Why the Yiga Hideout is the worst part of Breath of the Wild

I’ve been praising The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild ever since its release. It is, by far, one of the most solid open world gaming experiences I have seen in a long while. But it’s also home to one of the worst and most frustrating game design decisions I have seen in my career writing about games.

I’m talking about the Yiga Clan Hideout, the worst part of this otherwise amazing game.

Stealth or Death

For those of you who haven’t experienced this part of the game yet, the Yiga Clan Hideout is a mandatory part of the Divine Beast Vah Naboris quest. The Yiga, a clan of Ninjas turned over to Ganon’s dark side, have stolen a helmet that protects you from thunder. It’s up to Link to infiltrate their hideout and steal it in order to get into the Divine Beast, take control back from Ganon, and save Hyrule.

It sounds simple and, for the most part, it is. You wander through a desert, figuring out how to fend off the heat and cold, pass through a canyon, enter a secret entrance in a shrine, and eventually come to the hideout proper. Unfortunately, this is where the game steals all your fun and stomps on it.

Breath of the Wild is a game that prides itself on giving you multiple ways to solve its puzzles. Heck, if you really want to, you can just make a beeline for Ganon after getting off the Great Plateau. You can take the roads or paraglide over Hyrule. You can swim in rivers, or mount rafts, or use your ice powers to hop across. Every single problem in the game asks you to come up with your own creative solution. This is what some would call the game’s greatest achievement, allowing you to play the game in your own way.

But not the Yiga Clan Hideout. No, here you are forced to play the game stealthy or die trying – and die you will. A bunch of Yiga holding massive swords are patrolling around the hideout in circles and you need to lure them out and stealth kill them one by one.

The problem is the stealth mechanics of Breath of the Wild aren’t that great. Yes, Link can sneak around, but he does so by clicking in the left stick, making it easy to stand up and get noticed. Cover is a huge part of the stealth system, but press too hard up against a wall and you’ll climb it. Stealth power-ups help increase your sneaking ability, but not your sneaking speed, and in this situation the guards are fast enough that by the time you sneak up behind them, they are ready to turn around and see you.

I’ll admit, I’m not the best at stealth gaming. It’s just not my genre. So when Breath of the Wild let me solve stealth puzzles in other ways, I was delighted. Bypassing sentries on Death Mountain by climbing on the wall rather than sneaking past them was a blast. Using stasis to stop cameras from seeing me was incredibly fun.  Heck, I even got a thrill out of brute forcing myself past guardian turrets.

But the Yiga Clan Hideout forces you to play stealthy because of the ABSURD punishment it puts on you if you fail. Getting noticed locks all the doors and makes all these Yiga members with swords, along with a couple of them with bows and arrows, come after you. Now, normally, I would just fight my way past one of these scenarios, but the absolutely sadistic stats they gave these enemies makes this portion of the game the most unfair fight you will face. While the archers have sane stats, able to be destroyed in a couple of sword swings and doing only a few hearts of damage, the swordsmen’s melee attacks one-hit kill Link.

I want to make something clear here – I had 20 hearts and a full defense buff going and the melee strikes always killed me in one hit.

Forgetting Everything We Learned So Far

Usually, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Breath of the Wild absolutely showers you with ways to come back from a death. Mipha’s Grace heals you to full after a death, overhealing you to boot, and faeries are very easy to come by. I had 10 faeries on me and Mipha’s Grace was fully charged, so I figured if I got noticed I could just brute force my way through the area by using resurrection items. Except, for some reason, in this one area and this one area alone, the game disables all of your resurrection items! No Mipha’s Grace! No Faeries! When you die, and let me remind you this happens in ONE HIT, you are dead for good and have to reload the game.

Which, AGAIN, wouldn’t be that big of a deal because of Breath of the Wild’s save system. It basically lets you save anywhere you want. Shrines, boss fighters, enemy encampments, on the side of a cliff, anywhere counts as a save point, really. This allows players who are having trouble with any particular part of the game to slowly work their way through it, saving after every difficult puzzle so they can fully focus on the next challenge.

Except, the Yiga Hideout, for some horrendous reason, disables your save function, too! So you can’t get the pattern of a guard down, stealth kill him, save, and focus on the next one, because any death sends you back to the beginning with every single guard respawned. I haven’t felt frustration like this since I was playing games with lives and continues.

Most stealth sections in Breath of the Wild allow you to run away when you are spotted to regain stealth. But not this section! When you are spotted you are spotted forever, and have to fight to the death.

Most stealth sections have a high overpass allowing you to use climbing and stamina to your advantage. Except, the Yiga Hideout has a ton of unclimbable walls and jumping off rafters to do anything other than an instant kill gets you spotted. In fact, I tried once to use Riva’s Gale to soar over the hideout and the game actually FROZE! That’s how poorly designed this section is.

Trying to Make Sense of it All

All this means is that of all the open ended gameplay in Breath of the Wild, this one section is the ONLY section in which you HAVE to use stealth and HAVE to use it in a very specific way and HAVE to do it perfectly and HAVE to go back to the beginning if you screw up. What was the most open ended game I have played in ages has pulled the controller out of my hands, smacked me in the face, and said “NO! YOU’LL PLAY THE GAME THIS WAY AND YOU’LL LIKE IT!”

And maybe if this game design made any sense I could give it a frustrating pass, but it doesn’t. There is no excuse for these sword wielding rando ninjas to one-hit kill you. Especially since Calamity Ganon – lord of evil and malice, blight of the earth, incarnation of the demon Demise, the final boss of the game – DOESN’T DO THIS MUCH DAMAGE! His most powerful attacks do barely even a fraction of what this one random guy with a sword can do.

Now, the one upside to all of this is, if by some strange miracle of the Goddess Hylia, you do manage to kill one of these enemies, they drop their sword. Now that should make the rest of the battle easier, except it doesn’t. While these guys can swing these swords quick and nimbly, they count as a heavy weapon in Link’s hands – too slow to hit any of the ninjas that are out for his throat.

My question is, why? In a game that is so incredibly dedicated to letting you solve puzzles and problems in any way you like, a game that wanted you, the player, to instill your own personality into Link, why would this game pigeon-hole you into playing this one section in this one specific way, and punish you with unavoidable death otherwise!? Who thought that was fun?

I won’t lie, this section wrecked me. It took me 3 hours to get past it, and after that I didn’t want to touch the game for days. It is a portion of the game I will literally never play again on subsequent playthroughs. Simply put, its garbage. It’s bad game design and it’s a blight on what is otherwise a masterful work of art.

Nintendo, learn from this mistake. If you really want to give us an open world “chemistry set,” as Breath of the Wild has routinely been described, then don’t yank the set away from us for no good reason. Forcing fans to play in a certain way only serves to alienate those fans that don’t like that type of gameplay.