Nintendo, for the longest time, has not only been adept at creating memorable heroes such as Mario, Link, and Samus Aran, but has had similar skill in crafting villains with staying power. The indominitable Bowser Koopa, the inept but insidious Pokey, and the full family tree of Metroid subspecies are just a few of the recurring bastards sent to harrow players as they work through the worlds Nintendo's first-party titles present them. However, there's one Nintendo nemesis in particular that's always stuck with me as well-represented, well-fleshed-out, and a right bastard, regardless of his iteration. Ladies and gentledudes, I present to you, Ganondorf Dragmire.
For those of you somehow unfamiliar with the basics of Zelda lore, Ganondorf (or Ganon, depending on which version of the game you're playing or how far in that version you've gotten) is the principal menace of the land of Hyrule. A thief king turned monstrous pig-man, Ganon's ties with the Triforce of Power go a long way towards explaining and forming the villain he is, or ends up becoming, at least.
While some simply write off Ganondorf as a merely stereotypical Big, Evil Guy, I've always found him to be more an embodiment of either pure power, or the desire for said power. While the existence or lack of a timeline tying the myriad titles in the Legend Of Zelda franchise together is under heated debate, just looking at Ganon's appearances throughout the series in chronological order lends a fair amount of credence to this line of thought.
As early as The Legend Of Zelda, Ganon seemed hell-bent on conquering Hyrule, seeking Zelda's Triforce of Wisdom to supplement the Triforce of Power he already held. While his failure to do so led to Ganon's existence as little more than background story in Zelda II, his minions were still moving against Link in order to restore Ganon to his former power.
It's not until A Link To The Past that things begin to get more elaborate. Playing upon the adage, "absolute power corrupts absolutely," the re-dubbed Ganondorf's fall from humanity in both moral and physical form comes from his questing to acquire the Triforce, contact with which ends up corrupting the Golden Land in which the Triforce resides and turning him into Link's porcine polar opposite as we know him from then on.
Ocarina Of Time takes this both a step further and revisits some of the original themes of corrosive Power from the earlier games, portraying Ganondorf as a schemer and a manipulator who's already the avatar of the Triforce of Power, once again looking to rejoin with the Triforce's other aspects, Wisdom and Courage, in order to solidify his reign. Similarly, Wind Waker's version of Ganondorf is a manipulator of sorts, albeit more through direct manipulation of events than of other people. Twilight Princess continues this trend, this time painting Ganon as the manipulator of Zant and his Twili army.
What really sucked me in, especially in later titles, is that Ganondorf's motivations are clarified as originally being not that menacing. Born of the Gerudo tribe, supposedly as an omen given that their kind tend to spawn only females, Ganon sought on several occasions to bring his people to a better place than the unforgiving deserts that were their homeland. It would seem, however, that the unchecked influence of Power in his ambitions and machinations corrupted and transformed Ganondorf to various extents every time, and his eventual defeats at the hands of Courage and Wisdom go to show that such reliance on unmeted Power can only end in tragedy.
In a medium that sees its fair share of world-domination schemers, madmen, and straight-up douchebags, it's refreshing to see that one of the oldest and most storied big bads has come a reasonably long way from his roots as the embodiment of relentless greed and malfeasance, and continues to evolve greater nuance and metaphorical value as his march through generation after generation of Nintendo consoles continues. Ganondorf Dragmire, King of the Gerudo, manages to embody the timelessness of classic villainy, while still growing as a concept and a character, regardless of whether or not there are direct connections between all of his appearances, without begging for retcons or rewrites along the way. It takes a lot to last two and a half decades as an icon while retaining some dynamism, and I can only hope Ganon's evolution continues as he returns again and again.
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