Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Yiga Clan
Image: Nintendo Life

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Today, Jim chews over how Tears of the Kingdom is a step in the right direction for the series' banana-loving bandits...

Let me start with a confession. When I initially started Tears of the Kingdom, I had forgotten about the Yiga Clan. In the run-up to the game's release, my mind had been so preoccupied with thoughts of "What's the plan for dungeons?", "Am I going to need to re-learn the timeline?", and "Please, for the love of Hylia, don't let those flipping Koroks come back", that Master Kohga and co. had taken a backseat in my considerations. And so, when I was first ambushed by an undercover Yiga while making an early trek across Hyrule Field, I was a little disappointed. You see, I never liked the Yiga Clan, and I didn't think that I wanted them back.

Now, having finished the main adventure and starting to go about the other 99% of the world that I am yet to explore, I am pleased to say that I was wrong. In my mind, the Yiga Clan has been fixed and — in a full 180-degree turn — I would like to see even more of them in the future.

I am not a Yiga Clan member myself (bananas are an excellent source of potassium but I'd have to draw the line at always having a bunch about my person), so I'll keep this open and truthful. I am going to go into some detail about what the Yiga Clan is up to in TOTK in the following paragraphs, right up to some late-game stuff. So, if you haven't seen enough of Master Kohga just yet and you are keen to avoid SPOLIERS, then I'd look away now. Go and enjoy a banana in the meantime...

Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Yiga Clan
Image: Nintendo Life

Back to it. Tears of the Kingdom managed to bring me back around to the Yiga Clan and it was no easy task. The group had left a sour taste in my mouth ever since the end of Breath of the Wild, when the climactic fight with Master Kohga turned out not to be the intense swordsman-vs-swordsman collision that I was hoping for, and instead a goofy comedy routine that wouldn't be out of place in an early-morning cartoon.

Kohga's final tumble down the not-so-bottomless pit in the middle of his compound (seriously, why wouldn't you at least put a railing up?) left me disheartened. The cool ninjas that I had come across throughout my Hylian travels up to that point were all just a facade. These guys were just a bunch of goofs.

The subsequent appearance in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity did nothing to change my mind. Now fully voice acted, Kohga's goofiness was dialled up to eleven with almost every line being an excuse to laugh at him and, for the most part, the other Yiga members followed suit. Sure, Sooga keeps up an element of muscular mystery, but the rest of the banana bunch are frequently shown to be pretty useless and not up to much under their joke of a leader.

Just look at this compilation. Who is this guy, Mr Bean?

This take never really added up for me. Breath of the Wild teaches us that the Yiga Clan was born out of a hatred for the kingdom of Hyrule after people began to grow suspicious of Sheikah technology following the Great Calamity. Breaking away from the mother Sheikah tribe, the Yiga was formed in support of Ganon and the desire to bring about the downfall of the kingdom. I could believe that the mysterious footsoldiers who roam the land were a part of this out-for-revenge group, but suggesting that they are all actually fools? Yeeeeah, that never sat right with me.

And so we arrive back at my first surprise encounter with the Yiga in Tears of the Kingdom. Begrudgingly, I bested Link's opponent, collected my rupees and bananas, and continued with my exploration. But, as I started to find Yiga outposts scattered across the land, my mind began to change. The fighters were still cool and skilled, but all of a sudden they had some actual story attached to them. If you venture into a Yiga outpost when the coast is clear, you are likely to find a journal entry in which the footsoldiers aren't presented as your catch-all silly goose, but instead as real people.

We learn even more about them from a handful of Side Adventures which, while not the most strenuous exercises, have you travelling across Hyrule ('The Yiga Clan Exam') or getting into the inner workings of their society ('Infiltrating the Yiga Clan'). Don't get me wrong, they're still a weird group, but I started to see that they were at least a little more complex than I had assumed.

Ok, so there are some journals now, hardly the biggest turn-around that the series has ever seen. This would be true were it not for the reappearance of Master Kohga. In case I haven't made it clear, I never got on with this guy, so stumbling across him in the Depths for the first time was hardly the most joyful experience of my first playthrough. Oh, how wrong I was.

Kohga works far better as a Wile E. Coyote-style recurring villain whose master plans keep failing him at the last minute than a mysterious leader who has been pulling the strings behind the scenes.

To be clear, this is the same Master Kohga. The lengthy fall into the Depths at the end of Breath of the Wild didn't knock the goofiness out of his system, but the ensuing years spent rebuilding his army and doubling down on its service to the Demon King has resulted in a villain with a touch more complexity.

The 'Master Kohga of the Yiga Clan' Side Adventure sees you pursuing this not-so-big bad across the Depths as he attempts to gather Crystallised Charges to power a weapon for Ganon. It's a cyclical structure of following the signs, finding Kohga, defeating him in some very entertaining mini-boss battles, and watching him flee to the next location, but in stretching this previously two-dimensional character out across several meetings, Tears of the Kingdom turns him from being an unbelievable leader to one that — dare I say it? — I started to like.

The first few meetings are naturally goofy. Kohga can't work the Zonai tech, he gets angry at Link's abilities so he attempts to squash him with whatever Pimp My Ride vehicle design he has been working on until that point. They are hardly revolutionary, but I soon started to see the character's appeal. Kohga works far better as a Wile E. Coyote-style recurring villain whose master plans keep failing him at the last minute than a mysterious leader who has been pulling the strings behind the scenes.

The comedy began to click, but it was the final meeting that really sealed the deal. Instead of being presented as the Depth's leading physical comic, Kohga is suddenly a leader that I could believe. He has achieved exactly what he set out to do (collecting all of the necessary Crystallised Charges) and he is deadly sincere in his confrontation with Link. There are no misspoken words, no comical asides, no stamping of feet and no struggling to get up. The entire sequence even drops the trombone-heavy 'funny-guy' theme from the score, being replaced by something much more menacing. Kohga suddenly becomes the Yiga Clan leader that I had expected to find at the end of Breath of the Wild and it is brilliant.

Of course, anyone who has made it to this point in the Side Adventure probably will have found the ensuing mini-boss fight the most disappointing of the bunch (especially if you have a certain Sage around to assist), but that didn't matter to me. I finally felt like I got Kohga. Yes, he's a goofball, but there's a level of gravitas here which meant that I understood how he rose to his position. This is the Kohga that Goldilocks would choose — not too silly, not too serious, just right.

Kohga finishes his story in the complete inverse of his Breath of the Wild ending, rocketing skywards up through a Chasm and to the surface world above. I'm not crazy about the idea of another Zelda game set in this same Hyrule (heck, I said the same thing after Breath of the Wild, mind you), but I like to think that this isn't the last that we have seen of Master Kohga.

The Legend of Zelda series has always been open to silliness (hi, Tingle fans!), but there has to be a limit. Pushing this limit got me and the Yiga Clan off on the wrong foot and Tears of the Kingdom has come along to patch things up. We can keep the comedy going if the group is ever to reappear again, but they need that bit of genuine threat just to keep things spicy. Thanks to TOTK, my #KohgaForSmash campaign starts today...

Are you a Yiga fan or a Kohga critic? Drop your thoughts below in a puff of smoke.