**Spoiler Warning** The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is mentioned in the article. Although major plot points are not discussed, please read at your discretion.
Master Kohga of the Yiga Clan is the iconic head honcho of an evil group who also is a complete buffoon. Sadly, many gamers have expressed a dislike for this character in both his personality and the boss battle against him. Because he throws temper tantrums, has a big gut, and is less than intimidating, people tend to brush him off and consider him a weak point of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Today I wanted to delve into what seems like shallow character and encourage conversation over why Nintendo crafted Master Kohga this way. Perhaps if we take the time to get to know him, we can appreciate his role in the Zelda universe.
Players first hear about Master Kohga in Breath of the Wild from his Yiga Clan minions that litter Hyrule. Most are in disguise as villagers, and if you stop and talk to them, they’ll engage in suspicious conversation. Some times they reference their master as some intimidating figure that is relentlessly pursuing the downfall of Zelda and her knight, Link. These warriors fight with magic and their sickles, creating a build up of how powerful their boss could be.
There is a mandatory mission when you reach the Gerudo Desert and try to fix Divine Beast Vah Naboris. The Gerudo Clan leader, Riju, seeks the return of the Thunder Helm, which was stolen by the Yiga Clan. When you reach their hideout, you undergo a stealth mission to reach the end–and if you were caught, the warriors would take you out in one hit.
Of course, Master Kohga stands in the way of obtaining the Thunder Helm. After all this build up from the notorious, blood-thirsty clan, we face a pudgy and rather lazy figure. It is understandable that players would scratch their heads and wonder: how did this man become the head of the Yiga Clan?
I personally found a little affection for this buffoon, almost…drawing sympathy for how pathetic he is. This brings up a villain character trope, called the “Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain”.
This villain trope paints the picture of a character who is depicted as a failure or struggles to get the proper “respect” from his heroic counterpart. The Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain doesn’t necessarily have to be a total blundering fool, but they undergo a constant struggle to keep their title. It’s that refusal to give up (even if they should) that is meant to draw sympathy–or a chuckle–from the audience.
There are many Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains out there. Quite frankly, there is an astonishing amount in Eastern media like anima or manga. A famous example are Jesse and James of Team Rocket from the animated Pokemon series. They are part of an elite group, and yet, we can’t help but just laugh at them. They are a joke despite how horrible their organization actually is. Even over time, Ash and his friends don’t take them seriously.
Another example is Disney’s Captain Hook. By title alone, he is an intimidating figure that commands pirates! And yet, once we get to know him, it’s very hard to take him seriously.
My last example is Bulk and Skull for those 90s kids who watched the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Even though they weren’t the primary antagonists in the serious, they were the blundering bullies to the protagonists. Despite their intentions of being rough and tough, they fail at creating and maintaining this reputation.
These examples are associated with things that should be terrifying, evil, or at least intimidating, but they are drawn as imperfect–lost souls who struggle to earn that title of Villain of the Year.
With this, Master Kohga is not alone. He was created by Nintendo after an existing character trope, and perhaps it is a needed contrast given how grave the situation is with Calamity Gannon. Calamity Gannon is the true threat, one with catastrophic, world-ending consequences if not defeated.
In addition, I think people tend to forget that there are individuals who are just like that in real life. Take a moment to think about it. Do you know anyone in charge of a business or organization who seems like a total doofus? Someone who just doesn’t seem to fit the role of a powerful leader (villain or not)? These people are everywhere. So, like it or not, Master Kohga…is kind of relatable.
Lastly, I wanted to draw the attention to the “hero” for a moment. Audiences that consume books, film, comics, or video games have moved away from the picture-perfect hero and are seeking the more flawed individual. How come we champion the flawed hero but boo the flawed…”bad guy”? Master Kohga is a flawed villain. He is out of shape for a clan of deadly warriors, has ineffectively searched for Link, and played a role in his own demise in Breath of the Wild. However, he still led the Yiga Clan and commands the respect from his followers. He makes it happen, even if it’s in the most unpolished way, and therefore, I think we need to give Master Kohga a little credit.
His re-appearance in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has been a pleasant surprise for me. When I ran into him in the Depths, I chuckled out loud. The fact that he survived and even starting working with Zonai materials show that he, indeed, is persistent. He’s…almost like that annoying cockroach that just won’t die. Master Kohga expresses jealousy over Link’s mastery of Zonai technology, and his temper tantrums are alive and well. Although I have yet to finish his storyline in Tears of the Kingdom, I am looking forward to dealing with that numbskull.
I hope that those that are playing or have played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and/or The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom take a moment and reconsider their criticisms of Master Kohga. There is sympathy and humor to be had in this character that, whether we like it or not, is present in people in real life.
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