Seventeen years ago, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was, buy far, one of the most influential games ever made. It implemented revolutionary mechanics, like a targeting system, that are now common place among games. Two years later, a sequel was released; this, of course, being Majora’s Mask. The development crew was given roughly a year to complete the game and push it out, and while most developers would have just hashed out another OoT, what we got instead was one of the strangest games ever made. Fifteen years later, there’s still nothing quite like Majora’s Mask; not in the Zelda series, not from Nintendo, and not from anyone. And words cannot express how fortunate I was to have (unintentionally) avoided this game as a kid.
Let me explain.
Majora’s Mask is not for the faint of heart. The moon is on a direct course for Termina and will kill everyone and everything in three days time. In order to stop this from happening, Link must complete a set of tasks within the allotted three-day time frame and then travel back to the first day using the Ocarina of Time. This process repeats itself throughout the entire game. Mind you, this isn’t real-time either. Each “day” is only about 18 minutes long, which equates to a just under an hour to complete each set of tasks/dungeons. In addition, Link must also collect masks that allow him to transform into a variety of different creatures, which aid in much of the puzzle-solving aspects of the game. If it sounds nerve-racking, that’s because it is. While you’re doing normal Zelda objectives, there’s this ever-ticking clock at the bottom of the screen reminding you that you don’t have leisure time. For some, it was a bit too much when this game was originally released in 2000. Initially, it wasn’t very well-received; and had I played it 15 years ago, I know that I would have been in the same boat whining about how hard it is. So, I’m glad that I didn’t have this game tainted by the memories of struggling as a child. It’s because of this that I can now appreciate the game for everything that it is.
I won’t lie though, Majora’s Mask isn’t for everyone. I wasn’t sure that it was for me either. The time mechanic stresses me out like crazy. I’m trying to focus on the list of tasks I have to complete while paying attention to that clock that keeps slipping away; those looming screens that pop up at the beginning of each new day, reminding you of your impending doom if you don’t finish everything you need to. It’s utter anxiety at first. But, what if you’re supposed to feel that way? Hear me out.
It’s no secret that Link has his name because he’s, as the character, your link to his world. Imagine then that you’re the Link in Majora’s Mask. You’ve been through a lot; after all, you’re the Hero of Time. You’ve been sent back to a time when you were a kid. You now exist on an alternate timeline where no one remembers what you did to save Hyrule because you’ve already prevented anything from happening. As such, all the friends you’ve made aren’t around or don’t remember who you are. As an added bonus, your prized Ocarina and trusty horse are stolen, and you’re transformed into a Deku scrub by a Skull Kid who thinks he’s just having fun. You’re transported (somehow) to a land called Termina, which looks a heck of a lot like Hyrule. And to top it off, this scary thing is going to crash down and kill everyone if you don’t do something about it.
I’m pretty sure that, at that point, I’d be an absolute mess. I’m sure the panic and hopelessness that I feel initially are exactly what Link is going through also. So, it makes the experience that much more powerful to experience. Typically, Zelda games are teeming with optimism and hopefulness… but not this one. And I think that’s what really sets it apart from anything else in the series. Not only are the mechanics completely off the wall, but the story is actually deep and meaningful. It’s largely speculated that the game represents the five stages of grief one goes through based on the Kubler-Ross model. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. As you progress through the game, the people you encounter in each area all seem to have a very specific problem, based on one of these stages. For example, the people in Clock Town, the first area of the game, all have a difficult time accepting that the moon is about to fall. In fact, most are in denial about it. The sword-master even goes so far as to say he’ll “cut the moon in half” if it falls. So, say that this is all true and it does actually follow the five stages of grief… why?
Well, it’s thought that Navi, the friend you set off to find in the beginning, is actually dead and the events of the game are reflections of Link’s grief. The other more leading theory is that Link is actually dead. Yeah, I’ll let that one soak up a bit. You could be playing a Legend of Zelda game in which Link has died and is now going through these horrible events as a way of dealing with this grief until he finally accepts his fate and moves on. Wow, Nintendo. And while it sounds far-fetched, I kind of prescribe to this theory. But we’ll talk more about that at a later date.
The remake of Majora’s Mask for 3DS hit stores on Friday, February 13th (yeah, real subtle there, Nintendo). I have the Limited Edition bundle, which was painstaking to get, with the Hardcover Prime guide coming this week. I do have the Collectors Edition disc that came as a preorder bonus for Wind Waker, so I have played a little bit of this game prior to the handheld… but never more than the first couple days. The disc is a little wonky and often crashes before I progress any further. If you’ve played the original N64 game, then you’re in for a treat with the remake. I know people enjoy the foggy atmosphere and dark textures in the original, but I’m quite fond of the richer environments. The graphics have been cleaned up nicely. If you think you can just run through this because you know where everything is, think again! They’ve mixed up a few things, so you’ll see this as a fresh and new experience. And honestly, the time mechanic isn’t so scary. I always feel rushed for time until I finish everything and realize I actually had more time. They’ve also added in save points, so the game really shouldn’t be discouraging at all. I’m loving it. This might end up being my favorite Zelda game at the end of it.