Majora's Mask is as simple a game as it is a complex one. As heartwarming a game as it is soul crushing. In all my years as a player, I have yet to encounter another experience in media that affects me as deeply as Majora's Mask did, on such a personal and emotional level. The following is a shrine to an overlooked classic, a letter to those who didn't experience it, and my personal take on what I hold up as my favorite video game. The premise
Anyone who picked up a gaming magazine back in 1999 should understand the premise of Majora's Mask, but assuming you've been in the dark all these years, let me break it down for you. You play as Link, the same Link who slew Ganon back in 1998. The game begins with a scene of our hero riding Epona through the Lost Woods. Those who took the time to read the manual would have known that Link had set off on a quest to find, "A lost and beloved friend", or something to that effect. Most assume that he was seeking Navi.
Events quickly spiral out of control as we are introduced to the antagonist of the game, Majora's Mask. Everything a Zelda fan holds dear is lost, including the familiarity of Link's human form. After having Tatl fill the role that Navi has left open, and a brief foray through a wooded section, we're introduced to Termina and the crisis that has befallen it. The player is then given three days (about 54 minutes of real time), to find a way to the top of the Clock Tower, retrieve his Ocarina, and defeat Majora's Mask.
If the player is successful in this first mission, he will retrieve his Ocarina. Upon playing the Song of Time, you are warped back to the moment you first stepped out into Clock Town, and everything is as it was before the Moon started its final descent. Congratulations, you've been introduced to the main gimmick of Majora's Mask, and given your first taste of the God-like powers you now possess. With your human form restored, you'll set out on a quest to cleanse four temples of the evil that resides within them. The execution
We've reached a point of divergence. Here is where most fans either become enamored with the world of Termina and explore it in full, or become daunted by the strict limits of the three day cycle and give up in favor something less, well, strange. Those of you who gave up, take note. If you play Majora's Mask the "right" way, you'll find that repetition rarely rears her ugly head.
I'm well aware of how wrong that last sentence sounds to anyone who is a fan of Zelda. Up until Majora's Mask, Zelda games were instantly familiar to returning fans. An emphasis was put on adventuring at your own pace and leisure, and while there was often an impending threat, it had never been pertinent to the point that if you were to stand still, there would be ramifications. Majora's Mask takes that convention and throws it out the window. No more unfocused wandering. You have to have a purpose, a schedule. When you begin a new three day cycle, you'd best have a clear idea of what you wanted to accomplish in mind, lest you waste time and can't accomplish your goals.
Luckily, players are granted a boon in two hidden songs, both involving the Song of Time. If the player plays the Song of Time backwards, time will be slowed to half speed, effectively extending your 54 minute timer to nearly two hours. If you needed to advance ahead to a specific time on a specific day, you can play the Song of Time with double notes, warping you ahead twelve in-game hours. It's not a perfect system, but with these two things in mind, it becomes far more manageable.
Anyone who plays Majora's Mask will have to learn how to use the Song of Time effectively, in all three of its incarnations. A good example of this crops up later in the game, when you set off to complete the fourth and final dungeon. The player is presented with a long and arduous event in the form of Ikana Castle, a dungeon that you are required to complete to complete in order to learn a song that will grant you access to Stone Tower Temple. In the process of gaining access to Ikana Canyon, exploring and conquering Ikana Castle, and first entering Stone Tower Temple, I returned to the first day three times. It's important to note that although I returned to the past three times over this course of events, I did not encounter any repetition. Using strategy, I allotted time to objectives, warped back to the first day, and used the Song of Soaring to return to Ikana Canyon with progress made.
Majora's Mask is not impossible to play, nor is it repetitive. The potential is there, but for gamers of our caliber, it is unlikely. The little things
This is the crux of my love for Majora's Mask. The little things. Never before had I played a game that put such a strong emphasis on bringing a world to life, replacing a set of static NPC's with ones that lived out their lives from day to day, getting into trouble, and giving off the impression that these minor elements of the story were living, breathing beings.
Instead of waxing on for several thousand words about each individual moment, as it would be very possible for me to do so, I've picked out the two moments that have stuck with me, that I can remember in excruciating detail. One is the story of a Goron who had trouble moving on after death, haunted by the fact that his people were suffering. What stuck me the most is encompassed by a simple, thirty second cutscene. The other takes place over the course of an entire three day cycle and tells a story of unrequited love and unwavering devotion.
The first event involves the spirit of a Goron named Darmani the Third. After Majora cursed Snowhead, the home of the Gorons, with an eternal winter, Darmani took it upon himself to go to Snowhead Peak and cleanse it of the evil that had manifested itself there. The blizzard blew him into the valley below, killing him. Upon arriving at the Mountain Village and obtaining the Eye of Truth, you'll be able to see his spirit. He'll implore you to follow him, and if you comply, you'll be taken to his grave.
It's here that you are presented with his harrowing tale and are forced to heal his wounded soul. A short cinematic
plays, something that I cannot imagine will have the same impact on you as it did on an eight-year old me nine years ago. This cutscene marks the first time, and one of the only times, a game has nearly brought me to tears. It could have been my loose understanding of what death was, or it could have held a relevance with me at the time that I can't recall. However, in spite of this, that short scene has stuck with me, and made a huge impact on me as a person. It's the scene that made me reexamine the video games I had previously played, a scene that turned me into a little Reverend Anthony that is consistently expecting more from video games as a medium and is constantly disappointed.
The second event is much more subtle, and far more difficult to pull off. It's also incredibly easy to miss, as the entirety of the sequence is optional. I could have recounted it here in text format, but I've instead decided to embed the crucial moment, the one that made the whole of the experience worth it.
You're given a few minutes of in game time to return to Clock Town, to be there when Kafei meets Anju in a room within the Stock Pot Inn. If you carry out this task, you'll be stuck waiting until there's barely a minute left, nervous that you'll get caught in the destruction that the Moon will soon wrought. Kafei will arrive in the nick of time and you'll be treated to a touching scene, as well as the Couple's Mask, something you can use to get a Piece of Heart. Despite the issue of Majora having turned Kafei into a child and in spite of their impending destruction, they embrace. They utter a final line before you're given the order to flee; it's a line that has stuck with me over any other moment from this game.
"Please take refuge. We are fine here. We shall greet the morning... together."
The time system may have been stressful, and initially hard to grasp, but thanks to moments like these, it was entirely worth it. If you haven't played Majora's Mask, I implore that you give it the fair chance it deserves. If you have played it, but didn't enjoy it, I'd make the suggestion that you return to it with the knowledge of the slowed time flow and with a greater emphasis on managing time. Hell, if you knew about those things, maybe this game just isn't for you. To everyone else, thank you for sticking with me for this long article. I admit that I wrote it more for me than for you.
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