The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has been on my radar screen for years. The game is the quick-turnaround sequel to smash hit The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time from 1998. It takes place after child Link rides off into the sunset to look for his companion, Navi.
While riding through the forest, Link encounters the Skull Kid, a normally kind and whimsical forest imp. But something is different. The Skull Kid is wearing a disturbing mask inhabited by the dark spirit of Majora. This power is too much for Skull Kid, who torments Link and turns him into a lowly Deku Scrub.
After falling down a tree trunk, seemingly into another world, Link finds the Happy Mask Salesman. The Happy Mask Salesman was the original owner of the mask, and after teaching Link a song that turns him back the normal, he charges him with getting the Mask back. Link finds himself in the land of Termina, consisting of Clock Town, The Great Bay, Snowhead, the Southern Swamp, and Ikana Valley. The reason it’s called Termina is because the Skull Kid has set the moon itself on a collision course with the world, about to destroy everything and everyone in three days’ time.
Just as the world is about to end, Link discovers that he can play the Song of Time to return to his first moment in Termina. In doing so, everything that has occurred over the three days is effectively reset. However, not everything is undone. In Groundhog Day fashion, the player must constantly re-live the same period of time in different ways to put an end to the Skull Kid’s madness.
When Majora’s Mask came out for Nintendo 3DS in 2015, I went out and bought it right away. I never played past the first dungeon. Frankly, I didn’t understand how the game worked at first, even after playing it for a few hours. I finally found out that you can learn songs to skip ahead in time and slow it down to half-speed. At this point I finally found some momentum.
I decided in summer of 2017 that I just wanted to finish the game. But the meat of Majora’s Mask is its side quests. There are only four “dungeons” in the game. These dungeons are creative, complex, and unique. The only non-essential chests in each dungeon house Stray Fairies, which you trade for Great Fairy upgrades. They’re an example of quality over quantity, and I found them brilliant. But they’re meant to be few and far between. The rest of the game involves doing things for other people in Termina, which is a point I’ll explore a little later.
Just about every quest in the game yields rupees, heart pieces (which increase life) or masks. Masks are basically tokens of gratitude with different properties for the wearer. Soon enough I found myself finishing a lot of quests. They were so creative and interesting that they were almost irresistible. Plus, the Bombers, a club of kids in Clock Town, clue you in to Rumored Events that point you in the right direction.
My collection finally grew to the point where I decided to go for 100% completion. This meant collecting every Piece of Heart, every Mask, every item, and completing every quest. I wrote an article about completionism, but I rarely do it myself. I’d never done this kind of thing with a Zelda game before, not even Twilight Princess. It meant a lot of attempts at long side quests, and a lot of skipping around different times. Ultimately, despite how grueling it was at times, I did it. I finished The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask with everything done.
I got quite emotional watching the ending of the game. It took me back to when I was about seven years old playing Zelda with my family. There’s something special about the story of Majora’s Mask that makes it one of the best in the series, and now I feel like I finally understand why,
At the most basic level, Majora’s Mask is about the soul. It’s about healing wounds, old and new. It’s about hope, and picking people up when they’re down. The game barely has a villain. Skull Kid may have been possessed by a chaotic spirit, but he was by no means a villain. He was only angry because he was lonely. His whimsy made him an outsider, and his guardian friends, the Giants, had to leave him behind out of duty.
The conflict of Majora’s Mask lies in the tragedy of those with no one to rely upon. Writ large, this is the player’s motivation for whatever they do in the game. There are no quests that ultimately involve screwing over unsuspecting people. Those in need are there for the player to help. In part, that’s why I decided to complete every quest in the game.
To be honest, I sometimes identify with the plight of Skull Kid. Every so often I have a bad day when, in spite of my knowledge and better judgement, I feel alone. Sometimes my interests and personality make me feel like an outsider, and as such, I try not to take my friendships for granted. My greatest fear is being alone, and my friends and family, whether they know it or not, help remind me that I’m not.
This is exactly the role that the player fills in Majora’s Mask: a friend. To Skull Kid, to Anju and Kafei, to Cremia…everyone. By completing this game 100%, I felt like I was doing everything in my power to help. I didn’t have to, but I did it because that’s what friends do.
Playing through Majora’s Mask was a unique experience. I didn’t go into much depth about the gameplay in this article. Perhaps I’ll do so in the future. But when I have such a personal experience with a game, I feel the need to talk about it. I could talk about specific mechanics all day, but the central goal of game design is to create a certain feeling. What this game made me feel was extraordinary, and I see now why it’s regarded as a masterpiece.