Majora’s Mask has always been seen as an oddball entry in the Zelda series’ history, a black sheep among its brethren, a game and story that was never afraid to be a little twisted, a little unhinged, a little hairy. Surrounded by conspiracy theories regarding terminal Termina’s alternative world being that of purgatory, with dark dilemmas, warped characters and some form of tragedy permeating each compass point, its easy to see why. And on an initial quest to find his beloved fairy pal Navi, Link stumbles down a decidedly dark rabbit hole, faced with a new world, and a new guide to shepherd him through it.
Tatl very quickly carves out her own surly personality, marking her own identity as something very different from what Link and players are used to, despite her appearance. A strange reflection and naughty doppelganger of the placid Navi, Tatl begins the game as an aggressive, resentful, and unwilling partner to Link as she’s cut off from her brother Tael, staying behind to antagonize Link. Her bell-like chimes replacing Navi’s infamous dialogue as she chastises and berates a confused Link early in his quest.
Tatl isn’t sweet, she’s blunt and biting, especially if you ask her to identify monsters you’ve fought in Ocarina of Time. Initially only helping you to reach her own goals, she furtively begins to warm up to Link’s heroic exploits, even begrudgingly apologizing for Skullkid’s misdeeds, applauding Link’s “stubborn” courage, and thanking him at the game’s epilogue. Yet still their relationship isn’t the same as the kinship Link held for Navi, it merely mirrors it, much like Termina mirrors Hyrule.
On a quest to find a docile fairy, Link’s tale entwines with the fork-tongued fae, her attitude the lens for which you navigate, explore, and interact with the doomed locations across Majora’s Mask. While Navi reflected the comparably straightforward nature of Ocarina of Time, an earnest companion through thick and thin, Tatl reflected the grimy, cruel, and confusing world Link found himself in, a partnership built on function more than anything else. From talking down to Link at every turn and by acting as his rogue voice in narrative cut scenes, Tatl helped paint the world of Termina in ways Navi could have never illustrated Hyrule, aside from working as a glorified Z-Targeting system to observe its inhabitants. Tatl made her departure from Navi as her own fully fledged character in a world populated by other quirky NPC’s with similar natures — of course Link’s Terminian fairy guide was always going to be a tad crooked.
Tatl subverts the memories we have of Navi whilst constantly reminding us of her in appearance and function; this is for good reason. If we imagine the purgatory scenario is true, easily believable in all other aspects of Termina, Tatl acts as the literal guiding light Link has forward in his quest to find her. A spunky spirit guide of sorts, her nature as the other side of the Navi-shaped coin could be born from Link’s lonely longing to see her in a world telling him to let go and move on, as he heals the broken and hurt inhabitants and locations of Termina himself.
Is he slowly healing his own soul? Ticking off and collecting stickers in the Bomber’s Notebook to reach a finale during which everyone finds peace, the last character who finds no resolve is Link himself. Tatl simply says that she enjoyed their time, but Link should leave; they’ve all got a Carnival to attend. In the hunt for Navi, Link found Tatl, but in the end had to let her return to her brother and Skullkid, in a way finally letting go of Navi and finding the acceptance within himself to move on — perhaps to the afterlife if we’re considering the purgatory situation. Much like a lot of Majora’s Mask, most of the scenarios could be considered a metaphor, this being the final one as Link rides of with Epona through the Lost Woods.
Tatl might not have the same charm as later companions in the series — well-developed spirits and guides that make sacrifices, hold deep narrative influence, and boast colourful designs — but she represents a shift in the series to accommodate more colorful company for Link on his travels. In a game as strange as Majora’s Mask she floats as something both familiar and different, something that can be extended to the title as a whole. Fans may never beg for her to return, but she couldn’t have been a better companion for Link throughout the strange, mirrored world of Termina.
Simon Rayner is an Associate Editor at Zelda Dungeon. Majora’s Mask formed much of his childhood and to this day can’t hear the main theme without thinking about a chimpanzee with frying pans. Ask him about it on Twitter.