Why Wind Waker’s Ganondorf Is The Greatest Nintendo Character
While Nintendo has a huge beloved stable of characters very few of them could be considered exceptional from a story standpoint.
Now, before you start slinging your arrows at me just stop and think about it. Most game characters are simply mechanisms that move the game play experience forward. When they do play significant roles in the actual plot they usually have basic and often cliché motives and arcs. Some characters like Link even exist as personality-less blank slates that players are meant to project themselves into.
That’s where Ganondorf from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker breaks the mould. Yes, he’s technically the same bloke that you’ve faced dozens of times throughout the Zelda series but in the Gamecube classic Nintendo finally gave him dimension beyond his usual archetypal power-mad villain role.
The events of the game very clearly take place after those depicted in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with Ganondorf returning from being imprisoned in another dimension (the Sacred Realm) for untold years. In order to prevent him attempting another hostile takeover of the kingdom the entire land of Hyrule has been flooded and now lies dormant deep beneath the sea. The plot centres on the race between Ganondorf and our protagonists to claim back both the lost kingdom and the legendary wish-granting Triforce.
For the majority of the game other characters talk about Ganondorf as the greedy, power-hungry king of evil, depicting him in the exact same way that the series always has. However, during the final confrontation at the climax of the game he gives a monologue that turns our expectations upside down:
“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.”
Neatly slotting into established continuity from The Ocarina of Time (which was the origin story of the entire Zelda series at the time), this reveals that Ganondorf’s race suffered a life of hardship and misery in their desert realm in contrast to those lucky enough to be born in the rich green kingdom of Hyrule. Ganondorf was not simply a generic all-conquering bastard after all – he was a leader seeking to find a better land for his suffering people to live in.
However, with his race apparently long-dead, his original purpose for the kingdom is lost and yet he still desires it. This unyielding attachment to the past proves to be his fatal flaw and ultimately makes him a sympathetic figure.
Mirroring his role is the King of Hyrule (a.k.a. the King of Red Lions) character who also desires the return of the long-lost kingdom. However, the latter realises that both he and his counterpart are bogged down by the past, having long since lost perspective on what’s best for the world. He wishes on the Triforce that the old kingdom no longer be a burden to humanity and be washed away by the ocean once and for all, taking him and Ganondorf with it.
Ultimately, the story warns us about being beholden to the past at the expense of progress, likely being Nintendo’s jab at those who reacted negatively towards the divergent aspects of The Wind Waker and its predecessor Majora’s Mask. Ganondorf is not only a key thematic linchpin of this tale but also a successful example of a long-standing archetypal gaming icon being evolved into a rounded three-dimensional character.
It’s a real shame then that Nintendo essentially undid all of this great character building in 2011′s The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The game, which is yet another prequel to the entire Zelda saga, reveals that Ganondorf is simply a reincarnation of an inherently evil and power-hungry entity called Demise. So forget everything that The Wind Waker told us – according to this new retcon of the chronology Ganondorf has been and will always be just a two-dimensional, straight-up-evil bastard. There simply aren’t enough Star Trek facepalm JPEGs on the Internet.
Ah well. Taking The Wind Waker as a standalone entity we’ll always have its version of Ganondorf to remind us that Nintendo’s geniuses are capable of producing deep characters and stories when they put their minds to it.