The Legend of Zelda: A Psycho-Analysis of The Usurper King

Anyone else hype to play the Switch?

Anyways, in honor of the release of the Switch, and of course, The Legend of Zelda, Breath of The Wild, I wanted to take a look at one of the best one-time villains of the series, Zant.

Zant, The King of Shadows, the Usurper King, was featured in the game, Twilight Princess, as seemingly the main villain.  Cold, intimidating, and powerful, Zant was extremely effective at being a dreaded presence for the player to confront, he was an antagonist that had tangible presence throughout the game.  However, come his actual boss battle, the facade drops, and he seems to go wild- throwing child-like tantrums, screeching maniacally, hopping around the battlefield, Zant displays his true nature as a psychotic lunatic.

That all being said, this behavior made me curious- what kind of person is Zant, really?  What caused him to be this way?  And of course, honestly, just what the heck is wrong with him?  Well, that’s what I’ll be exploring today-just what is the psychology of The Usurper King?

A Quick History of Zant

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The Twili people have existed for eons, when their ancestors were banished to the Twilight Realm by the Goddesses of Hyrule.  While some were driven mad, the Twili tribe slowly grew, beginning also to appreciate the beauty in the Twilight.  However- one such member was not content with this.  Zant, presumably the next in line for the Royal Family of the Twilight Realm, was passed over, deemed unfit for the position, and the young Midna was instead instated as the Queen.  Angry, upset, Zant turned to a new power, something he perceived as a God: Ganondorf.

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With his false god’s power, he transformed Midna into an imp, claimed the throne for himself, declaring himself The Twilight King.  However, this was not enough- in his pride, arrogance, and ambition, he desired more.  Transforming the Twili into monstrosities, he wished to take control of the world of the Light as well- to take back the world that he believed was theirs.  He displayed incredible ruthlessness, forcing Princess Zelda to yield by threatening to massacre the people of Hyrule. Throughout the game, Zant continues his ruthless streak, executing the Zora Queen in front of her people, and attempting to kill Midna, all the while displaying hopeless fanaticism towards his god, Ganon.

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Eventually, Link and Midna are able to confront him at his throne, at which point his intimidating, cold, and callous facade drops.  Hopping around like a madman, letting loose high-pitched screeches, and spinning wildly, eventually, our two protagonists were able to put Zant down.  Even to the end, he displayed his fanatical devotion to his false god, claiming his immortality, so long as Ganon survived.  Despite his insanity, it could certainly be said that he was still the same, ruthless, ambitious, and self-absorbed being.

The Takeaways

This all being said, I would like to point out the three defining character traits that Zant seems to exhibit throughout the game, and in his final moments.

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The traits we see most from Zant, what he exhibits almost every single time he is on screen, is his lack of empathy, and ruthless nature.  Whether it’s threatening Hyrule’s people, killing Midna, or unashamedly having no remorse, even at his death, Zant is consistently self-absorbed and heartless.  This lack of empathy is certainly an important trait to note, in considering what exactly might be happening in Zant’s head.

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Second, we can see that Zant is VERY single-minded- both in his goals, and his fanaticism towards Ganon.  He does whatever it takes to achieve his goal of conquering the world of the light, and unashamedly, without hesitation, does whatever he needs to meet that end.  Zant believes Ganon immediately upon hearing his claims of Godhood, and beyond that, believes without doubt that Ganon cares enough about him to revive him, despite being obviously used as a pawn himself.  This sort of single-minded belief has a name in psychology: a Delusion.  It is a belief that is clearly false, defined by the degree which the delusional person believes in their ideas- and it is quite clear that Zant is very, very delusional.

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Third, and perhaps most prominently, we know that Zant exhibits strange behaviors, almost like a child.  During his final cutscenes, he teleports around at random, and contorts his body in strange ways, all while giving an important, coherent monologue.  During the last phase of Zant’s fight, when he is most desperate, he resorts to mad spinning attacks, and disorganized berserker-esque sword swings, compared to earlier phases which felt at least a bit more strategic.  This behavior is very indicative of Zant’s mental state, especially when one considers the fact that, for the majority of the game, he comes off as cold and emotionless, heavily contrasting his end-game madness.

So What Is He?

These three traits together led me to believe a rather odd diagnosis- a combination of two  mental illnesses that, to my knowledge, aren’t ever diagnosed together, but, in this case, seem to be exactly what we’re looking for.

1. Narcisstistic Personality Disorder

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The first mental illness would appear to be Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as Zant’s general motivations and behavior would seem to fulfill many of the criteria necessary.  According to the DSM-5’s criteria, there are two major sections, involving strange behaviors according to personality functioning and interpersonal functioning.  Personality-wise, a person looks for either direction, or self-identity, from someone else, and from an interpersonal standpoint, the narcissist is characterized by lack of empathy, and intimacy.  In all these ways, Zant checks out, especially considering that he seems to gain some sense of self-identity from both worshiping his God, as well as in the publicly designed post of being the “Twilight King.”

On top of this dependence in other powers, Zant exhibits a very specific pathological personality trait: grandiosity, or the feeling that one is better than others.  He criticizes the royal family of Twilight, converts his own people into monsters to fit his purposes, and of course, has no regret about any of the atrocities he does, thinking that it’s all worth it.  Confident in his power, his status, and not caring about the pain of others, Zant appears to be a classic Narcissist.

2. Schizophrenia

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That being said, the second illness I’ve noted is the contentious one, but perhaps the most important: Schizophrenia.  Now, Schizophrenia is a mental illness that honestly has a lot of stigma around it, being classified by many as just vaguely related to “insanity.”  Clinically speaking, Schizophrenia is classified by many symptoms, predominant among them, psychosis. Generally speaking, psychosis is characterized by change in personality, thought, or emotions, that disconnect one from reality in some respect.  Based on what we see of Zant’s personality, featuring a HUGE shift in personality the more stressed he gets, I feel confident in saying that Zant can fit the criteria for psychosis.

Next then, in regards to Schizophrenia, we must understand three different types of symptoms: Positive, Negative, and Disorganized.  Positive symptoms add stimulation to the senses, in the forms of hallucinations or, more importantly to us, delusions.  Negative symptoms then, take something away- Alogia (speaking less), Avolition (having little motivation), or having blunted emotions.  Finally, Disorganized symptoms are what you’d expect from the stereotypical schizophrenic individual: disorganized speech, or disorganized behavior.

Out of these three symptoms, they are organized into five important categories, two of which must be fulfilled to be considered schizophrenic: Delusions, Hallucinations, Disorganized Speech, Disorganized Behavior, and general Negative Symptoms.  And of course, a history of psychosis doesn’t hurt in that diagnosis.  So, does Zant meet them?

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Well.  In short: yes.  Among the various types of delusions considered, I believe there is a specific combination of two delusions that we can observe.  I believe that Zant has created for himself a mix of a Grandiose Delusion, and Religious Delusion- a belief that he is important enough to be chosen by God, and of course, the actual delusion that Ganon is even a God at all.  The next symptom we can see is, very clearly, Disorganized Behavior.  It can vary, from being violent and erratic to straight up catatonic, but what I believe is important is the potential description of such behavior as “aggressive, childlike, exaggerated, emotive…”  In fact, this behavior can be seen even before Ganon approached Zant, as he throws a tantrum, bangs his head against the ground, and shows frustration at the decision of the Royal Family.

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Perhaps Zant’s rants and raves are absolutely exaggerated, but I believe that if this were in real life, they would certainly meet the criteria.

On top of this, we can note that Zant’s Disorganized Behavior does not have motive- it’s simply something he does for the sake of doing, which is typical of Disorganized Behavior.  To contrast this, we also have Delusional Behavior, which is, based on Zant’s actions, almost certainly goal-based, and provides more evidence for his Schizophrenic behavior.  Combine this evidence with a personality that can vary widely from being cold and calculating, to sporadic and crazy, and you have a clear case for the Usurper King being a schizophrenic narcissist.

In Summation…

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Zant appears to have a combination of both Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Schizophrenia. He lacks empathy, and is ruthless- both personality traits that are both explained very well by these illnesses.  Despite never running into a legitimate God before, he has created for himself the delusion that his God will care for him, that he has been chosen, and that because of this, he can continue onward, trying to claim the world of Light as his own.  And of course, his behavior has a huge range, from cold and intimidating, to childlike and sporadic.  Combine these factors, and you have, at the very least, a clinically psychotic individual, Schizophrenic at least, and probably Narcissistic, all things considered.

Man.  Zant is one interesting character, huh?  When was the last time The Legend of Zelda provided a villain so interesting to analyze?

Anyways.  Those are my thoughts on the Usurper King, Zant- and I’ve gotta say, perhaps Zant won’t have a future in any other game, but while he was around, I certainly enjoyed his insanity.  Any thoughts on Zant or the game, Twilight Princess?  Or perhaps, are you excited about Breath of The Wild?  Let me know with a like or comment, and see you on the next post!

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