It’s one of the most iconic designs in the history of video games: three golden triangles combined to form a single larger one. The Triforce. The object that lies at the heart of The Legend of Zelda.
The thing is, Nintendo didn’t come up with the design. It’s been around for almost 1000 years.
The Triforce is present in some shape of form in every game in the Legend of Zelda series, sometimes as an object that has to be obtained, other times simply as part of the heraldry used in the Kingdom of Hyrule. It’s generally depicted as the combined spirit of the three goddesses who created the land of Hyrule, each “third” of the Triforce representing their qualities of Power, Wisdom and Courage. Those three parts of the Triforce are normally distributed amongst the series’ three main characters: Ganon has the Triforce of Power, Princess Zelda the Triforce of Wisdom while hero Link has the Triforce of Courage.
These days, you can see the triangular logo in all kinds of places. It forms part of the logo for companies like Delta Machinery and Fischer Skiwear. It was also, strangely enough, used as a symbol by the Ku Klux Klan. Not that any of those are the inspiration for, or were in turn inspired by, Zelda’s Triforce. In the Western world, the design is a relatively obscure one, associated with the concept of the Sierpinski triangle and dating back to the 13th century.
The Hojo Clan’s “Mitsuuroko” (三つ鱗)
But in Japan, where Zelda was created, things are a little different. The Triforce has a little more meaning. As anyone who has played a game of Shogun Total War (or its recent sequel) will know, there’s a clan in the game called the Hojo. And the Hojo’s family crest (or kamon, 家紋, in Japanese) is essentially a Triforce.
The Hojo name for it, though, was Mitsuuroko (三つ鱗), or “three scales”.
The Hojo were a major force in Japanese politics in the 12th and 13th centuries, and while they died out as a power shortly afterwards, their kamon is still widely seen in Japan today, most prominently thanks to an energy corporation called, well, Mitsuuroko, which uses the “three scales” design of its namesake as its logo.
It’s a fairly big company, and visitors to Japan will see its familiar logo in all kinds of places. There’s a giant Mitsuuroko billboard and neon light above the skyline of urban mecca Shibuya, for example. If you visit Japan and pay attention you’ll also see the symbol on many smaller stores and business logos, as well as appearing on things like temples, memorials and the haka, the typical Japanese family grave.
Now, this isn’t to say Nintendo “ripped off” the design. It’s so simple and iconic that it’s no different to a Western game using the iconography of, say, crossed swords, a cross or a skull and crossbones (always with the crossing, us Westerners!). It’s just a neat design that obviously worked well with the kind of story series creator Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to tell, especially when you consider the Japanese name for the Triforce is “Toraifosu”, meaning it’s based on the English term implying ‘three powers”, and that the “three as one” design of the item is a perfect fit.
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.