I have made no secret of the fact that I believe Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time is probably the best video game ever made. Released in late 1998, the game has garnered quite a fanbase (and, inevitably, the backlash fans who decry that, because it is so highly regarded by everyone, it must be a pile of overrated garbage). I have played it from beginning to end probably more times than any other game, have explored every nook, cranny, and pixel I can explore without debugging or using a GameShark, and can describe in loving detail everything that happens. You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when I learned that there is a bizarre subculture of fans who are obsessed with tracking down an elusive treasure within the game, the triforce itself. Granted, these people had their moment of Internet glory way back in 1999, but they live on in the new age of YouTube and Zeldapedia. I have never come across a full accounting of where these fans came from, their history, what they believe, and if there's any truth to their claims. I hope this will be that full accounting for countless others frustrated by Google.
First, let's start with the "evidence" for the existence of a physically collectable triforce within The Ocarina of Time. On the inventory screens within the game, there is a slot for everything that you can collect. There is also an unfilled slot for the triforce, which most people write off as decorative. Additionally, almost every other core Zelda title includes a triforce quest, a segment of the game (or the near entirety of the game, as in the original) where the hero must traverse the game world and collect pieces of triforce, or at the very least a cutscene at the end of the game showing Link acquiring the triforce (as in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link). There is nothing like either of these in The Ocarina of Time. Finally, the most compelling evidence brought forth by the believers is a short video that shows Link pulling the entire triforce out of an odd-looking chest on a pedestal.
We'll discuss the veracity of this evidence later, but for now it is worth noting that people were pointing out all three of these things mere days after the game's initial release. The Internet was a different beast back then, and to be honest, I didn't spend much time there, what with my being busy with college activities like studying, drinking, partying, and actually playing video games. Still, while I was busy with these other matters, the strange fans started emerging from the muck with their odd theories and bizarrely detailed how-to outlines.
This is the screenshot that launched a thousand absurd quests
In the beginning, these explanations for how someone could go about collecting the triforce were rather simple and easy to debunk. For example, one of the earliest involved blowing up all of the enigmatic gossip stones and then beating the game. This is easy enough to test, and many people did, only to discover that nothing happens. Indeed, after you blow up a gossip stone and leave the area, the gossip stone will reappear. In response to these simple and obviously fake instructions, people began posting new ones that were ridiculously tedious, difficult, or downright impossible. Popular ones include jumping or throwing a bomb into the center of Ganon's lava pit, playing an absolutely perfect game (meaning you don't take any damage whatsoever and you do everything you can possibly do in the game), and going through a step-by-step process that is mind-numbingly random. Some claimed that their instructions would only work with the rare gold cartridges or with cartridges sold in specific regions. Most of these more difficult or restrictive rumors have also been allegedly debunked by crazy people with mad skills and too much time on their hands, but there will always be true believers who doubt the debunking claims.
What started to come out of this were many oddities that people were noticing within the game, all of which were proclaimed to be hints in finding the triforce. For example, there is a strange pyramid-like structure in the Haunted Wasteland that you can never reach. While some thought this pyramid was merely a graphical artifact, others quickly announced secret ways to reach it, inevitably followed by the assertion that the triforce was within. People also paid extra close attention to the strange things said by the game's gossip stones, including one that hinted that the giant owl, Kaepora Gaebora, was actually a reincarnated sage. This hint in particular became very important for the next chapter in this weird, epic tale.
It only took a few months after the game's release for the now-infamous Ariana Almandoz to appear, in February of 1999. Claiming to be a 17-year-old Columbian woman, Ariana posted a series of teases and screenshots to the popular Zelda site "Hyrule: The Land of Zelda" (or "HTLOZ" for those in love with initials), in which she proclaimed that she had found the triforce, knew how anybody could get it, and would not reveal her secrets until she got the recognition she deserved. Her story involved Kaepora Gaebora being a reincarnated sage (specifically Rauru), which got the attention of many of the fans who thought this was an important piece of the puzzle. Ariana explained that young Link could learn a song from Kaepora called "The Overture of Sages" and that if you played this song in front of the master sword, you would be transported to the "Temple of Light," where you could eventually find the triforce with the help of Rauru.
What separated Ariana from the other claimants were her screenshots, which included young Link learning the Overture of Sages, entering the Temple of Light, and finally standing before the triforce. Alas, these same screenshots became her undoing. Remember, this was a different Internet, and people were still learning how easy it is to fake things like this using Photoshop or something similar. It was these skeptical pioneers who scoured Ariana's images for discrepancies, and they found several. Probably the most damning involved Link's sword resting over the wrong shoulder.
Still, Ariana was defiant, and if you read her correspondence with HTLOZ (which is archived here), you can actually witness her transformation into a primitive Internet troll. She claimed she didn't know why Link's sword was on the wrong shoulder and she started getting angry at the "hundreds" of e-mails she was receiving that all demanded she explain herself. After writing that she would never contact HTLOZ again, she finally popped up a month later with the oddly triumphant claim that she had hoaxed everyone and included the errors in her screenshots on purpose to see who was paying attention. She also explained that she wasn't from Columbia, and hinted that she might not even be a woman. Nowadays, this seems hardly surprising, but at the time, this was big news. Though pathetic by modern trolling and hoaxing standards, Ariana's bad photoshop skills are cited time and again as one of the greatest Internet hoaxes in the history of gaming. If Ariana is pleased with this noteriety, we can at least take solace in the fact that we don't know his or her real name or anything about the person behind it all.
The upshot of Ariana's shenanigans is that the triforce quest moved underground and was no longer taken very seriously by many people. Nintendo tried to run some rumor control on its official website by explaining that the official English translator never wrote any screen text concerning finding the triforce, that the gossip stones served no significant purpose in the game aside from being "goofy entertainment," and that there are absolutely no differences between the gold and grey cartriges. The believers, however, were unconvinced in the end, and if you look hard enough, you can still find them in the dark recesses of the Internet, proposing new ways of getting the triforce and making YouTube videos that are far more convincing than anything Ariana ever produced.
So what should we make of their basic evidence? First, we should address the idea that Ocarina of Time is the only core Zelda title that doesn't include a triforce quest. This is simply not true. The triforce does not make an appearance in Link's Awakening, Majora's Mask, Four Swords, Four Swords Adventures, The Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks, or most significantly, Twilight Princess. Granted, when Ocarina of Time was released, only Link's Awakening existed, and some don't consider it one of the core titles in the franchise as it was only released for a handheld platform. Therefore, the argument may have made sense then, but now, with so many more examples of Zelda games that do not include the triforce, it holds much less water.
This late 1996 video for the Ocarina of Time Beta is often cited as the origin of the triforce rumors
Next, we must deal with that video that shows Link collecting the triforce. A modicum of research will reveal to us that the video is from a demo of a beta version of the game. Video games, for the terribly uninformed, go through wild changes as they are produced, and Zelda games are no exception. Miyamoto himself has stated that he wanted to use the Memory Expansion Pack or 64DD (a peripheral disk drive for the N64 that was ultimately a flop due to its overly long development cycle), but that neither were ready in time for the game's release date. Therefore, it isn't a stretch to think that there were many ideas that were ultimately dropped from the betas. Indeed, you can watch any clip of the betas for Ocarina of Time and see dozens upon dozens of things that were not included in the final release, though no large Da Vinci Code-like conspiracy theories have surrounded things like the giant blue fairy, useable sage coins, or perplexing checker-board demo rooms.
There is another subculture of gamers who scour their games in search of things that were dropped, half-finished, from production but still sort-of accessible. Famous examples include the multiplayer Citadel level and single-player "Dam Island" in the N64 release of Goldeneye 007 and several hours worth of deleted content from Soul Reaver, none of which are truly accessible without special tools. While this could be used as evidence to explain why there is video of Link collecting the triforce without it actually being in the game, it can also be used as evidence that such a thing could be found within the coding of the game itself.
Finally, there's the matter of the empty triforce slot in the inventory menu. This one is simply a matter of faith, with the true believers insisting that it is irrefutable evidence that the triforce is somewhere in the game while everybody else shrugs it off as unimportant. I, for one, don't think it's relevant or important, and I have yet to see any compelling evidence that the triforce can actually be found in the game. Some have expressed hope that the triforce quest will be included in the upcoming 3D remake of Ocarina of Time for Nintendo's 3DS, but I am, in a word, skeptical. Still, I must warn you that I have only given you the highlights, have only scratched the surface of what is a deep and disturbing sea of conspiracy theories, paranoid assertions, disturbingly unexplanable anomalies, and obsession that is nearly unmatched in video game subcultures. It is a place where only the stout of mind should venture.