Originally a leader of the Gerudo, a race of desert brigands, he acquired great magical power (the source of which varies) to become a demon emperor of darkness. Ganon's motives and desires vary in specifics from game to game, but most often include the domination of Hyrule and presumably the world beyond it. To this end he seeks the relic of the gods known as the Triforce, which can bestow great power upon its holder. Ganon's influence over the Triforce varies, but he is consistently shown as being associated with the Triforce of Power and is often in possession of it, giving him great strength but not enough to fulfill his dark desires, leading him to hunt the remaining Triforce pieces.
In general, Ganon has been well-received by critics and fans. Ganondorf was the runner-up in the GameFAQs battle of villains character contest, in which he was defeated by Sephiroth and was named the fourth best villain ever in an episode of G4's Filter.
The Triforce of Power also grants Ganon virtual immortality; using its power, he has endured mortal wounds (such as having his heart pierced by a sword), only to remain alive and unscathed, although such wounds can weaken him to the extent he can be sealed away in lieu of death. An attempt to kill Ganon, regardless of its nature, is ultimately futile; the essence of the Triforce of Power makes him effectively invulnerable. The sole exceptions to this rule are sacred weapons such as the Noble Sword, Master Sword, Four Sword, Silver Arrows or Light Arrows; these are usually the only weapons that can slay Ganondorf, though non-sacred weapons can be used to defeat him in certain games. Still, various games, such as Adventure of Link and the Oracle games, have depicted methods of reversing Ganon's deaths.
In addition to Ganon's magical abilities, he is also a skilled swordsman, as shown in his final conflict with Link in The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. He is also known for wielding the Magic Trident that he obtained in Four Swords Adventures, as shown in games such as BS Zelda no Densetsu, BS Zelda no Densetsu Kodai no Sekiban, A Link to the Past, Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons, and Four Swords Adventures, as well as dual-wielding swords in Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker.
In The Adventure of Link, Ganon's minions attempt to kill Link in order to revive their master by sprinkling Link's blood on Ganon's remains. His silhouette is also seen in the Game Over screen.
In A Link to the Past, it was revealed that centuries ago, Ganon and his army of thieves, who were all skilled in dark arts, found the entrance to the Golden Land. Upon entering the realm, Ganon killed his followers, touched the Triforce with "bloodstained hands", and made a wish. His wish to conquer the world transformed the Golden Land into the corrupt Dark World. From the Dark World, Ganon began to summon other beings to the Dark World where he used the Triforce to transform them into monsters for his army. When his army satisfied him, Ganon led them in an attack on the land of Hyrule. However, when the knights and the Seven Sages combined their powers, they managed to seal Ganon and his army in the corrupt world he had created.
Ganon was trapped in the Dark World for many centuries, but using the form/possession of Agahnim, he returned to Hyrule Castle and overthrew the King. To break the sages' seal, he kidnapped the Seven Maidens, the descendants of the sages, and transported them to the Dark World. When it came time to transport Princess Zelda, it was discovered that she had escaped with Link. Determined to break the seal, Agahnim sent the brainwashed knights of Hyrule to search throughout the land for the princess. Much time had passed when she was finally found to be hiding in the Sanctuary. Her recapture had very little resistance because Link had gone in search of the Master Sword, so by the time he found Agahnim, it was too late. Zelda had been transported to the Dark World, and Ganon was finally free. Link began to fight Agahnim, but when the situation began to look bad, the wizard transported the boy to the Dark World. Link does not see the wizard again until Agahnim appeared before Link to battle to the death atop of Ganon's Tower. Unlike their previous fight, Agahnim was ultimately destroyed. With his minion gone, Ganon fled to the Pyramid of Power, where Link, armed with Silver Arrows and the Master Sword, was finally able to defeat him.
By the time seven years had passed, he had placed monsters in the Sages' temples to prevent them from hearing their "awakening call". When Link awakened from the Sacred Realm as a young adult, Ganondorf watched him, waiting for when Zelda would reveal herself. Ganondorf is eventually able to capture the final sage, Princess Zelda, forcing Link into a direct confrontation. Although bested by Link in the ensuing battle atop his tower, he uses the remains of his power to destroy his tower, in hope of finishing Link and Zelda. Though they escape, thinking him defeated, Ganondorf emerges from the rubble and transforms into the monstrous sword-wielding boar-like demon, Ganon. After the battle, the Seven Sages imprison Ganon in the Sacred Realm where he vows to return and exterminate the descendants of Link and Zelda as long as the Triforce of Power remains in his hand.
In Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, the Twinrova sisters attempt to revive Ganon by causing sorrow in Labrynna, destruction in Holodrum and despair by sacrificing Princess Zelda. However, when Link saves Zelda, the ritual is incomplete, and, left with no other options, the Twinrova sisters use themselves as the sacrifice. While the King of Evil is brought back to life, Ganon becomes nothing more than a mindless beast bent on destruction, failing to retain his mind due to the wrong sacrifice in the ritual.
In The Wind Waker, it is revealed that before the events of the game, Ganon, who had been sealed away at the end of Ocarina of Time, managed to free himself. He spread darkness across the land once again, but unlike his previous attempt to rule over the land, he was faced with no opposition by the Hero of Time. When conquest of Hyrule seemed within his reach, the gods intervened and flooded the kingdom, hiding the remains underneath an ocean and delaying his conquest. However, Ganon begins searching for the Triforce of Wisdom and the Triforce of Courage, so he can wish for the kingdom to return. Ganon begins his search for the descendant of Princess Zelda, and he sends his servant, the Helmaroc King, to bring him young blonde-haired girls with pointy ears. One of the girls kidnapped by the Helmaroc King is Link's younger sister, Aryll. With the help of Tetra, Link sets out to find her. When Link retrieves the Master Sword and reunites with Aryll, he encounters Ganon, who mentions that Link has removed the seal restricting his power. However, Link manages to escape and begins a quest to recharge the Master Sword. Manipulating the course of events, Ganon lures Link back to him to claim both Link and Zelda's respective Triforce pieces, which he then forms into the complete Triforce, using it to wish for the sea over Hyrule to be drained, becoming its complete ruler. Ganon hesitates, revealing the reason for his lust for power and control over Hyrule. He reveals that his country was filled with death and despair which would rain down even from the winds. Hyrule was a rich land filled with life, which Ganon coveted and desired to rule. However, before Ganon makes his wish, the Triforce is activated by the King of Hyrule, who wishes for Hyrule to disappear. Ganon loses his composure and begins laughing maniacally before attacking Link and Princess Zelda in a psychopathic rage. They retaliate and eventually defeat Ganon when Link impales his head with the Master Sword. Ganon utters a final laugh and says, "The wind... it is blowing". He then turns into stone, and his body remains as Hyrule is flooded with water.
In Four Swords Adventures, Ganon's back-story is expanded. A Gerudo named Ganondorf is found to have stolen a trident that gives him incredible powers. With this weapon, he begins to seize control of parts of Hyrule, spreading evil and creating an army of Dark Links. When a worried Zelda and Link go to check on the seal in the Sanctuary of the Four Sword, a Dark Link reveals himself and begins to attack. Having no weapon to defend himself, Link is given no choice but to retrieve the Four Sword, releasing the Wind Mage, Vaati, once again. However, this is revealed to be part of Ganon's plan. Ganon plans to use Vaati as a pawn so that he can remain undetected. However, Link defeats Vaati and discovers that Ganon as the true antagonist. As in The Wind Waker, Link and Zelda team up to defeat Ganon, sealing him within the Four Sword.
In Twilight Princess, Ganon initially appears in a plot twist midway through the game, though he is the true antagonist behind all of the events that have transpired throughout the story. Before the start of the game, he was banished to the Twilight Realm after a failed execution by the sages, leaving him with a glowing wound on his chest. In the Twilight Realm, Ganon presents himself as a demonic deity to Zant, delegating his power and persuading him to attempt conquest of the light world. Ganondorf does not appear again until the end of the game, in the throne of Hyrule Castle, proclaiming it as his own. He is challenged by Midna, prompting Ganon to possess Princess Zelda and attack Link, before reforming as beast Ganon (in a more feral style than previous appearances, mirroring Link's wolf form). Midna recovers and teleports Link and Zelda to Hyrule Field, before attempting to defeat Ganon, causing the castle to explode. Ganondorf appears on horseback, holding Midna's crown. After an equestrian melee, Ganondorf requests a final duel, using the execution sword as his weapon. Link defeats Ganondorf, impaling him through the wound in his chest with the Master Sword. After getting up and uttering a few words, the Triforce symbol on his hand disappears, and Zant is shown snapping his own neck in a vision. Ganondorf gasps, his eyes glaze over, and he seemingly dies.
While Ganon does not appear in the story of Phantom Hourglass, he is seen in the game's opening sequence depicting the events of The Wind Waker.
Ganondorf is an unlockable character in both Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, where he is based on his appearance in the SpaceWorld demo, even wielding the large, cleaver-like sword in one of his victory poses (though he cannot actually use it in combat). He is one of the four characters from the Zelda series to be playable in the game. In Melee and Brawl, he is referred to by his full name and is a slower, heavier, and more powerful "clone" of Captain Falcon, performing mostly the same attacks and moves. In an interview, Eiji Aonuma revealed that his design team had submitted designs for Ganondorf based on his Twilight Princess design to the developers of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Ganondorf appears as one of the main antagonists in the single-player The Subspace Emissary mode, allied with Bowser and Wario as well as being a servant of Master Hand. His Final Smash is his "Dark Beast: Ganon" form from Twilight Princess, in which he transforms into Ganon, charges across the screen, and then warps himself back onto the stage.
In addition to The Legend of Zelda cartoon, Ganon (along with Link and Zelda) also appeared in Captain N: The Game Master, as a secondary villain in the episode "Quest For the Potion of Power". This was something of a continuum of Ganon's appearance in the Zelda cartoon. The episode uses elements from The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link. During the episode, Ganon is revived, double-crosses Mother Brain, and is killed again by the Reflect magic on Link's shield.
In the Robot Chicken episode "Shoe", Ganondorf appears briefly but is killed by Link, who frees Zelda shortly afterward.