Posted on May 25 2021 by Mike Midwood
For a series with the breadth and longevity of The Legend of Zelda, it’s surprising that more than half of the titles released during its life share a single antagonist. Ganon (misspelled “Gannon”) was the primary villain in the series’ debut, and a majority of the games since have featured him, or the threat of his influence, as the primary source of evil. Even games which contain other antagonists often make them the underlings or puppets of Ganon. Some of these secondary villains are actually very interesting, as are the few who have received their own dedicated Zelda narrative. Which of these singular evildoers is your favorite? For clarity, “Ganon” here refers to all of his forms; Gerudo Ganondorf, trident wielding pigs, and calamitous incarnations of malice all apply.
The first game not to feature Ganon, or the specter of his revival, as the primary villain was Link’s Awakening. Referred to collectively as “The Nightmares”, the bosses of each dungeon invaded the Wind Fish’s dream and persisted the entity’s slumber. Not much context is given to their motivations and they remain very abstract in nature through to the end of the game. The same could be said of the titular antagonist of Majora’s Mask. While controlling the body of Skull Kid, the mask threatens the land of Termina with a plummeting moon, and also throws the world’s regions into disarray. It is still debated whether or not the mask itself or some possessing entity is the true villain (the latter is definitely the more popular theory), but this mystery lends a terrifying quality to one of Zelda‘s most enigmatic evil forces.
Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages introduced General Onox and Veran respectively, and while the latter does have some interesting interactions with the main cast, they both have little background story. Ultimately, they’re servants of Twinrova’s plot to revive Ganon, the true final boss of the linked game experience. Despite eventually assuming the same position, perhaps the most popular non-Ganon Zelda villain is Zant, the Usurper King. Appearing in Twilight Princess, Zant’s cold demeanor and imposing figure make for a truly chilling antagonist. He also has a more fleshed out motivation than most villains in the series. While far from sympathetic, Zant’s belief that he was wrongfully denied the Twili rulership elevates him above the “Evil for evil’s sake” types that wreak havoc in most Zelda games. Controversially, Zant eventually turns out to be subordinate to Ganondorf, but he stands alone as a memorable villain and even betrays his master in the game’s closing cinematic.
The most prolific non-Ganon villain is Vaati, appearing in a whopping three games. While the inclusion of the Four Swords titles in the “main series” is dubious, Vaati does have a compelling outing in The Minish Cap. A Minish himself, Vaati becomes an evil mage when he becomes entranced with the powers of Ezlo’s Minish Cap. While Vaati may not be a deep or complex villain, he presents one of the more challenging final bosses in the series. This is also true of Skyward Sword’s Demise. Serving as the origin point of all evil throughout the Zelda series, Demise’s appearance is clearly intended to be reminiscent of Ganondorf. Again, his presence arguably undermines another charismatic but underdeveloped villain, Ghirahim, but his final confrontation is one of the most epic moments in Zelda history.
Yuga is another charismatic villain who suffers from a lack of development, doubly unfortunate since he also hatched a plan to resurrect Ganon. Phantom Hourglass‘ Bellum is a virtual non-entity for most of the game, and Spirit Track‘s Chancellor Cole is just another pawn in the main villain’s resurrection plot; Malladus in this case rather than Ganon. Additionally, there are plenty of other minor antagonistic figures throughout the series including King Moblin, Sakon, King Bulblin, Master Kohga, and many others. Having these secondary and tertiary baddies is always a good way to make each game feel like it has engaging mini-conflicts.
Ganon may be Zelda‘s most prominent villain, but who is your favorite aside from him? Would you like to see any of these antagonists make a return? Let us know in the comments below!
Hi, I’m Mike Midwood and I’m a Senior Editor at ZeldaDungeon! Video games and literature are my greatest joys in life. An avid Zelda fan, some of my other favorite games include the Resident Evil and Dark Souls series. I hope you enjoy my content here on ZeldaDungeon!
“The sword has no strength unless the hand that holds it has courage.”