“In the shadows we regressed, so much so that we soon knew neither anger nor hatred…nor even the faintest bloom of desire. And all of it was the fault of a useless, do-nothing royal family that had resigned itself to this miserable half-existence!” 

The cliché is that the bigger, badder and scarier the villain, the better. This is especially true in the Action and Adventure genres, notably in any kind of Fantasy, Sci-fi and Horror. It is rare that the main antagonist in a story of those mediums is just like the guy next door.

Yet, it is often the characters that are just as ordinary as the rest of us who always turn out to be most frightening. Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers may have more intimidating looks (and are more marketable), but they are not even remotely as scary as an Annie Wilkes or Max Cady.

The Legend of Zelda franchise has generally preferred an over-the-top approach with its bad guys. Its most iconic villain is, of course, the dark warlord Ganondorf, and just about all of the other antagonists to ever challenge Link have either been other-worldly forces or sorcerers born of devilish magic. Besides Ganondorf’s incarnation in the Wind Waker, Zelda has featured only one antagonist who felt human; the Usurper King, Zant.

He’s no Sauron or Morgoth, and he’s all the more terrifying for it.

Zant can easily be related to an average human being because of what a flawed character he is. He isn’t just cowardly, he’s inept at every endeavor that he sets his mind to. He was given no respect for his ambitions by his people, the Twili, and to his dismay, was rejected as a possible leader of their people, instead being dismissed in favor of Midna. It is only when Ganondorf happens to come upon him that he finally has the ability to succeed in his aspirations.

At first, it may seem strange to describe such an incompetent character as being a great villain, but Zant is an ideal example of the most dreadful thing that a human being can become. On his own, he’s harmless. However, when you hand him power, coupled with a history of failure and a mind that cannot properly deal with it, he’s a living, breathing weapon of destruction.

Zant is a definitive sociopath- the kind of person we see today who goes into a public place and starts shooting a gun wildly because they feel they have been mistreated by society, and want to inflict as much harm on others as possible.

Zant felt disrespected by his peers, and when he has the means to actually do something about it, he takes out his frustration on them. Worst of all, he ends up taking it out on far more than just the people who may have ‘wronged’ him. Zant also has a vendetta against those who dwell in the Light Realm, believing that they victimized the Twili and mercilessly cast them into the Twilight Realm. Thus, when Zant finds a powerful source of magic in his hands thanks to Ganondorf, his reign of terror does not stop with just his own people.

“The people of our tribe…a tribe that mastered the arts of magic…were locked away in this world like insects in a cage” 

In the cinematic just before his boss fight in Twilight Princess, we get a real look at just how emotionally unstable Zant is. Even more, it paints a crystal clear picture of how Zant cannot handle adversity. Some fans claim that his infamous mental breakdown is too stark of a contrast from how Zant carried himself earlier in the game. Many believe that it made little sense what with the tough-guy persona he put on at the beginning of Twilight Princess, but the story does suggest before his unraveling that Zant is not in the right mind and not as composed as he initially appears to be. In fact, Zant displays the degeneration of a crazed individual who, at his core, is just a weakling who has turned himself into a bully.

When empowered, Zant yields an imposing, confident demeanor. We see it in the attack on Hyrule Castle and to a lesser extent, his appearance at the Lanayru Spring. However, while confronting Princess Zelda, Zant is totally distant from the audience as to his character. His dialogue is brief and to-the-point, and without audible speech, we have no idea what kind of tone he is speaking in. His mask is another feature which estranges him from the audience, especially when compared to how expressive other character models are in the game’s various cinematics.

On the other hand, when he first encounters Link and Midna at the Lanaryu Spring, Zant’s deranged nature leaks out a bit.

It seems like every other sentence of his during that exchange ends with an exclamation mark. Although we cannot say for sure if he was actually shouting or not, due to the lack of voice acting, we do know that Zant is getting riled up as the scene goes on, even though it appears to be completely unnecessary on his part. At one point, Midna condemns him for “abusing” the magic of their tribe, and Zant responds pretty dramatically-

“How dare you?! Are you implying that my power is…our old magic? Now THAT is a joke!” 

Certainly not the symbol of calm, cool, and collected, at all. It starts to add up even more because Zant makes his first ecstatic mention of his “god”, a.k.a. Ganondorf, during this scene, clearly implying that he did not concoct the plan on his own, and does not trust fully in his own capabilities.

“This power is granted to me by my god! It is the magic of the King of Twilight, and you WILL respect it!”

When things begin to go downhill for him, then, the true Zant emerges. It makes sense that as Link and Midna begin to make progress in their adventure and threaten to overcome Zant’s dark plot, the Usurper King goes missing in action for a while, only showing up to taunt Link before resurrecting Stallord.

In all seriousness, Nintendo likely included that scene strictly for gameplay purposes- not because it was intended to coincide with Zant’s character. But it does fit with the concept of his emotional frailty. Just like a bully, he prefers to have a lackey do his dirty work rather than face a potential challenge head on.

The next time that Link and Midna come into contact with him, his entire plan has been shattered, and the result is Zant’s insane tantrum within the Palace of Twilight. During his lengthy exposition where he vents all of his frustrations, we are shown a cutscene of when he first meets Ganondorf. But before he meets face to face with the King of Evil, Zant is shown running out of the palace, falling to his knees, beating at the ground and sobbing because the other Twili did not see him as a suitable king. To take disappointment in such pathetic fashion presents Zant as a seriously troubled individual, both mentally and emotionally.

When you have someone that unstable failing at all of their endeavors and, in their mind, being mocked by all that they know, it’s bound to create a very volatile being. The same kind of volatile being who would be incapable of holding together as he has to watch his dreams slowly fall apart before his eyes after finally seeing them come true.

“I had served and endured in that depraved household for far too long, my impudent princess. And why, you ask? Because I believed that I would be the next to rule our people! THAT is why!”

That’s the case with Zant as Twilight Princess draws to its conclusion. Link and Midna manage to topple Zant’s plot piece by piece until there’s nothing left of it but himself and the chair he sits on in the Palace of Twilight. After a lifetime of disappointment, Zant had at long last seen his goals realized, only to witness them ripped to shreds oh-so shortly after.

And that is what calls for the disturbing breakdown he has in his throne room just before he enters combat with Link and Minda- the tantrum of a traumatized person who had a taste of his dreams, and then had it all torn from him so quickly.

The inclusion of Ganondorf in Twilight Princess will be debated amongst fans for as long as video games are remembered in society, but regardless how whether or not it was a good choice to drop the King of Evil into the story, Zant needed that superior villain to be as unsettling of a villain as he himself turned out to be. Even if it did not need to be another entity, some kind of higher power which he could look to was required to make him the type of character he was.

Zant is not powerful enough to be a threat on his own, but in his mind, he’s as dangerous as they come. Believing that you have been wronged by every other living thing in your world, and being unable to accomplish something that you desire in such an unhealthy manner turns someone into a metaphorical ticking time bomb. When Zant finally has the means to act on his urges, that dark imagination of his is allowed to run wild- with horrifying results.

You could easily replace Zant’s name in the previous description with an incalculable number of individuals who have existed in our lifetime alone, and that’s what makes a skinny, childish, cackling Twili so frightening; we have seen “Zant” unfold before our very eyes so many times before.

  • matt17

    This ain't any news, it's just something random that someone can post on the forum.
    inb4 100 thumbs down

    • 666

      Maybe it's not news, but it's interesting reading for people who don't bitch about stuff that has no sort of importance whatsoever. Especially since I find Zant the most interesting character (second to Tingle, that is)

      • That comments lost all credibility when you mentioned tingle.

        Still think the first guy was being a jerk though.

    • ZoraMikau

      Dude, really? These articles the Zelda Universe writers put together are usually amazing.

    • Sakume

      In case you missed it, the front page is for any Zelda related article, and though new news is nice to hear, it is not always available, and in the absence of news, it's nice to see people write lengthy, well thought out articles that further explore the "Zelda Universe" the SITE is named after. So before you act so incredibly rude towards the people who work hard to make this site worthwhile and take the time to post such articles, I suggest you think twice. Good article, keep up the good work guys.

    • rookie

      come on, really? This is a great, well thought out article that really explains what's in a crazed villan's mind. no need to berate something like this.

  • Zant's character truly is fascinating, especially the nonchalant entity we were introduced to when Zelda told of his usurpery. Then again this came out as a story, and his true deportment was shown once he came before Link and Midna. Perhaps under fear even Princess Zelda didn't recognize his frenzy.

  • Jean D'Eu

    Finally someone gets to appreciate Zant with a full review of his persona, and not by just saying "omgee zant is nuts lol!!!11one"
    A well written and accurate article.

  • I was one of the many disappointed players with Zant. I even wrote a review of him in my blog (in Spanish) http://escepticoantetodo.blogspot.com/2008/08/vil…. While the writer of this article seems fascinated with him for his human qualities, I see it the other way around. I agree that the exclamation marks may illustrate the disturbance of Zant's mind, but that would only be a result of the translation and the localization, in other words, a way to be more emphatic in what he says. Yes, it could be a reflection of his insecurity despite all the power that he possesses. Yet, if he was a desperate man, unsure of himself, he would have killed Midna and Link instead of trying to incapacitate them. In my opinion, the fact that he resorts to such thing reflects that he was Sure that his plan was going to work just fine. That would contrast with this image that the author insists on transmitting: that of a desperate Zant emerging from here and then. I don't agree with that. I saw Zant as in full control at first, capable of handling this power by his own, full of trust in his abilities. Yes, they were not his own abilities, but those abilities gave him the confidence that he lacked all his life. The results of that confidence were terrible, of course, because he finally turned the odds on his favour and begin pùnishing all people who made him feel "inferior" or "unable" to be a king.

    • corndog

      You forget, though, Zant did try to kill midna in Lanayru's spring. He nearly succeeded too, if it weren't for link's intervention.

  • (second part)
    However, Zant did not get all this power without a cost, as all his actions pursue the same goal of that of HIS GOD. He wanted to become king, which he did, but in turn, he had to follow Ganon's command and fulfill his wish or merging Shadow and Light and turning it into Darkness. In that sense, Zant became king, but always acknowledging there was a superior being behind his actions. Whether this made Zant more insecure or more secure of his actions is something very difficult to determine as for the one hand: he finally could reign his people, but on the other hand, he knew deep inside that he could not do it alone and that he depended on this superior being to go on. I tend to believe Ganon made Zant feel more secure, but in a bad way, as that sense of security was a lie to himself. He felt "protected" and "untouchable" under Ganon's power, but it was clear that when Midna and Link overcame all the endeavours, Zant began to feel that insecurity again as if saying: "Nothing of what my God has told me to do has worked to stop these two (MIdna and Link), Could it be that my God was wrong?" That sense of doubt, that sense of being unable to handle things on one's own, could have been what finally triggered Zant's tantrum and what eventually allowed us to see his true identity: a pitiful man full of ambitions, but incapable and too unsure of himself to do things on his own.
    It is a great subject of analysis, but I disagree with the author in relation to Zant's character showing signs of his insecurity, because those exclamation marks could have been a "dialogue" device in order to highlight and emphasize Zant's point. It does not necessarily mean that he was shouting. For example, we all know he shouts and screams while we fight him, we hear him very clearly. So why would he be screaming in that scene if we do not see him lose his composure at all? I know the author's point is a valid opinion, but there's no way to be totally sure whether those exclamation marks were the result of his insecure character flowing out or just the result of him being emphatic on his ideas.

    Anyways, Zant is a good subject of analysis, because I perceive him not only a madman, but also as an unsympathetic character, a character that complains for not having power, a character that had many aspirations, but who was too lazy and too weak to take action in order to gain the respect he though he deserved and thus unable to handle the responsibility on his own due to his unstable mind state.

    Good review. I hope to translate mine too, as I wrote a review about Zant on my blog 3 years ago already (Boy! time flies)

  • brock alamos

    i beleive that zant is just a little brat kid who got spoiled all of his life, and then when he diddnt get his wish, he had to go all crazy and try to kill everyone who did not let him become king and more

  • robotortoise

    Great article, ZU. Zant is craaaazy. And he pays for his lunatics. With the ultimate price: death.

  • Artine

    I agree with both the author of this article and dorsh. They're both right – it's a combination of the two.

  • Lancelot-sama!

    I just love this. I always found Zant as an interesting character for a villian brought into Zelda and he intrigued me very well. I think he probably sorted of added to the 'darkness' of Twilight Princess, with his unstable mind and emotional state.

  • You could have just subbed in my brother's name for Zant's. It would make just as much sense.

  • Sage of Hyrule

    This is a good article. But I can't help but remember feeling slightly disappointed with Zant's character towards the end… Because he was such a badass at the beginning, to see him throwing tantrums by the time he didn't get his way in the end was a little disheartening. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad he was included in the game. It wouldn't have made sense to just have Ganondorf once again at the forefront–having him manipulate someone like Zant just goes to show that the King of Evil deserves his title.

    I thought Zant had great potential. But I do agree that he is an interesting character because he displayed those human qualities that I'm sure we've all felt before–betrayal, lack of belief in one's own strengths, etc.

    At the same time however, I still find myself hoping for a villain that ends up as Zant began–in charge and wreaking great havoc across the land. Lord Girahim looks very promising. He looks strange, acts strange, and has some sort of underlying psychosis that makes him scary, not because his motives are obvious, but precisely because they're not. We don't know exactly what he wants, and he really enjoys toying around with Link while trying to get it. So because he's such an interesting character right off the bat, I'm really hoping they don't pull a Twilight Princess (so to speak) and have him turn out to be just another pawn in some cliche villain's true plans.

    Jeff, you make some good points. I really don't remember all of the scenes in TP so well, and now I'm inspired to go back and see just what makes Zant…Zant.

  • Sage of Hyrule

    Also, the way Jeff described Zant's situation really reminds me of a certain Skull Kid…

  • he was actually cutting out the puzzle shapes following the red line drawn on each cover.

  • rookie

    I totally agree! Great article, man. I hadn't really given Zant that much thought until now. Thanks to you, Jeff, Zant's theme is now one of my favorite Zelda tracks.
    I thought Zant looked petrifying with his mask on (and that freakin' noise is worse than a re-dead's shriek) "but then I saw his face"……… Couldn't resist the smash mouth reference there. ; )