9th Aug 2012 | 08:27
Welcome to LIKE, our new semi-regular series where we praise the wonderful oddities, small miracles and flashes of genius that, in their own specific ways, have enriched videogame history.
This series is not intended as an exploration into grand or pioneering games, but instead a focus on one specific thing that the whole medium wouldn't be quite the same without.
We have intentionally called this series LIKE because, if you happen to love the thing we are praising, you can press the LIKE Facebook button as a way of democratically supporting its inclusion into the series. We hope you enjoy!
First appearance (as Ganon): 1986 , The Legend of Zelda
First appearance (as Ganondorf): 1998, Ocarina of Time
Created by: Nintendo team (Satoru Takizawa, Shigeru Miyamoto)
In February 1985, a skeleton development team at Nintendo's Kyoto studio pieced together a design document for a new project then known as "Adventure Mario".
Several pages of the document bare the signature of Shigeru Miyamoto, scribbled during that brief period of his career when autograph requests were not so much an issue. Scattered across other pages are references to a seemingly random list of items: compasses, boomerangs, bows and arrows, gold and silver.
On another sheet of paper, labelled 'enemies', a name was sketched: Hakkai, a reference to the pig-like character from the 16th century Chinese novel 'Saiyuki'. Hakkai, the legend goes, is a fairly mild-mannered character who turns terrifying once his temper snaps.
Across the three decades since that design template was first drafted, The Legend of Zelda has made an inestimable impact on videogame culture. To this day, it is a series that treats its history with reverence. Those key characters and concepts, pencilled in twenty-seven years ago, remain central to the series' narrative and design. Names may have changed since February 1985, but 'Adventure Mario' and 'Hakkai' were two icons born on the same day.
Each Zelda adventure is enriched and complicated by branching narratives, sub-plots, side-quests and intensifying challenges. By the fortieth hour it becomes a sprawling, scattered story starved of resolution.
It is the sole duty of Ganondorf or Ganon (his 'pig' form) to close these adventures. His duels with Link are a climactic congregation of the game's narrative, production and gameplay. These are visual spectacles, epic and meticulously engineered, that require the player to mix their skills and tools acquired in many hours along the way, with the outcome of the game's story all hinging on a single battle.
There have been only seven such battles since the first Zelda game was released in 1986 (some would argue six). Possibly the most famous is a ground-breaking three-part duel that concludes what many believe is the greatest Zelda game ever; Ocarina of Time (1998).
The N64 title was a breakthrough for Ganon. Before Ocarina, his lineage could be traced back to the Nintendo breed of pantomime villains. Like Bowser and Donkey Kong, Ganon was once a brawny brute who had few motives other than standing in front of a captured princess.
Ocarina gave the angry pig a more intricate and ambiguous back-story. It revealed that Ganondorf, his human form, was born into a reclusive tribe of female thieves called the Gerudo; a clan that was toughened from birth by virtue of living in the extreme weather conditions of a barren desert.
The Gerudo held a collective belief that every 100 years a single man would be born into the tribe and become their leader. Much like how Link is predestined at birth to become a hero, Ganondorf entered the world of Zelda under a prophecy that he would command a feared band of thieves.
Later in his life, a physically imposing Ganondorf (said to be 7ft 6in tall) had ambitions to take control of Hyrule; a sun-kissed haven in comparison to the barren conditions of his home land.
"My country lay beneath 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 gale pierced our homes. No matter when it came, the wind always carried the same thing... death. But the winds that blew across the green fields of Hyrule brought something other than suffering or ruin. I coveted that wind, I suppose."
- Ganondorf in Wind Waker
Ganondorf sought to command Hyrule by earning the trust of its king before betraying him. Yet his seizure of the fabled Triforce had granted him immeasurable, unforeseeable power and, with it, a god complex.
His defeat in Ocarina, signalled by a clap of thunder, triggered an unforgettable moment in the series where Ganondorf transforms (or regresses) into his beast-like form, Ganon, before a dramatic second battle with Link atop the rubble of his castle.
The conclusion to the fight had formed the concept that, while Link is a legend born in every generation, Ganondorf is essentially an immortal who would inevitably return to face him.
A dual beneath the sea
In 2003 Ganondorf's release from his dimensional prison provided the bedrock storyline to Wind Waker (GameCube). The game's prologue states that, after Ocarina, Ganondorf returned to conquer Hyrule once again, this time with no hero to challenge him. The gods, helpless to do anything else, flooded the land. Years later, a new Link is born on an island formed above the submerged Hyrule.
There is an air of nostalgia and regret to Wind Waker. The game's vision of Hyrule is a long-forgotten ghost-town trapped in a bubble beneath the sea. Ganondorf does not leave it. His intention was not to conquer new worlds but instead to resurrect the land that he, and he alone, still valued.
At the concluding stages of Wind Waker, the seal that protects Hyrule from its surrounding waters is shattered. As water tears into the land, Ganondorf's lasting dream to restore Hyrule is dashed, a moment signalled by his guttural, manic laugh.
His final battle with Link, framed dramatically with cascades of water crashing around them, is no longer a matter of conquering lands. It is a declaration of death from a man obsessed with taking his kingdom out from the desert, now broken and bitter.
Each sprawling 40+ hour Zelda game dedicates just a sliver of time to Ganondorf. Of all of the titles released across the series during the past 26 years, the player's encounter with the arch nemesis probably amounts to less than five hours in total.
Yet the defining value of this complex and enthralling character is that, whenever a player crosses paths with him, it is because they are about to bare witness to another landmark moment in the Zelda legend.