No Going Back by Meroko

From the cel-shaded graphics of The Wind Waker to the more-realistic approach in Twilight Princess, The Legend of Zelda series is known for its drastic variances in art styles. However, it is when Zelda titles share similar art directions that the variations are all the more telling.

With an extremely short development period Majora’s Mask shared the same engine and graphics as its predecessor, Ocarina of Time. These similarities also extended beyond the games and into the official artwork for the titles. Hobby-artist Meroko claims that the minor differences evident between the official artwork of the two Nintendo 64 classics contains a very powerful message.

This article’s header image is one of Meroko’s original works, aptly entitled “No Going Back.” The image was created on a Nintendo 3DS using the downloadable program 3D Colors and is available for viewing in the software’s online gallery. Meroko spoke to me extensively about the motivation for her piece.

“It is inspired by the themes of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask; particularly the differences in their official artwork and what I think that says about how the events Link went through affected him emotionally.” — Meroko

Meroko’s work highlights the variation in the Nintendo 64 classics’ depictions of Link. On the left is a representation of Ocarina of Time’s art direction in contrast to that of Majora’s Mask’s presented on the right hand-side.

Whereas Ocarina of Time uses a very natural approach to shading, Majora’s Mask uses vibrant colors to deliberately contrast the excessive shading utilized in the images. Majora’s Mask also employs much sharper edges and thicker black outlines in its official art.

Figure 1 - Comparison of Link Stance Artwork

These differences are not, according to Meroko, merely stylistic choices reflecting the overall darker tone of Majora’s Mask, but are a necessary progression for any true direct sequel to Ocarina of Time that wishes to accurately convey what Link has been through.

Meroko’s piece was drawn following a trip back to the small country town where she grew up after eight years of absence. What she found was once vacant properties crammed full with shopping centers and apartments. A treasured tree-stump at the local park, which she and her siblings called “The Treasure Tree,” had vanished to be replaced by a skate park.

It was this very trip where Meroko came to understand truly what Link experiences in Ocarina of Time and how by Majora’s Mask he is a very different person. As Link does, Meroko came to comprehend the true significance of the phrase ‘there is no going back.

Ocarina of Time tells the story of Link being forced out of Kokiri Forest to embark on a journey to save the world. He is torn from his home and friends with barely a chance to look back. The Hero of Time is not merely homesick, but completely fixated on regaining what he has lost.

Link later returns to the forest once seven years have passed, but just like Meroko he realizes that despite being physically back in the same location, there is no going back. His home had become the dwelling place of the monstrous Deku Babas. Literally going back to the location could not redeem what it once was.

Meroko’s experience was highlighted by the loss of the tree stump that her memory held fondly. Fittingly, Link returns to the Sacred Forest Meadow to also find the tree stump that he and his friend Saria once treasured to be eerily deserted. The location Link returned to was not what he remembered. It was not what he wanted, nor was it what he pined for.

The words of Shiek offered to Link in the Forest Meadow hold a special significance for Meroko; “the flow of time is always cruel… Its speed seems different for each person, but no one can change it.” Time marches onwards and changes everything. For Meroko and us we can only return to the location, but it will never be what it once was.

Figure 2 - Comparison of Link in Combat

Link experiences this loss, but through Princess Zelda’s actions at the end of Ocarina of Time, Link is sent back not only in location, but also in time. The Hero of Time returns to the forest of his youth in the past only to further learn that there is no going back.

Sheik cautions that time never truly stops progressing, “Time passes, people move… Like a river’s flow, it never ends…” Despite having traveled back through time, Link’s mental clock had still advanced. He could never see the same forest that he remembered because he had seen it marred by time. Link had gone through too much and shouldered too great a responsibility to accept the forest as what he remembered.

Having gone back in loation and even through time, it was Link who had changed. It was his mentality that had developed. The forest was the same in actuality, but for Link he could never view it in the same way again.

Sheik advises that “A thing that doesn’t change with time is a memory of younger days.” Time changes the place and us, but not the memories. We can remember what once was, but we will never feel that same way again because of what we’ve been through, just like Link.

Later Sheik goes on to advise that “the clear water’s surface reflects growth” and tells Link to “reflect upon himself.” Growth is change; it is moving on and realizing how we develop as people over time. Our views and opinions of the world will change, but the way we remember specific times and locations will remain constant.

We pine for the past, and so it is that we return physically only to discover that time has changed what we remember beyond recognition. However, even with the aid of time-travel Link discovers that the biggest change is neither in time nor in space, but in him as a person.

Link does not respond positively to learning the lesson that there is no regaining the past. He becomes lost in shadow and recklessness, as reflected in Majora’s Mask’s artwork. Link abandons everything he has in Hyrule to cling to the vain chance of regaining his only connection to a past that is gone. Link departs to search for his companion Navi.

The hero no longer bears the face of responsibility as in Ocarina of Time’s artwork, but rides Epona with a wry smirk on his face. He rides recklessly into the woods with nothing to lose and a vain hope of regaining everything.

Figure 3 - Comparisons of Link riding Epona

His carelessness leads Link into the land of Termina where he further learns from Kaepora Gaebora that the past is “destined to fade anyway.” Within Termina, Link repeats the same three-day cycle over and over. Just as in Ocarina of Time, the world around him reverts back to what it was but he continues to grow and change inside.

Link learns to use each cycle more efficiently because even with the power to go back in time, slow time and skip ahead, never does Link obtain the ability to stop time from progressing or stop himself from growing as a person.

The ever prominent clocks within the land of Termina remind players that time pushes ever onwards and Meroko uses the very pattern of Termina’s clocks in her background to reinforce that very point. It reminds us to move on and not to cling to what is lost. We cannot become consumed by the shadow of the past.

“After going through so much it is impossible to return to the life you once had and to continue pushing ahead with the plans you once dreamed of. We shouldn’t try and go back but instead take the memories that are important to us and move forward.” — Meroko

About the Author

Dathen Boccabella was a lead writer for Zelda Informer from February 2009 to February 2012. He now writes for the major sports-news website The Bleacher Report while studying a double degree in Media & Communications and History.

Stay tuned at Zelda Informer over the coming months for Dathen’s weekly Friday night Legend of Zelda inspirational column.

To keep up to date with all of Dathen’s work you can now follow him on Twitter @dathboc where he’ll be giving away your choice of a free Wii or Wii U game at 1000 followers.

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