Even though he’s the main villain of The Legend of Zelda franchise, the difference between Ganondorf and Ganon can be confusing. Where’s the line?
The Legend of Zelda‘s lore is complex and often confusing. Its intensity is manifested by its timeline, which branches into three due to the events of Ocarina of Time. The events of Ocarina and beyond have contributed to a fundamental point of confusion with the series’ core villain: what is the difference between “Ganon” and “Ganondorf?”
The first chronological appearance of either Ganon or Ganondorf is in Ocarina of Time. At the game’s outset, he is Ganondorf, the King of the Gerudo. One male is born to the otherwise all-female Gerudo every century, and that male becomes King by birthright, because patriarchy occurs even among warriors. While Ganondorf remains alive in any form, another male Gerudo seemingly cannot be born.
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As King of the Gerudo, Ganondorf earns the King of Hyrule’s trust, to the point he can access the Sacred Realm and gain the Triforce of Power. The rest of Ocarina of Time covers Link’s and Zelda’s efforts to undo Ganondorf’s reign as the Evil King. Link’s usage of time travel, in conjunction with the potency of Ganondorf’s threat to Hyrule, causes the outcome of Ocarina‘s final battle to split Zelda‘s unified timeline into three.
The Origin of Zelda’s Split Between Ganondorf & Ganon
After Link bests the humanoid Ganondorf in Hyrule Castle, Ganondorf uses the last vestiges of the Triforce of Power to collapse Hyrule Castle around them. When Link and Zelda emerge unscathed, an exhausted, desperate Ganondorf is transformed by the very essence of the Triforce of Power into a giant beast. This powerful, bestial form is Ganon.
This fight between Link and Ganon is where the Zelda timeline splits. In the Fallen Hero timeline, Ganon defeats Link, which earns him the full Triforce. The Seven Sages seal Demon King Ganon away. According to the updated version of events in the Hyrule Historia, Ganon never becomes human again in the Fallen Hero timeline. Link’s defeat in Ocarina of Time allows the raw power of the bestial Ganon to go unchecked and never be reverted. This is why all games on this timeline – Link to the Past, Oracle of Ages/Seasons, Link Between Worlds, The Legend of Zelda, and Adventure of Link – feature the beast version of Ganon, if they feature Ganon at all. As this timeline progresses, the beast Ganon loses any trace of the human he once was.
If the Hero of Time is triumphant, events alter dramatically. The Adult Era occurs directly after Ocarina’s final battle, when Zelda and the other Sages seal the defeated Ganon away in the Sacred Realm with only the Triforce of Power. The potency of the Sages’ seal and Ganon’s relatively weakened state reverts him back to the humanoid Ganondorf. This action leads to the Ganondorf in Wind Waker. But Wind Waker‘s King of Red Lions points out a huge flaw in Ganondorf’s naming system: “Ganon” is also a shortening of “Ganondorf.”
The Child Era happens when Zelda sends Link back to re-live his childhood at the end of Ocarina. Link warns Zelda and the King of Hyrule of Ganondorf’s true intentions, and Ganondorf is imprisoned before any of the events of Ocarina of Time can take place. Ganondorf obtains the Triforce of Power regardless in the de-facto sequel Twilight Princess, but he is properly killed by Link before he can turn into Ganon. Eventually, a reincarnated Ganondorf is born to the Gerudo tribe, leading to the events of Four Swords Adventures.
All these details lead to the speculation around Breath of the Wild and its sequel. Breath of the Wild introduces a new completely form, Calamity Ganon, which Impa refers to as a “primal evil.” However, using the name “Ganon” implies that Calamity Ganon was once, very long ago, the humanoid Ganondorf. This speculation gained ground in the first teaser for BOTW2, when some version of the humanoid Ganondorf was revealed under Hyrule Castle.
While the difference between Ganon and Ganondorf in The Legend of Zelda can be confusing, there is a method behind it. Ganondorf is the humanoid Gerudo man, whereas Ganon is that man’s transfigured beastial form. Otherwise, “Ganon” is a nickname for “Ganondorf,” because nothing in Zelda can be completely straightforward.
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