Having finally conquered OOT 3DS after purchasing it three years and allowing it to collect dust, I sat down to write what I perceived as “yet another” article on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
As Biggie would say, “Uh, and another one!”
I first sought to write on OOT was an attempt at contributing something that the already exhaustive literary apotheoses on the game had not. Fat chance, yet I definitely scripted my outline nevertheless, forging a list of elements that make OOT special while also not writing the sort of “countdown” or “top [arbitrary number]” clickbait pieces that make me want to spoon my eyes. This paltry “list” included topics such as how OOT establishes different races such as the Zora as more than the ugly fish-things that terrorize Link until he can purchase a large shield (in the original Legend of Zelda), or the Gorons as a benevolent rock-crushing brotherhood, or the Gerudo as a highly-skilled, primarily matriarchal tribe; how OOT fleshes out the “Legend” element of LoZ, such as the lore of the three goddesses Din, Faore, and Nayru creating Hyrule and secluding vestiges of their power in the Triforce, reincarnated as living creatures representative of Power, Courage, and Wisdom, respectively; or how OOT demonstrates one of the first “open world” concepts in video games.
As it so happens sometimes in writing, I had already decided which factor in OOT deserves the most praise, and found myself drafting the other parts in a sort of crescendo toward it. In the time that it took me to finish the first draft of this piece, I had beaten The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, both of which not only securing me in my conviction, but also aiding me in deciding to cut everything to focus on the one element that most fascinates me: Ganondorf.
When I first played games like OG Legend of Zelda and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, I could not care less for Ganon as a final boss. An evil that is essentially a pig struck me as silly even as a child. OOT rolled around, redesigning the character altogether, and I struggle to this day overlooking that Pinocchio nose in the promotional artwork. In fact, it was not until I played Super Smash Bros Melee as a college student that I began to appreciate Ganondorf’s design. I know that Eda once taught us “No capes,” but Ganondorf’s adds an undeniable sense of poise to him that may not exist otherwise. Ganondorf became my main Smash Bros character, and he gained more favor in my eyes when the LoZ melody would play whenever I won a round with him.
It was not just the cape, but the lore associated with him that captured my attention, lore that I was unaware of even when I stormed through OOT (I found OOT underwhelming rather than “GOAT” during my first playthrough. Only after WW on the GCN and TP on the Wii did I return to OOT and appreciate its contribution to the Zelda franchise and gaming industry). As the Melee version of Ganondorf is modeled after his appearance in OOT, his trophy revealed story elements that I had previously glossed over in my inattentiveness:
“Said to be the sole man born to the Gerudo tribe in a hundred years, Ganondorf aspired to conquer the world. He plundered a piece of the sacred Triforce from the Temple of Time when Link pulled the Master Sword from its pedestal. With the Triforce of Power in Ganondorf’s possession, Hyrule was plunged into darkness until Link and Zelda defeated the fiend.”
It struck me as odd that even in a tribe of thieves, the sole male born every 100 years would dedicate himself to be evil as I understand his role in the franchise. I would imagine that such a person born into an exclusively matriarchal tribe would be Solomon-like, finding many other…fun and interesting things to do besides leading the women of Gerudo as their king in rebellion against Hyrule. Yet this is what he chooses, seemingly dooming them as they do not appear in any of the Zelda games chronologically after OOT. That said, the OOT Ganondorf is illustrated as the youngest, physically smallest, and most one-dimensionally cruel of the Ganondorfs who appear in the mainline Zelda games.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is probably my least-favorite Zelda game next to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and for many reasons; the only one relevant here is that Nintendo choose to replace the customary showdown with Ganon/dorf with a new yet derivative character, Demise—a character I despise in all of his generics. It is important to note here, however, that upon Link’s defeat of Demise, he recites the following curse:
“Though this is not the end. My hate… never perishes. It is born anew in a cycle with no end! I will rise again. Those like you… Those who share the blood of the goddess and the spirit of the hero… They are eternally bound to this curse. An incarnation of my hatred shall ever follow your kind, dooming them to wander a blood-soaked sea of darkness for all time!”
Demise minces no words here in a moment that reveals to Zelda fans everywhere the reason why the franchise appears to be frozenin a time paradox. With the release of SS and within the same calendar year, the publication of the Hyrule Historia we now know that Link, Zelda, and the character who would become Ganondorf are forever intertwined—the latter destined not to merely be the king of the Gerudo, but the Demon King (Ganon). It is here where I want to make plain that I believe the inherit nature of the evil that is within him due to Demise’s curse causes all that he seeks to gain to go to ruin when faced against the combined powers of those who bear the Trifroces of Wisdom and Courage.
In other words, poor Ganondorf is doomed to be the fall-guy…forever.
I would like to reiterate that throughout Hyrule’s history, the Triforce does not manifest itself only when Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf appear, but within the living individuals in the world who presently most personify the three components, Wisdom, Courage, and Power. The existence of the Triforce is not contingent upon the presence of the one who is a reincarnation of the goddess Hylia, Demise, or the Hero, nor does it discern the difference between good and evil (though it is unlikely that in Hyrule’s history a maleficent individual has ever attained all three elements while maintaining the a balance between them and was granted a wish). Ganondorf most represents power as he is crowned king of the Gerudo from birth. However, I do not believe that Ganondorf simply craves power to take over the world, but power to save his people. Unfortunately, due to demise’s presence within him, he uses methods that would inevitably shift him from king to overlord.
At the conclusion of OOT, Ganondorf either triumphs or is defeated in his final confrontation with Link. In the latter scenario, Ganondorf seizes control of the Triforce; Zelda and the seven sages respond by sealing him and the Triforce away into the Sacred Realm. As a result, Ganondorf fully embraces the evil within and becomes Ganon, corrupting the Sacred Realm into Dark World (ALttP). The former scenario, however, splits into two paths. One follows Link being sent back in time at the end of OOT so that he can warn Hyrule’s king of Ganondorf’s rebellion plot, and the other follows what happens after Link is sent back in time and Hyrule is left without a hero in the “present.” Again, in the latter, Ganondorf resurfaces and the god(desse)s (to be consistent with LoZ lore, they are likely Din, Nayru, and Farore) flood Hyrule, submerging it underwater. Yes, this story may sound familiar.
This is the setting for Wind Waker. Here, I would argue that Ganondorf is less irrevocably evil, but prudent. Like their first encounter after Zelda tosses the Ocarina of Time into the moat of Hyrule Castle in OOT, Ganondorf again spares Link’s life during their first encounter at the Forsaken Fortress, and spares Link’s life one more time at the top of Hyrule Castle when literally smacks the Triforce of Courage out of Link and explicitly states that he does not want to kill. This is important because given his soliloquy during Wind Waker‘s climax, he reveals clues supporting the theory that with every incarnation of Ganondorf, he becomes increasingly self-aware of his inescapable fate as an involuntary participant in Demise’s curse:
“My country lay within a vast desert. When the sun rose into the sky, a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world. And when the moon climbed into the dark of night, a frigid gale pierced our homes. No matter when it came, the wind carried the same thing… Death. But the winds that blew across the green fields of Hyrule brought something other than suffering and ruin. I coveted that wind, I suppose. It can only be called fate… That here. I would again gather the three with the crests… That I should lay my hand on that which grants the wishes of the beholder… That when power, wisdom, and courage come together, the gods would have no choice but to come down… The power of the gods… The Triforce! He who touches it will have whatever he desires granted! Already, the crest of wisdom is mine… All that remains…
The wind… it is… blowing…”
Hence, what I mean when I say “their first encounter.” For WW Link, this is indeed his first encounter with Ganondorf, but the Gerudo himself knows that he has done this dance before. Notwithstanding, who would have thought Ganondrof be a patriot of the Gerudo Desert/Valley? Is this ethnic pride (some LoZ fans joke that the Gerudo are the “black” people in the franchise like Piccolo is the “black” character in DBZ)? At any rate, Ganondorf reveals this crucial element to his background: he is not some irredeemable, selfish tyrant, but is one who dreams of a better fate for his people. He half rages, half laughs maniacally at the gods when he is denied his wish as the King of Hyrule, Daphens Nohansen Hyrule, intervenes as the Triforce unites itself. After all, Ganondorf is still the incarnation of Demise who is never supposed to successfully attain the Triforce. It is at this point, the denial of his wish, that Ganondorf then resorts to violence, perhaps knowing how it will end, fighting for his life.
If we follow the scenario where Link returns to the past in OOT, Ganondorf is seized and sentenced to execution (TP). Because this is the younger, rash Ganondorf who has not been humbled by defeat in the way that WW Ganondorf is, this punishment enrages rather than kills him, and he fully embraces the the Triforce of Power and the evil within (Demise), killing one of the sages before being banished into the Twilight realm for 100 years. By the time we as gamers get to play out how this story unfolds in TP, it might seem as though Ganondorf has reverted back into brashness of his youth. I would say that instead, he is more resolute in his fate as the evil one in Demise’s cursed triangle, certainly more so than his WW incarnation who held out for hope until the last minute. Without an army, TP Ganondorf gains an ally in Zant, another character who feels he is worthy of the throne in his dimension but is denied by Midna, and empowers him to take over the Light World so that he could usurp Hyrule. As is tradition in the modern LoZ games, Ganondorf takes several forms through the final confrontations. In OOT, he ends with Ganon, embracing the inner evil in a bloodrage. In TP, he contrastly begins as Ganon with the fury of his 100-year imprisonment, but reverts to Ganondorf during the final confrontation.
Why would Ganondorf revert to his less powerful form in the final battle? I tend to sympathize with the fan-made theory that this is his last stand not as Demise, but as Gerudo. In this way, perhaps Ganondorf could qualify as a tragic…something…even if LoZ fans would disagree that he is a sort of Aristotelian tragic hero. I believe he does.
Young Ganondorf artwork by Unique/EternalLegend