How wise does the Triforce of Wisdom really make you?

Enjoy today’s guest post by Chris Richards: some much-needed Overthink on the Legend of Zelda series. If you like it, or even if you think it’s out there, sound off in the comments!

Over the last three decades, there are few videogame franchises that maintain their marketing tour-de-force for longer than a few years. Halo has dimmed, Mario is no longer a staple of every game-based living room, and poor Sonic doesn’t even have a system anymore (or any real following that doesn’t rely on nostalgia…and even Stretch Armstrong can sell via nostalgia). But one franchise that has endured, and has actually grown in prominence, is The Legend of Zelda.

When the first game came out, it was popular enough, to be sure. But it wasn’t THE game. Mario Bros. 3 certainly sold more cartridges. But, over the years, the Zelda cult has grown to the point that its
hero, Link, is now more important in launching Nintendo hardware than Mario. Pretty impressive for a semi- androgynous, poor-and-uneducated, forest farmboy.

At the center of the whole series is a mystical artifact called the Triforce, a triangle-shaped golden MacGuffin of amazing power and influence (which we see little of, really). The Triforce was given to
the people of Hyrule by the Three Gods, Din, Nayru, and Farore, and contains their purified essence. After all the hoopla over the thing, you’d think that it would really be world-changing, like the One Ring or The Box of Ordon or Two Tickets of Transit. But no, the Triforce not only fails to live up to the hype, it also fails to live up to its own description. For the sake of this argument, I’m basing my arguments on The Ocarina of Time, but most of the Zelda games are just retelling the same story with new inconsistencies (there is no
Triforce of Plot Coherence)

[Spoiler Alert: In this article, I spoil the ending to most Zelda games and the Maltese Falcon. If you have not seen the Maltese Falcon already, what’s wrong with you?]

For those of you who have never played a Zelda game, and yet are still reading this article, the Triforce is divided into three sections: Power, Wisdom, and Courage. When a person who balances these three
divine essences touches the Triforce, it will give Hyrule happiness. If someone touches it who values one over the other two, they will keep that part while the remaining pieces are given to the people
throughout Hyrule that value them the most. So, when Ganon finally gets it, he is left with the Triforce of Power while the Triforce of Wisdom goes to Princess Zelda and the Triforce of Courage goes to our
noble hero Link.

More useful in geometry class than the One Ring.

More useful in geometry class than the One Ring.

Yet, is the Triforce supposed to enhance these abilities or merely be attracted to them? Either way, it doesn’t seem to work very well. Let’s start with Wisdom. Princess Zelda knew Ganon was trying to
steal the Triforce, yet who is the only person she tells this to? Some random kid from the forest that she just met. And yes, I know that she thinks that Link is the answer to a “prophecy” in her dreams. Did Eisenhower trust D-Day to Gomer Pyle because a dream told him to? No, he used the full might of his armed forces to storm the beaches. Zelda, rather than using the full force of the Hylian Royal Guard to retrieve the precious Triforce, Zelda sends Link off to do the job. Not the Wisest move ever.

But maybe it’s not that she is wise, maybe she VALUES wisdom. That’s possible, right? And, if she has the Triforce, it might make her wise. Yet, after getting hold of the Triforce, Zelda doesn’t flee or rally the people of Hyrule against Ganon, nor does she come up with some clever plot to keep people safe. Instead, she hides and waits for the better part of a decade until Link returns. Again, not very “wise” of her. Now, Wisdom is a tricky thing to argue, since the concept of Wisdom is itself so ephemeral. In fact, that game’s makers seem to be counting on it. But there are a couple of universally wise traits, and Zelda shows none of them.

Pictured: the wisest person in Hyrule.

Pictured: the wisest person in Hyrule.

Most people we consider Wise take advice from others and use the best elements. Zelda, however, fights Ganon without EVER listening to anyone else’s advice (which is what opens up the Sacred Realm and the
Triforce to Ganon in the first place). Also, while most Wise people make careful, nuanced decisions, nearly every play in the Zelda Gameplan seems to involve getting magical objects immediately to kill Ganon. Ganon’s trying to get the keys to the Sacred Realm? Get them now. Ganon can only be reached by someone with the Spirit Medallions? Get them now! Ganon can only be defeated by someone by someone with a magical Light Arrow? Get it now! Patience is not a virtue Ms. Zelda seems to put much stock in.

And with Link, the Triforce notion is even more ridiculous. Link is plenty courageous before he ever has the Triforce piece, and there seems to be no sudden shift in his courage when he has it (in fact, he
has it for half the game without realizing it). In fact, I would argue that Link’s MOST courageous act
comes before he ever lays eye on the Triforce. As a 7-year old kid, he stands in Ganon’s way, just after Zelda has fled because Ganon has decimated Hyrule Castle and its army. How much more Courage can this
thing possibly give him? The Triforce’s effect is essentially zip.

The toughest man in Hyrule ...

The toughest man in Hyrule ...

... looks suspiciously like Lena Headey from The Brothers Grimm.

... looks suspiciously like Lena Headey from The Brothers Grimm.

The same goes for Ganon, who is powerful enough without the Triforce to take down Hyrule Castle and depose the Royal Family. Once he has it, he gets beaten up by a teenager with a sword. And yes, I know the Triforce keeps him from dying. Remember that he has the Triforce of Power; you’d expect it to give him something. But Ganon was a hyper-powerful dark magician before he has the Triforce, and he’s the
same after. What gives? What is so great about the Master Sword (the mystical weapon uses to strike down Ganon) that it can defeat the Power of the Triforce, an artifact imbued with the power of three
gods? Certainly, the Master Sword is an enchanted blade, but was it enchanted by three gods?

Basically, everyone in this game acts exactly the same, before and after they have their slice of the Triforce. I love the Legend of Zelda games, to be sure; but there are some problems that seem just
too severe to ignore. The Triforce is not like the One Ring, which actually does give its wearer some awesome powers (just not very useful ones). Instead, it’s closer to the Maltese Falcon. After half
the characters in the movie have died for the priceless statue, it is revealed to be a phony, a cheap knock-off. Everything done over it really was for nothing, and it didn’t help anyone accomplish anything.
The Triforce is the same, except with even more disappointment.

Ganon scours the whole of Hyrule to get his hands on the Triforce, and he still ends up stabbed in the face (literally, stabbed in the face). Zelda can’t avoid getting captured (which, is actually a lot better than what happens to most deposed rulers in exile when they’re finally caught), and Link is brave regardless. The Triforce comes out of this seeming pretty worthless. In fact, Nintendo can’t even copyright the
damn thing, because it’s just a basic geometric shape! It seems that the only thing the Triforce is good at is Geometry Class, and that’s just a sad ending to any videogame. It’s a good thing The Legend of
Zelda has swords, because otherwise most of its audience might have seen through the façade and picked up something else. Just think, we might all be playing Vectorman, a game with even lamer geography-based gameplay. If nothing else, at least the Triforce is better than that.

Tell us what you thought of this guest post in the comments!

7 Comments on “Tri-Forced”

  1. Matt #

    Now, granted, my grasp of the Zelda mythology is shoddy, mostly because Nintendo keeps changing it, but there’s a couple of holes in your theory. Ganondorf was certainly powerful before, but the Triforce of Power is not useless. Notably, because it makes him immortal and keeps resurrecting him. Throughout the series since Ocarina, Link and Zelda get reincarnated, but it’s stated that there is only one Ganon/Ganondorf. It also lets him turn into the pig monster at the end of the game.

    Also, Zelda’s early years aren’t indicative of her wisdom. Consider being the King of Hyrule, or any of the Royal Guards. Princess Zelda comes to you, saying a dream told her Ganondorf, a (thus far) noble servant of the kingdom is going to betray Hyrule, and that you should do something? I doubt that would be an effective solution. She didn’t have the Triforce of Wisdom at that point, either. I agree that actions could have been taken in the 10 years Link was incapacitated, but waiting for the hero with the most powerful sword in the land’s grand return seems at least kind of wise. Granted, she could have tracked down all those sages, or maybe gotten some weapons for Link when he returned, but she couldn’t have taken Ganon down single-handedly.

    But yeah, the Triforce of Courage is worthless. Apparently in old NES games, you got a power-up with your triforce. But nowadays it’s just a plot device.


  2. Darin #

    This truly lives up to “Overthinking It subjects the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn’t deserve”
    I enjoyed playing Zelda though I never finished it. I was an Atari kid and moved to computers before I could go NES. I feel I have missed out on some part of American culture.


    Slightly OT, there’s a series on atom films called the “Legend of Neil” which spoofs the Zelda very well. Quite funny, when you’re done make sure to put your Overthinking It cap back on.


  3. Amanda #

    Never mind all that. Why, in Ocarina of Time, is Zelda so freaking cool when she’s running around in her “Sheik” persona, but the moment she’s in skirts she’s a whining, crying GIRL? The whole way down from the top of Ganon’s tower, whenever you get too far from her she covers her face and cries. She couldn’t help out any? What happened to the disappearing in smoke and diving off the tops of trees? What kind of misogynistic message are they trying to send here?

    Once she was back in a dress and had a man to defend her, then she could go back to her proper role? As a pathetic damsel? Maybe it’s just me, but I get a little tired of the princess in need of rescue thing. At least Metroid had a kickass female protagonist.

    Or maybe I’m just bitter.


  4. perich OTI Staff #

    @Amanda: I forgot about that! You’re right, that is kind of annoying.

    Although it would make a good subject for future Zelda Overthink: why does Zelda act like a fragile princess when she’s in a dress and a ninja badass when she’s dressed as Sheik? Multiple personalities? Magical transformation (a la Bruce Banner and Hulk)? A precocious concern for a patriarchal social order?

    (Amanda? Chris? Anyone? Care to tackle that in a guest post?)


  5. cushman #

    What’s your metric for your first paragraph? I’ll give you Sonic [natch.] — he’s fizzled out completely. But to say that Halo and Mario are any less enduring than LoZ is crazytalk. Don’t let’s be silly.

    At GDC 2004, Nintendo revealed the sales figures for all Legend of Zelda games (in millions of units):

    1987/NES/Legend of Zelda 6.510
    1988/NES/Zelda II: The Adventure of Link 4.380
    1992/SNES/The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past 4.610
    1993/GB/The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening 3.830
    1998/N64/The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of TIme 7.600
    /CGB/The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX 2.220
    2000/N64/The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3.360
    2001/CGB/The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons 3.960
    /CGB/The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages 3.960
    2002/GBA/The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past / Four Swords 1.890
    2003/GCN/The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker 3.070

    Add to that the sales figures of more recent LoZ games:
    2004/GBA/The Minish Cap (Couldn’t find figures)
    2005/Wii/Twilight Princess 5.31
    2007/DS/Phantom Hourglass 4.52

    Hugely successful, sure. Not arguing that.

    Let’s look at Halo:
    Just this week, Halo3 became just the 35th console game in history to reach 10 million copies sold (on a single platform). First on the Xbox (original or 360). 3.8 million copies sold in its first week. Almost 2 years after launch, it’s still averaging around 30k unites sold each week. Sales will surely tail off with the release of ODST next month (includes the exact same online multiplayer experience with all previous DLC in the box). Halo:Reach is coming sometime in 2010, and that’s it for Bungie-made Halo games. M$ will definitely milk that golden cow as long as it possibly can. As long as they get a good product out there with Halo4 or whatever they call it, people will buy it.
    Halo2: 8.43m. HaloCE: 6.43. Great numbers.

    Mario’s been watered down, for sure – well over 100 titles containing “Mario.” And they’ve been printing money for Nintendo for ages.
    Super Mario Bros.: over 40 million (yeah, yeah, came with the NES).
    Super Mario World (SNES): over 20m.
    New Super Mario Bros. (DS): over 19m.
    Super Mario Land (Gameboy): over 18.
    Super Mario 3: over 17.
    MarioKart Wii: over 16.
    MarioKart DS: over 15.
    Super Mario Galaxy: over 8.

    I’ve skipped a lot in there (re-releases, different versions of mariokart, etc.), but in all, there have been 14 Mario titles with release dates ranging from 1985 to 2008 that have outsold Ocarina of Time, LoZ’s best seller.

    Again: Don’t let’s be silly. Where exactly is your first paragraph coming from?


  6. dock #

    I dunno, defying death and mutating into a giant fire-pig-demon is pretty powerful to me. And Links entire journey is pretty brave (would you fight the dragon at the end of the fire temple?).

    While Zelda may have seemed less-than-wise, perhaps in her infinite wisdom she realized there was only 1 chance at victory, and that involved making the painful choice to lay in wait for the Hero of Time to awaken (because only he could conjure The Power of the Sages necessary to break through the Triforce of Power’s defenses that protected Ganon). If that was the case it must have been excruciating for her to watch her kingdom destroyed before her w/o her being able to help.

    For all we know the power of the Sages combined with Links 1/3 and Zeldas 1/3 of the Triforce were the MINIMUM requirments for taking on Ganon and his Power. Which would mean it was a wise choice to take your time and collect your necessities.

    I also dont ever remember Sheik doing much more than jumping around and being evasive, if I remember correctly she got pwned by the ghost hands at the well. But you do make an interesting point about how she seems to buckle as soon as her Sheik clothes are gone (unless you count her shooting that energy beam into Ganon).

    **This is off topic, but I always thought it would be cool to have an option in an RPG game of this kind, to deny the quest, and if you did, the game would just end right there. Every person who played the game would at least once do that just for fun.


  7. Some dude from the Web #

    Your right. I figure the only reason people want it is because it’s holy-like


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