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August 25, 2010 10:43 AM   Subscribe

The message of Majora's Mask. Majora's Mask was always the strangest of the Zelda series for me and if you also felt like there was something going on in that game that you couldn't quite put your finger on, this analysis should shed some light. Or will at least make you want to play it again.
posted by litleozy (48 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
The five big zones of Majora's Mask correspond with the five stages of grief.
posted by BeerFilter at 11:00 AM on August 25, 2010


I can't get the link to work, but here's what appears to be the same article on Zelda Universe.
posted by alynnk at 11:02 AM on August 25, 2010


Er, I meant that I can't get OP's link to work, so here's another link in case anyone wants to read it.
posted by alynnk at 11:03 AM on August 25, 2010


Ah, cheers alynnk! Looks the article was posted twice, first on zeldainformer then zelda universe.
posted by litleozy at 11:05 AM on August 25, 2010


OMG GET AN EDITOR
posted by GuyZero at 11:20 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Zelda franchise in general is so well-produced, so full of little details, and takes its broad symbology from so many sources, that this sort of intense examination is almost a meme on gaming forums. In particular, a discussion of how the Zelda timeline relates to itself is understood to be a sort of black hole of discussion.

It's probably similar to symbol- and culture-loaded divination methods, like the Tarot. With so many symbols and loose connections, the observer is free to interpret freeform from their subconscious, similar to meditation or daydreaming shapes into clouds.

This was an interesting read, the parts I skimmed... it badly needs to be chopped down to a few pages, though.
posted by gilrain at 11:21 AM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I will not make the Zelda tarot or I will not make the Zelda tarot I will not make....
posted by The Whelk at 11:23 AM on August 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


symbology

SSSSSSSSSYMBOLISM
posted by duende at 11:25 AM on August 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Overthinking a plate of deku nuts?
posted by Katrel at 11:29 AM on August 25, 2010 [11 favorites]


I will not make the Zelda tarot

The hell you won't. Get to work! :D
posted by adamdschneider at 11:30 AM on August 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Why gosh.

And video games are not art.
posted by Samizdata at 11:32 AM on August 25, 2010


Oh jeez what's with all the sophomore undergrad wankery...

::scrolls down::

Dan Merrill, aka Hylian Dan, is a sophomore at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont

Oh, carry on then.
posted by naju at 11:34 AM on August 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Majora's Mask is my favorite Zelda game almost on the strength of the design and characterization alone. I wish more games could develop their settings as well as it did.
posted by flatluigi at 11:36 AM on August 25, 2010


Actually, that was kind of mean on my part. This is interesting and maybe I should give a second try to Majora's Mask (I kept getting fed up by time resetting and having to do everything over again. Maybe I was just playing the game wrong?)
posted by naju at 11:40 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Majora's Mask is great. This article, however, is not.
posted by JHarris at 11:47 AM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe I was just playing the game wrong?

If you were, you weren't the only one.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:47 AM on August 25, 2010


I found the resetting stressful until I was able to slow down time, and then there's enough time to do any task without running out of time. But it's a little tough to figure out strategies for each three-day unit, because events happen at different times and you have to do things in order. It is a game that requires you to know what you want to do in advance and be careful, I guess, so there's a learning curve and it's quite different from Ocarina of Time.

Last night I figured out that you can get it from the Wii store. I played it when it was brand new and never since, so it's been almost ten years? Holy shit.
posted by bewilderbeast at 11:54 AM on August 25, 2010


They should get the Killer7 plot analysis guy on this.
posted by Copronymus at 11:54 AM on August 25, 2010


I kept getting fed up by time resetting and having to do everything over again. Maybe I was just playing the game wrong?

This is one of the things I love about the game, although maybe I'm just perverse. The fact that 3 whole days of hard work will net you a small reward, only for that work to be wiped out and reset... it's a reversal of everything a modern game "should" be.
posted by muddgirl at 11:58 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The fact that 3 whole days of hard work will net you a small reward, only for that work to be wiped out and reset... it's a reversal of everything a modern game "should" be.

Oh man, now I am remembering all of the helping people sidequests. You fix someone's life and they are grateful and happy, and then you reset and they are miserable again and the only proof that anything was ever otherwise is the check mark in your notebook.... man, that is kind of heavy and sad for a game!

now i HAVE to play it again RIGHT NOW.
posted by bewilderbeast at 12:04 PM on August 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


The fact that 3 whole days of hard work will net you a small reward, only for that work to be wiped out and reset...

Have you tried nethack? It might be for you.
posted by weston at 12:05 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Or: Graduate school.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:17 PM on August 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


Or Nethack while in graduate school!
posted by mr_roboto at 12:24 PM on August 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


A Link to the Past is the best Zelda game and Twilight Princess is the best 3D one.

THREAD OVER
posted by shakespeherian at 12:27 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Such pronouncements are contrary to the Miyamoto spirit.
posted by muddgirl at 12:28 PM on August 25, 2010


unbelievably badly written.
posted by empath at 12:50 PM on August 25, 2010


re: hard work being reset

There's some small implication that each sidequest that you do 'works out' in the very end once you beat the game -- for example, if you do the Anju/Kafei quest on any cycle you'll see a scene of their semi-happy ending at the very end.

However, that doesn't mean that you can fix everything. Tell me this: If you got the Zora mask from a dying Zora and the Goron mask from a long-dead Goron, where did the Deku mask come from?
posted by flatluigi at 1:02 PM on August 25, 2010


I still remember the first time I played a Zelda game. It filled me with such a sense of wonder and awe. Even though the images were so rudimentary and simplistic compared to real life (or even most Saturday morning cartoons at the time), those games engaged my imagination in powerful ways. All the Zelda games I've played have done this to some extent, even as their graphics have improved.

I suspect it's this sense of awe that compels some folks to try and articulate the games into some sort of well-defined symbolism. I also think this has always been somewhat Miyamoto's intent, though I doubt he ever expected in-depth analyses such as this. I think Nintendo as a game developer is informed by the idea that there's an important balance between playing a video game and playing at make-believe.

So this article is wrong and not-wrong. It's entirely subjective, which has always been the point.
posted by jnrussell at 1:08 PM on August 25, 2010


A Link to the Past is the best Zelda game and Twilight Princess is the best 3D one.

Agreed! I might be one of the only people who didn't particularly care for Ocarina. Although it was revolutionary for its time, it annoyed me to no end how much the game's authors loved wasting my time. I cannot even begin to count how many times I had to cross that damn field (yes, you eventually get the horse, but still).

Twilight Princess seems to have had the right amount of walking in it. A bit repetitive at times, yes, but the stunningly beautiful art/graphics, great story, and fun gameplay made up for it. The horse battles are easily the most "fun" I've ever had while playing a video game.

Every game I've played since then has been a major disappointment.
posted by schmod at 1:26 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Hyrule Field in Ocarina was basically just a timesink, whereas Hyrule Field in Princess made the world feel real, and had enough heart pieces and other goodies in it that none of it ever felt like empty space.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:44 PM on August 25, 2010


This is a pretty damn thorough and well-cited piece of writing. I especially like the early-version screens which reinforce the argument that imagery was intentionally placed.
posted by mek at 1:45 PM on August 25, 2010


However, that doesn't mean that you can fix everything. Tell me this: If you got the Zora mask from a dying Zora and the Goron mask from a long-dead Goron, where did the Deku mask come from?

It comes from the Deku butler dead's son, as hinted in the end.

posted by clearlydemon at 1:45 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


er... Deku butler's dead son
posted by clearlydemon at 1:46 PM on August 25, 2010


The thing I liked most about Twilight Princess was that one way to see that game was as extended tribute to other great games.

Okami might be too obvious, and the light-and-dark-worlds motif, but the soldiers are dressed much the same way they looked in A Link To The Past. Some of the washed-out colour schemes, decaying bridges and masonry hint at Shadow Of The Colossus, and the way Link hangs with one hand, swaying before finding his grip is utterly familiar. You fight a boss that looks and sounds an awful lot like Ridley from Metroid Prime at one point, and the background music in the desert sounds like cross between Ocarina's Gerudo Desert theme and the (awesome) music from Metroid Prime. At one point you even start playing a perfectly servicable version of SSX for three minutes, just 'cause.

Near the very conclusion, the summit of Hyrule Castle (seen only briefly) looks an awful lot like the submerged castle seen in the last hour of Windwaker.

It might not be the best game ever, but I thought it was the best game-playing-experience ever, if that distinction means anything, just because of the distant echoes of all the other brilliant games that came back to me while I was playing it.
posted by mhoye at 1:50 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I still remember how stressful this game was... The music getting more ominous and frantic as time ran out, and the general pace of everything just becoming hectic... and then I ran out of time. I was simultaneously amazed and chilled to see an apocalypse in a Nintendo game.

On the analysis -- I think I was too busy being STRESSED THE HELL OUT while playing to ever see a lot of the symbolism.
posted by MysticMCJ at 2:13 PM on August 25, 2010


I was simultaneously amazed and chilled to see an apocalypse in a Nintendo game.

I have to admit, I've played this game 3 times and I've never waited to see what happens when time runs out. I can make a good guess, you know? And a couple times I've said, "This time, I'm going to wait." And yet, when those final minutes start to count down, I freak out and save myself. Just thinking about it, a year removed from my last play-through, makes me tense.
posted by muddgirl at 2:41 PM on August 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


The five big zones of Majora's Mask correspond with the five stages of grief.

Those aren't very convincing. The world is ending and lots of other stuff is screwed up besides; it's easy to cherry pick this or that being depression or rage or denial.

The big flashing neon sign of structure in Majora's mask, to me, is that all the stages involve a screwed up family situation, usually with a lost or missing mother figure, that Link has to fix by wearing the face of someone dead. The kids need help, and death is involved! Lots of death. And Link has to subvert it, to become good death.

1. Swamp: The deku princess needs to be rescued so she can prevent her father from doing something stupid. (This whole first chapter is sort of a wink; yes, you're on a quest to save a princess, how very Zelda, but you're a lowly Deku Scrub and the whole reason to save the princess is so she can stop her father from killing her monkey friend?) Link wears the face of a dead Deku Scrub, the son of the Deku king's butler. The elements of the theme are very quiet in this chapter and the first time you play it you won't notice them.

2. Mountains: The chief's son is crying because his father has gone off to fight the boss of the snow mountain, because it's freezing their kingdom. The feeble, stubborn old chief can't be talked out of it (and amusingly, at his slow walking speed, never even gets to the snow mountain before the world ends). Link wears the face of a dead Goron hero and defeats the boss himself so the old man can go back to his son.

3. Ocean: A Zora mother has lost her eggs and therefore her will to sing or talk or do much of anything. Link wears the face of her dead boyfriend (and the kids' father?) Mikau. Mikau dies in front of Link's eyes, actually, and when Link goes around everyone mistakes Link for him. Well, the mother seems to sense that something's off, but doesn't say anything.

4. Canyon: A little girl lives alone in a music box house in a land of skeletons, zombies, and undead ninjas. Her father has turned into a mummy thing locked in the basement, and Link has to heal him, then wear the mask that drops off his face to continue on. This whole area is about death and ruin.

5. Overarching plot: The Skull Kid felt abandoned and angry after the giants left him alone, and he goes around causing mischief and not having any friends until he steals Majora's mask and it convinces him to destroy the world; it's the ultimate death mask and Link must use his masks properly to defeat it.

There's other examples, and there are some small counter examples, but if you look at the plot-critical stuff, Link is like a weird death-faced family therapist. It's not obvious because when you play the game you're not thinking, "I need to beat this boss so the chief will go back to his son," you're thinking, "when do I get the hook shot?"
posted by fleacircus at 2:58 PM on August 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


takes its broad symbology from so many sources

SSSSSSSSSYMBOLISM


I'm guessing you were just taking the opportunity to reference the scene from Boondock Saints you presumably linked to, but I can't resist pointing out that symbology (i.e. a system of symbols) was a perfectly acceptable alternative in the given context.
posted by nzero at 3:07 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


To me Majora’s Mask was more of a metaphor about everyday life, as opposed to the usual epic fantasy we expect from games like The Legend of Zelda series.

In Ocarina of Time, you were an epic hero. There was a sense of setting off on a grand adventure that you knew you could conquer if you just kept going, straight and narrow. Everything revolved around you.

The world of Termina, on the other hand, very much did not revolve around you. You were just there for some reason. You are not the special “chosen one” like in Ocarina, and you have few allies or anyone who even knows what you’re doing. It’s an anti-epic.

So every day you set off, trying to stave off disaster, learning and making whatever progress you can until you’re forced to reset. With every new cycle, everything that you experienced and everything that you might have accomplished mostly just disappears. If you helped anyone or gained anything, you’re the only one who knows it.

You spend lots of time just running around confused and trying to plan your next move, while constantly repeating actions and meeting the same people over and over.

Even the people that the game wants you to help don’t just come to you. Much like in real life, it’s up to you whether to show up, at the right time, or you’ll miss something.

Save this world or not, make progress or not. There were many points throughout Majora’s Mask where you think maybe it’s just not worth it, might as well give up. What is it that’s really motivating you? Just a desire to see the end, to see how it all turns out?

Even the main antagonist is not the typical evil sorcerer/monster, it’s literally a mask worn by some sad kid acting out because he had no friends. Though it’s tempting to look at the kid as an asshole, he was merely possessed by this powerful tool of evil he was using to compensate for a lack of love and happiness.

The ending of Majora’s Mask is rather simple. There is little heroic music, no floating on a beam of light. Just a single whispered “thank you” that you don’t even hear as you finally ride away on your horse, and the people celebrate their festival and go about their lives.

In the epic world of Ocarina of Time, Link will be remembered by history as a legend. In Majora’s Mask, you still made a big difference, but hardly anyone even knows that you passed through or all the struggle you faced.

But you’re Link, the eternal hero, and whether anyone acknowledges you or not, you have to fight and you have to rescue others, because it’s your purpose for existing.
posted by Theloupgarou at 3:10 PM on August 25, 2010 [11 favorites]


I can't resist pointing out that symbology (i.e. a system of symbols) was a perfectly acceptable alternative in the given context.

Yeah, I love me some Boondock Saints, but every time I watch that scene, I can't help feeling that it just pretty much exposes Troy Duffy for an ignorant hobo.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:19 PM on August 25, 2010


A Link to the Past is the best Zelda game and Twilight Princess is the best 3D one.

THREAD OVER


Actually, though, Link's Awakening is the best Zelda game for the way it boils the Zelda formula down to its essence, while Wind Waker is the best 3D version because of its extravagant, experimental nature and willingness to make mistakes. Or Four-Swords Adventure is the best Zelda because it can accommodate the most players and Ocarina of Time is the best 3D one because the most people say so.

PROCLAMATIONS SURE ARE EASY AND ALSO ACCOMPLISH NOTHING WHATSOEVER

But seriously: Majora's Mask has always been my favorite because no other game in the franchise so embraces the possibility of failure. I'll never forget the time that I was trying to help Anju and Kafei and had successfully convinced Anju to wait for him in the doomed town, but I didn't know what Kafei needed in the meantime. I wound up missing that appointment, and out of a mixture of guilt and obligation, I stood with Anju in the abandoned inn as the final six hours counted down, hoping against hope that Kafei would show up regardless of the fact that we hadn't broken his curse; the earth trembled and the music was replaced by ominous apocalyptic stirrings, and Anju just sat on her bed by her wedding dress and wedding mask, and said nothing, and waited for the end. And at the last possible moment I played the music that would take me back to the world as it was three days prior, and I recognized that my actions would prevent that particular outcome from ever occurring, yet I still despaired for that dreadful timeline.

Also I occasionally whisper "Dawn of the Third Day (24 Hours Remain)" to myself whenever one of my projects nears its deadline out of corny habit, and give myself a chill.

posted by jsnlxndrlv at 5:06 PM on August 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


Yeah, Hyrule Field in Ocarina was basically just a timesink, whereas Hyrule Field in Princess made the world feel real, and had enough heart pieces and other goodies in it that none of it ever felt like empty space.

But you still don't find items iirc (though the sword techniques are pretty entertaining). I loved the variety of items you could find in the overworld of A Link To The Past (Ice rod, the medallions, Cane of Byrna/Somaria, Magic Cape, the bugcatcher etc.), as it really gave you an incentive to explore.
posted by ersatz at 6:06 PM on August 25, 2010


Another one of the things I like about MM is the music. Take Clock Town as a good example:

On the first day, the theme is light and lilting - almost reminiscent of Kakariko Village's theme. The second day is a little stranger -- the instruments are compressed and few play at once. It's a bit quieter and straightforward.

But the third day, well.
posted by flatluigi at 6:25 PM on August 25, 2010


I also preferred Twilight Princess to Ocarina of Time. The entire child section of OoT feels kind of useless, and the imagery of TP is fantastic. The wolf loping through the dusty, deserted Twilight, the sunset over the overworld, Link banishing darkness with a sword of light. I beat the game in a fevered stretch over one summer, and after I did I just kind of wandered around in a daze for a week--I mean, I'd just defeated Ganon! Everything now was totally anticlimactic!

But Majora's Mask is still my favorite for reasons already explained above (particularly by loupgarou and jsnixndriv). I don't think I've played any other game that creates such a strong sense of desperation.
posted by flawsekno at 7:24 PM on August 25, 2010


Hmm. Weird that this quotes the animorphs lady at the beginning.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:58 PM on August 25, 2010


I found the resetting stressful until I was able to slow down time, and then there's enough time to do any task without running out of time.

Majora's Mask is not actually a good Zelda game. It is just a good game, that happens to be a Legend of Zelda title.

My favorite fact of this game is something I discovered a few years ago reading around the web. I may have mentioned this before in fact, but it's still amazing to me. It's this:

The first three days of the game you're stuck in town because you're a Deku Scrub. At the end of that time you have to have gotten your Ocarina back and have played the Song of Time to reset the clock. After you do that, you can get the Deku mask off and leave town. Here, then, is where the game really begins.

From that point, it is possible to win the game without resetting time again.

Every necessary quest, every dungeon, every dungeon boss, every person you have to help, every essential item, every last one of those things can be done in that three day period. You can't do everything, and as they say, you don't get to see much along the way, but it's possible. People have done this.

There is no game reward for doing it, but the fact that it's possible points strongly that it must have been designed that way.
posted by JHarris at 10:50 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Copronymus: They should get the Killer7 plot analysis guy on this.

I decided to follow your suggestion and asked Adilegian about it, to which he replied:

"I've actually never played Majora's Mask, so I don't have any real opinion on it. I did accidentally invent it once though. I said to my wife 'Wouldn't it be great if one of Link's incarnations just gave Hyrule the middle finger and outsourced his chosenness or something?'

And she said, 'That's basically Majora's Mask.'

So I've got that going for me."
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 5:56 PM on August 26, 2010


Actually, I just flagged my own comment because I forgot that the board I'm linking to is invisible to non-members. You'll just have to take my word for it that I asked Mr. Howell, and that he really did say that.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 5:59 PM on August 26, 2010


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