I have a love/hate relationship with the Zelda franchise. I love Majora’s Mask. I hate Twilight Princess. I enjoyed The Windwaker. I’m not clouded by nostalgia for Ocarina of Time.
My first outing in the world of Hyrule came on Christmas day 1998. I popped Ocarina of Time into my Nintendo 64 and began a journey that would change the way I perceived video games for the rest of my life. Before this fateful day video games were merely a hobby; an excuse to stay locked away in my bedroom because I didn’t feel like playing football at that particular moment. Ocarina of Time turned my hobby into a love affair. I was hooked. I searched Hyrule for every collectible; I memorized every dungeon; I fell in love with princess Zelda. That last one is a lie. I actually fell in love with the ginger girl from Lon Lon Ranch.
I really wanted to destroy Ganondorf because he’d wronged me. He’d taken the Triforce of Power and really messed up my Hyrule. I was ready to make him suffer, and suffer he did. I relished every second he spent being electrocuted by his own Kamehameha blast. I laughed feverishly every time I slashed at his deformed tail with my giant Goron Sword. I savoured the moment the Master Sword entered his skull.
However, he never once struck me as an interesting villain. I want to rule the world. I get power. Now I rule the world. I want more power. This is all standard villain stuff. There was nothing truly compelling behind his particular brand of evil.
Then came Majora’s Mask. It was weird. It was different. It scared me. There was a massive Marilyn Manson moon hanging over my head. A weird little kid I met during Ocarina of Time was now running around making Manson’s face fall out of the sky. He was doing this by harnessing the power of a magical and evil mask. I was freaking out, and I didn’t understand why I was so captivated by it all because it strayed so far from its predecessor, and I usually hated change. Gradually, I fell deeper into its clutches, and my love for Ocarina of Time began to fade. I appreciated Skull Kid because he was a villain I felt sympathy for. Here was a young boy that wanted nothing more than a friend. A child who had been corrupted by the evil of a mask, and turned into a monster. I never experienced this feeling of remorse when I plunged the Master Sword into Ganon’s skull. I savoured every second of that kill. Yet here I was promising myself that I wouldn’t kill Skull Kid. No, he did not deserve Ganon’s fate.
As I got older I began to understand that the reason Majora’s Mask had made me forget about Ocarina of Time was that its story was more compelling; its villain more relatable, and as a result, the game was less one dimensional. The fact I could relate to, and ultimately sympathise with, Skull Kid made him feel more real to me. I was fully immersed in this world because the characters had so much life within them. I mean, seriously, if you track each citizen of Termina over the course of the games' “72 hours” you begin to notice that most of them appear to be living out actual lives. They show up in different places. They are doing different things. You get a sense of peril from the various citizens you encounter. You truly feel as though this little kid is really going to bring about the apocalypse.
Skull Kid was the new villain on the block. Ganondorf just wasn’t doing it for me anymore.
Then came a trailer for Nintendo’s next Zelda game for the oddly named Dolphin console. A trailer that depicted its protagonist, Link in an epic duel with Ganondorf. I wasn’t impressed. Sure, the graphics looked awesome, and the trailer had a good amount of action, but honestly, Ganondorf is back? I’ve heard he was in a few Zelda games before Ocarina, and I figured you’d be doing more of that crazy Majora’s Mask style stuff.
However, much to my surprise, and jubilation, this trailer was not the Zelda that would appear on the newly minted Gamecube. No, this Zelda was to be just as intriguing as the one that came before. This was The Windwaker.
Once again I spent many an hour in the world that Nintendo had so lovingly created, and enjoyed every second of it. That is until I met an old friend. Yep, Ganondorf is back. Now, in a game that seems so new and fresh - a new graphical style; a new concept for travel; a giant ocean to explore - you’d think that Nintendo would have provided me with a more imaginative and compelling villain. I’m not saying Ganaondorf totally sucked in The Windwaker, but I am saying that his presence was underwhelming. He just didn’t fit. I expected more. I wanted more. It was something that gave me a feeling of déjà vu that I never really shook on my first play through.
This was only my third Zelda game, however, and two out of three ain’t all that bad.
So then Nintendo introduced us to Twilight Princess; the game to appease everyone who felt wronged by the cartoon graphical style of The Windwaker.
Twilight Princess was an interesting concept, I mean, you change into a wolf and hunt shiny bugs. Okay, that sounds a lot lamer than it actually is. The game showed promise when it revealed the main villain, Zant; a strange looking fellow, who seemed to be spreading an interesting graphical filter all over my lovely Hyrule. I was digging this guy. He was weird. He was pretty intimidating – until he took the helmet off – and he was fresh. Yeah, this was a Zelda villain I could enjoy. Well, I wasn’t privy to any spoilers, so I was pretty upset when I discovered that Zant was merely a pawn in Ganondorf’s evil scheme. Ganondorf, really? We’re really doing this again, Nintendo? Shigsy, I know you’re fond of this guy, but seriously, he’s not cool anymore. I want that other guy. The weird looking one back there. Yes, him. No, not the giant pig version of Ganondorf. Just forget it.
I literally turned off my Gamecube, and it would be an entire year before I saw the ending of Twilight Princess.
Video game villains are important tools when it comes to keeping one’s interest in a narrative. They often serve as the primary catalyst of the protagonist’s ultimate struggle, and as a result can be a thin thread holding together a fragile concept. A good villain keeps you engaged; they keep you playing. A bad villain makes you stop. They make you question whether you should keep up the fight. They make you question whether it’s really all worth it.
Fortunately, most Zelda games have flourished irrespective of their repetitive villain choice. We play these games for so many more reasons than a simple choice of villain, and yet somewhere, deep within the recesses of our minds, there is a voice. A voice asking where is that weirdo at Nintendo? The one who succeeded with his idea for Majora’s Mask. You know, that guy who who tried to make Zant the main villain of Twilight Princess. That voice is begging, pleading for that guy to come back. Hoping that he was working on Skyward Sword. Telling us to check the basement. Shigsy keeps him locked up in the basement.
You all hear that voice, right? Just me? Okay, then.