In order to defeat the latest Big Bad, Link has to find a balance between courage, wisdom, and power, which he acquires throughout the many dungeons. The Triforces don't give the attributes to their wielder, but are rather given to them because they have those attributes.
Learning to use tactics and ranged weapons instead of just running in and bashing at things with your sword (at least in the 3-D era games) is scaling back Courage just enough to not be Stupid Brave, and having the wisdom to use only as much courage as you have power (and skill, which is sort of a combination of power and wisdom... Well, learnedness) to back it up? ...Interesting. Incidentally, in Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, when Zelda participated in the final battle, Zelda had gained courage and power from Impa's training/being Sheik and confronting Ganondorf/being Tetra, respectively. While Ganondorf hid out in his castle and kept making stupid mistakes. This goes well with the interpretation that Ganon(dorf) keeps throwing the Triforce out of balance, because he's not balanced (being the person trying to acquire it).
In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward SwordLink is able to obtain the full Triforce. And it's explained that it's because of the trials he was put though during the game (in the dungeons and temples), which helped him gain/acquire and balance all three Triforce virtues. So while Courage may be the virtue he holds the most in abundance at the start, it's though his adventures that he's able to gain the other two virtues and balance all three. It's just that Ganondorf is usually the one who gets to the Triforce first, causing it to split because his heart doesn't have that balance... and doing so before Link goes though the trials (again, all the dungeons and temples) that would allow for Link to receive the whole Triforce.
The Triforce split apart because Ganondorf's heart was unbalanced (had somebody of a pure heart got it first, then they could have gotten it whole). I always thought each piece went to the person who valued that respective virtue the most. Ganondorf wanted absolute power, so he received the Triforce of Power. Zelda was a Princess and was likely learning how to properly rule a country, and therefore held Wisdom in the highest regard. Link, as evidenced by the carving on his tree-house in Ocarina of Time, was always willing to find the Courage to stand up against evil. Just because he received the Triforce of Courage doesn't mean Link wasn't strong nor smart, it just meant that he believed being brave was the most important thing. Throughout his trials, he realized that, while having the courage to stand against evil was all well and good, one also needed the power to fight it and the wisdom to outsmart it. By the time he reached the Triforce, he believed that all three virtues were equally important and therefore was able to put the Triforce back together. The whole Dark World mess was simply the Triforce granting Ganondorf's wish to have a realm to rule, twisted by his selfish desires, and had no correlation to the virtues he believed in.
Timelines and themes:
It has been confirmed that the Legend of Zelda universe's timeline is split up into three parts: A Link to the Past is a timeline where Ganondorf was victorious; Majora's Mask was the beginning of the timeline of the Child!Link, where the Sages capture Ganondorf and imprison him in the Twilight Realm; Wind Waker takes place centuries after the Adult!Link timeline. The brilliance comes when you realize what happened in Ocarina of Time, and the symbolism of it: the Triforce was split into three pieces. Just like the Triforce, the timeline split into three pieces, each timeline corresponding with a specific character, and a specific Triforce piece: A Link to the Past is the "Triforce of Power/Ganondorf" Timeline; Wind Waker is the "Triforce of Wisdom/Zelda" timeline, and Majora's Mask is the "Triforce of Courage/Link" timeline.
Take note: the Wind Waker timeline gives central focus to Zelda and Hyrule. She's the one who leads here, the one with the most earnest control, as both a captain and princess. This continues even later down the line with Spirit Tracks, wherein the plot is centered around Zelda's ghostly state and the curse plaguing New Hyrule. In the Majora's Mask/Twilight Princess timeline, however, Link is now the focus—not Zelda, not Ganondorf. In Majora's Mask, they don't even exist there — it's about Link getting to the bottom of a great evil he uncovered alone. In Twilight Princess? His friends from the village become kidnapped, and later his companion Midna is suffering, giving him personal motivation... and again, Zelda and Ganondorf are almost entirely in the background. As for the "Hero Dies" timeline, well, Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Ganondorf won and rules through power, giving him and the Triforce of Power prominence in that timeline.
Alternatively: The Rise of Ganon timeline obviously represents the ascendency of the Triforce of Power. Ganondorf had a plan, he executed his plan, and he crushed the Hero of Time. He won, and his Triforce is ascendant. The timeline through Wind Waker represents the ascendency of the Triforce of Courage. Why? Because to create this timeline, the Hero of Time, the bearer of the Triforce of Courage, actually fought and defeated Ganondorf. Thus making that Triforce piece ascendant. Look at Wind Waker: what's the major thing you have to do before you get to fight Ganondorf? Put the Triforce of Courage back together. The timeline through Majora's Mask represents the ascendency of the Triforce of Wisdom. Why? Because it represents the success of Zelda's original plan. Remember: she wanted to stop Ganondorf before he was able to steal the Triforce. And thanks to time-traveling Link, she did. It was the wisdom of the child Zelda who was able to safeguard the realm of Hyrule.
Ocarina of Time was the 5th Zelda game to be released. All four other games released before it are on the "Hero Dies" timeline. It literally took the player's participation in Ocarina of Time's events to create any other possible future than Ganon's victory. The player had to "create" the other timelines before experiencing any of their events (assuming one played all the games).
It seems odd for Nintendo to pull the whole Demon revives Demon King using Zelda's body plot thread two games in a row (The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword). But they were both the first game in their respective land. New Hyrule had to imprison and later kill off a Demon King before prospering just like Old Hyrule did.
When you finally get to fight Ganondorf in Ocarina Of Time, chances are you won't defeat him on the first try. So what happens when you get a game over? Simple, you've just created the alternate part where the Downfall Timeline takes place!
The "Hero Dies" timeline has often been considered by many to be a cop-out by Nintendo, a last-minute throw in to save the games not fitting in the timeline. Most of all, it has been argued that if a game over screen is all it takes to make this happen, how come there isn't a split for every title? There is in fact a fair reason, however. In Ocarina of Time's final battle, Link loses the Master Sword. While this also occurred in Wind Waker, Ganondorf openly states he was simply disarming Link, and had no intent of killing him. Ganon, however, you have to actively battle — and potentially lose against — without the only weapon that can actually defeat him. This was, and remains to this day, the single instance in the entire series this has ever occurred. Perhaps Nintendo thought it through a little more than we wagered?
Even accounting for the split timeline, the events of later titles that occur in the past don't necessarily match the background history given in earlier titles. But remember the series is called the Legend of Zelda. Even though they often draw on real history, legends often distort the facts of these events. The backstory of the earlier games are telling the mythologized version of the history shown in the later titles.
Why is it that in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the Master Sword is no longer able to destroy Ganon by itself, even though in all the other games it's the only weapon that can kill him? It's not because the sword is less powerful (in fact, the Golden Sword upgrade may be the most powerful sword in the franchise). It's because Ganondorf was able to claim the entire Triforce when the Hero of Time was defeated and is at his most powerful. Even the Master Sword's enchantments against evil is unable to counter the power of the Triforce, and it takes the Incorruptible Pure Pureness of silver against evil to finish him off.
There's always been an emphasis on how dangerous it is to use power without wisdom and courage, but the Triforce is also stated repeatedly to be a True Neutral object, so it always seemed odd that there was this background message that power=bad while wisdom and courage=good. But look back at Ocarina of Time, and you realize that wisdom and courage played just as much of a role as power in sparking the main conflict of the series. Look at the events that led to the Triforce being split. Zelda was wise to see what Ganondorf wanted and to try to preempt him, but she lacked the power to act against him and she lacked the courage both to act for herself and to look at herself and examine how she might be wrong. Link had courage to spare as he went about collecting the spiritual stones, but he lacked the power to really change anything in what was going to happen, instead playing right into Ganondorf's hands, and he lacked the wisdom to figure out that he might not actually be doing the right thing. Wisdom without power or courage and courage without wisdom or power are what led to Ganondorf getting the Triforce. This changed in the Time Skip because they did grow through their experiences. Zelda gained the courage to face herself and her failings and to take action for herself instead of sending someone else to do her dirty work, while Link gained the wisdom to see where he went wrong and to know when to back off instead of charging forward, while both gained the power to put all of this into real action and change. But Ganondorf didn't change. He has gained no wisdom or courage from his experience. So the series really does a better job than it looks in showing that it really is all about human weakness causing these things instead of some divine force.
Building on the last point, in addition to the fact no one facet is good or evil, the series sells the subtle point that it's only when all three are working together that their true power is revealed. Power without Courage is never used, whilst Power without Wisdom is frittered away and wasted, purposeless in its directions. Wisdom without Courage will not act upon its knowledge, whilst without Power it is ineffectual and incapable of affecting anything. Courage without Power is spent in vain, whilst without Wisdom it is misaimed and meaningless. Look at it in the series: when the three forces are aligned, they create a source of Reality Warper power that can change the world. When seperated, they enhance their bearers, but are hardly Physical Gods; Ganondorf holds Power, but he isn't all-powerful — you'd simply never be able to beat him if that were the case, as he'd just get even stronger to overmatch you. Zelda holds Wisdom, but still makes some pretty stupid decisions through her incarnations, from the backstory to Zelda II to her mistakes in Ocarina of Time to, most recently, the absolute idiocy of her Sheik disguise in Hyrule Warriors. In comparison, Link starts with Courage and slowly builds upon both his Power and his Wisdom, and this enables him to be the Hero that Hyrule always needs.
The reason why the Master Sword is always able to defeat Ganondorf, no matter how powerful he is? Because, at the core, Ganondorf's power comes from the essence of Demise inside of him, and the Master Sword bears the power of no less than four deities, all directed at nullifying Demise's power. It may not be able to kill him permanently, but it's the one weakness he can never evade, because it is intrinsically a part of him.
Obviously, the name Link holds the symbolism that different persons with different personalities from different ages and different cultures can still be extremely similar if they have at least one important thing in common; in each Link's case, they have a big sword and the courage to do heroic things with it. (And the urge to chop grass or throw chickens, needs confirmation). This gets more important when three timelines 'Link' to the Ocarina of Time, proving that one Link can inspire three different generations. And like any other link, it's possible for all three to, one day, connect to a single chain at the end...
Moreso now than ever, actually. Three timelines as a result of OoT: Wind Waker (Wisdom), Majora's Mask (Courage), and ALttP (Power). Note when Nintendo released the Hyrule Historia, in the timeframe of the game holding the series' origins. What console title came before this? Why, Twilight Princess. ...But wait, Ganondorf died in that game. ...And in Wind Waker...and in the original Legend of Zelda... Ganondorf has lost his Triforce piece and been slain in every single timeline. All loose ends have been tied up, so...what happens now...?
The Happy Mask Salesman
Why is he one of the few people in Ocarina of Time not to appear after the seven year-time skip? Because he went to Termina when Link was still a child. Also doubles as Fridge Horror if you think about how Termina got destroyed while Link was on his quest from OoT.
More likely, he immigrated to Labrynna (or somewhere else, and his descendants eventually wound up in Labrynna), since he (his descendant) appears there in Oracle of Ages in the Downfall branch. Whereas once Link actually defeated Ganon and the rest of the Adult branch commenced, he returned to Hyrule to attend the party at Lon Lon Ranch. The same might apply to other characters, like Jabu-Jabu.
The Kings of Hyrule seem to constantly make bad decisions that end up causing misfortune to their kingdoms. This actually has a pretty solid reason for it: because Breath of the Wild mentions that Zelda's magic is generally taught by her mother, that means that the bloodline that carries both the Triforce of Wisdom and the abilities of The Goddess Hylia are passed maternally. The fathers don't carry the Triforce of Wisdom's legacy in their blood and thus make stupid decision after stupid decision.
Each branch of the Timeline affects Link's relationship with the Zelda of that timeline.
The Unified Timeline games, like Skyward Sword and Minish Cap, often have Link and Zelda as close friends and trusted companions, and it looks like the Ocarina incarnations of them are on the right track to be so as well before time breaks.
The Decline Timeline has Link, more often that not, appear to save Zelda when need be but rarely form a strong bond. In this timeline Link died trying to save Zelda and the bond itself across time and space wants distance to prevent being hurt like that again.
The Child Timeline, as a result of time travel, has Zelda not know much about Link when he comes back and thus the bond is broken. Links in this timeline, while working with Zelda, don't have as close a connection as his predecessors.
The Adult Timeline, as a result of being one in which Link succeeds and Zelda and him retain their friendship from both time travel based shenanigans and the events of the future, has the Links and Zeldas of this timeline develop the deepest bonds since Ocarina with Zelda often directly helping Link as is the case of Tetra Zelda and Phantom Zelda.
With the newly released official timeline with the Hyrule Historia, we find out that Four Swords Adventures takes place after the timeline split, and takes place in the Child Timeline, whereas Minish Cap and Four Swords took place before the timeline split. Vaati was defeated for good in Four Swords Adventures. But that's only in the Child Timeline. Vaati is still sealed in the Adult Win Timeline and the Adult Lose Timeline. The Adult Win Timeline has pretty much left Vaati behind under the ocean in Old Hyrule. However, the Adult Lose Timeline still takes place in Hyrule, and with Ganon dead for good in that timeline (unless his minions get Link's blood when he finally dies of old age, if they're still around), that leaves a main antagonist spot wide open for Mr. Wind Mage.
In relation to the timeline Fridge Brilliance above, the "defeated hero" timeline could have come about because when Link goes back in time, he seals the Door to the Master Sword. This could mean one of two things: he never went into the future (which isn't quite so bad), or, possibly, his future self that was locked in there never got out. Sealing the Door of Time doomed one version of Link to float in a timeless void forever.
The bit about being sealed away for 7 years because you weren't ready to wield the Master Sword? Age wasn't a problem in Wind Waker. All these facts hint at this: Link was allowed to try fighting Ganondorf with the Master Sword as a child, failed, and someone went back in time, prevented Link from leaving the Temple of Light, and allowed him to grow up so he'd be strong enough to win. This means they allowed a ten year old boy to face the King of Evil, and he suffered for it.
There are no facts that hint at someone going back in time to to seal Link in the temple.
The things Link, especially his younger incarnations, goes through are quite horrifying in retrospect.
In the "defeated hero" timeline we have Zoras as an enemy, but no sign of the Gorons or Kokiri. This means either the Kokiri and Gorons are in hiding, or worse yet were exterminated or driven from Hyrule by Ganon. Meanwhile, the Zoras were either turned hostile or corrupted/enslaved by Ganon. Since this is the case during A Link to the Past, the Imprisoning War may have led to the genocide of two entire races. We do encounter Gorons in Holodrum and Labrynna in the "Defeated Hero" timeline, in the Oracle duology (which implies the "in hiding" theory has merit). We also encounter the friendly type of Zora in Oracle of Ages, where it's established that they're just a different subrace of Zora from the classic fireball-spitting kind.
After beating a boss, they always drop a Heart Container, which the game uses to represent health. Throughout Earth's history, there have been a number of cultures that believed that they should eat the heart of a defeated enemy to gain their courage. Picking up a Heart Container in the games is just the kid-friendly version of this, as Link devours his defeated foe's hearts to gain their courage and become a proper vessel for the related Triforce piece.
The Kings of Hyrule. In virtually every game they appear in, they seem to always, inadvertently, cause half the issues the plot has. Link to the Past's King let a strange wizard into his castle who promptly began breaking the seal to the Dark World. Ocarina of Time's King decided to take the word of a 'King of Thieves' over his daughter's, 7 years later Hyrule is ruined (let alone what he might have to do with the civil war mentioned in passing). The first two games were made far more complicated than they had to be because a King decided that splitting apart the magical dodad that is the Tri-Force was smart. In Breath of the Wild we have two examples of this. One King in the past angered enough Sheikah to form their own splinter cell of banana crazed lunatics who attack everywhere with powerful weapons, then the most recent king managed to fray enough of Zelda's nerves with his desire to keep to exact words of past events she wasn't ready to handle the giant eldritch abomination that wrecked half the country. The only time a King appears and doesn't make things worse just by existing it seems is the Minish Cap era King and Daphnes from Wind Waker, and given the former is locked up and Vaati disguised as him and Daphnes still presided over his entire country being flooded. With the luck Hyrule seems to have with kings, it might just be better to scrap them entirely and either have a matriarchy or a democracy instead of having more make stupid decisions that have ruined or put Hyrule in great danger in multiple times and timelines.
Four Swords Adventures: At first, the story seems to be a retelling of the game's plot, with some changes for the sake of the narrative: (1) Link is a hero who thinks he is too cool to work with others. (2) Some Cloning Blues are thrown in for drama when Link is separated into four, each with a different personality, and none of them happy about working as a team. (3) The Links are separated in order to show more of the game's dungeons in fewer pages. (4) Vio's betrayal allows the authors to showcase one of the battlefields from Vs. mode. (5) All four Links finally work together to defeat the Big Bad. (6) They become one again, but now with a better understanding of how to work on a team. On the surface, a good but not exact retelling of the game. Here's where the Fridge Brilliance comes in: I noticed the picture above the author's notes at the end of the manga showed both authors playing the game; one was drawn with a happy look on her face, reminiscent of Red Link, saying "I'll leave this part to you..." to the other author, who wore an aggravated expression not unlike Blue Link when stuck babysitting Red Link. "Some of the situations in the manga might be on what happened between the authors while they were playing," I thought. With this in mind, I found another way to read the story: it follows four friends as they play through Four Swords Adventures. (1) Each player has played Zelda games before, and are used to playing as Link completely on their own. (2) Not being used to working with others in a Zelda game, the players get in each other's way and grumble about how it was easier to play single-player Zelda games. (3) The players each take a turn playing the game on their own, at first glad to be rid of the other players, but come to realize that it is hard to play Adventure Mode solo. (4) Three of the players want to go back to multiplayer Adventure Mode, but the other (Vio) wants to play Vs. Mode instead. (5) All four players work together to beat Adventure Mode. (6) Each player goes on to play single-player Zelda games again, but now they function as a team in multiplayer games.
The infamous "Grumble, Grumble..." screen suddenly makes sense when you realize that's not what the monster's saying, it's the sound his stomach is making. He's hungry, so naturally the solution is to give him food.
Supposedly, the line "Dodongo dislikes smoke" refers to the need to use bombs on the Dodongos by letting them eat two of them. However, by exploding a bomb in front of a Dodongo, Link can stun the creature with the smoke of the explosion and kill them with sword strikes, which is a way that requires only one bomb and always leaves bombs for Link to pick up from the Dodongo. Dodongo dislikes the smoke from the bomb more than the bomb itself!