red minotaur-like monsters and a larger, horned humanoid boss, both with a ball and chain. Sometimes the boss version is spelled Guma, but in any case they both use the same artwork or color swaps of the same artwork, depicting a hairy buffalo sort of guy with fangs.
The artwork also kind of matches a stationary enemy only known as the "River Devil," one of the few unique monsters encountered in the "overworld," and I feel like it probably was meant to just be a Gooma stationed as a guard in this one location. For unknown reasons, the localization replaced this sprite with a six-limbed black "bug." I know which one I prefer, but sadly, the delightful shadowy beetle critter is the less canon of the two.
Gooma is another whose game guide art gets more "alien," portraying it as a hulking, bulbous, hairy red beast kind of like an upright bison, ecept it has this wide, thin, toothless black smile under three glowing yellow eyes. Nice!
Oh yeah, and Leevers are back! They're almost identical to the first game's Leevers, but the new artwork gives us an even more detailed look at this inexplicable, veiny, warty gumdrop of a monster. Leevers would rarely ever look this way again, and that's a shame; they're perfect just the way they were.
Only a select few monsters made it into the game's English instruction booklet, and this was actually my favorite back in the day. It's kind of a big, roundish, wingless beetle with a cute, sad little insect face peeking out under its very large, smooth dome-like thorax, though instead of insect limbs it has rows of squiggly little tentacle feet! Or maybe it does have six regular legs underneath it all, and those are just sensory protruberances lining its sides? In any case I'm thrilled that this artwork was ever recovered at higher resolution; this is actually my first time being able to see Lowder's antennaes or mouthparts at all!
I always really liked those misshapen ring-shaped markings all over the shell, and how they're all different colors against. It's a groovy psychedelic pattern that looks mighty poisonous against the beetle's cool grey to teal palette.
I could have never guessed what this one's nondescript pixel sprite is supposed to evoke, but I accept the artist's rendition of it as a nasty blue armadillo-like creature. I especially like how the skin of its face splits open into a sort of T-shaped aperture, like a stretched out Roman helmet (or Mandalorian helmet, for your GEEKAZOIDS!!!), an organic "visor" surrounding its grumpy little eyes and a mouth that appears to just be a fuzzy, black proboscis with an anteater tongue. A lot of interesting biology going on in this critter.
Another flying eye! I'm a bit more partial to the creepy fleshy peeper we've already seen, but the Moa is pretty rad itself, a completely unrelated wispy "ghost" eye that can fade in and out of tangibility. The art is a simple flying green flame with a big, pretty eyeball in the front. Solid!
This creature is nothing but a little dome covered in spikes, which the artwork gives a limpet-like underside. It's so simple that there's little we can say, but I'm always a fan of spiky ball creatures with no obvious facial features or appendages. It's such a thrill to know we have them in real life, isn't it? It's just disappointing that they all live in the ocean. I wish we had land-urchins. You already have to watch out for thorny and stinging plants out in the woods anyway, so I think it would be perfectly fair if there were also thorny echinoderms crawling around on the dirt. Put me in charge of the animals next time, Earth, I super duper promise you won't regret it.
It's our old buddy the Tektite! But in side-scrolling form, it stands up on even longer looking legs, and this is reflected by GORGEOUS new artwork that really shows off what I love about this artist's style. I still don't know exactly who did these main illustrations, but I know it's the same person as the first game because of those wonderfully scummy and fleshy textures.
Comparing with the first game's Manual Tektite, I also never even noticed that its legs are covered in leaf-like fleshy growths. The newer, larger illustration done for Zelda II makes it much clearer, and it's such an interesting anatomical feature! Maybe it allows them to blend in a bit with foliage?
This is the last monster we'll be looking at from Zelda II; we've skipped only a few knights, regular humanoid skeletons, the Moblins that didn't really change much from the first game and a couple of animal-headed guys. The "Thunderbird" boss, however, is interesting in that it has no primary artwork that's ever been found, but its sprite looks quite a bit more bizarre than a "bird;" it clearly has a fanged, humanlike face with three eyes, and the rest looks like some terrifying angel made out of thin tentacles and fishlike frills.
We'll never know for certain how we're meant to read the sprite, but there are two different depictions of this creature from around the time of the game's release:
Artist Katsuya Terada produced a number of beautiful illustrations for Nintendo of America, and interprets the Thunderbird as a fairly terrifying harpy-like creature with pure white eyes, a deranged smile and lumpy, warty flesh or plumage surrounding the face, flowing nicely into the chunky pheasant-like wings.
Meanwhile, the manga style "Playable Gamebook" for Zelda 2 gives us a more gelatinous looking Thunderbird, like a giant sea angel or Clione with a semihumanoid head and tentacle "hair." The Thunderbird in-game is an artificial creature conjured by the king of Hyrule to protect the triforce, so I think this more otherworldly take is probably closer to the intended spirit of it, as cool as Katsuya's ghastly bird-person may be!
I'll be continuing to review the monsters of central Zelda titles through the rest of 2023, all the way up to Tears of the Kingdom...which may end up being the very first Zelda game I personally buy and play all the way through. Keep checking the bogleech.com homepage or what is now my official twitter for as long as that trainwreck is still half-functioning.
Please leave a comment below if you can! What are your favorite designs here!? What might you look forward to me featuring in the coming reviews?!