If you have ever played a Zelda game before (and we assume that you have since you've found yourself here), it is likely that you have come across Ganon. The big evil pig man has been a mainstay of the series ever since he was first introduced in The Legend of Zelda back on the NES. Even when it looks like there is another figure terrorising Hyrule, it’s regularly Ganon pulling the strings (with some notable exceptions, of course).
But then there’s also Ganondorf. It is likely that you will have seen this hulking green-skinned Gerudo pop up, too. He’s the big bad in the likes of Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess, and he is regularly prone to transforming into the aforementioned giant pig at the game’s climax.
The question is, just how closely are these two baddies linked? In certain Zelda circles, they are almost interchangeable (the name similarities make their link explicit, of course), but are they technically one and the same?
Below, we tackle this question, breaking down how Ganon and Ganondorf are linked and whether we can really think of them as ‘the same person’.
Are Ganondorf And Ganon The Same Person?
The short answer is... yes, essentially. Ganondorf is the villain's human form and Ganon is his beast form.
According to the official timeline in the Zelda encyclopedia, Hyrule Historia (which is a slippery beast all of its own), the first appearance of Ganon, chronologically, is in Ocarina of Time. Of course, the Demon King had appeared in games before this all the way back to the original The Legend of Zelda, but it is in OOT's final battle that the Gerudo king Ganondorf (green-skinned man) first transforms into Ganon (pig).
Only to complicate things further, Ganondorf can occasionally go by "Ganon" as a nickname of sorts (as noted in the Historia), though the shortened title is generally reserved for the demonic form only.
The Historia contains the following note on the transformation:
Link was victorious in his one-on-one battle with Ganondorf. However, the thief used the last of his power to transform into a demonic, evil beast. The Demon King Ganon cornered Link and Princess Zelda.
For the most part, this is the 'true' connection between the two. Ganondorf is a Gerudo thief (or ruler, depending on which game you look at) who transforms into the demonic beast, Ganon, thanks to the power of the Triforce.
Ganon has frequently appeared without his human form in tow (as in the "true ending" of Oracle of Seasons / Ages and in the various Calamity forms seen in Breath of the Wild), and Ganondorf has appeared without transforming into the demon king (Wind Waker, for example), but for the most part, the two are pretty inseparable these days.
In simple terms, there's your answer, then. Ganon and Ganondorf may occasionally appear separately, but the latter is the human form of the former. Easy, right? Of course, it would be a bit of a stretch to really call Ganon a 'person' as such, but you get the picture.
If you're eager to go deeper and get into a Skyward Sword spoiler that brings another malevolent force into the picture, read on...
Ganon's Origin — Is Ganon The Same Person As Demise?
After being revealed as the big bad of Skyward Sword, Demise fights and is eventually defeated by Link. However, before fading away, Demise curses Link with the following statement:
My hate... never perishes. It is born anew in a cycle with no end. I will rise again. [...] An incarnation of my hatred shall ever follow your kind, dooming them to wander a blood-soaked sea of darkness for all time!
So does this mean that Ganon and Demise are one and the same?
Simply put, while Ganon and Demise are not the same person, it's likely Ganon is the reincarnation of this original Demon King.
As the first game in the timeline (at the time of writing), it's reasonable to assume that the incarnations to which Demise refers in Skyward Sword is Ganon/Ganondorf. This has never been officially confirmed in-game, but the hunger for the Triforce, general hatred of Link and Zelda, and the cyclical nature of his appearances certainly match up.
Furthermore, we know from a statement included in the Historia from one of the designers that worked on Demise that the Demon King was made with Ganondorf in mind, so as to emphasise the reincarnation resemblance even further: "To give him some resemblance to Ganondorf, we didn't just make his hair red, but set it on fire."
It stands to reason that Demise's curse could take on many different forms outside of just Ganon/Ganondorf, but the fractured timeline following the events of Ocarina of Time means that the Gerudo/Demon King/Thief has been able to pop up in a multitude of different places despite being trapped in other dimensions, sealed in swords, or stabbed through various vital organs. Dracula's got nothing on Ganon(dorf).
So there you have it. Ganon and Ganondorf are mostly two sides of the same coin, even if weoccasionally see one without the other. The spirit of Ganon's hatred (Demise) may well be able to inhabit a different form, but it certainly looks like he's sticking closely to the Gerudo side of things for the time being.