Posted on October 25 2010 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
This article is a re-release of one of our most popular Majora’s Mask articles ever written, in celebration of Majora’s Mask’s 10th birthday tomorrow. We will be featuring some of our most popular Majora’s Mask articles throughout the day, bringing back the good old discussions and great readings of our storied past. It will be all capped with a brand new Majora’s Mask article at the end of the day. Happy early 10th Birthday.
Majora’s Mask is a game of great quality. There’s a few that think otherwise, but with all great art, it often does cause quite a bit of polarity. Majora’s Mask has the great distinction, or unfortunate fate, of being a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, which many consider the greatest Zelda game of all time. While I won’t argue Ocarina of Time’s importance, I do wish to argue why Majora’s Mask is better. Or more specificity, why Majora’s Mask is the greatest Zelda game ever created.
What I would like to do, though, is go a bit more than skin-deep with this. There’s many surface reasons why this game is fantastic, ranging from the difficulty to the side-quests, but there is just more to it; something else lurking just below the surface that peers out at the consumer giving them the feeling that they are playing something that is just of a higher quality than others. Even now, I can go back and play this game and appreciate every second of it. For your convenience, the article will be presented in list form.
1. The Art Direction
Well, this one might be a bit more obvious but I just had to mention it. This game would be nothing if it wasn’t for the intricate detail in ever facet of this game. Obviously, the main piece of art that sticks out is Majora’s Mask itself. It is a haunting, eerie… thing that seems to stare into my soul. The bright colors and sharp edges counteracting the smooth corners. It also had distinct symbolism of being a heart shape with spikes sticking out of it, representing the mask’s power to control the hearts of morals. It is patently evil and absolutely gorgeous and recognizable.
Another fantastic piece of art direction is the clock tower in the center of town which serves as the pivotal and central centerpiece of the game. Day one always starts there and the world will end there too, if Link does not save it. It’s one of the few early instances in Zelda of mechanics being distinctly evident to the viewer, except the windmill in Ocarina of Time, but it lets every player in the game know that time is important in this game. In fact, Time is more important in Majora’s Mask than it is in Ocarina of Time. The world of Termina is completely dependent on time and if Link had not entered with his Ocarina, it surely would’ve been destroyed.
The last piece of art direction I want to mention is the interior of the moon. I’ve had many conversations about this, but, to me, entering the interior of the moon is probably the most gorgeous and shocking experiences I’ve ever had playing a game. I did not expect it at all. As with most games, the realms of the “bad guys” are either ugly or menacing in some way. This is not so in Majora’s Mask, the interior of the moon is a beautiful field with a single tree on top of a hill on a clear day. While it is absolutely resplendent, it does have a sort of uncanny feel too it, as if something is just not quite right. This feeling is reinforced with the mask kids playing around the tree. It’s a beautiful and eerie scene that perfectly sums up what games should do, shock the viewer. And not “scary movie” shock, just surprise us with something unexpected.
2. The Zora Mask
Yes, I am picking just one mask here and for a single reason: I like being able to swim. This doesn’t exactly have the depth of number one, but this mask, single-handedly, made me hate every game after it because of their swimming mechanics. Swimming as the Zora just felt so natural, it was glorious diving in and out of water like a dolphin and spinning underwater, leaving white trails as I moved faster than I could usually run. Next to magic, this is the second thing I want to return to the Zelda series. The “I’m drowning!” circle of The Wind Waker was amazingly lame, especially when 4/5ths of the game took place in water, and Twilight Princess’ swimming was just way to slow and boring.
3. The Feeling of Menace
This game has serious tone to it; a sometimes overwhelming feel of dread that would constantly creep up and attack unsuspecting players from behind. Even for me, when I was a kid, I would look up at the moon and it would freak me out, especially when it would get closer each time 12 hours passed. Just walking through Clock Town and seeing all the people going about their business, not oblivious but weary of the looming moon overhead felt just transcendental. It was like being in another world, and really it was like each person was in their own world hoping for the best, while the their obvious doom crept closer and closer from overhead. It isn’t finally until the final day that some people decide to pack up and leave.
I’m not sure why, but one of the stories that impacted me most was the Postman’s, a man so dedicated to his work that he will not leave unless he is given explicit permission to. He’s so dedicated that if Link did not give him a letter to deliver to Madame Aroma, he would most likely have stayed to his doom. What struck me was his utmost despair at being tied down to his job despite his desire to leave. I really just wanted to reach in and pat the man on the back and tell him that his job is done for now and that his life is more important, although I am sure he would’ve disagreed.
Finally, there is the fact that the feeling of despair does not leave the game even after it is over. Right after the credits finish, we see the Deku Buttler crying in front of the odd little tree Link saw as he was chasing Majora’s Mask into Termina. It is implied that this is his son that had disappeared and that his son had the unfortunate fate of running into the Skull Kid at some point and having his soul taken away from him.
4. The Uplifting Themes
That’s not to say Majora’s Mask is a depressing game, while it is very menacing there is many stories in the game that have happy endings and messages to pass along that can be very heart-lifting. The obvious one is Anju and Kafei, two lovers who are separated by Majora’s Mask and Kafei’s pride being destroyed. Their story is one of unrequited love and self-discovery that is rare within video games and in the end when the two decide to ride out their fate, whether it is life or death, together is very comforting, even if the “death” prospect is a little grim.
The Skull Kid himself is a victim of his own assumptions, believing that the Giants had abandoned him because he had caused too much chaos. He believed he had lost his only friends, most likely causing him to become easy prey to the evil that was within Majora’s Mask. It wasn’t until Link called back the giants and destroyed Majora’s Mask (or so we hope) that he realizes that they never stopped thinking of him as a friend. It’s a general theme in Majora’s Mask that friends must be forgiven for their failure because they are just that, friends. It is mentioned many times in the game from King Ikana (“Believing in your friends and embracing that belief by forgiving failure.”) to the giants themselves (“Forgive your friend…”)
The ending in general, depending on what you’ve done throughout the adventure, is varying degrees of cheerfulness. And the Happy Mask Salesman gives one of my favorite lines before he leaves: “Since I am in the midst of my travels… I must bid you farewell. Shouldn’t you be returning home? Whenever there’s a meeting a parting is sure to follow. However, the parting need not last forever…”
5. The Happy Mask Salesman
And that brings us to Number Five, the Happy Mask Salesman, my single favorite character in any game I have ever played. The first time Link meets the Happy Mask Salesman it is obvious that he knows more than he is willing to admit, uttering one of the most memorable lines in the whole game: “You’ve met a terrible fate, haven’t you?” A line that basically outlines the whole story of Majora’s Mask, as the whole world and the denizens of it have certainly met a terrible fate.
Still, this man is just plain mysterious, and this is what I love about him. He was in Ocarina of Time, although barely. But in Majora’s Mask he just has an otherworldly feel to him. He moves in jerky, split-second motions, and seems to be bi-polar to some degree, switching from super (creepy) happy to super (creepy) angry in no more than a second. This isn’t even mentioning the fact that he fades out into nothing at the end of the game, implying that he is some sort of otherworldly being of some sort.
And really, he’s just a bastion of fantastic, quotable lines. It’s quite obvious that the game designers enjoyed the character as much as I did, as he’s just a fantastic mix of humor, wisdom, and mystery.
6. The Mystery
Finally, I believe one of the most important aspects of Majora’s Mask, is the complete mystery that surrounds the game. The ending, while fulfilling, answers almost zero answers to questions such as:
How exactly did Link get to Termina?
What and where is Termina?
Where did Majora’s Mask come from?
Who or what is the Happy Mask Salesman?
What are the giants? Gods? Large, Powerful Beings? Do they relate to the Goddesses of Hyrule?
How did the banker guy always know who you were?
And so many more. I do not believe any other game has ever evoked such a feeling of curiosity and mystery to me. And really, it can lend it to the fact that the world of Hyrule already existed as a concrete place, so this world of Termina that Link just seemed to fall into because of fate seemed all the more cryptic. There were many parallels between Termina and Hyrule, including the races and many of the characters being clones (or mirrors) to characters in Hyrule. Characters that were insignificant in Hyrule became important and central characters in Termina. This all lends Termina to being a world filled of mystery and life that just made Termina infinitely more interesting than Hyrule.
Majora’s Mask will always be centerpiece of fantastic storytelling and a fantastic example of what Zelda could be when artists are given the freedom to make what they want by stepping slightly out of the regular Zelda formula. While it will likely never be the top Zelda game of all time according to some people because of various reasons, most of which generally relate to the three day system, it will always be the best in my heart. I have never been more intrigued and interested by a game like I have for Majora’s Mask. My only hope is that people can perhaps get by their hang-ups over the gameplay and the difficultly and see the deep and wonderful game that is concealed below.