2012/05/10

"Puppet Zelda" and more about Ganondorf

Contains spoilers of Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and The Wind Waker.




The WindWaker's Ganondorf design is my favorite. It took me a while to pick up all the sources of inspiration for TWW designs – and surely, since I haven't done any profound research I wouldn't know all of them – but I noticed how Ganon's design was so obviously inspired by fashion of Chinese empire, although I wouldn't know the exact era, I found it wicked cool and inspired me to dwell into Ganondorfs overall design more. The Wind Waker's design felt so perfect for the character, who no longer really had a place in the new world, an echo from the glory of the past, fire and gold.

There, they literally state he's the emperor, yet I completely failed to observe rest of the game for ancient China references on first playthroughs. DUH.



How gamers would describe Ganondorf's character, I think he seems like very classic villain. He wants to take over the world and turn it into kingdom of darkness. He doesn't need any explanations, he's just, evil. I feel that he's originally a combination of two very simple but contrasting elements. Fire symbolizes his hatred and lust for power, and destruction which he wants to bring to the people, and darkness for that it's the opposite of light, "the good"and associated with fear, death and despair – it contrasts nicely to fire, as his character is mostly depicted as cool and calm, rather than aggressive. Ganondorf is seen appearing from fire at least in Ocarina of Time and the Wind Waker,  and referenced as "Dark Lord"and "Prince of Darkness". He's seen to cast dark blobs of magic in several games.

As for main elements for big baddie, fire and darkness are not too shabby. Yet I've seen countless of bad executions for character designs that try to utilize those elements. Main problem to me is that everything is so damn awful over-designed in most of the games, and the elegance is drowned under needless ornaments and gimmicky accessories.

Ganondorf in Twilight Princess. Whereas I can see the cape is obvious for an illusion of  following flames and I even liked the silly headdress, the overall outfit just doesn't communicate to me at all. It's just, dull. Is it really a battle armor fit for a king of all fucking evil? I suppose I should note that he was titled merely "Dark Lord" in TP, and he keeps changing titles from King (OoT & TWW) to Prince (OoT) to Lord (TP) to GOD (TP).
I'm interested in studying the process of how do you exactly work an idea of a character into concept, and concept into finished visualization. All Ganondorfs have some basic elements in common, the pure evil, dark powers/magic, a holder of Triforce of Power and ever greedy for more, aka fulfilling his desire of ruling the world via wish granted by complete Triforce. Ganondorfs since A Link to the Past have been also known as thieves, supposedly because it'd make sense only a master thief would be able to snatch part of Triforce for himself. One particularly mean thief too, wanting to shit on the balance and harmony of the world. The power of Triforce is never questioned thorough the series, as it is the power of gods itself.

In old 2D games the graphical capacity made it impossible or at least foolish to design something complicated, and the character needed to be extremely recognizable, something that HD graphics these days don't really respect in terms of character design. Originally Ganondorf was simply Ganon, a man turned into beast, resembling mainly a pig, or a boar, as the fangs would suggest. Blue/green at that.

As my Zelda fandom started rather late, I couldn't help but finding his design a little too amusing. I'm not belittling it though, original Zelda games are ridiculously hard and by the time you reach Ganon he really must seem like one fearsome motherfucker.
In here, I'm sure it's nothing very complicated thinking with his character design. You can't have him skipping around nude blue, so he needed some outfit, and red is pretty obvious pair for blueish green he is on the screen. It's universally most well known color after all. And well, skulls, he's really evil you know.

First time Ganon appears as human and is confirmed with the name Ganondorf, is in Ocarina of Time, which in many ways shaped the future of Zelda games, but also confirmed many elements of Ganondorfs past. A Link to the Past already stated that he's a thief, but in OoT it was explained more carefully that he in fact is the leader of an entire tribe of thieves. What makes him the leader, is him particularly being the only male being born in the tribe, therefore destined to lead. 

Ganondorf of Ocarina of Time, leader of Gerudo tribe and King of Evil.

His skin color can be explained by designers to want the Gerudo tribe to be separated as differend race from Hylians, and typical Gerudo features as seen on other members of the tribe are red hair, dark/olive skin, nose like beak and round ears, whereas Hylians have pointy. Slightly exaggerated green tone of Ganondorf's must however be homage to original design, and connection to his beast form which has remained greenish in newer games. His beast form must define his human form in some manner, so he's depicted as muscular and taller and bulkier than average human. Something that I prefer in comparison to more popular anime bad guys with overly compensating weapons. 

When I look at Ganondorf's design in OoT, it strikes to me as some sort of style mix between aesthetic of motorcycle gang punk with light, ornamented fabrics and wrappings worn by people who live in extremely hot areas – ragged fabrics indicate the harshness of desert environment. I find it rather funny combination, actually. I guess you have to be pretty badass to wear black leather on a goddamn desert, but at least you got those white rags here and there to keep you cool.

In OoT, Ganondorf being the King of Thieves and the whole aspect of exploring his origins at the desert support his character design overall pretty well, although I don't think it's truly very strong to depict a character who is more literally a king, or a ruler of something as large and vague as EVIL or DARKNESS itself. In those terms, he resembles more of those dumb and bulky motorcycle punks who kidnap and harass chicks in 80's movies and anime. Gotta love that nose though, damn.



I nearly peed myself when I found TWW concept art section in "Hyrule Historia" artbook.  The designs are just so delicious. AND OH LOOK ANOTHER COOL NOSE


After Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, The Wind Waker was highly anticipated, and fans expected some style consistency, only with better graphics than N64, for GameCube. Welp, weren't they surprised when first screenshots of TWW were published. Childish and cute graphics --- In MY epic, serious legend of Zelda?! I admit, I was only 13 or so when I saw the first pictures, I wasn't terribly impressed either, because I only expected some handsome and cool adult Link I suppose. As soon as I started playing the game though, all my prejudices were forever scrapped away. By far, TWW is visually the best designed Zelda game, and the risk they took with design revamp was worth it all.

Ganondorfs design stirred a lot of emotions too. Many fans were disappointed to see him fat, and common headcanon seems to be that his years in sealed away realm were spent eating lots of chips and burgers. I personally find his plump shape not fat at all, but rather, highlighting his pompous attitude and power. In the history, large stomach was also a clear sign of social significance, because only nobles and other people of high status could afford to eat their stomachs full.

The Wind Waker succeeded also in bringing out the tragedy of his character without pushing it as obvious as JRPG's tend to do, in comparison. I compare them in my mind, although Zelda games are without a doubt puzzle and adventure games, there are elements of RPG, and there are fans who get huge boners imagining Zelda MMORPG, more character relationships and drama-oriented Zeldas. However, The Wind Waker manages, while being subtle about it, reveal a lot about Ganondorfs character.



...."My country lay within 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 frigid gale pierced our homes. No matter when it came the wind carried the same thing... Death. But the winds that blew across the green fields of Hyrule brought something other than suffering and ruin. I coveted that wind, I suppose. "

Zelda games have never been made to be highly narrative and character oriented stories, as current lead designer Eiji Aonuma has stated, priority in Zelda is in game mechanics and fun gameplay. Without a doubt, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, both they were fun games for me, but I was still disappointed. I do yearn for these characters I grew up with, and the character development and exploration that particularly happened between Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker. 

Sadly, after the Wind Waker, both TP and SS have visually been overly cautious combinations of previous games – what with TP trying to return to OoT-like realism and therefore becoming a mere OoT v.2 and SS trying to combine TWW brightness to TP's proportions. 

As a final note, Ganondorf is likely hanging out in some form in future Zelda games as well, as the ending of SS would suggest. With regret I am braced for the fact that, future Ganondorfs won't be likely to top the ancient emperor, true ruler of darkness Ganondorf, for me.

1 comment:

  1. Entertaining to read, indeed. Ganondorf has always been my favorite character since I was 8. I like how deep you go into the design of each versions. Great work~!

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