The only details we know about the story for the recently-announced sequel to A Link to the Past are that it will be related to its predecessor, take place in the same version of Hyrule, and that the Dark World will reappear. Considering the series’ track record and other factors, there are three possibilities for the villain that I find likely, which I will discuss here. They are certainly not the only candidates, but they make more sense than other options.
Whoever the villain is likely to be, however, I think the villain will be:
An Indistinct Foe
The vast majority of Zelda games have villains who operate in a physical way and are well-understood for most of the game’s story. In virtually every Zelda game in which he appears, Ganon or his followers are physical forces within the world who directly command armies or use powerful abilities against Hyrule and Link. Most of Ganon’s appearences, as well as characters like Onox, Vaati, and Ghirahim, are like this. But there are also foes that are more indistinct. I’m not talking about characters who manipulate rather than attack; Veran, despite being a possessor who only fights directly at the end of the story, is still largely a physical force who might switch bodies but always acts like any other villain while in those bodies. Ganon in both A Link to the Past and Twilight Princess is similar to this in how he’s unseen for a while but still acts directly through a proxy; both characters still carry a physical presence regardless of more nonphysical talents they may possess.
No, I’m talking about villains like Majora and the Nightmare. Majora operates through a proxy and uses possession like some of the examples I’ve listed, but it’s also not well-understood, is shown to manifest its desires through the persona of another (the Skull Kid), and has no specific allies or powers. Acting through the Skull Kid’s mischief, calling the moon to bring on the apocalypse, and only confronting the main character directly at the very end of the game, Majora is certainly a force that influences the land of Termina in a negative way, but it’s not a physical force, or, at the very least, not a distinct one. The Nightmares in Link’s Awakening are another good example of this; they are not well-understood entities — we don’t even know what relation the shadowy Final Nightmare has to the rest — and they don’t necessarily take action against Link at all until confronted, yet they seem to be identified as evil.
Zelda 3DS’s villain could very well be more similar to Ganon and its actions more like Ganon’s in A Link to the Past and Twilight Princess than it will be to Majora or the Nightmares, but regardless, I think the villain will be less direct and physical than most. I don’t necessarily have the best defense of this idea, so as the title says, consider this more speculation than theory.
The vast majority of the third timeline’s villains are of the physical sort, and in fact the only one who deviates is Nightmare from Link’s Awakening. A less direct, physical villain would make sense in terms of variety, but I also think it would mesh well with A Link to the Past’s themes while also distancing itself from them. Ganon uses a proxy in Agahnim to attack Hyrule directly, so while Ganon is still a distinct and physical villain in that game, there’s some precedent in this part of the story for Ganon to be a more ethereal force. Expanding on that could be interesting and would also function as a perfect excuse to play with the original A Link to the Past’s themes of brainwashed soldiers — who could put Link on the run once again — the telepathy used by Zelda, the rest of the Sages, and Link, and last but not least, the Dark World. The Dark World is created when someone with an evil heart wishes on the Triforce, and conversely the Sacred Realm becomes a paradise if someone good wishes on it. So if Zelda 3DS is to take place after Link wishes on the Triforce at the end of the game, then that means either someone evil wishes on the Triforce again, or something much more unusual and… well… indistinct… is going on. I think the latter would make for a far more interesting plot.
The final point on this note is that Link’s prepared for something like this now. Link already fought a mysterious, ethereal, indistinct set of foes in Link’s Awakening after going on his training journey. This has prepared him to fight against foes who are not physical. With Link having the unusual ability to turn into a drawing in Zelda 3DS and, assuming it’s the same Link, having proven himself against unusual enemies already, it would make sense to pit him against a strange and enigmatic evil that now threatens Hyrule. I could very well be wrong about this, but I still think it’s a strong possibility that this is the kind of enemy we will face.
Now to move on to the actual prospective villains.
The most obvious possibility is for the game to just have Ganon again. There’s not much to say about this; Ganon is the main villain of the series and returns in many games. Every single game on the third timeline features him as the ultimate villain, save for the sidestory of Link’s Awakening. It’s reasonable to expect him to appear again, especially if this game is already borrowing things from A Link to the Past.
This isn’t in contradiction to the previous point about the villain being indistinct, though; Ganon’s been close to indistinct a few times, and they can always take it farther. Wouldn’t it be interesting if they did something very strange with Ganon? What if Ganon’s spirit or will remained in the Dark World and still holds power there, leaking over into the Light World once more but without a physical vessel, turning the monarchy into something dangerous and evil? Or how about the villain being a less specific manifestation of the curse of the Demon Tribe from which Ganon was born? Such a manifestation could still be fought as Ganon at the end, but it would be a very interesting development after the overarching storyline revelations we saw in Skyward Sword.
There are a lot of ways Ganon can be done and only a few of them have been done in his existing appearances. Making Ganon or the power behind him a less direct and distinct foe would be really interesting. Or, again, I could be wrong about that entirely and he could just appear in the familiar way. We could even see Ganon return — regardless of form — and reacquire the Triforce with the intention of this setting the stage for the original Legend of Zelda, where he has the Triforce of Power and seems to rule the now-desolate Hyrule.
Although I think there’s a very sizable chance Ganon will not reappear in Zelda 3DS, his importance to the series alone is enough reason to expect him as a possibility.
Ganon is the series’ staple villain, so his reappearance will always be likely, but there is only one other Zelda villain I expect we might see in Zelda 3DS, and that’s the Nightmares from Link’s Awakening. Or at least the final Nightmare. In all probability, Zelda 3DS will take place after Link’s Awakening, so it might seem odd for the Nightmare to return that quickly, but it still has potential and would be extremely cool.
What if the Nightmare follows Link in his journey back home after waking the Wind Fish? What if it’s Link who brings back the indistinct force that torments Hyrule? This could give us a fresh story outline while still keeping the core themes intact, particularly those of A Link to the Past. If Link who brings the evil to Hyrule, then there wouldn’t even need to be any mind-control to allow the soldiers to return as enemies as I’m sure they will; simply have the Royal Family recognize that the evil came with Link and have Link’s reputation tarnished.
The return of the Dark World could also easily be chalked up to Link being the last person to wish on the Triforce, but the presence of this Nightmare plaguing him causes the Sacred Realm to twist once more into the Dark World because of the evil hiding within Link. Indeed, perhaps Link’s eventual journey into the Dark World could begin as he realizes the situation and he journeys there to fight the evil hiding within himself.
If Nintendo wanted, they could also retcon some details about the Nightmares and how they came to reside within the Wind Fish’s Dream, and they could decide that the Nightmare was in fact Ganon all along. It would make sense in a way, considering that the final boss of Link’s Awakening turned into both Ganon and his alter-ego Agahnim. Perhaps this is Ganon’s ghost, haunting Link? This would explain the return of the Dark World even better, although I think it would be more interesting and just all-around better to keep Ganon out of it.
Regardless, having a villain like this would be really new and interesting while maintaining necessary familiarities. It would make sense on a number of levels too; if the Nightmare infected the Wind Fish’s subconscious, why not Link’s? And, of course, it would explain the Dark World perfectly. I’d love to see this happen.
A New Villain
Of course, there’s also the possibility of a new villain. While the Nightmare would be awesome, it does still seem like an unusual choice, so if Ganon doesn’t return as the villain then we’re most likely going to see something new. I can’t speculate much on exactly who or what this villain would be, aside from reiterating what I’ve already talked about throughout this article. Certainly, I think a new villain would work best for the storyline pitch that GaroXicon proposed last week, so that would be one potential bonus. We could end up seeing a physical villain a lot like Onox, Veran, Vaati, and Ghirahim, and I think it’s probably less likely we’ll get the indistinct sort of villain I talked about if the villain is a new one just due to the fact that these characters by nature would be more difficult to concoct than direct and normal ones. Certainly, I think that if we do get a brand-new indistinct villain then it’s not going to be something quite as abstract as Majora or the Nightmare, and would be somewhere between them and the Ganon of A Link to the Past.
The question, of course, is which of these three options do I think is the most likely? I think that would probably have to be a new villain. Ganon’s been the villain of almost every game on this timeline and the villain of Zelda 3DS’ prequel, so some new badguy or phenomenon that plays on the aftermath of A Link to the Past would make the most sense. I’d say that after that, Ganon is the most likely for reasons I’ve already stated, and the least-likely of all is the Nightmare returning. Unfortunately, while I think the Nightmares would make for the coolest prospective storyline, they seem to be one-time villains who probably won’t factor into future games. I can dream though!
There are other possible villains too, of course; we might see Vaati’s first appearance on this timeline for all we know! Ultimately these are just speculations and we will have to wait and see what type of story and villain features in Zelda 3DS to know for sure, but hopefully my insight into the matter has proven interesting and, with any luck, the villain will be as fascinating as I hope it is.