Posted on January 06 2012 by Legacy Staff
Ganondorf is the iconic villain of Zelda, the one man we all love to hate. His appearances in three of the most critical titles of Zelda canon – Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess – have cemented his status not only as the most iconic villain, but also as the perennial, most influential one. His influence can be felt essentially everywhere in the Zelda series, from the seemingly unimportant Four Swords Saga to the original NES titles. And yet, throughout all of his appearances, his character changes drastically and he becomes a very different person psychologically, if ostensibly the same.
Ganondorf’s character arc through Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker is one of the most compelling arcs in Nintendo’s long history of great storytelling. From his incredibly driven conqueror mentality comes a wholly organic and realistically flawed character. The villain that we vanquish in Ocarina of Time returns as a tragic anti-hero who is motivated by remorse and the desire to do the best for his people in The Wind Waker.
In Ocarina of Time, we are shown a Ganondorf who is mad for power and will evidently do anything to get it, but throughout the course of the game, Ganondorf actually does very, very little to seize power. Ganondorf is content to allow others to stumble their way into achieving his success for him. Prior to the game’s opening, Ganondorf tried – and failed – to obtain the three Spiritual Stones from their possessors (the Deku Tree, the Gorons, and the Zora). After these failures, Ganondorf made life difficult for those who rejected him but did little else to continue pursuing the stones. It is as if he gave up after the first attempt, committed a petty act of vengeance, and then went on his way. It’s true that he placed some dire curses on the Deku Tree (resulting in the spirit’s untimely death), Dodongo’s Cavern (resulting in a great deal of suffering for the Goron people) and Lord Jabu-Jabu (resulting in a rather disgusting rescue mission to save Princess Ruto), but then made no further efforts. These curses were likely used in an attempt to extort the stones from their owners, but when unsuccessful he just gave up and left. By the time the game starts, Ganondorf has apparently run out of options, and has burned any bridges with the three races that would provide him any impetus towards making further pleas for the stones. As such, Ganondorf decides to rely on others to do things for him.
Over the course of the game, there are only three major instances where the player directly interacts with Ganondorf. The first immediately follows Link’s successful gathering of the three Spiritual Stones. Link approaches Castle Town, where he watches Zelda and Impa ride away. Zelda throws him the Ocarina right before Ganondorf shows up. Ganondorf taunts him, and then conjures up a spell powerful enough to… knock a 10 year old kid to the ground. Then he rides off in pursuit of the princess – or so it seems, for only moments later, Link opens the Door of Time and is sealed in the Temple of Time for seven years. After Link touches the Master Sword, Ganondorf claims the Triforce for his own.
Here, our Gerudo friend shows some odd logic. His exact words are “As I thought, you held the keys to the Door of Time! You have led me to the gates of the Sacred Realm… Yes, I owe it all to you, kid,” and these words reveal quite a bit about Ganondorf in hindsight. He is indirectly boastful here, emphasizing his own hunch coming to fruition, and was even boastful in the previous scene, claiming that he was going to rule the world. But then he says he thought that Link would “[hold] the keys to the Door of Time” – why exactly would he think this? Link is a 10-year-old boy who is no more remarkable than your average Hylian youth, aside for carrying a sword and shield. Since we have established that Ganondorf thinks rather highly of himself; why, exactly, would he think that little Link could succeed where he himself had failed? Sure, he had seen Link and Zelda together before, so it may not have been too great a leap to assume that Link held the keys to the Door of Time. Nevertheless, it was far more probable that Zelda was aware of the keys’ current location, and by letting her and Impa escape, he ensured that – even with the Triforce of Power – he would be unable to find either one of them for seven years. It was a rash and somewhat short-sighted move when he could – and should – have been pursuing Zelda and Impa. Instead, he opted to take the passive route and let Link complete his work for him, a decision he made based on a shakily reasoned hunch.
After Link’s quest to awaken the Sages, Ganondorf resurfaces to kidnap Princess Zelda with his newfound Triforce of Power, sealing her in a crystal prison. Here, he continues his boastful manner, with the addition of being very demeaning to Link despite the great deeds Link has performed. He says specifically, “I knew you would appear if I let this kid wander around! My only mistake was to slightly underestimate the power of this kid… No… It was not the kid’s power I misjudged, it was the power of the Triforce of Courage!”
With these words, Ganondorf once again proves that he is willing to allow others to do his work for him in their ignorance – he knew that Zelda would reveal herself once Link had finished his work, so he lets Link finish the work – which involved awakening the Sages Ganondorf worked so hard to keep in the dark. He overestimates his own abilities, claiming that “[his] only mistake was to slightly underestimate the power of… the Triforce of Courage“. For Ganondorf to suggest that his plan went through without any flaws and that he made no mistakes is rather presumptuous. He follows this declaration that he made no mistakes with, quite ironically, another mistake – he underestimates Link’s power. He dismisses it as the power of the Triforce of Courage, but Link as a child did not have the Triforce of Courage. In his mind, Ganondorf sees himself as so incredibly powerful and manipulative that he is blind to simple logic – Link, a 10 year old without any part of the Triforce, accomplished deeds that even Ganondorf could not. And yet Ganondorf dismisses all of adult Link’s powers as being bestowed by the Triforce of Courage, a grave error as the final encounter proves.
Of course, the final encounter occurs not much later. Link, a fully capable person in his own right, but further endowed with the Triforce of Courage, defeats the Great King of Evil… to which the fallen king says: “The Great Evil King Ganondorf… beaten by this kid?!”
Even in defeat, the Ganondorf of Ocarina of Time cannot fathom that anyone could be more powerful than he, and constantly underestimates his foes as a result. And yet, despite this high image of himself and need to undermine those opposing him, essentially all of the power he gained was gained not as a result of his deeds, but as a result of his inaction, allowing others to accomplish tasks for him. Ganondorf as seen in Ocarina of Time is a very vain man with no real motives and no real claim to power.
Enter The Wind Waker.
Ganondorf has spent a stint inside the Sacred Realm as punishment for his crimes. He breaks free, and there is no Hero of Time to come save Hyrule. So things get bad until the gods flood the whole place. The Great Sea is formed, and life goes on, albeit in a new and exciting way.
Already we can see a difference in Ganondorf’s actions, even though these specific actions are only sparsely chronicled. The tale specifically mentions that no hero arrived to save the people of Hyrule from the armies and evils Ganondorf was amassing – thus, Ganondorf was doing this of his own volition and ability. Unlike his actions in Ocarina of Time, these actions are successful and seem to legitimize Ganondorf’s claim to the title Great Evil King.
Years pass and the events of the game begin in earnest. The new Link sails to the Forsaken Fortress to rescue his sister, and this time Ganondorf acts properly – he orders the Helmaroc King to throw Link into the ocean. Rather than letting Link meander about and actually release the girls that Ganondorf had been kidnapping in search of Zelda, Ganondorf puts a stop to it the minute Link’s presence is made known.
While it is readily apparent that Ganondorf has changed significantly since Link last confronted him in Ocarina of Time (he is more silent and methodical than boastful), the full extent of his makeover is not fully apparent until after Link has drawn the Master Sword and returns to the Forsaken Fortress. Here, Ganondorf calmly and serenely explains to Link why the sword he is holding is worthless against him. He does not move to attack Link, only knocking him back when he charges. He does not seek to kill Link, telling him to leave after he has had his say. But most importantly – he does not boast. His defeat at the Link’s hands seems to have shaken his belief in his abilities, as his incredulous statement at the end of Ocarina of Time shows: “The Great Evil King Ganondorf… beaten by this kid?!” Though the events between Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker are only sparsely chronicled, we can assume that Ganondorf underwent further changes as a result of his utter defeat at the hands of the gods. As a result, Ganondorf has been humbled and now even though he is still so sure of his abilities, he doesn’t boast or demean Link, instead calmly explaining matters to the boy before handily dispatching him.
Tetra runs in, Ganondorf realizes who she is, and Valoo and the Rito swoop down to whisk Link and Tetra to safety while Ganondorf gets a good torching. Link sets off to restore the Triforce of Courage and the Master Sword. The next confrontation with Ganondorf does not occur until the end of the game, just before the Puppet Ganon fight.
Link walks into the large chamber to find Ganondorf standing over a sleeping Zelda, reading her dreams. There, Ganondorf delivers this moving speech:
They are vast seas…
None can swim across them…
They yield no fish to catch…What did the King of Hyrule say?
…That the gods sealed Hyrule away?
And they left behind people who would one day awaken Hyrule?!
So many pathetic creatures, scattered across a handful of islands, drifting on this sea like fallen leaves on a forgotten pool…
What can they possibly hope to achieve?
Don’t you see? All of you…
Your gods destroyed you!”
This is the one thing that really indicates a massive shift in Ganondorf’s character – he does not want power for the sake of power. His speech reveals a great deal of contempt for the gods for destroying Hyrule, and an equal amount of contempt for the people of the Great Sea who blindly accept their existence – he longs for the grandeur of Hyrule, even when it is not in his palms. He wants power to restore Hyrule to the surface and return it to grandeur, as he lays out in his next speech following the Puppet Ganon fight:
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.”
Ganondorf wanted the best for his people. We now have a motive and a noble ideal. This Ganondorf is markedly different from the one we defeated in Ocarina of Time. After being trapped in the Sacred Realm for so long, after suffering defeat at the hands of Link and having victory snatched away by the gods, Ganondorf learned humility, learned of purpose, learned of nobility. Ganondorf evolved from Saturday morning cartoon villain to tragic anti-hero.
Is it possible that he is simply lying? That the entire speech about the gods destroying Hyrule, about the Gerudo, is simply a facade, meant to rattle Link and Zelda, and to weaken their resolve in the name of his “noble purpose”? Why yes, that is certainly possible. But even if it is simply a facade, he cares enough to put it forward. In Ocarina of Time, Ganondorf gave no reason for wanting to rule the world; he simply wanted power. But in The Wind Waker, Ganondorf cares enough to give reasons, to make it appear as if he had a noble purpose.
The arrogant, blinded-by-ego Ganondorf of Ocarina of Time, fit to allow the ignorance of others lead to his success, becomes the seemingly noble tragic anti-hero of The Wind Waker – a transformation that is pulled off with an eloquence and subtlety that is so rarely seen in gaming.