Zelda Week: Fear Itself

[As Zelda Week winds down here at Destructoid, I wanted to dig back into the archives and resurface an oldie-but-goodie. This 2011 piece from Noir seems like a fitting companion to the weird shenanigans of Tears of the Kingdom, and it’s also a good blog. So we’re bumping it up the feed again today, in 2023, to celebrate that. Happy Zelda Week! – Eric]

Many people’s first Legend of Zelda game was Ocarina of Time or A Link to the Past, but me? Majora’s Mask stole my Zelda virginity. I remember seeing a trailer with this kid putting on masks that made caused him to go through a painful looking transformation into something else. I remember a boss that commanded a swarm of moths, an insane looking man with masks, an even more insane looking moon, and of course the enigmatic Majora’s Mask itself. I don’t know where I saw this trailer, I still can’t find it to this day. I know I had to have the game after seeing it though, even if those eyes filled me with terror.

As a child I was frightened of Majora’s Mask. I didn’t want to look at it, doing so filled me with anxiety. I thought I would die just from looking at those massive eyes that stare endlessly into the depths of my soul. I was also fascinated by them though, so I asked my parents to rent it for me. I even got an Expansion Pak just for it, which became another useless peripheral a week later. The point is that I needed this game, the odd nature of it just drawn me to it. It wasn’t like my other games. It wasn’t bright and light hearted like Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards or Banjo-Tooie, no. This game was different and I could feel it in my bones. Mind you, I was only about 8 years old at this time. I only had a few N64 games and they were mostly happy, child friendly games rated E for Everyone by the young ESRB system.

So I eventually acquired this accursed game and my standards were met. The game starts up again and there it is, the epitome of my nightmares – Majora’s Mask. This was before I played any actual horror games, so I was easily scared by something as simple as a mask. Resident Evil 3‘s Nemesis and the psychological horror of Silent Hill wasn’t something I was aware of at this point. Majora’s Mask was my definition of fear, but that didn’t stop me from playing the game. This “thing” was all over the game, seeing it was practically unavoidable if you wanted to play the game so I pressed on.

The beginning of Majora’s Mask is better than any Zelda game when it comes to hooking the player and forcing them to explore. Your horse is stolen by a masked kid who curses you, turning you into a Deku scrub. After that you encounter the disturbing Happy Mask Salesman who may seem a bit too happy despite his predicament. No. He’s not happy, not happy at all. He’s downright pissed, pissed off to the point where he snatches up Link and shakes him repeatedly. Then your quest to defeat Majora’s Mask begins in Termina. It’s like an acid trip that ends with “Where am I? Why do I look like this?” and you’re forced to find out who’s fault it is.

In every other Zelda game the first ten minutes of the game is fairly peaceful and light hearted, awful things just don’t happen one after another. Majora’s Mask isn’t like that though, it beginning pushes the situation from bad to worse and doesn’t care how you feel. Then you’re finally faced with the fact that the moon is going to crash down on Termina and annihilate everything in sight, including you. This moon…it has the same beating eyes that filled me with the same dread that Majora’s Mask did. It was an unstoppable force that continually looked down on you during the entire game with those eyes because it knew you couldn’t stop it.

You’re able to reverse time fairly early in the game, but I was not a smart child so I never got that far when I had this game. Thus I was faced with this feeling of dread that everything was going to be destroyed, everything I was doing felt purposeless. I made my way around Clock Town, but was never able to stop the destruction. This was before I had access to the vast internet, so I grew mad at the game for forcing an impossible task on me. It was at least six years before I played the game again, but in that time I still thought about it from time to time. It was merely a rental (that I for some reason never bought), but I’d say it affected me more than any of the other games on the N64.

Eventually I did beat Majora’s Mask, with a little help from the internet, and all was right with the world. As a teenager I had journeyed through Majora’s Mask and discovered that it was a dark game in ways I didn’t know. The citizens of Clock Town all had their own stories, along with everyone else in the vast land of Termina. The apocalyptic situation I had on my hands seemed even worse after learning of the problems around Termina, many of which were caused by the mask wearing Skull Kid. Skull Kid’s story is one of the grimmest out there despite seeming to be the mastermind behind everything. Skull Kid was originally a child who wanted to have fun, but that desire was twisted into a form of destructive behavior after being controlled by Majora’s Mask. At that point Skull Kid becomes a puppet, though he retains his mischievous personality.

Skull Kid himself represents what the Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask truly is. It is a twisted reincarnation of a children’s game that presents itself as a dark and nightmarish experience. Behind the mask Majora’s Mask is not as bad as an M-rated horror game, but the mask it dons still manages to make itself appear menacing. As a child this mask is all that appears and that’s what I saw. While I wouldn’t say that Majora’s Mask as a game and an object has scarred me, but it’s done something definitely. It thrust me into the Zelda series, imbued in me a love for the strange, and made me wish I had a replica of Majora’s Mask itself in my home. As long as it remains out of sight most of the time!

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