(Well, people asked for it, and now -- after months of putting it off, because I am really lazy when it comes to technology -- I'm finally uploading a post that I should have uploaded a long time ago. I'm making minute strides on YouTube, and with certain files up and running, it seemed like I didn't have any excuses to keep this from interested readers. Also, this is apparently making the rounds, so...yeah, serendipity.)
(And so, without further ado, here's me gabbing on about The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Read on to find out what I think about it, and what we can take away from it when all's said and done.)
(And be ready to regret wishing for this post. All right, now I'm going in-character. See you on the other side.)
The last time I put a Zelda game under the microscope, I declared it as one of, if not my favorite game of all time. I considered it to be an apex of Nintendo’s storytelling capacity, weaving subtle commentary on the nature of a destined hero with gameplay factors to make those lessons and ideas all the more effective. And it certainly helped that the game itself -- while not 100% perfect -- was still unduly satisfying. (It’s also worth noting that it’s more mature than what most people would expect from the Mii-peddling, seventh-generation Nintendo -- it’s a game where you gore a boss several times via multi-story jumps.)
But there was still something eating away at me. There’s no doubt that Skyward Sword is a fantastic game, and worthy of the Zelda mantle. But how did it compare to the other games? More importantly, what if there were traits and nuances in the earlier games that I missed the first time around -- especially since I never finished some of them? Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, Majora’s Mask, and of course, Ocarina of Time -- if I’d guessed right one of those was worthy of the title of “my favorite video game.”
So you can consider my next words to be extremely tentative -- tentative, but well-deserved. Right now, Majora’s Mask is my favorite game.
Such is the expected result. Humans are all too easily entranced by power they cannot hope to comprehend. And those that dare to grasp it are bound for a terrible fate. That’s true. And it’s because of it that they’re bound to meet with more than just misfortune. But let’s keep the pondering about the nature of man to a minimum here, okay? This post is probably going to be long enough without the musings of a cursed mask.
You seem to have found quite a bit of nerve all of a sudden. Has the puppet learned to pull his own strings? And how long can he do so before being tangled by his own wild dance? Who’s to say at this point? All I can do is write -- and that’s exactly what I plan to do.
Then by all means, continue. Do what you must, so that our game may become even slightly entertaining.
(Just keep your cool. Majora’s Mask is giving you the chance you need. Don’t waste it -- pull it all together, and strike back.)
Once upon a time, I focused more on the story aspect of Skyward Swordthan on the gameplay -- but this time, I feel like I have to say a little more about this decade-old game…namely, that it holds up remarkably well. The first thing that’s immediately noticeable is how fast everything moves; it takes maybe about an hour to go from the first text box in the prologue to getting the Deku Mask and starting your adventure in earnest. For the record, that means you get some backstory about Link’s past adventure (i.e. OoT), his encounter with the Skull Kid wearing Majora’s Mask, the pursuit, the transformation into a Deku Scrub, the entry into Termina, the meeting of the Happy Mask Salesman, helping Clock Town’s Great Fairy, meeting and catching the Bombers, exploring the sewers, grabbing the Moon’s Tear, trading it for a Deku Flower, using it to blast off to the big clock at midnight, facing off with the Skull Kid, getting your ocarina back, resetting time, and finally turning back into regular Link. Actually, all of that probably takes less than an hour, because I decided to explore the town for the three day period instead of skipping ahead when all the affairs were in order. It really says a lot about the design philosophy of past games -- Zelda game or otherwise -- when you can blast through a healthy chunk of it in less time than an episode of Monk.
That’s not to say the game is short, though. In theory and in overall game time, it might pale to, say, OoT. After all, its predecessor had eight main dungeons, while MM can only boast four. But like its distant successor SS, this game makes it so that just reaching the dungeons (sometimes literally) requires traversing other dungeons. The “key” to unlocking the main four is a song to be played on your ocarina, so once you have that you’re free to reset time and start a fresh set of days.
Or if you’re sharp enough, you can manage to squeeze in minigame and item-hunting time into those three days, collecting masks and Pieces of Heart and upgrades. It’s actually quite easy to get masks and such if you’re willing to explore, even if you don’t have a walkthrough in your lap (save for one or two instances, like the infamous Kafei sidequest). And given that time is at your beck and call, you’re free to plan out your adventure and heroism, and play things your way. Just don’t expect to get anything done in an hour’s time like the opening; after that, it’s almost required to play the Inverted Song of Time to cut the gameplay clock down to a fraction of its normal speed.
The reason for this is because the dungeons -- while theoretically short -- are much longer than you’d expect the N64 could produce. The puzzles aren’t exactly taxing mind-benders, but they will require you to put your brain to the test, as well as make good use of your spatial awareness and tool set. That’s all typical of a Zelda game, especially since it uses the tried-and-true formula of “explore dungeon, get dungeon item, use dungeon item to open up new paths in the dungeon”. But MM mixes things up by putting Stray Fairies in the dungeons. Basically, there are fifteen little creatures hidden in each dungeon, requiring some additional legwork on your behalf to save them.
Collect them all and take them to the right Fairy Fountain, and you’ll not only have them coalesce into a proper Great Fairy, but you’ll get a special upgrade -- an enhanced spin attack, an extended magic meter, boosted defense, and the Great Fairy Sword, respectively. How essential any of those are will depend on the player’s tastes (though I’d argue you shouldn’t even try beating the game without a greater magic meter), but it adds an additional addictive aspect for the completionist types. I can’t say that I’m one of them, but I figured it was worth a shot. And I decided that when it came time to collect the Stray Fairies, I’d do it in the same instance as clearing the dungeons. I wanted to have it all done in one fell swoop, you see.
It turned out to be one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve ever had in a game…but I say that as a compliment. See, playing the Inverted Song of Time makes it possible not only to clear most areas with time to spare (and multiple areas, most likely), but to completely undermine the tension that should come from the moon bearing down on you. You’re supposed to have only three days at a time to do whatever you need to do, and feel the tension as a result. But from the very second you get the ocarina (and learn the song, or know it from a past playthrough), that tension is pretty much gone. For a game that hyped up the “you have 72 hours” angle from the outset, in some respects you’d consider the complete dissolution of tension to be a failure. But that tension is back with a vengeance if you try and clear a dungeon while grabbing all the Fairies.
Imagine walking into a dungeon for the first time with a full 72 hours on the clock -- and slowed-down time, no less -- ready to both beat the boss and earn your power-up. You’re pretty confident that you can wrap up the whole dungeon with just enough time to spare, as long as you keep your wits about you. So you take a deep breath and start on your way, trying to figure out the “trick” of each dungeon -- the central hub, places you’ll have to return to, and the like, all while keeping an eye out for Stray Fairies (something you’re more than capable of doing, since you had the sense to get the Great Fairy’s Mask beforehand). And as you venture inward, solving puzzles and making your way to new rooms and setting up pathways for return trips, you manage to find some fairies -- some by way of spotting them in the distance, and others by way of sorting out devious puzzles. “I’m finding a lot of these pretty quickly,” you say to yourself. “I’ll be done in no time.”
But then things stop going your way. The Fairies are getting harder and harder to come by, and the dungeon’s rooms are getting trickier and trickier. You may have cleared a room, but the hair on your Great Fairy’s Mask is still sparkling; there’s still a Fairy you’ve missed. “How am I supposed to get it?” you say to yourself. And as you do, you realize that that’s not the only room you’ve left behind while your mask sparkled. “The rooms must connect somewhere else. I just have to search again from a different perspective.” But getting to just the right room proves harder than you expected. Getting to Room A requires manipulating Room B, which requires venturing back to Room C, but first Room D has to be taken care of.
So in addition to figuring out the dungeon, you also have to backtrack and figure out what went wrong -- why you haven’t gotten all the Fairies, and more importantly why you haven’t made it to the boss’ room yet. And while all this is happening, the clock is still winding down. Down, down, down, ticking away until you reach the second day. And then the third day. And you’ve still got plenty of Fairies left to find, with no boss room in sight. And suddenly, you’re faced with the possibility that everything you’ve done has been completely pointless.
“I can figure this out!” you tell yourself, trying to ignore the headache brought about by the still-ticking clock. “I’ve just got to stay calm, and think things through. There’s no way I’m doing this over again. I can do this. I can do this!” And then you realize you’re about fifteen seconds away from entering the night of the final day. And then you really start to feel sick.
And then you put that Bunny Hood of yours to good use as you hoof it across the entire dungeon to flip it right-side up, head back in to get the final Fairy, then head back outside to re-flip the dungeon so you can enter the boss’ room, necessitating another run through the dungeon, and then beat the boss by mashing as wildly as you can, hoping you’ll hit its weak point, and then finally running to the Fairy Fountain and getting your reward. And all of that with a few minutes to spare. And you’ll say to yourself “See? I knew I could do it! No problem at all!”
It’s actually a brilliant psychological move on the developers’ part. Not being a resident of Termina, the player is in no danger. So how do you make them feel fear, and drive them to go as fast as their minds and fingers can carry them? Easy: threaten them with failure. Give them something they want or need and put a mile-wide pit between them; it’s a true test of character, skill, and mental fortitude to see how far they’ll go to get what they want. Even if they aren’t the altruistic or empathetic sort, there are still ways to leave players genuinely affected by the game.
Incidentally, in spite of the focus on getting the player to do things as quickly as possible, the game falters whenever it has to handle speed. The most obvious example is that the frame rate isn’t exactly what I’d call rapid, and it tends to sputter during moments of high activity. I know it’s not exactly fair to point a finger at a game from two generations ago, but considering that it’s unplayable without an Expansion Pak, and that Super Mario 64 is virtually immune to slowdown AND has a significantly-higher frame rate, it just comes off as a little jarring. More importantly, Link + any amount of speed can quickly lead to frustration. Just putting the Bunny Hood on extends his jumps, sometimes to the point where he’ll completely screw up his distance and fall into the abyss.
If the game demands that you do anything besides traverse a wide-open space while rolling around as a Goron (the final “dungeon” comes to mind, but the mountain race is just as good an example), be prepared to screw up and bounce off walls into oblivion. The Zora Mask lets you swim quickly, but you’re occasionally required to navigate turns and tunnels, and it just turns into a mess of wall-bashing and under-turning -- and the less said about trying to pop out of water onto a ledge, the better. You only need to use Epona about three times in the entire game, because rolling as a Goron is likely faster and can be done virtually anywhere. Zelda games -- as I understand them -- are about deliberation and exploration, and getting in deep with whatever area you’re in; the idea that so much emphasis would be placed on quick traversal, and questionably-implemented at that, seems like a notable misstep. Not a deal-breaker, but more than a little annoying at times.
To be fair, it is more than a little refreshing to be able to play as several transformed versions of Link. Whereas the Hero of Time has used various tools to help him get from A to B, MM has him relying on innate ability to travel and succeed. Each form has dominion over a specific subset of the landscape -- land for the Goron form, air for the Deku Scrub, and of course the sea for the Zora -- and each one, as intended, requires a different approach to combat, traversal, and exploration. Gorons can’t jump and hate water, but don’t mind lava and are heavy. Zoras can’t handle getting frozen, but come pre-equipped with the boomerang and is probably the second-best at combat (falling short of human Link). The Deku Scrub is weak against fire, but can hop across water. In their specific regions, each form is indispensible -- and you’ll have to rely on their powers in the future. Granted it’s not nearly as often as it was at the start of the game, but the idea is there, and you’re better off playing mostly as Link in the long run. That said, the Scrub Form is my favorite of them all. It sparkles when it spins, after all.
I think it’s the coolest-looking of the forms, but I can’t help but think that Link looks more than a little sad in that form. Why? Well, if I remember correctly from Nintendo Power’s official strategy guide -- and the canonicity of this is suspect -- apparently Link’s favorite form is the Goron Form because of the power it gives him. If it IS true, then it says a lot about Link’s character…but I’ll get to that. For now, considering that Scrub Form is by far the weakest of the forms, you can understand why he might be a little dour-looking. Of course there’s the fact that he started out trapped in that form, but what’s important is that from the outset, Link’s got it rougher than he’s ever had it.
Scrub Form reinforces one of the game’s major themes: despair.
Despair…such a beautiful thing to be observed, and such a horror to be felt. But I consider myself quite fortunate -- I have no need, no ability to feel despair. Only joy...and the delight derived from one’s despair.
You wouldn’t be much of a villain without a sick sense of ethics.
Ethics? You misjudge me. Ethics are nothing more than a safeguard -- a barrier to prevent one from embracing their lust for elation. But it is a barrier I have long since discarded.
(This thing sure likes to brag…but then again, that’s what I’m hoping for. I just might have it right where I want it.)
(I just need a little bit of luck…)
You can’t talk about MM without talking about the three-day period/time loop that it’s built on. It’ common knowledge that you have 72 in-game hours to do whatever you need to do (get the right song, clear the dungeon) before the seconds tick away, and the moon comes crashing down on Termina. Before the last moment, you play the Song of Time to jump back to the start of the three-day period, with your key items intact and certain measures of game progress -- the dungeons you’ve cleared, the songs gained -- still in your name. After clearing a dungeon once, you unlock a warp that’ll immediately take you to the boss room, and restore the order that your sword has won from the clutches of chaos.
But therein lays the problem. As the player -- and as the hero -- you remember everything you’ve done up to that point. No one else does. Even if you save their ranch, Cremia and Romani will never remember your exploits from one cycle to the next. Even if you help Gorman reconnect with his sensitive side, when you see him again after playing the Song of Time he’s back to his curmudgeonly ways. Even if you end the eternal winter that plagues the Gorons’ homeland, all it takes is one reset to put them back into an extinction-level event. In more ways than one.
In spite of your best efforts, there’s an unmistakable level of futility to your actions. It’s made clear as soon as you walk outside Clock Town’s gates and into Termina Field. The first enemy you’ll likely encounter with that spiffy Hero’s Sword of yours in tow is a ChuChu. It’s one of the most basic enemies in the game -- all it can do is bounce around, it only takes one slash to kill it, and it always dispenses an item that’ll fill your hearts or MP right up. But barely ten seconds after you kill it, the ChuChu comes back to life, and bounces toward you again. If you want, you can kill it. But it’ll just come right back. You can kill it again if you want, but it’ll be back within seconds. There’s no point in killing it, because no matter how hard you try it’ll always return. It’ll always be there, ready to cause trouble for you. Or, from an in-game perspective, it’ll always be there to make trouble for any Termina civilians. Link can’t stop it -- he can only offer a temporary solution.
And that’s this game for all but its final minutes -- everything Link does is just a temporary solution. Theoretically, after getting all the necessary items you can go into every dungeon and beat down the four main bosses, but what’s the point? By then you’ll have earned the right to challenge the main villain, and you’re not really doing much good in the long run until your ultimate mission is complete. In some ways, you’re better off ignoring everything and everyone for the sake of taking down the cursed mask. Things are a lot easier that way, right? And besides, that’s the best thing you can do as the Hero -- tackle the big problem at the source, instead of slapping Band-Aids on all the little ones. Not exactly a sympathetic route, but a practical one all the same. Even heroes are allowed to have grudge matches.
Except the game does everything in its power to put people who need your help in your path. Even if you somehow manage to ignore all the townsfolk of Clock Town, you’re still obligated to help a family of monkeys, a royal family of Deku Scrubs, the entire Goron population (specifically an elder and his crying child), a band of Zoras, one of which has just given birth (meaning that you’re saving an additional seven newborns), a father and daughter surrounded by evil spirits, and at least a half-dozen ghosts of a forgotten age seeking rest and peace. Refusing to help them means refusing to see the ending credits. Help them out, and you get a temporary fix…and then it’s back to zero when the “Dawn of the First Day” flashes across the screen.
Link’s efforts aren’t being undermined by an evil force. He’s just going up against nature, and the way of the world. All his efforts, all his kindness, all his gained bonds and all the smiles he sees along his journey are erased, again and again and again. The question, then, becomes “What’s the point”? From a gameplay perspective, clearing the same boss over and over just to get a slight change to the world is the definition of tediousness. You’ve got more of an incentive to ignore everything and complete the bare-bones requirement of the game rather than explore what it has to offer. At least, that would be the case if not for…
It’s a remarkably devious system. If there’s one thing that motivates gamers to see everything a product has to offer (or shell out more money, if DLC is anything to go by), it’s incentives. The masks are a way to slyly suggest that gamers get in deep with Termina -- it’s the classic “do good things, get a reward” mentality that’s been engraved by hundreds of titles. With an entire section of the menu devoted to masks, and a special spot reserved for some unknown, likely-supreme item, there’s more than enough reason to explore what the game has to offer. And in doing so, the player ends up getting roped in.
What was originally a quest to become the owner of the full set of items has you becoming Link in a way you never would have expected. You’re not just in it for the masks. You’re listening to these people. Hearing their stories. Lending a hand. Offering your services in simple yet meaningful ways. What may have started as a business affair becomes a chance to form a personal bond with characters -- characters with names, schedules, and of course their own minor stories to tell. As the Hero, you’re obligated to help them.
And that’s when the trap gets sprung. Because even if you get the requisite mask (and keep it), their problems don’t vanish instantly. They’ll face them again, and again, and again. They’re beyond help, and beyond the reach of a Hero. Unless you can break the cycle, they’re doomed to suffer eternally. Unfulfilled dreams. Secrets that die with them. Love that fails to transcend adversity. Families broken. Memories buried. Justice left undone. Hope stolen away.
It’s worth noting the reaction of the different races as doomsday draws near. The Deku Scrubs become highly-insular, highly-self-serving creatures of habit who always believe they’re in the right. The Gorons are completely helpless in the wake of disaster, and are content with standing around and freezing to death (or just being annoyed to no end by a crying child) in spite of being the most mobile and potentially-nomadic race in all of Termina. The Zoras pretend like nothing’s wrong, and focus almost-single-mindedly on a concert that’s almost certain to never happen -- or perhaps they know the end is near, and just want to make their last moments their finest, in spite of Link’s intervention being the only effort put towards that goal. The dead of Ikana roam the land and terrorize whoever appears there, save for their long-dead and peace-seeking masters. The humans, for the most part, react the most naturally: fleeing for their lives and hoping their meager shelters will protect them from the falling moon. But even so, it’s very likely that apocalypse or not, suffering is part and parcel of the last three days of every living being’s life in Termina -- no matter how they choose to spend them.
If you don’t take action, they will suffer. But even if you do -- even if you lend a hand and give them the boost they need -- suffering is the only option left to them. Suffering, and the embrace of despair.
Such a shame…if only you mortals would give yourselves to chaos. If you were to become like me, then you would so easily escape the suffering you so detest. But perhaps you feeble beings are unable to overcome your binds. Perhaps falling prey to your despair is the only facet of your nature that matters, when all is said and done.
For something that’s never really understood humanity, you sure act like you know its foibles in and out. Just where do you get off?
Have you forgotten so quickly? I am the one that brought about that chaos and despair. I did it as tribute -- as a means to bring as many potential playmates to my side as I could.
In the end, my tastes, and my desires, are simple enough. I want people to come to me. To play with me, and provide me with the entertainment that I so desire. If that means I have to sever the cords that bind my puppets to such mundane lives, then so be it. I would gladly spread discord for even a miniscule chance at some fun. Surely you, as a “gamer”, can understand my mentality?
I’m no stranger to the “villain causing chaos just for fun” bit. But I would’ve figured that you were just a creation by a bunch of Japanese game developers -- and better yet, a boss beaten by plenty of gamers across the globe. Are you telling me that Termina and all the Zelda games are real, and you’re trying to cross over into the real world?
Hardly. It is as you said: I am the creation of a certain group of people. Their ideas, their intent, their insanity…all of it has coalesced, and allowed me to come into being as they envisioned. I am here by the hand of a certain group willing me into existence, with all the necessary knowledge and memories engraved into my being as thoroughly as my passion.
(So this Majora’s Mask is the result of people’s mental energy coming together…but who brought it here? Who would help give a monster like this life and free reign?
Guess I can’t worry about that now. I have to find a way to stop it here -- because if I don’t, we’re all in for a rough three days.)
So, bottom line: your plan is to wreak havoc and turn the human race into puppets -- toys you can play with for your amusement alone?
I do more than just entertain myself. I do it to free them -- to let them embrace the state they so naturally occupy.
All right, I’ll bite. What are you getting at this time?
Exactly how much do you understand the nature of a hero? As a gamer, you have likely played the role of savior many times. But do you understand all the nuances? The essence, the reasoning, the failures, everything?
Not being a hero in my own right, I can’t say that I do. But I’ve dipped my hand in a lot of fiction, so if nothing else I have ideals and standards to go by.
Ideals and standards…how cute. Have you ever given thought as to the dark side of a hero? What lies beneath that noble veneer they so commonly put forth? I have -- for I have seen what lies beneath in the nude. I know the corruption that hides within the heart of a hero…an unmistakable darkness, and a maelstrom of chaos that rivals anything I could ever hope to produce.
That’s right. You know Link pretty well. You faced off with him, but you rose again and came here. And…let me guess. This is the part where you reveal his true nature?
Do you think you could fare better than the one who saw the heart of the Hero?
I guess not.
Then allow me to indulge you. I know the Hero rather intimately, as a result of our skirmishes. I could see clearly into his heart, and the depths therein. I knew his despair -- his desperate search for a lost friend is what drove him to his limits. To say that he remained immune to the pain and suffering of others would be a fallacy -- for he very nearly plunged into absolute despair. Alas, he soldiered on. He could see no other alternative; his past adventures across two tumultuous epochs gave him the courage, the wisdom, and the power needed to believe in himself. He had gained so much -- and as a result, he became corrupted.
What is a hero without some ability, some superhuman force that sets him above the average man? Nothing more than the damsel a hero is obligated to save. And it is precisely that fact that gave the Hero his reason for being; his power became a part of him, a reason as to why he could act on behalf of the innocent. His trials against the King of Evil codified his existence; to save the people of Termina meant saving his very being from a life of mediocrity. He had everything he wanted and needed…or so it seemed. And that is exactly why I saw fit to steal away his power -- to condemn him to life as a mere Deku Scrub. I would drive him to despair by way of sealing such an essential part of himself…but there would be a more entertaining effect to follow.
“You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” You made him realize that he needed power, however he could get it. And as a result, you made him focus more on his power than he ever would have in Hyrule.
I wish I could try and deny it, but I can’t. I know how the saying goes.
The entire point of the game -- of any game, arguably, Zelda or otherwise -- is to gather enough power to take down whatever enemy comes Link’s way. Gaining new tools, gaining new moves, gaining new magic, gaining ancient artifacts that may contain incredible amounts of evil power…it’s all a means to increase Link’s abilities. He’s doing it because he’s the Hero, but somewhere along the line he has to be doing it for himself.
In his default form, Link’s just a kid -- but after the events of OoT, he knows what it’s like to be an adult -- an adult, a warrior, a savior, the chosen one, all that and more. The problem is that he got a taste of that, and can’t divorce himself from what he was. He needs more of it. He needs to be more than just a kid again; if clearing dungeons and helping others is all just a means to become more than just a boy, then he’ll gladly do it. He’ll embrace with open arms whatever new source of strength he can find.
And you knew it all along. It was all a part of your plan -- you wanted him to become corrupted, and be your ultimate playmate. And you gave him just the tool he needed, at the very end of his journey.
Ah, yes...the Fierce Deity’s Mask. Precisely the counterpart I had always wanted, strapped so securely to the puppet I always wanted. Are you familiar with its strength? Its ability to command you, compel you to seek it out and use it as you see fit?
I can’t say I know how it feels to wear it, but I’ve dealt with it before in the past. I remember playing my brother’s file just to give it a spin -- and we gave the glitch that let you play as the Fierce Deity a shot as soon as we found out it existed. Of course, doing so meant that you couldn’t use the ocarina, meaning that you couldn’t go back to the first day -- and as a result…
Everything laid to waste -- all for a brief taste of power.
But then again, that is to be expected of you mortals -- and precisely why I can always count on you to entertain me. If you are as bonded to the Hero as you say, then you must know that my fun extends beyond virtual dimensions. To corrupt the Hero is to corrupt the player; his lust for power consumes him, corroding the ethics and virtues he holds dear. In the face of a world that cannot be saved, and people forever doomed to suffer through their soon-to-end daily lives, the futility is made apparent. All that matters is gathering the items that will bolster your strength. With each cleared event comes a reward. Rewards breed strength. Strength breeds enjoyment. And in the end, I know that I will always have a partner to play with.
I will never be alone. Because everyone in this world -- real or unreal -- is just like me. Everything humanity holds dear as a testament to order -- ethics, virtue, ideals -- is nothing more than an illusion. A justification to help separate the men from the beasts…or more appropriately, the just from the wicked. But society itself is built upon the same tenets that I embody. Chaos. Control. And most of all, fun. All that we do is for our own benefit, our own propulsion into higher states of being and elation; acts of altruism are merely acts made for the sake of reciprocal gain, or to avoid the backlash of those that would decry you for inaction. In the end, man is nothing more than a self-justifying devil.
But you gamers -- those who play freely in fictional worlds -- have a better grasp of reality than any other being. You know that you exist to benefit yourselves, and are regularly given playgrounds to do so. But step outside your virtual worlds and what do you receive? What do you comprehend, day after day? A world built on one gaining all he can for himself. Fame. Fortune. Furnishings. Food. Feelings. Fun. That is all there is to life. That is all there is to the nature of man.
That is why I exist. Not only to obtain all that I desire, but to prove the truth that unites us all. Heroes are nothing more than a fantasy.
Heroes, a fantasy…?
Precisely. You will never find a hero beyond the confines of a story -- because in the end, that is the only place they can roam. They can never, ever exist.
There is no maybe. What I have spoken is the truth -- a truth as evident as I. As an embodiment of chaos, I know the truth…I know it, because I have seen the flaws apparent in reality. And I am the one best suited to reveal them, as a result of my own unerring power. I am chaos itself. I am perfect.
…Now you’ve gone too far.
I’ll gladly let you go on and on about the nature of humanity like any villain would -- but if you’re going to make a case for yourself, you’d better make a good one. Don’t go spouting philosophy lessons when you’re doing so with some massive contradictions. And you sure as hell better not throw out any bogus phrases like “I’m perfect” or “I’m chaos.” If you do, you’re just setting yourself up for a big fall.
So, you think you can stop me, merely by taking note of these contradictions?
Yeah, I think I can. Because if my guess is correct, the key to taking you down -- at least with my zero-combat toolset -- isn’t going to be a one-on-one fight. If thought energy is what’s making all this possible, then it’ll be by my thought energy -- and yours, too -- that’ll get you out of my hair once and for all.
Is that right? Well then, if you think that I am something that can be stopped, then by all means try. I welcome your foolish bid at heroism.
All right then.
There’s no denying that Termina’s in a shoddy state when Link visits -- and arguably before that. The name of the land is one letter off from “terminal”, so you can expect some problems Link’s sword skills can’t hope to fix. The most obvious is the undercurrent of racism; as a Scrub, Link finds himself mistreated more often than any other race. The toddler vigilantes, the Bombers, want the Scrub to prove himself -- and even then they’re more than a little annoyed by his very presence.
The guards at the gates won’t let him pass, but they’ll gladly let human link go by…this, in spite of being the same age, with the only difference besides race being that he has a visible sword. The dog in South Clock Town will try to tear the Scrub apart every chance he gets. It’s no wonder, then, that the Scrubs -- outside of those looking to make it big with their real estate and small businesses -- are isolationist, and just as likely to reject the other species. The castle guards will immediately reject human link, but Scrub Link is allowed inside without escort in spite of being a complete stranger. The only other time race becomes a problem is when only a specific form can handle specific tasks; for example, there’s a Goron in Clock Town who will only sell Powder Kegs to Goron Link due to safety reasons. Because "safety" is the first thing I think of when it comes to a transformation following this:
It says a lot about a world when it’s not only troubled before you even set foot in it, but troubled in spite of your antics. Things have gone down long before Link was even born -- race relations that likely won’t be ironed out for decades. The blood-soaked history of Ikana, driving all but a thief and a father and daughter to live in the eastern canyon. The exact identity of the Zora septuplets’ father -- implied to be Mikau, but I like to think that it’s possible one of the other band mates might have done the deed, and Lulu isn’t sure who’s responsible. Link can only reset time to the point where he first arrived, and not a second before. By that logic, there’s only so much that he can do. He’ll enter Termina, lend a hand, and then exit silently before anyone knows he was there.
Except people do know he was there. Or at the very least, one person: the player.
A means to validate wasted time, and nothing more.
I’m not done yet. There’s a big gap in logic that you’re leaping over. It’s like I said earlier: not every gamer is the altruistic sort. Or maybe they are, but they don’t have the time or patience needed to scour the earth for every item, or do every good deed imaginable for a reward. So maybe they won’t. Maybe they will. Hard to say for sure.
More proof on the true nature of humankind.
Not quite. See, a funny thing happened while I was playing the game. When I started, I told myself that I wasn’t going to get all the masks; I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it -- not quickly, at least -- without a walkthrough, and in the interest of wrapping up the game and making a post as quickly as possible I figured I could let it slide. I’d already seen the endgame once before, and the rewards, and the masks. No need to get them again.
Except halfway through, I DID have a need to get them again. I wanted to see the stories of these people. I wanted to see their reactions. I wanted to see their joy, their relief, their release. Realistically, the masks aren’t all that important or even useful save for a handful. The most you can do with a huge number of them is get some Pieces of Heart, or change Link’s appearance a bit; the All-Night Mask has no merit outside of that. The Mask of Truth doesn’t offer anything a walkthrough can’t offer better, especially if you use a walkthrough to find out where it is. There’s only one situation where the Bremen Mask, Kamaro’s Mask, and the Giant’s Mask come in handy. And for all the hype given to the Fierce Deity’s Mask, it’s all but useless outside of the first boss fight and the final one. Goht is too fast to slash at, you can maybe snipe Gyorg if you’re lucky and the camera permits it, and Twinmold is best beaten with the Giant’s Mask. There’s actually not much point to getting it besides bragging rights -- certainly not for the sake of feeling powerful, which, as I’ve explained before, can get downright boring when it comes to video games.
So what’s the point, then? Why did I bother to collect all the masks? That’s easy. The reason is that there was no reason.
A contradiction? I would have assumed you of all people would avoid those.
And I would have assumed you of all masks would learn to let me finish.
You’re over-thinking this whole hero business, Majora’s Mask. You don’t need a reason to be a hero. You don’t need to endlessly fret about whether what you’re doing is pointless, or insincere, or beneficial only for you. If someone needs your help, you offer it. Even if it’s useless…no, because it’s useless…that’s what this game is getting at.
There’s no denying that a major theme in this game is despair. At every turn, you’re reminded that the world is coming to an end -- there’s a clock at the bottom of the screen that winds down. Hanging clocks grind on and on. You can hear the bell of Clock Town, no matter where you are in the world. The ever-ominous title cards that tell you what day it is have been engraved in the memories of countless gamers. But even with all that in mind, despair is NOT the essence -- the spirit -- of the game.
There isn’t a single thing you do in the game that’s pointless. Yes, you are gaining more power, and it’s the only way to clear a path to the endgame. But you can’t -- youmost certainly can’t ignore the world around you, and its cries for help. You’re compelled to lend a hand however you can, even if it’s just a temporary fix. Even if no one remembers you -- even if your deeds go unrewarded, and unrecognized -- you do. You know there are people out there that need help. People you can help. People you do help. And the memories you have of them don’t fade. Not just because of the masks on your inventory screen; it’s the experiences you had together, however fleeting, and the glimmer of hope you offered them.
At a glance, it seems like a world that continuously resets isn’t worth saving. But the efforts of one person -- and one player -- make waves that can be felt for years to come. You’re free to ignore these people and go about your way to the endgame…but can you really? Can you deny these people of even momentary happiness? Or do you, out of some unexplainable drive, want to give them the strength they need to face the next day? To see their father’s legacy honored, or their chicks fully matured? To feed a helpless Goron, or to give a soldier the eternal rest he deserves? Can you turn your back on two lovers separated by a curse -- lovers so strongly connected that they’re willing to face the apocalypse together? I say no, you can’t. You’re Termina’s last hope, from the rescuer of its guardian spirits to the perpetuator of the latest dance craze. To be a hero is to become hope itself -- the ultimate bringer of happiness.
Such beautiful words…empty, but beautiful. If you were hoping to persuade me, I am afraid you have failed. Triumphantly. Oh, I’m not trying to persuade you. I’m trying to beat you the only way I know how: you’re about to get nitpicked to death.
I wouldn’t say that. Let me start by asking you a question: what are you?
I believe I already answered this question. I am an embodiment of chaos.
No, you’re a mask -- the embodiment of some particularly devious Japanese developers’ thoughts given form. But in a canon context, you’re a mask created for rituals and hexes.
And yet…for years now, I’ve been wondering something.
Who the heck is Majora?
There are a lot of gaps about the nature of Termina, and especially the game’s titular villain. It was something that drove me up a wall when I was younger, but now I’m all right with it. There are some mysteries that don’t need an ironclad answer, especially for a being like you. One approach is to offer hints and mysteries; leave juuuuuuuuust enough material to give a player ideas, but never flat-out say who or what you’re supposed to be. So at the most, all I can do is come up with theories about your true nature.
My true nature is clear enough.
Is it? I wonder…actually, maybe you have a point. Because after all these years, I think I’ve got you pegged. And if I do, then that means you’re about to bite it hard.
The obvious answer is that you were created by someone -- preferably, someone named Majora. But I’d like to think that your existence was made possible thanks to the efforts of a certain someone:
The Happy Mask Salesman’s method for creating masks is to use the Song of Healing -- taking wounded spirits or souls and condensing them into a wearable form. So it’s entirely possible that the “Majora” in the equation is someone who had died or was near death, and the Song of Healing saved them…so to speak. But if that’s the case, then where did the original body come from?
The final fight inside the moon gives some clues. If you look closely at the masked children, each one is a redhead wearing white clothes. The first fact is most important; it immediately calls for the image of the Mask Salesman, to the point where I suspect there’s a relation between them. So my theory is this: what if the Mask Salesman, in spite of his unnerving nature and grisly methods, is actually one of the good guys? Based on conversations with him, the cursed mask was sealed away by someone else -- sealed away in terms of the Song of Healing, I’m guessing.
He just searched for it so he could keep it safe, knowing the corruption effect it might have had on anyone that put it on. He was doing Termina -- and Hyrule, by extension -- a service by seeking it out. It’s a service that he took upon himself, to some extent…but I’d argue that he knew about the mask, the dangers it posed, the Song of Healing, and all the particulars, because he has an intimate connection with it. Namely, because he’s a descendant of Majora’s clansmen. And because of his connection to the mask, he knows he has to right the wrongs that have occurred and will occur. He wants masks to be remembered as joy-inducing, hopeful things, not causes for planetary cataclysms. Ergo, the Song of Healing.
It’s possible that the Song of Healing was a treasured ability amongst the Mask Salesman’s ancestors. It’s also likely -- probable, even -- that masks have been a part of Termina’s culture for centuries, necessitating the need for a song like that. But Majora’s Mask -- and Majora himself -- represents what happens when things go awry. The teachings, the culture, whatever you want to call it, all those things and more were lost when it came to dealing with him. It got to a point where he started lashing out, and brought a few others along for the ride. It didn’t pan out, of course, and Majora and his partners in crime -- Odolwa, Goht, Gyorg, and Twinmold -- were sealed away. Maybe forcibly so -- as in, someone decided the best way to deal with Majora was to kill him first, and then turn him into a mask. Just to be safe.
But in the end, what is Majora? Well, I think that what we see of him inside the moon is exactly what we get: a lonely child that refuses to play well with others. And when given a chance to play, you have to do so by his rules -- you’re the bad guy, and all you can do is run away. Run away, and fall prey to his onslaught. In fact, it’s almost uncanny how much the final boss fight plays out like a child’s fantasy. The first form has a child spinning around doing whatever he wants; it’s hardly lethal or even frightening stuff, given how lazily the mask just kind of flies around. Pressure him enough, and he’ll call on his friends -- the other masks -- for help…but you can knock them aside pretty easily. The second form has the mask getting frustrated, spazzing out, and just trying to play its games -- in fact, attacking it only serves to make you look like a monster, and the second form to be unprepared to actually fight.
The final form, however, is when things get serious; you’ve spoiled its fun for too long, and now it’s ready to fight you in earnest…relatively speaking. It may be the form most likely to kill you, but it has a very distinct “keep your distance!” and “get away from me!” fighting style reminiscent of Street Fighter’s Dhalsim. It’s also notable for being one of the few enemies that ignores the invincibility frames Link gets to avoid being hit multiple times -- the reason being so it can flail at you with its tentacle-whip tantrum attack. It’s enough to make me believe that Majora isn’t some angry god or cruel sorcerer, but just a child -- either physically or at heart, though more than likely the latter -- that always has to have his games go his way.
And where is the fault in that? What reason is there to interrupt -- to disturb the delight derived from my games? As we are all the same, we are all enjoying them at some level --
I wouldn’t try changing the subject if I were you. Because if you keep it up, it’ll just look like you’re starting to crack under the pressure.
Inconceivable. You earnestly believe that a mere mortal, a foolish and weak puppet such as you, can try to unravel me with little more than words?
Hey, aren’t you the one who wanted me to give it a shot? I would’ve figured this is exactly what you wanted. Unless…you weren’t expecting me to be able to fight back, were you?
Impossible. Simply impossible. I am chaos. I am --
That’s it, isn’t it? I’ve seen how you work in-game -- you mess around with people, knowing that they can’t do a thing to stop you -- but in reality, you’re gone before they can even take the first swing. But you weren’t expecting Link to stand up to you, and even take a few swings at you, now were you? You turned him into a Deku Scrub when he followed you into Termina, just to make sure he didn’t have a chance of beating you. But you underestimated his resolve; he not only chased after you, but confronted you on the night of the third day. You didn’t know what to do, so you tried to drop the moon on him -- and you would have killed yourself in the process, but kids throwing temper tantrums aren’t known for rational thought.
As long as you had the moon, you automatically won -- you knew Link wouldn’t let it fall, and once he used the Song of Time he had his own absolute defense against you. But you were content to just let him build up his power, so you could play a new game with him when the time came. And even if you had a chance of losing, you always had the moon. Your ace in the hole that could beat rock, paper, and scissors in one fell swoop. But by letting him experience those three days over and over again, you gave him a power well beyond the Fierce Deity’s Mask. Well beyond any mask.
Letting him explore Termina, letting him realize the stakes, letting him meet and bond with people of all races, ages, shapes and sizes gave him the one weapon he needed: drive. He wasn’t just being a hero for his own sake; it was his courage, his will to bring the dawn of a new day that brought him before you, ready to finish the fight no matter where it ended up. You threatened him and the world with despair; he fought back with hope. And you lost.
And you know why? It’s because you underestimated a hero, and overestimated yourself. You could have put an end to him at any moment. You could have sealed that door to Clock Town and put a stop to his adventure right then and there. But you didn’t. You challenged him and you lost, all because you had something to prove. All because you played a game against someone better than you.
You’re not just a lonely child -- you’re a stupid one.
You have no proof. All you have is conjecture -- circumstantial evidence. Nothing concrete. Nothing worth your excitement and bravado.
You’re sure? Because there’s one thing I’m curious about. Why the Skull Kid?
The Skull Kid? Ah, yes, that discarded puppet. I merely needed a…
A host body, right?
…It was random chance and nothing more. He merely happened upon me, and allowed me to…
I had no need for a puppet. My power far outstrips his -- and that of anyone else in this feeble world.
I don’t buy that for a second. The Happy Mask Salesman had you right where he wanted you, and you couldn’t do a damn thing about it. If the Skull Kid hadn’t intervened, you would have stayed on the Salesman’s sack until he decided to throw you in the fires of Death Mountain. But the Skull Kid put you on his face, and you got everything you needed. You not only got a host to siphon energy from and reawaken, but a kindred spirit -- two lonely children, going up against the world for the sake of games and mischief.
Except the Skull Kid had an advantage over you.
He had friends. Tatl, and Tael, and the four giants -- and eventually, Link. No matter how much you tried to keep him bound to your side, and drag him down to your level, you couldn’t do it. You couldn’t get him to play along forever, as long as he had his own mind, body, and willpower.
Face it. You can’t beat Link, you can’t beat the Skull Kid, and you can’t beat me. Know why? Because at the end of the day, you’re not nearly as powerful as you make yourself out to be. Heroes may have their flaws, but I know for a fact that they’re real. Both your game and your actions have taught me that.
I will teach you nothing but despair -- despair, and the full extent of my pow-
Will you shut the hell up, already? That act has gotten WAY old.
Listen up, Majora’s Mask. There’s one last lesson I have to thank you for. The proof that I need to shut you down once and for all.
You’re not perfect. In fact, you’re downright suicidal.
(And that'll just about do it. So, what's the takeaway from all this? What's the one lesson worth learning from the game?)
(Just play Wind Waker instead. You'll live longer.)
- Thanks for reading! And remember -- if you want to see more content from me, anytime, anywhere, be sure to check out my blog. Give it a read, so we can all become heroes!
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About Voltechone of us since 10:40 PM on 02.06.2012
Long-time gamer, aspiring writer, and frequent bearer of an afro. As an eternal optimist, I like to both look on the bright side of things and see the better parts of games; as a result, I love a game with a good story and awesome characters...and anything that lets me punch the heresy out of my enemies.
I'm a big fan of Atlus' games, and I've enjoyed my fair share of fighters and RPGs. Just...please, keep Final Fantasy XIII out of my sight. It never ends well for anyone involved.
You can check out some of my game musinga/stories/random stuff at my other blog, Cross-Up. I've also got a TV Tropes thingamajig, and a web serial novel, too. Maybe my stuff here and there will be the start of things to come. Hopefully good things, but things all the same.