6 Aspects of the Zelda Games That Are Darker Than They Appear


So here we are just a few days after Halloween, looking ahead to better times. But we’re also in the middle of The Legend of Zelda’s 25th anniversary. How can I pass up a chance to talk more about one of my favorite series ever? I can’t, that’s how. I’ve discussed the difference between the fan mentalities, and a bit about whether the games are dark or cartoony or whatever, but today I feel like just creeping myself out. Let’s look at the dark side of the coin, the scratched side. Let’s take a look at the really unsettling parts of the Zelda series. Here are 6 Aspects of Zelda Games That Are Darker Than They Appear.


6. Koholint is All a Dream:


Wind Fish Mural

Link, nothing you know is real. And now you're going to die of starvation.

So in spoiling a game that’s been out for 20 years, Link’s Awakening tasks the titular hero with collecting eight magical instruments in order to play the Ballad of the Wind Fish, open the Wind Fish’s egg, and vanquish the nightmare in order to wake up said Wind Fish. However, in doing so, all of Koholint disappears, leaving Link once again stranded on some floating ship wreckage.


Now, Zelda games aren’t big on connecting themselves perfectly regarding a timeline, especially in the older games, but from here we know that Link was traveling, had his ship destroyed by lightning, and then after an adventure wound up right where things started in the opening title screen. Actually, scratch that, things are worse. At least in the opening he washes up on the shores of a mysterious island. At the end of the game he discovers that nothing he just went through actually happened and although the Wind Fish is real and flying through the sky, he’s still stranded. The games don’t explicitly say what happens next, but we know that there are other Links, so this one isn’t required to return. Did he die at sea after waking up? This may go hand-in-hand with something later on the list, so mull over Link’s Awakening a bit.


5. Ganon Requires Link’s Blood to Live Again:


Zelda 2 Death Screen

It's like if Dracula was a warthog or something.

You don’t need to go further than Zelda II for things to take a dark turn. The gameplay changes, but the characters stay the same with Link questing for the Triforce of Courage, needed to wake up the original Princess Zelda whom the actual legend was written about. Ganon, surprisingly, is not the main villain, but he is still present during the Game Over screens since the enemies in the game need Link’s blood in order to resurrect Ganon.


The idea of needing Link to bleed for Ganon to live is dark on its own, but the greater implication is not that Ganon is trying to come back; the darker, more unsettling aspect is that there are hundreds of his followers that want him back. He is dead, destroyed thanks to Link’s actions in the first game, so his followers are free to do as they please now. What do they choose to do? Bring Ganon back. Hyrule may have lost the ultimate evil for the time being, but it didn’t change anything. The paths are still treacherous and full of murderous axe-throwing madmen and spear-chucking hog-people. And worse still, they’re without a leader now. As long as Link is alive, Hyrule will never be free of Ganon’s grasp, and Ganon’s not even alive. Or at least, not technically… I think…


4. Link Never Returned:


Wind Waker Opening Scroll

Peace, I'm out! Call me if you need me! Imma go die of starvation, but whatev.

As I mentioned with Link’s Awakening’s somewhat ambiguous ending, there’s a possibility that at least one Link was lost at sea at some point after saving Hyrule. Well, while not definitely the Link from Link’s Awakening, we know without doubt that The Hero of Time, the Link from Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, never returned to Hyrule. This gets stated in the opening of The Wind Waker, describing that the Hero of Time left Hyrule, leaving it open to Ganon’s return, but when he inevitably broke free from his prison in the Sacred Realm, Link didn’t come back and stop him. Where Link went, we don’t really know, but one thing’s for sure: Link never came back to Hyrule.


What’s dark to me is that Link was a Hero of Blank, or rather, a chosen hero of the Three Goddesses of Hyrule. This is the single most important individual of that era and he’s just plain vanished. Knowing that he was needed and failed only depresses things further. That means everything Link did in Hyrule, all the rebuilding and saving and evil smiting, yeah, that was all for nothing. It’s almost like he didn’t do anything but just prolong the inevitable. Was the Hero of Time really that ineffectual?


3. The Original Uses of the Ocarina’s Temples:


Zelda Dead Hand

Also, what is this?! What is this?! Who thought this would be good for a kid's game?! This is some Pan's Labyrinth style horror up in here!

Ocarina of Time had some amazing temples, though part of this was punctuated through seeing them in 3D for the first time. Suddenly dungeons really could have themes like the Water Temple or the Fire Temple. It was now possible to just stop and take a look at the textures on the walls or survey the area and take in the full scope of the temple. But on closer inspection, things get pretty dark.


A lot of this is fan speculation as to what each temple’s original use could have been, in and of itself an unsettling concept since each temple is abandoned (in just about every Zelda game mind you). What was the Forest Temple before Ganon sent his phantom to live there? I’ve heard speculation that it was a castle in the forest that was besieged and completely wiped out, including the four sisters that called it home. Just thinking about the possible backstory is enough to get the chills, and better yet, Nintendo doesn’t have anything to say on the matter. Effectually, this gives license to fans to tell what can basically be described as “ghost stories” to one another and just try and freak each other out.


The best place to do this is the Shadow Temple. The theme is very clearly death and sorrow with grim reapers, tombs, torture chambers, and walls built out of skulls. The theory that stands out the most has the Shadow Temple as a place where the Hyrulian army imprisoned enemy soldiers, tortured some for information, and executed others (otherwise why would guillotines be there). Crazier still, the Bottom of the Well fits in with undead and restless spirits since there’s blood smeared all over the floor and a complete theme of horror and grotesque murder. The longer you sit and think about these temples, the more your imagination fills in and the worse they become.


2. The Entirety of Majora’s Mask:


Deku Scrub

I may never smile again. Thanks Majora's Mask. Now come to the 3DS.

I can’t easily find one specific aspect of Majora’s Mask that stands out above the rest, but all of it tends to be depression and nightmare fuel. Let’s just start with the basic premise of the game. Link (the same Hero of Time Link that will go missing from Hyrule) is passing through a parallel world when the Skull Kid turns him into a Deku Scrub and steals the Ocarina of Time, only to then use his demon-possessed mask to slowly bring the moon crashing down onto the land of Termina.


Okay, that alone isn’t the darkest plot, despite the moon appearing to be evil personified. What’s far worse is the tone of accepting death. Link’s three main transformations- Deku Scrub, Goron, and Zora- are all a result of him gaining a mask that contains the soul of a deceased member of each race. He finds a dying Zora guitarist on the beach and plays the Song of Healing in order to heal the spirit…do death of course. No matter what happens at the end of this story, at least three characters aren’t going home to their families, punctuated very eerily by the Deku Butler kneeling at the foot of his dead son.


The most tragic aspect is the knowledge that really no matter how much you manage to do over the course of the three days, it’s impossible to do everything. It’s a handful of timelines all overlaying themselves one on top of the other, so either a timeline has a few people being slightly happier but with a moon destroying everything, or the last timeline where the moon doesn’t fall but everyone’s problems are left unresolved. That feeling of utter powerlessness, despite having he ability to control time, can generate a deep despair. It’s sort of like that scene in Groundhog Day where Bill Murray is trying to save a homeless man but no matter what he does he always dies at the end of the day. Yeah, that, but the whole day. Yet there is one thing that may be worse…


1. The Most Horrific Evil of Hyrule Can Never Be Killed:


Link to the Past Ganon Battle Art

All your afforts will be pointless. It may just be simpler for everyone if you give up and die now.

Ganon is the Big Bad of the series and has appeared in one form or another in most of the games. No matter what Link and Zelda do, Ganon rises again stronger than ever. Link and Zelda sealed him in the Sacred Realm. He breaks out. They vanquish him after a long battle. He is reborn. They jam a sword into his face. Does this finally stop him? Not even that’s fully clear. He returns again and again and again, and each time Hyrule pays for this with quite a few lives. But what’s scarier is the greater implications of Ganon’s constant resurrection: The gods of Hyrule are either powerless or do not care.


This is most punctuated with the Hero of Time’s departure at the end of Ocarina of Time and Ganon’s return before The Wind Waker. The people of Hyrule prayed for the savior to return, but he did not. The Goddesses, for whatever reason, did not bring Link back to help. Instead, their solution was to…flood the entire land of Hyrule. They either could not contain Ganondorf’s power, or they decided it was simpler to just wipe out the entire land in the process.


To put this in some sort of real-world concept, it’d be like discovering that Satan had acquired a fraction of God’s power and as a result went about reeking havoc every chance he got, so God sends Jesus to go save everyone and put Satan in his place. Then, after Jesus leaves with a job well done, Satan comes back anyway and ruins the world all over again whereas Jesus is nowhere to be found. God’s solution this time is to just flood the world, succeeding in stopping Satan from dominating the land but eliminating the whole point of the land existing in the first place: For people to live in it. Just swap around some character names in that hypothetical analogy and you’ve got a recipe for a shivering concept. Evil cannot be stopped and the gods you trust will not save you. If that isn’t a dark concept to grasp, I don’t know what is.


So there you go, a list of some of the most unsettling things I can think of regarding the Zelda franchise. But now I want to hear from you. What did you find dark, creepy, or discomforting in Zelda games? Was it the simple Floormasters or Wallmasters taking you back to the beginning of the dungeon? Or the Skulltula house with the mutated, cursed family of spider people? Or just the feeling of dread before fighting Ganon for the first or last time? Leave a comment and let your voice be heard! Lord knows we won’t hear from Link on the matter any time soon, since, you know, he’s dead and all.


About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.


  1. As a kid many things about Zelda scared me, from the enemies that only appear at night, to the spider people just hanging out in that abandoned house. However, the scariest thing for me was the first time I crossed a redead. I was completely unaware of the danger and thus I approached the creature without caution, got the scream-scare of my life as it suddenly grabbed onto Link. I never turned off a game as fast as I did at that point.

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