One of my lesser vocalised loves in gaming is Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda IP. My first LoZ game was Oracle of Seasons for the Game Boy Color (though it irks me to not write “colour”) and my first 3D Zelda experience was not until Twilight Princess on the Wii, and even then it wasn’t for a while after it came out that I actually played it. This meant I missed out on a whole lot of Zelda growing up, but I did not let that stop me from falling in love with the series. Majora’s Mask is the one Zelda game that I really, REALLY wanted to play but never had the means of playing until it came out on the 3DS. After playing through it a variety of times and having some long-winded discussions with friends who appreciate the LoZ games the same way that I do I feel confident to take a look back at one of my most adored games, analysing what made it the masterpiece of a game it was. In this three-part series, I will be going over how Nintendo brilliantly used a mix of world building, design, music and contrast to create one the darkest, most tense games I have ever played.
I’ll preface what I’m about to say with this: LoZ Majora’s Mask is dark. It may look like a kid’s game, but when you actually stop and take a look at it, it is anything but. The game constantly conveys an atmosphere of death, loss and tension with each milestone and notable event cementing the idea that no matter what you do, Termina is in turmoil. Hell, the game starts off with causing the death of an innocent Deku Scrub, a realisation that you don’t really grasp until you complete the game.
With that out of the way, we’ll begin with the stories of Majora’s Mask. Now, why ‘stories’? Why not analyse the singular path which you, in the shoes of Link, take in order to inevitably save the world? For a lot of games, this is a very easy thing to do. However, with Zelda games in general, let alone Majora’s Mask, this is a bit of a harder thing to do. Excluding games like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, Zelda games often opt to tell a story through the world rather than through your actions into one overarching plot. Majora’s Mask does this tenfold. If you were to take the story of Majora’s Mask at face value, the game would seem rather dull and uninventive. A kid wearing a creepy mask has stolen the Ocarina from your possession, turns you into a Deku Scrub and is bringing about the world’s destruction by colliding the moon with the land, dooming the region of Termina’s existence and any who reside in it. Upon chasing the kid into Clock Town you meet the Happy Mask Salesman who explains to you that the very same kid who stole your Ocarina is also the one who stole a very dark and corrupted mask from him: Majora’s Mask. He strikes an accord with you, but with a caveat. Once you reobtain your Ocarina you play the Song of Time, thrusting you back by three days and you find yourself back at the bottom of the Clock Tower where you met the Happy Mask Salesman. He teaches you the Song of Healing and informs you that the aforementioned caveat is that he is leaving in three days time and you need to return his mask to him by then.
You’re not really given a reason to care about the world or the people because you don’t know them and you aren’t even from the land. Your only real motivation to stop the impending doom is your want and need to kick the masked kid’s butt for being a jerk. For a lot of games, that would be all there is to the world. There would be some side quests and a small amount of those side quests might have some impact, but at the end of the day, they’re just a distraction from the plot. Where Majora’s Mask differs is how it integrates the story of the world and characters around you as the motivation to be the hero. By completing the side quests you progress through their stories and learn why their existence is valuable and meaningful.
We’ll start with what I would call THE quest to complete in Majora’s Mask: the Anju & Kafei quest (more commonly known as Anju’s Anguish as of the 3DS remake). Now, there are a number of reasons why this quest is not only one of, if not, the best questlines in Majora’s Mask, but arguably the best questline in any Zelda game ever (a pretty good mark to hit on your second entry into the 3D series if I do say so myself), including its design, relevance, impact and writing. I’ll get to why it’s so good from a design standpoint in Part 2, but for now, we will just be focusing on the actual story writing for this quests and how it impacts the atmosphere of Clock Town, the central hub for Majora’s Mask. The quest sees you interacting with a variety of the game’s characters and your aim is the reunite two star-crossed lovers named Anju (F) and Kafei (M). These two lovebirds long to be wedded to each other but Kafei has gone missing. Visiting the Mayor’s Residence in East Clock Town has the player meet Madame Aroma, the mother of the missing boy. After explaining that her son is missing, she comes to the conclusion that you should conduct the investigation into Kafei’s whereabouts. I’m not entirely sure what drives a woman to entrust the investigation regarding the cause and result of her son’s disappearance to a ten-year-old kid from a different land, but that is neither here nor there (the characters of Zelda seem to entrust everything to a blonde kid with a coloured tunic).
As the quest progresses, you unravel the story of these two lovers, separated by unfortunate circumstances and my goodness is it such an enthralling tale. You learn that Kafei actually had his own run-in with the Skull Kid, the main antagonist of Majora’s Mask, which resulted in a spell being cast upon him which wound the clock back on his age, reverting him to his youthful state. Due to this, Kafei has gone into hiding out of sheer embarrassment and has sought after a cure from the Great Fairy of Clock Town. During this his Sun’s Mask was stolen, part of two masks which are used in wedding ceremonies in the land of Termina. This last part is why he shelters himself away from everyone else – he seeks a way to reclaim his mask and return to his adult form.
Engaging with Kafei also convinces him to bestow the Pendant of Memories unto you (not to be confused with ‘mammaries’, you sicko) with the request that you deliver it to his betrothed, as a token of affection. Doing so convinces Anju to remain in town on the third day, the day when Clock Town – nay – all of Termina is fated to meet its end. Returning to Kafei’s hideout on the third day will see you meet with the man who runs the ‘Curiosity Shop’, which sells stolen and unique items. He’s a friend of Kafei’s and explains to you that the Sun’s Mask thief, Sakon, came into the shop last night and that Kafei has gone in pursuit of him in the Ikana Canyon. For most players, this will be the second time you encounter Sakon with the first being at around midnight on the first night, saving the bomb shop lady from having her Big Bomb Bag stolen by the flamboyant thief. Not only is this writing good, it also links the characters to the world in a surprising way. Up until this point, players would have just brushed off Sakon as the Bomb Bag Thief guy and nothing more, but this simple plot point adds consistency so a side character, making his actions (and yours) more meaningful. Saving the Bomb Shop Lady will cause Sakon to not have anything to sell to the Curiosity Shop meaning that Kafei won’t find him, which in turn means that he can’t chase him to try and retrieve his mask. Allowing everything to go as planned, meeting Kafei in Ikana Canyon will see you pass a challenge of sorts and help him retrieve his mask. Kafei rushes back to town and with just an hour and a half left before the moon comes crashing down, both Anju and Kafei stay true to their vows, embracing the impending doom in each other’s arms. That’s just ONE quest.
Not all of the questlines (in fact the majority of them) are written as well as the Anju & Kafei questline, but that is not to say that they aren’t worth your time. Even little things which seem short actually have a lot behind them. The best example of this is with the Music Box House in Ikana Canyon. There is a lone house in the middle of the now-deserted Ikana Village which is surrounded by Gibdos (mummified undead) and a little girl with her father are sheltered inside. The little girl (named Pamela) has stowed her father away after he became cursed by the spirit of the composer Sharp, causing him to gradually take the form of a Gibdo. So this little girl not only has to lock her father away who is gradually dying from a curse, but also has to protect both of them from the unending parade of Gibdos right outside their house. Let that sink in, everything around her is steeped in death and one wrong move will spell her end. That’s… haunting. I can’t imagine what would happen if Link doesn’t intervene to save the father-daughter duo. To further add to this, saving them by healing his soul doesn’t stop the creepiness. Talking with Pamela after you have saved them will cause her to thank you but also causes her to bar you from talking to her father. She fears that if he catches on to Link’s power he will want to investigate and research, causing him to do even more crazy things and a possible repeat of the Gibdo curse fiasco.
Completing the game sees you taken through all the different areas and characters that you have impacted. The monkey is getting along with the Dekus, the Gorons are living safely and happily in their village at Snowhead, the Zora band known as the ‘Indigo-Go’s’ successfully have their performance for the Carnival of Time being held in Clock Town on account of Lulu regaining her voice, Pamela and her father are playing outside of their house and are free of danger, Anju walks out of Clock Town in her wedding dress and is ready to be married to Kafei. The game has such a satisfying ending and is so well crafted that it really is one of the most subtle yet impactful games in terms of writing. If you are able to play it, I would highly recommend it just for the writing alone, but stay tuned for Part 2 where I discuss why the game design perfectly complements the writing.