The Legendary Puzzle: A Linear History of the Master Sword
Article by The Wolfess
Sections Five and Six of this article contain unmarked SS spoilers.
The legendary Blade of Evil’s Bane, the Master Sword, has become an increasingly central trademark of the Zelda series since its first appearance in A Link to the Past. The sword has changed colors, lost its power, regained its power, been enshrined in temples, and lost in the forest. So far, every incarnation as been used to seal or slay Ganondorf, King of Evil and possessor of the Triforce of Power, and wielded by Link, a no-name boy from some small town chosen for a big destiny, in order to save a Princess, Zelda, and her land of Hyrule. The Master Sword is an important part of what is now called The Zelda Formula.
What we know of the basic plot of the upcoming Wii Zelda game, Skyward Sword, is that it will reveal the true origin of the Master Sword. Since the legendary sword is such a key part of the new game, let’s look at the sword’s history in past games to see how Skyward Sword might link in and add to what we already know about the sword’s creation and properties.
Section One: Incarnations and Properties
First Appearance: A Link to the Past
- Red handle
- The blade could be tempered, giving it greater strength each time. This act of strengthening it in a forge changed its colors with each upgrade.
- There were two possible upgrades that could be made to the Master Sword.
- Found covered in vines and old-looking in a pedestal in the Lost Woods.
- It can only be drawn after obtaining the three talismans (courage, wisdom, and power).
- Repels evil
- Said to be crafted by the Seven Sages in the Imprisoning War to seal Ganon in the Dark World (once the Sacred Realm). When in the Dark World, it appears to be a land trapped in an eternal twilight.
- Left in the Pedestal
Second Appearance: Ocarina of Time
- Blue handle
- The blade gets stronger as you collect the six sages’ medallions.
- Located in an early incarnation of the Temple of Time (judging by its small size).
- Only drawn after obtaining three spiritual stones: Forest, Fire, and Water.
- These coincide with the three Goddesses: Farore, Courage, Green, Emerald. Nayru, Wisdom, Blue, Sapphire. Din, Power, Red, Ruby.
- Repels evil
- Very mysterious backstory. Possibly crafted by the sages.
- Seals the entrance to the Sacred Realm.
- Left in the Pedestal
Third Appearance: The Wind Waker
- Blue Handle
- The sages prayers power the blade. There used to be six sages, but only two remain. The wings “unfold” with the first sage’s prayers. The blade glows with the second sage’s prayers.
- Located in a pedestal in the “basement” of Hyrule Castle under a statue of Ocarina of Time Adult Link. Stained glass windows depict the six Ocarina of Time sages.
- Drawn after collecting three orbs that raise the Tower of the Gods: one green (forest, courage, Farore), the second red (fire, power, Din), and the third blue (water, wisdom, Nayru).
- Repels evil
- Backstory unknown. Presumed to be the same sword as in Ocarina of Time.
- Seals Ganondorf’s powers. Called the “key” to unlock or lock his powers.
- Left in Ganondorf’s forehead at the bottom of the ocean, turning Ganondorf to stone and killing him. Presumably lost for the rest of that timeline.
Fourth Appearance: Twilight Prncess
- Blue handle with gold trim and greenish tint on the grip.
- Not powered by any outside force—power is inherent in the blade.
- Does receive additional power in the Twilight Realm from two Sols, which cause the blade to be able to drive away Dark Twilight Magic.
- Located in a pedestal in the ruins of the Temple of Time, in the depths of the Lost Woods.
- Drawn without needing to collect anything. Insead, there are three tests given to the Hero: First a chase through the woods being followed by monsters (Courage), second, the task of defeating the guardian of the Temple and his minions (Power), and third, solving the puzzle with the sacred statues (Wisdom). Zelda’s lullaby is needed to initiate the tests.
- Repels evil. Also cleaves evil from pure things, thereby cleansing and purifying them.
- Backstory unknown.
- Seals nothing, but acts as a key to time itself. “Unlocks” the entrance to the past AND to the secret depths of the Temple of Time.
- Left in the Pedestal
Section Two: Chronology and Why
Ocarina of Time shows the sword in an actively used early Temple of Time, judging by the small size and simple construction of the Temple. This dates it before Twilight Princess and Wind Waker. Aunuma’s confirmed Split Timeline theory shows that The Wind Waker is after the Adult ending of Ocarina of Time, whereas Twilight Princess is after the Child ending.
In Twilight Princess, the sword is in the ruins of a more elaborate, larger, later Temple of Time. These ruins are in a forest called the Lost Woods. In Child OoT, the legend of the hero who was to draw the sword was never fulfilled or even needed it seemed. Though the sword was honored for a long time, eventually the legend was lost and the sword’s value forgotten. Hyrule Castle Town relocated and left the unnecessary artifact behind. The legendary sword was forgotten by all but the Sages and the Royal House (descendants of Princess Zelda).
In A Link to the Past, the sword is also located in the Lost Woods. However the forest has grown so much over time that the temple ruins no longer exist. The pedestal exists, and the sword is overgrown with vines. The blade appears old and rusted, and the blue hilt has discolored—looking red on the grip and unpainted steel elsewhere. The sword is revived when it is pulled, but retains its discolored appearance, and it is able to be “upgraded” by modern swordsmiths. These facts place it after Twilight Princess, and as the last known incarnation of the sword thus far.
The Wind Waker sword was located in the same pedestal, but Hyrule Castle needed to be rebuilt elsewhere after Ganondorf’s Tower and lava pit replaced the old one. They rebuilt it over top of the sword chamber where the old Temple of Time was located. As the key to Ganondorf’s release and his powers, it was meant to be hidden completely and guarded by the royal family. OoT Adult Link is honored in the castle and blocks the entrance.
Section Three: The Sword and Ganondorf’s Demise
In the two latest games, Twilight Princess and The Wind Waker, Ganondorf is presumed killed, not sealed. Let’s take a look at how this appears to happen and the sword’s role in it.
In the Wind Waker, the Master Sword is to integrally linked to Ganondorf’s powers and life source that it turns him to stone and kills him. It is possible that for Ganondorf to remain dead the sword has to be left in his corpse forever.
Ganondorf, with the help of the Triforce of Power, has become a God-like spirit with no body of its own. He is locked in the Twilight Realm, a force of pure energy and power, because of the Sages’ actions. The Master Sword was not involved. At the end of Twilight Princess, Link impales Ganondorf on the Master Sword. Many assume him to be dead, however Zant says that as long as Ganondorf is still in this world Zant can’t be killed. We see Ganondorf still breathing, but after the Triforce of Power leaves that body, Zant cracks his own neck, thereby “killing” Ganondorf.
It is possible that Zant’s body was the host for Ganondorf’s spirit in the light world, but was only temporary. When Zant broke his own neck, Ganondorf’s spirit returned to its prison in the Twilight Realm, which is later called the Dark World. His spirit and other Twili begin to take animal-like forms because of the severity of the evil and greed in the Realm caused by Ganondorf’s influence. As Ganondorf—now the pig-like Ganon—grows in power be finds a new puppet from the Light World itself and a new way to escape the polluted Sacred Realm. At the end of a Link to the Past the two worlds remain separate and Gannon is defeated, but there is no guarantee that he is dead forever.
Section Four: Another Possible Origin Story
I throw this in here as speculation because of the irony of the sword backstory in this game and the new information we learned from Skyward Sword. It is not fact, but something to consider.
The Minish Cap contains a legend regarding a sword the Picori supposedly give to the Hero of Men, and a Light Force embodied in the sword and in the Princess Zelda. Darkness is overrunning the world, and a sword with a blue hilt is given to the Hero of Men from the sky. He drives the evil out of the world with this sword and an age of peace comes about, ruled over by the Princess who embodies the “Light Force” (obviously referring to the Triforce of Wisdom). In the window where the Hero of Men receives the sword from the sky there is also a golden triangular light force over the sword being given to the Hero. This could be the Triforce of Courage, which further links the sword in the legend to the Master Sword carried only by the one who has the Triforce of Courage.
This is supposedly the origin story of the Four Sword, which is the sword in the game, however I find it curious that the hilt of the complete and triumphant sword in the ancient stained glass windows is blue. The “Picori Sword” locked in the chest protected by the Royal family also has a blue hilt, but this sword has no power. Each time Link restores a portion of the sword’s power to it, this sword changes colors to that element’s color (green, red, and blue ironically) and gives Link the ability to split himself. By the time the fourth element is obtained, the handle of the sword with all of its power restored to it is GOLD, not BLUE.
Therefore although the game is indeed telling the origin story of the Four Sword, the legend depicted in the Stained Glass fits better with the Master Sword. There is no mention of multiplying selves in that story—in fact, the power that the sword in the legend gives the Hero of Men is the power to drive (or repel) evil out of the world. This is the trademark power of the Master Sword.
The Kingdom in The Minish Cap revolves around folk tales and legends of the Picori (or the Minish). The sword given to them by the Minish, as they see it without power locked in its chest, has a blue hilt. It makes sense, therefore, why the people of the Minish Cap confused the unpowered Four Sword with the legend of the Master Sword. They are both found in pedestals and both help the Hero to drive out evil from the world.
If there truly was a mistake in sword identification, then the legend in the Minish Cap is the first time that the origin story of the Master Sword shows the sword coming from the sky. I believe this makes it predate Ocarina of Time because this legend is closer to what we know of the truth.
Section Five: Skyward Sword
From the very first released trailer and interviews with Miyamoto, it has been common knowledge that this new game is the true Origin Story of the Master Sword. This changes the chronology.
What we know of the sword in Skyward sword thus far:
• It is originally called the Skyward Sword and is located in Skyloft.
• It has a spirit of its own that speaks to and connects with Link (perhaps for the first time of all the Links).
• It later becomes the Master Sword.
This connects the Master Sword with The Minish Cap’s legend, which shows the sword coming from the sky. This also would explain why only Link can wield the sword, because if the spirit of the original sword chose Link or bonded to Link it would only allow itself to be wielded by someone with his spirit. The incarnations of Link across different time and different games all have the spirit of the same Hero that first wielded the Master Sword, and therefore it allows them to wield it again.
Most backstories say that the Master Sword was forged by the Sages, which we now know is not exactly the truth. It could be the truth, however, if we look closely at some small details we obtain in various games and how they might be reflected in Skyward Sword.
Section Six: Origin Theory
The Wind Waker stresses a certain racial separation between Hylians and Humans, as evidenced by Hylian’s pointed ears. After learning about that separation we begin to notice that many games have these two different types of people in them, including OoT, MM, WW, PH, ST, and TP. The Sages are Hylians, as well as Zelda (and presumably the rest of the Royal Family), and Link. Keep this in mind as you read the rest.
In Twilight Princess, Shad talked about a race that lives in the sky who had a large hand in creation of technology, the world of Hyrule in general, and even in “creating” Twilight Princess Hylians. The race that Shad calls the Oocca are the closest to the Goddesses according to the book of legends that Shad has translated.
These bird-like creatures live on a floating island above the clouds (what remains of Skyloft?). They can barely talk, and have no knowledge of even simple technology or potions (as evidenced by the shopkeeper). The Temple they supposedly created on that island is literally falling apart as Link explores it, such is the state of its dilapidation. The Oocca wander around it clucking and flapping like highly evolved cuckoos. They could not possibly be the race referred to in the legends.
In most other games, such as A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, and possibly The Wind Waker, legends say that Hylians are the race closet to the goddesses because of their ears. According to legend, these large ears are said to be able to hear the voices of the Goddesses like whispers. It makes sense, then, that the Hylians are the race truly spoken of in the book. How did Shad and his father mistake it for the Oocca then?
Perhaps a particularly inventive man made a contraption that allowed him to fly, where he discovered one of the islands inhabited by the Oocca. He connected that with the rumors/legends of Skyloft and creation, then wrote this down in a book. This book is probably written in a Hylian script still relatively close to the original language spoken in Skyloft. Later researchers, like Shad and his father, assume that the language is that of the Oocca being written about, hence Twilight Princess’s legends with Oocca creators being the closest to the Goddesses.
That theory aside, however, what does all of this tell us about Skyward Sword and the Master Sword itself? The following is one possibly theory.
The Hylian race originally lived in Skyloft, where they heard the voice of the Goddesses regularly and were involved in much advanced technology, magic, and creation. The Skyward Sword was one of these creations. Working together with the Goddesses, the sensitive and talented Hylians created a sword with a soul for some currently unknown purpose.
The humans with round ears, however, lived in the dark, evil world below the clouds. As we know, one day the Skyward Sword chooses Link and takes him to the Dark World to purify it and defeat its evil. Perhaps during the events of the game the Hylian Sages did do something to the sword to make it repel evil specifically for this task. The sages are from Skyloft.
The Skyward Sword, now enhanced with the ability—purpose in fact—to repel evil from the world below is now the Master Sword. Link’s job is to use this sword to purify the new world, soon to be Hyrule, of evil so that the Hylians of Skyloft can begin to settle there. With the world purified by the events of Skyward Sword, Hylians begin to colonize the new world. They build many things and intermarry with the humans already there.
The sword that enabled the Hylians to come and freed the Humans from oppression is put in a pedestal in a temple called the Temple of Time and protected by three seals coinciding with the power of the three goddesses. It is kept “powered up” as the Master Sword with the ability to repel evil by the sages who gave the sword that ability in the first place.
Since the Hylians are no longer living in the world above the clouds they begin to lose their ability to hear the Goddesses. Intermarriage with humans is also a cause. Any memory of Skyloft is almost completely lost with time, and what really happened becomes a legend with many versions, as legends usually have. The earliest version of the legend is probably that depicted in The Minish Cap where the Master Sword comes from the sky. This version of the legend included the Hero and the Princess, signaling that not only will Link be in Skyward Sword, Zelda will be present as well.
Later creation stories forget about the sky all together. They only remember the Hylian sages part in it and consider that its creation. The Hero meant to wield it becomes a key part of the legend as well, hence why people expect a hero to appear in times of great evil to return peace. The events of Ocarina of Time solidify the role of the Princess and the great evil, Ganondorf, in the legend. By this time we have what we now know as the Zelda Formula, or the Legend of Zelda.
Section Seven: An Extra Consideration
I want to bring us back to the key difference in the latest incarnation of the Master Sword: A Link to the Past. It is the only sword that can be manipulated and strengthened by a force run by non-Hylian people. They change its appearance with its upgrades as well, which is unheard of.
Judging by the state of the “temple” and the corroded state of the sword itself, A Link to the Past takes place a LONG time after Twilight Princess. The descendants of the sages—the maidens—still exist, thereby still granting the sword some inherent power to repel evil, but they no longer actively pray for it or infuse it with magic. Without this protection and due to the severe decline of magic use in the world (as evidenced by Twilight Princess), the Master Sword does experience some corrosion by natural causes.
Due to this “decline” of sorts the sword loses some of its power – or perhaps some of its inner soul – and can be manipulated by human hands.
The Master Sword will always be, I expect, a key element in the Zelda Series. It is Link’s weapon, period. Any other sword he uses is just not quite right. Now that an entire game is being dedicated to the history of the sword, we can only expect an increase in its use and importance in future games.
It will be very exciting to see how Skyward Sword is similar to and different from the various origin stories learned about in past games. Whether it’s similar to the theories drawn up in this article or not is beside the point, but it’s worth it to theorize what connections might be made. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below, or discuss your own theories and opinions on our forums!