Solo Gamer Reviews

The loner's source for gaming news, views, and overviews


The Tetraforce Theory: Further Down the Zelda Rabbit Hole

Link artwork from Ocarina of Time
As though getting three isn't hard enough

Before I begin, a few disclaimers: (1) I am about to get into heavy fan speculation about a video game series, so if that's too geeky or speculative for you, just stop reading now; (2) the main thrust of the so-called "Tetraforce Theory" is that there is a fourth triforce in the Zelda series, an idea that has been debunked on multiple occasions by Miyamoto and Nintendo, who tend to stick to their word; (3) most of the theories laid out below come from outside sources within the Zelda fanbase and are not my own, though I have not come across the ideas I present for a "bridging" Zelda title.

Now that those are out of the way, what the crap is the "Tetraforce Theory"? I've dipped my feet into the wonderfully insane Zelda theory pool before--though I haven't even begun to dive into its oceanic depths--but one theory that I keep going back to is this idea of a fourth triforce, an idea the fans have dubbed the tetraforce. The theory appears to originate with Link's shield in Ocarina of Time, which shows a fourth triforce-esque gold triangle at the bottom, beneath the proper triforces and the red-winged figure (the Hylian eagle) we now know originates with Skyloft. The idea is that this fourth triangle, which is inverted, can easily fit in the empty space between the other three triforces (where I have previously theorized a "dark triforce," unaware of the Tetraforce Theory).

Seems reasonable enough, though it raises a bunch of questions. Zelda lore assures us that the universe was created by three Golden Goddesses who were each responsible for one of the three triforces (Nayru for wisdom, Farore for courage, and Din for power), so if there is a fourth triforce, does that mean there was a fourth goddess? If so, what happened to her, and why is she exiled from every telling of Hyrule's mythical origins? Conveniently enough, Zelda fans have been speculating about the existence of a fourth goddess for some time, based on separate evidence for her existence within the games.

Zelda's Golden Goddesses
In true Japanese fashion, the father, son, and holy ghost are turned into three naked women with wings

Without getting into the many different theories about who this fourth "golden" goddess is, I will mention that Skyward Sword reveals the Goddess Hylia, who transfers her spirit into Zelda to be resurrected every hundred years. This is important because, as Zelda, it would make little sense for Hylia to be the fourth golden goddess, as that would make Zelda the bearer of two triforces, negating the whole purpose behind the separation of the triforces. It also hints at the possibility that the fourth triforce rests with another character who is frequently reincarnated, just as Zelda and Link are (and Demise, who is reincarnated as Ganon). My favorite choice for this character is Impa, because she is a recurring character who always behaves as though she knows more than anyone else, which is especially notable in Skyward Sword, where she is the one who initiates all the game's time travels.

If there is a fourth triforce (and yes, I think it would be a fourth triforce, not a "tetraforce"; the name "triforce" refers to the triangular shape, not to the total number of them), then there must be a fourth "essence" that defines it, just as the other three are defined by courage, wisdom, and power. There are a couple of different theories about what this essence could be, but for my purposes, we're going to stick with the idea that the fourth essence is time. Majora's Mask makes several references to the "Goddess of Time," and it would make sense that conquering time would add to the already seemingly omnipotent combined powers of the three known triforces.

It also immediately gives rise to a simple idea: if someone gets hold of a Triforce of Time and gains dominion over time and space, could he or she then traverse the multiple timelines in the Zelda universe? I just can't let this idea go, even if I know it is doomed to never appear in Zelda canon. Given this, here is my pitch for a Zelda game that utilizes a fourth triforce, a "bridging" title that attempts to reconcile the seemingly disparate plots and alternate Zelda universes:

Fanboy warning
I am unapologetic

Instead of going yet again into the past, have a Zelda game that starts in the future, beyond the storylines we know. You can choose any of the three canon timelines, though I would start with the "Fallen Hero" line, the one that ends with The Adventure of Link. With Ganon and his minions' attempt to resurrect him long-dead, a new evil character arises, one who somehow discovers the existence of the Triforce of Time. He/she then figures out that Impa is the triforce's guardian and seeks her out in order to gain it so that he may travel to a time where Ganon still lives. Pursued, Impa separates the triforce in different times and places throughout the Zelda multiverse, leaving behind a trail she knows only the Hero of Time (Link) can follow. The villain still manages to bring Ganon to the present, where Ganon once again tries to capture the resurrected Zelda and Link, sparking Link's journey. Instead of traveling to a dark realm or a surface world, Link must travel Hyrule's timelines, going from the rebuilt Hyrule from the "Adult Link" line to the time of Twilight Princess in the "Child Link" line and much more.

I propose this not just because I'm a geek who likes to go overboard, but because it makes sense from a narrative point of view. I don't believe Miyamoto had any timeline craziness or any of Hyrule's deep lore and history when he created the first few Zelda games, but at some point, probably immediately after Ocarina of Time (or maybe even A Link to the Past), the official timeline was created. They then explored two new timeline possibilities with Windwaker and Twilight Princess before setting a definitive starting point for the story in Skyward Sword, the game that finally reveals how and why both Zelda and Link continue to reappear throughout time. As such, the games have already explored all the necessary backstory and exhausted all possible forward story, since Ganon's evil seems to have been banished in all three known timelines. Granted, you could easily have a second resurrection of Demise in any of the three timelines, but without bridging the revealed timelines, that can't really add anything new to Zelda lore.

Best of all, it doesn't rely on the creation of yet another dark world. There are more dark worlds than I can count--the Twilight Realm, Termina, the Sacred Realm, the Dark World, Lorule, etc.--and revisiting that trope would just be tiring at this point. It doesn't rule out once again visiting these alternate realities, though my pitch is already packed with more than enough potential iterations of Hyrule. It also offers the opportunity to affect really big changes to the environment, much bigger than simply growing a tree or removing a wall as previous games have done. Even better, it allows the possibility to explore some of the missing pieces in the official timeline, to clarify things like how the "Fallen Hero" line is created, how Kaepora Gaebora (Rauru) is related to Headmaster Gaebora, or how Hyrule becomes flooded.

Aunoma and Miyamoto
In creating a new Zelda game, I trust these guys far more than I trust myself

It probably won't happen, though, and that's not a bad thing. Not only has Nintendo repeatedly shot down the notion of a fourth triforce, but the history of Zelda games teaches us that they aren't as interested in resolving plot threads as they are in creating a really good experience with a fair degree of mystery behind it. Sure, Skyward Sword offers plenty of red meat to Zelda theorists, and sure, the Hyrule Historia is an unprecedented peek into Nintendo's notes for the series. But going all the way back to the original game, Miyamoto has always said that the key to understanding Zelda has been the mystery, the drive to explore and discuss your findings with others. This mystery is what has birthed the Tetraforce Theory (and much, much else), but in order for Zelda to keep it alive, it can never truly wrap up the whole Zelda series with a bow and resolve all the questions and ideas that have developed over time.

Don't get me wrong. I love a good theory, and I love speculating like this. But it's because of this love that I paradoxically hope Nintendo never stops being so enigmatic. A Zelda game that bridges all the timelines with the use of a timeline-spanning new triforce would be cool as hell, but it would necessarily end on a bitter note by hermetically sealing Hyrule and preventing any more elaboration. I don't want that to happen, because I don't want the legend to ever really come to an end.

[For further reading on the Tetraforce Theory, a good primer can be found at Zelda Wiki, but be warned: it gets really crazy really fast, bringing in obscure bits of Zelda mythology from even the most obscure of sources.]

-e. magill 3/12/2015

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review
  • The Sky Dilemma: Skyrim vs. Skyward Sword
  • The Strange Case of the Hidden Triforce