Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 64)

In celebration of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s release we’ll be sharing a few Zelda stories over the next two weeks from ourselves here at AWttP and guest contributors. Today’s story comes from a friend of ours here at AWttP – Ian Menard (@IanMenard), as he shares with us why Majora’s Mask felt so special to him when he discovered it all those years ago.

A bit about Ian? He’s a graduate student from Texas, where he studies pop culture. He once misspelled “weather” during a spelling bee, and it haunts him to this day.

When I was four years old, my family moved from a small town in Texas to Dubai. Or rather, when I was four years old, my mother, my two year-old brother and I moved to Dubai, where my dad had moved ahead of us. Faced with the prospect of taking two young children on two separate plane rides (roughly 16 total in-flight hours, plus layovers), and hoping to do so as peacefully as possible, my mother (understandably) turned to technology – specifically, to the original GameBoy. Over the course of my childhood, my family made innumerable international flights, and that GameBoy (or one of its successors) remained in my carry-on, as did a few different entries in the Legend of Zelda franchise.

My first introduction to Zelda on a console, however, didn’t come until ten years later, with 2000’s Majora’s Mask, a darker and more offbeat game than had come before (or has arguably emerged since). Set in the twisted near-mirror world of Termina, Link sets out on a quest to find his fairy companion from Ocarina of Time, the always-frustrating Navi. Unfortunately, he is set upon by the Skull Kid, possessed by the demonic mask of the title. Transformed into a hapless Deku scrub and separated both from faithful Epona and his magical ocarina, Link must not only save the Skull Kid from the entity possessing him, but also stop the intensely creepy moon from crashing into the planet in just three days.

The game is noticeably more mature than its predecessor, not only dealing with possession and the fiery apocalypse, but also with themes of grief, depression, and despair. Each of the three main masks Link wears throughout the game – Deku, Goron, and Zora – actually contains the souls of a member of that race, and Link encounters their grieving loved ones at various points throughout the game. The residents of Clock Town – and Termina as a whole – largely deny their impending doom, even questioning whether the moon is even getting closer. They run around preparing for their annual festival, but the ever faster and more frantic music clues us in to the underlying anxiety they – and the player – feel.

But perhaps my favorite aspect of Majora’s Mask is the way the semi-optional side quests to obtain various masks almost force the player to really invest in the world he or she is saving. You agree to find a desperate mother’s missing son. You reunite separated lovers. You put literal ghosts to rest. You pass on a dance to a new generation. You play in a band. You rescue a ranch from bandits. These quests are occasionally trivial, especially when stacked against the literal end of the world, but they remind the player why the world is worth saving. Majora’s Mask becomes a microcosm of the human experience – all the loss and grief and healing and minutiae and joy and silliness and love that it covers.

Unlike many other games in the Zelda franchise, Majora’s Mask isn’t about saving the princess, or preventing a great evil from rising, or reviving a lost civilization. It is a game about just three short days in a strange world, living within various cultures, experiencing facets of their lives, helping where you can. And then, you know, fighting a monster on top of a moon that looks like a screaming head.

Goodnight, Moon.

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