In the Legend of Zelda series, there are only a few bad games. Perhaps the worst of those bad games is Four Swords Adventures. Overreliance on one gimmick, a terrible hamstringing multiplayer component, and a recycled story that does nothing to differentiate itself from the rest of the franchise, Four Swords Adventures showed us that Nintendo is not above producing crappy Zelda games simply to cash in on the franchise’s popularity and force a terrible hardware gimmick on people. Not a shining moment in the history of The Legend of Zelda. However, there were some narrative elements present that have some potential to make a full-fledged Zelda game, some that could redeem the snooze-fest that is Four Swords. The origins of the Elemental Maidens, the fate of Vaati, and the origin of the Dark Mirror are all interesting elements worthy of expansion. The most interesting untapped elements of Four Swords Adventures for me, though, are the unseen exploits of Hyrule’s greatest villain… Ganondorf, the King of Evil.
What We Know
The narrative of Four Swords Adventures takes place in the Shadow Era, on the same timeline as Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess, and is the last canonical entry to be told therein (so far). Ganondorf plays the role of main antagonist along with Vaati, and his rise to power in the Shadow Era is chronicled during the later portion of the narrative; the young Gerudo started his life of leadership without the malicious intent seen in previous games, and acted as a protective figurehead instead of a power-hungry despot. However, as the years passed, his heart grew more and more twisted with evil intent. Ganondorf’s increasingly wicked behavior resulted in his unceremonious banishment from the Gerudo tribe, and the King of Evil struck out on his own. He defied the laws of his tribe by entering an ancient pyramid and obtaining an evil Trident, which grants him an incredible amount of power. Following his acquisition of the Trident, Ganondorf proceeds to steal the Dark Mirror (not to be confused with the Mirror of Twilight), spawn several Dark Link demons, possess the recently resurrected Vaati , enslave the Knights of Hyrule, and spread darkness over the land. Once Link and Zelda come face to face with Ganondorf during the game’s conclusion, he has transformed into Ganon. After being defeated, Ganon laments that the power he’d obtained was not sufficient to be the true King of Evil (likely referring to the fact that despite his great strength and tools of evil at his disposal, he never obtained anything rivaling the power of the Triforce, which is absent in Four Swords Adventures). And once again, Ganon is sealed. The dude gets sealed A LOT.
The Gerudo tribe looks relatively unchanged from previous games with one exception; they haven’t isolated themselves from the rest of Hyrule and are not a band of thieves (at least not by name). The events surrounding Ganondorf’s banishment occurred before the events of Four Swords Adventures, and as such, it might be safe to assume that the apparent prosperity of the Gerudo Tribe was in place while Ganondorf was still their leader. Of course, this prosperity could be the result of Ganondorf’s banishment as well. However, since nobody in the Gerudo village mentions anything about a strained relationship with the rest of Hyrule (or even a checkered past), my inclination is to assume that Ganondorf once ruled the Gerudo with some semblance of functionality.
Another very important fact to keep in mind; the Ganondorf in Four Swords Adventures is NOT the Ganondorf seen in Ocarina of Time (who is indeed the same individual seen in every game during the Era of Light and Dark/Era of Decline, Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess, and The Wind Waker). This is the ONLY TIME a different incarnation of Ganondorf has appeared on the current Zelda timeline, apart from Ganondorf’s progenitor Demise in Skyward Sword. This is significant in that FSA’s Ganondorf has no malice towards the land of Hyrule or Link/Zelda that stems from past conflicts. Instead, the creeping darkness that overtakes the Gerudo’s heart is purely a result of Demise’s curse, which bleeds into every one of his reincarnations and plants the seeds of blind hatred. Even if Ganondorf had no reason to hate Link and Zelda, Demise’s curse dooms him to ultimately seek out and destroy the two Hylians while spreading evil across the land…
…OR DOES IT?!
What We Don’t Know
While we can assume its Demise’s curse that’s responsible for the downward spiral of evil experienced by Ganondorf in FSA, we don’t know what life was like for him and the Gerudo leading up to his banishment. We do know that Ganondorf’s banishment took place before the events of FSA, we don’t know HOW long exactly. If Ganondorf was once a leader and protector to his people, how evil could he have been? Is Ganondorf truly predisposed to evil behavior? Does the curse take hold immediately following his birth, or is it a slow-burning fire that grows increasingly stronger as the years go by? And just what did Ganondorf do to warrant banishment from the tribe that looked to him for leadership/protection? Was it an amalgamation of several wicked deeds, or one very large, very evil event that sent him exiled into the desert?
Speaking of his birth, what was Ganondorf’s childhood like? How did the Gerudo train the young desert-dweller to rule and protect their tribe? What is Ganondorf’s true role as protector of the tribe? Is he a diplomat to the rest of the tribes in Hyrule? Is he a hunter/gatherer? Scholar? Purely a physical guardian? It’s all speculation, but it seems reasonable to assume that Ganondorf was at least being groomed to function as the Ganondorf of Ocarina of Time did; a leader of his tribe that journeyed to Hyrule Castle in order to discuss loyalties as well as a powerful guardian. However, if this were the case, it seems odd that Ganondorf’s involvement in the insidious happenings of FSA comes as a shock to Link and Zelda. If Zelda/Hyrule Kingdom had any genuine and prolonged interactions with Ganondorf/the Gerudo prior to his banishment, why weren’t they made aware of his misdeeds earlier and told to seek him out accordingly from the get-go? This could be because Zelda and company were too busy dealing with Vaati and the Shadow Links to make the connection on their own, or perhaps the Gerudo were too ashamed to admit what Ganondorf had done (or had deluded themselves into thinking he’d died in the desert following his excommunication). Whatever the case, it seems that despite the level of peace and cooperation that exists between the Gerudo and the rest of Hyrule Kingdom, that state of affairs is only kept alive by the bare minimum amount of interaction. That’s the only way one can explain Ganondorf’s absence from the narrative during character interactions leading up to his reveal late in the game; everyone has forgotten about him, or nobody cared in the first place.
Where We Can Go From Here
Though Four Swords Adventures on the whole is a horrible waste of potential, the potential is there nonetheless and should be exploited. Nintendo has the chance to weave a narrative that is told through the eyes of the greatest villain in the company’s long history. Through the unseen machinations of Ganondorf, we have the makings of a very unique and compelling Zelda experience, and an opportunity to take a closer look into the mind of the King of Evil. Since we don’t know exactly how long before FSA Ganondorf’s banishment occurred, we can take any liberty and build a narrative that potentially stretches all the way back to the events of Twilight Princess. For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to examine a somewhat brief moment in time that assumes Ganondorf’s banishment occurred only a few years prior to the events of FSA.
This hypothetical narrative would begin during Ganondorf’s childhood years, when the young Gerudo was training to take over leadership of the desert tribe. This would function like the tutorial levels seen in most Zelda games, allowing players to familiarize themselves with the controls and whatnot. This would of course involve the various tests Ganondorf was expected to overcome during his training. Those tests might include feats of physical ability, magical prowess, and perhaps even diplomatic persuasion. Through this, we’d be given access to Ganondorf’s full capability as a leader, with his success hinging upon his mastery of all the aforementioned skills.
Once Ganondorf had overcome his challenges and proven himself worthy of leading the Gerudo, he would be expected to assume the duties assigned to the tribe’s figurehead. Those duties could include traveling to the various other tribes of Hyrule to talk trade and alliance, as well as fending off the aggressive advances of deadly critters and overzealous bandits. Additionally, we know that Ganondorf is not above plundering treasure (as evidenced by his invasion of the Ancient Pyramid to retrieve the Trident), much like Link in just about every Zelda game. As such, Ganondorf might seek to increase the fortunes of his humble tribe by looting ancient caverns and abandoned ruins. This is also a good place in the narrative to introduce some other events/narrative elements. Perhaps in the absence of great calamity, other despots have risen to try and conquer the lands of Hyrule. Ganondorf would have the opportunity to lead his people into battle against these villains, proving himself a skilled warrior and leader.
Now the big event; Ganondorf’s banishment. There are at least two options here:
One, we see Ganondorf become increasingly erratic in his decisions, plundering peaceful towns or punishing his people for supposed wrong-doings with an overabundance of zeal and cruelty. Because of his un-leader-like behavior, the Gerudo council (or whatever they have) elects to banish Ganondorf before he can tarnish the Gerudo name further in the eyes of the rest of Hyrule. This would be done in secret, within the confines of the desert land the Gerudo inhabit (this would help to explain why nobody seems to know/care what happens to the Gerudo King during FSA). Having grown completely self-absorbed, malevolent, and power hungry, Ganondorf storms off into the desert following his excommunication. He scours the desert with single-minded intent, attempting to locate the Ancient Pyramid and retrieve the Trident in open disobedience of his tribe’s laws, so that he might gain the strength to take back the authority he once wielded and reach for even greater seats of supremacy.
Two: Ganondorf rules over the Gerudo with a benevolent sense of protection and duty, leading the desert tribe into a time of prosperity. His people live well, have a working relationship with the rest of Hyrule, and things seem to be lookin’ up for the traditionally evil King of the Gerudo. However, something snaps in Ganondorf’s head one day, and we see the real King of Evil emerge briefly beneath the layers of control and munificence. This event would have to small enough to be kept under wraps (again explaining why nobody talks about Ganondorf in FSA), but big enough to warrant Ganondorf’s banishment. Perhaps instead of simply defeating an enemy tribe and looting the spoils, Ganondorf erases them utterly out of existence in brutal fashion, burning their town and killing every man, woman, and child attempting to flee. Perhaps Ganondorf kills one of his own tribesman, a close friend or important member of Gerudo politics in a flash of violent rage. In this scenario, we might see Ganondorf express regret for what he has done, and perhaps even willingly accept his banishment for fear of any further abuse to his tribe. Wandering the desert, Ganondorf may initially be seeking the Ancient Pyramid in order to bring back riches and glory to his people in an attempt to make amends. It’s only until the evil power of the Trident takes hold of him that Ganondorf becomes truly evil and begins his conquest of the realm.
The hypothetical narrative I’ve proposed would continue into the events of FSA and conclude with the sealing of Ganon. This would allow players the opportunity to see and experience what the King of Evil was up to behind the scenes. Players would seek out the Dark Mirror in order to create the Dark Link demons, release Vaati (and proceed to enslave him), defeat and enslave the Knights of Hyrule, and eventually combat Zelda and Link in the grand finale. Maybe, in an interesting twist, Nintendo might allow players to change history and defeat the two Heroes of Light, ushering in a new Era of Decline.
No matter what direction the narrative goes, the warping psychology of Ganondorf would be the highlight. We’d see a young man struggling not only to live up to his tribes expectations of leadership, but also the ever-present desire to seek out and destroy all that is good in the world thanks to the curse of Demise. No matter how kind-hearted and selfless Ganondorf may have started out, the curse of Demise constantly gnaws and him and bids him give in to the malevolence festering in his soul. An interesting way to go about this would be to give players choices throughout the narrative that focus on moral decision. In the event that players choose the path of benevolence, Ganondorf’s mind would become increasingly unstable, as those actions would contradict his destiny. This could be presented in a manner befitting someone with schizophrenia, as Ganondorf becomes subject to wicked and intrusive voices demanding he accept his fate. This instability would inevitably leak into Ganondorf’s behavior, causing him to appear dangerous and unpredictable in the eyes of his tribesman. In the case that players choose to resort to violence and cruelty to advance the narrative, Ganondorf would be allowed to carry on unfettered by the demands of his soul, as those actions would fall in line with someone destined to be called the King of Evil.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, this is another case where traditional Zelda mechanics might be best. Taking control of Ganondorf shouldn’t be much different than moving Link around Hyrule. Hell, Ganondorf even rides a horse, just like our little blonde buddy. There are also plenty of opportunities for Ganondorf to go traipsing about ruins throughout the proposed narrative AND the existing narrative present in FSA. Not only could players raid tombs/ruins prior to Ganondorf’s banishment, they’d be able to experience first-hand how the King of Evil obtained the Dark Mirrior and enslaved Vaati and the Knights of Hyrule to his will. All three of those events could be presented in traditional ‘Zelda Temple’ fashion, and they’d fit nicely into the narrative. However, simply obtaining items and skills seems to be a bit of a disservice to one of Ganondorf’s power, who has traditionally asserted his authority not through the use of gadgets and tricks, but with overwhelming power. With this in mind, it might be prudent to introduce a leveling-up system that focuses on Ganondorf’s various physical/mental/magical traits. As such, this hypothetical game might play more like a Fable game than a traditional Zelda title. During Ganondorf’s training years, players would work to master feats that test dexterity and strength, traits that would level up accordingly. Additionally, since Ganondorf IS a wizard, players would obtain/level-up/master various magic powers. Once Ganondorf had grown up, it might also be interesting to see a ‘mental capacity’ meter of sorts, one that dictates how well Ganondorf can deal with his growing need for destruction and evil.
This untapped potential is perhaps the most unlikely of all my ideas to ever see the light of day. Not only does it take players out of Link’s shoes, it would force Nintendo to try and explain events that have only been glossed over (much like the Imprisoning War). It is a nice dream, however. I’ve always loved Ganondorf’s character, and I believe many in the Zelda community would welcome an opportunity to learn more about the man, the myth, the legend…