We are back again, LusiDemons. This is the feature that seeks to explain why I love the games I do. It is not meant to convince anybody to also love the games that I do, but rather it is meant to be a forum to let me give insight into the reasons why I hold certain games in such high regard. Last week I talked about the certainly-not-for-everybody Flower, but this week I am going to talk about a more publicly controversial title in a widely-popular franchise. Of course I am talking about The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. But this is the feature in which I throw context to the wind and only explain my fruity adoration for my favourite games, so here goes.
Majora’s Mask and I had a rocky start. I have spoken of this before, but I sorta exhausted myself on the title before it came out. Also I – like many others – was hoping for another Ocarina of Time. And perhaps it is because it is so aesthetically similar or perhaps because it is a direct sequel and built on the same engine, but it took me a long time to accept that Majora’s Mask is a very, very different game.
I enjoyed it well enough my first time around, but I kept waiting to feel the same magic I felt while playing Ocarina of Time and of course I never did.
I am not entirely sure what it was that first drew me back to the title. Maybe I was out of games to play in my less-abundant youth. Maybe I thought about the game in retrospect more than I expected, but over the years, my love and respect has grown for the title until today when I believe it is my favourite Zelda game of all time. Ocarina of Time holds more nostalgia, but I believe Majora’s Mask is more bold, more interesting, and more thematically rich.
Most Zelda games showcase Link as a lonely hero. A boy who either does not fit in or who has to sacrifice his lifestyle to be the hero that the world needs. But Majora’s Mask takes it a step further. Because the game’s timeline is cyclical, the player can spend an entire cycle to save a character or even an entire community from a doomed fate, but after Link obtains what he needs to further his progress and resets time, the situation is back to square one. The victory is fleeting. Link has no growing mountain of achievements to fuel his trek to vanquish evil. He walks by Romani Ranch and although Link may have memories of saving the sisters and a mask to show for it, he knows that now that time has been reset, they have not been saved at all. In fact, it is made worse now that he has specific knowledge of what will happen when he does not save them.
It is this darkness that infiltrates the entire game. Link cannot save everybody. He cannot even be permanently recognized by more than a small handful of characters, some of whom are his enemies. But Majora’s Mask‘s darkness goes deeper than pushing Link further into loneliness and out of the spotlight. Almost every character is twisted in ways rarely seen in the Zelda universe which is surprising given some of the strange characters the franchise has seen. Even helpful characters have an unsettling feel to them. As if there is always something brewing under the surface. Aside from the four giants and the mask itself, Termina does not seem to have distinct good or distinct evil.
Obtaining the Bremen Mask might be a simple matter of listening to a man’s story, but the story itself is an angry recount of built-up resentment that hints at the man’s growing madness. Tingle is a repressed man-child with a Peter Pan complex and an unhealthy obsession with the Kokiri. The Happy Mask Salesman – ostensibly Link’s only ally aside from his fairy – is a bundle of ambiguous intentions, anger issues, and unsettling omnipotence.
Majora’s Mask is teeming with themes of corruption and death. Everything plays back to something sinister pulling the strings on people’s actions. There is great sadness weighing on many characters, but it is dealt with with surprising grace and insight. Few video games and certainly no other Zelda games openly flirt with philosophical ideas as Majora’s Mask does. If there was any doubt in the rest of the game, the truly stunning and bizarre final area is the confirmation. It is a location that shares the same wonder and foreboding as C.S. Lewis’ The Last Magician.
This focus on darkness and introspection and thematic weight is informed by Nintendo’s greatest success with Majora’s Mask: taking risks. While I feel like the slow-down time mechanic is a necessity to enjoy the title and that Majora’s Mask should have advertised the feature in-game a little more, I also love the 3-day mechanic. It is ballsy and an essential vehicle for all the good things I have had to say so far. It is also the most non-linear 3D Zelda. The focus is less on dungeons and more on delving into the deceptively complex relationships of the people in the town, but even the dungeons do not have to be played in an exact order.
Instead, everything that seems familiar is placed on its head to take Link truly out of his comfort zone and give gamers an extremely well-crafted unsettling world unlike anything seen in gaming and certainly anything seen in the Zelda franchise.
Majora’s Mask teaches about the price of power and the darkness in everybody. It reveals – through gameplay – how the smallest interactions can have the most startling effect on the world. It explores the twisted nature of humanity and gives Link a frighteningly lonely anonymity. It was released in a strange time of transition for Nintendo and I believe it was just perfect timing that gave the company the guts to release something so daring, unique, and thematically twisted. It is a rare game in which as more layers are pulled back, more dark secrets and disturbing questions are revealed.
So there it is, just some of the reasons why Majora’s Mask only grows roots deeper in my heart as time passes. I wonder if I will actually have the fortitude to continue the series next week. Because the infamous Final Fantasy IX is up next.