The effects that Ocarina of Time has had on The Legend of Zelda, and on gaming as a whole, can hardly be overestimated. Its character design and world-building are second to none, and its game mechanics are nothing short of revolutionary. Those of us who played this game when it was first released 20 years ago remember well the immense impact it has had on our lives. That impact is renewed with every new generation that picks up the game.
But each time I answer the call of the Great Deku Tree and accept the quest from the young Princess Zelda, I cannot help but reflect on the dark fate that awaits both myself, and the land of Hyrule. As I once again draw forth the legendary Master Sword, I know only too well the looming shadow of Ganondorf waits just behind me to walk forward and claim the Triforce. Although I know it is but one more step in my journey as the Hero of Time, I cannot ignore the fact that by this very action, I am dooming Hyrule to seven long years of tyranny. The longer I look at it, the more I am sure that the wiser course, would have been to simply leave the Triforce alone.
The Race for the Triforce
When you first meet the young Princess Zelda, she confides to you her suspicions of Ganondorf and his desire for the Triforce. In order to stop him, the two of you decide to reach the Triforce first, thus keeping it from his grasp. The race for such a prize creates a grand story and sets you on the path to adventure, but in your rush to beat Ganondorf to the prize, a crucial question remains unasked: Is it even possible for Ganondorf to get the Triforce? It’s always just assumed that left to his own devices, Ganondorf will eventually claim his prize, but if one looks at all the keys necessary to open the way to the Sacred Realm, that feeling of inevitability quickly begins to fade.
In order to reach the Sacred Realm, you first need to know what is required in order to open the door. In this, it seems like you would have the advantage: Princess Zelda, being who she is, obviously has access to this important knowledge (something that she shares with you when you meet). Ganondorf seems to have only recently established diplomatic relations with Hyrule, and thus would most likely not be privy to such classified information. Unfortunately, anyone taking a day trip to the Temple of Time will see the dais in front of the Door of Time spelling out exactly the keys needed to open the way. So from this point, both you and Ganondorf have the same information, and Ganondorf has had more time.
Giving others too much time
It’s at this point where Ganondorf’s advantages end, for not only are the keys to the Temple of Time difficult to obtain but in every case, Ganondorf’s methods prove to be the least effective. Take for starters, the Kokiri Emerald. Unbeknownst to its residents, Ganondorf enters the Kokiri Forest and attempts to relieve the Great Deku Tree of its spiritual stone. Upon being denied his prize, Ganondorf reacts in a cruel manner: creating an infestation within the Deku Tree and effectively bringing about the tree’s demise. The evil nature of Ganondorf’s actions cannot be denied, but as a method to extract the Kokiri Emerald, it’s strikingly subpar. Why curse the tree with a slow death and then abandon your victim before you obtain what you desire? If your entire goal is to steal a sacred item, why not kill the Great Deku Tree quickly instead of leaving it where could still act in defiance to you (such as giving the stone away to someone you know nothing about). Giving your foe plenty of time to react to your plan is not a good way to steal things from them.
“Giving your foe plenty of time to react to your plan is not a good way to steal things from them.”
On Death Mountain, Ganondorf starts off with an extortion tactic: seal off the Dodongo’s Cavern and hold the Goron’s rock supply ransom in exchange for the Spiritual Stone of Fire. This seems at first to be very effective, as the entire Goron tribe is dying of hunger and Darunia has sealed himself away in hopes of emissaries from the king of Hyrule. But the true source of the problem – the Goron’s hunger – is not due to Ganondorf’s actions, it’s because the Gorons are picky eaters. While it’s true that the “most delicious and nutritious” rocks do come from the Dodongo’s Cavern, it is not their only food source. As one Goron put it, they’ve become such gourmets that they can’t stand anything else. Given time (and some growing up), the Gorons could learn to live with a different meal plan.
But regardless of how the Gorons handle this famine, it doesn’t change the fact that Ganondorf once again has missed his mark. Twice his initial demands are refused, and twice he resorts to nothing more than a dragged-out killing process. Both situations are cruel and villainous – things Ganondorf would most certainly do – but in neither case are the victims of these nefarious deeds willing to give up their sacred treasures, and both times they are given ample time to recover and plan a way around the crisis.
Incompetence in Zora’s Domain
Ganondorf’s drive to be a villain subverts every attempt for the spiritual stones, and in Zora’s Domain, it gets even worse! Link’s arrival finds King Zora worried over the disappearance of his daughter, Ruto. Further investigation uncovers a message from Princess Ruto inside the Zora’s patron deity, Lord Jabu-Jabu, who has been noticeably ill since Ganondorf’s recent visit. Subsequent events find Lord Jabu-Jabu infected with another demonic parasite, with Princess Ruto and the spiritual stone trapped inside.
The thing is, Ruto has been exploring Jabu-Jabu’s digestive tract for years. And despite the jellyfish and tentacles, she’s actually very composed (and very much in command). It’s apparent that she could leave Jabu-Jabu anytime she wanted. The only thing keeping her here is the spiritual stone, which she dropped after being suddenly swallowed. Even after your separation, where it seems as if she has been forcibly kidnapped, she’s just waiting for you after Barinade’s defeat with a blushed impatience.
“Ganondorf’s drive to be a villain subverts every attempt for the Spiritual Stones”
What’s even stranger, is that in this entire ordeal, King Zora doesn’t say anything about Ganondorf demanding the spiritual stone, and Princess Ruto doesn’t even mention the Gerudo King once! While it’s possible that the request was made and simply not reported to Link (all too likely, given his age and lack of position), from our perspective, it’s as if Ganondorf came, infected Jabu-Jabu, and just… left. The only way this course of events makes sense is if Ganondorf planned on returning when Jabu-Jabu was more clearly in mortal peril and making his demand then. Again, that still leaves the Zora ample time to discover something wrong and cure the infestation. Remember, Link does not have any special ability or power needed to clear out the jellyfish: just the boomerang that he recovers from inside Jabu-Jabu. Any skilled warrior could have done the same.
Finding the power of music
Even assuming Ganondorf was able to use these misguided schemes to secure the spiritual stones, additional items and knowledge are needed to open the path to the Sacred Realm. The inscription in the Temple of Time reference both the Ocarina and Song of Time as essential keys to opening the door. The Song of Time is honestly a bit of a mystery in this case, as there is no indication what source Ganondorf could have utilized to learn the song. While he does kill the Composer Brothers over the Sun’s Song, there is no indication that they had any info concerning the Song of Time. The Royal Family obviously knew it, as Zelda is the one who teaches Link, but the possibility of any member of the Royal Family teaching a new diplomat such an important melody seems ludicrous. However, if Ganondorf was able to ascertain where the Spiritual Stones were located (something that also appears to be a guarded secret), it is plausible that Ganondorf could have acquired the Song of Time.
The Ocarina of Time, however, is a completely different matter. Zelda tells Link of the Ocarina of Time, stating that it is in her possession and asserting that Ganondorf shall not have it. This proves to be true, as although Ganondorf (finally) resorts to the direct approach and assaults Hyrule Castle, Zelda and Impa escape on horseback. Upon seeing you outside the castle town gates, Zelda throws the Ocarina of Time into the moat, entrusting you with its fate. But she honestly needn’t have bothered. As Ganondorf appears behind you, the first words out of his mouth are his frustration at having lost the escaping princess. To our knowledge that is the last the Ganondorf even sees of Zelda for seven years, despite his dogged pursuits. Which means that had Zelda kept the Ocarina with her, Ganondorf would have been forever kept from the Triforce.
The Master Key
Yet, even if all these nefarious plans had come to fruition and Link had not been there to receive the Kokiri Emerald, save the Gorons, and gain the affection of Princess Ruto; had Ganondorf been successful in capturing Zelda in her flight from Hyrule Castle; and had every minute detail fallen in Ganondorf’s favor, his designs would have all been for naught. One final key to the Sacred Realm and the Triforce was completely impossible for the Gerudo king to overcome: The Master Sword.
Upon being awakened after seven years slumber, Link learns from Rauru the sage that the Master Sword was the final key to the Sacred Realm. One must simply draw the sword and one would be granted access. But the Sage of Light also explains to you that the Master Sword is a sacred blade that no evil being can touch. To make it even more specific, only one worthy to become the legendary Hero of Time could pull the sword from the Pedestal of Time. With those requirements, there is absolutely nothing Ganondorf could do to bypass the Blade of Evil’s Bane. No matter the tactic or force he possessed, without any means to find the one worthy to draw the Master Sword, Ganondorf would be permanently stuck on the outside. Ganondorf would forever be denied his prize if it were not for the actions of a terrified princess and an exuberant young lad who could not possibly see what the future hold. Instead, Link gathered all the keys and literally opened the door for Ganondorf to walk through and obtain the ultimate power.
“All of the calamities that Hyrule must face are in fact, because of you.”
It’s a sad realization: All of the calamities that Hyrule must face are in fact, because of you. It makes the efforts to awaken the Sages and defeat the King of Evil not just a righteous crusade, but a quest to rectify your own mistakes. It’s a perspective that gets lost in the sight of the adult Link’s form and the epic quest that stands before you, yet it stands to reason, that Hyrule would have remained at peace, had Link simply stayed away from the Temple of Time.