A dual beneath the sea
In 2003 Ganondorf's release from his dimensional prison provided the bedrock storyline to Wind Waker (GameCube). The game's prologue states that, after Ocarina, Ganondorf returned to conquer Hyrule once again, this time with no hero to challenge him. The gods, helpless to do anything else, flooded the land. Years later, a new Link is born on an island formed above the submerged Hyrule.
There is an air of nostalgia and regret to Wind Waker. The game's vision of Hyrule is a long-forgotten ghost-town trapped in a bubble beneath the sea. Ganondorf does not leave it. His intention was not to conquer new worlds but instead to resurrect the land that he, and he alone, still valued.
At the concluding stages of Wind Waker, the seal that protects Hyrule from its surrounding waters is shattered. As water tears into the land, Ganondorf's lasting dream to restore Hyrule is dashed, a moment signalled by his guttural, manic laugh.
His final battle with Link, framed dramatically with cascades of water crashing around them, is no longer a matter of conquering lands. It is a declaration of death from a man obsessed with taking his kingdom out from the desert, now broken and bitter.
Each sprawling 40+ hour Zelda game dedicates just a sliver of time to Ganondorf. Of all of the titles released across the series during the past 26 years, the player's encounter with the arch nemesis probably amounts to less than five hours in total.
Yet the defining value of this complex and enthralling character is that, whenever a player crosses paths with him, it is because they are about to bare witness to another landmark moment in the Zelda legend.