When I first picked up The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask in 2000, I was expecting greatness. I was fifteen, an avid Legend of Zelda fan, and looking forward to this newest installment.
I am not ashamed to say that I didn’t fully understand the game, nor was it a favorite.
Still, it was a memory sitting on the wayside as I finished high school. In one of my last semesters, we had a discussion about the play “Waiting for Godot,” and during that time, a friend of mine voiced a theory: the characters, who repeated themselves daily for years on end, were dead and in hell, but were too stupid to realize it.
Now, twelve years later, I’m able to make that correlation to Majora’s Mask.
I picked up the newest version for the 3DS after much prodding from friends who replayed the game as adults. They claimed they had a better understanding of it now that they were older. I’m a bit more than halfway through the game right now, but the more I play it, the more I begin to feel that the Hyrule Historia was misleading us, and that THIS is part of the storyline in which Link dies.
Majora’s Mask is set directly after the events of Ocarina of Time. Link is a child again, and after saving Hyrule, he doesn’t have a place to call home, nor does he have all the friends he made. As the game is written, Link rides off to a new land instead of staying in Hyrule. He treks through the woods and eventually finds himself in Termina.
In Termina, he is attacked by the Skull Kid who curses him. After breaking the curse, Link is now in a temporal loop, reliving the same three days, changing lives, acquiring tools, awakening giants, and starting all over again as though nothing ever happened.
It’s rather simple: Link died on the bridge when he first met Ganondorf, or simply failed during his quest (hey, there’s an entire timeline offshoot for Link’s defeat, so why not!). Now, instead of greener pastures, Link finds himself in his own version of Hell (or arguably, purgatory).
You can argue that a lot of this is due to low production costs or lack of time, but from a different perspective, this is a lot darker.
First, Link is meeting a number of characters, but not for the first time. The first NPC we meet, outside of the Skull Kid (who really IS the same one we taught Saria’s Song to), is the Happy Mask Guy, who is identical to the one who ran the shop in Hyrule in the Ocarina of Time. If that’s not enough, let’s meet a few others that are nearly identical in appearance and in personality: Romani (Malon), the Postal Worker (the jogger in the field), Anju (the Chicken Lady), Grog (the poor soul in Kakariko Village), Sakon (the prancing man in Hyrule), Honey & Darling (the dancers in Hyrule Square), and the guardians of Ikana Kanyon (the Poe Shop owner). This only names a few.
Second, there are the recurring visual themes and tasks. There’s someone cursed by gold skulltulas to appear as a skulltula. The forest, mountain, bay, and canyon areas are all corrupted by some evil that you must cleanse. You travel back and forth in time, and you use your ocarina to travel through time and space.
Third, your masks. Three of the masks that allow you to transform are acquired by dead or dying characters, two of which need to be “healed” before you can acquire the masks and take their likeness to finish the goals they had. A number of the other masks you acquire are picked up by those who have died or those who are near-death, and allow you to do the things they did in life, such as dance.
Finally, the repetition. Link finds himself repeating the same three days, trying to save the world and change the lives of as many people are possible, even though it will all be for naught once his three days are up. In a twisted version of the film “Groundhog Day,” you are doing the same song and dance until you FINALLY get it right and save the world.
Depending on how you beat the game, Link may or may not gain the Fierce Deity mask, which allows him to become an adult (something that he either never became or didn’t remain as such for long). Regardless, he will slay the evil that’s been tormenting the world to save the day once more. Many of the people he meets along this journey simply vanish; the Happy Mask man disappears, the Skull Kid and the four giants vanish, and Tatl parts ways with Link, telling him to continue his journey.
Link then heads off into the woods one more time. . .
I know most of you are probably saying “You just gave a lame synopsis of the game. What’s the point? What more proof do you have?” If you are one of them, then take this food for thought:
In many cultures, going into an unknown area, often “beyond” a natural boundary, is a way to signify death and the division between physical and spiritual worlds. In ancient Japan, for example, the native belief was the spirit world existed beyond the ocean or beyond the mountain, depending on where one lived.
The forest is also a place of trickery, mystery, and some argue death. We see the trickery in many Zelda games regarding the Lost Woods, but we also see a great deal of the darkness and mysteries regarding its denizens. In our world, a number of forest were given bad reputations due to actions or decisions by those living nearby, and if you can name a forest that doesn’t have a ghost story, I would call you a liar.
That said, the beginning and the ending of the game show Link moving through the forest, which can argue representing his movements through the spirit world, the first time is after his death, the second to either go to his final resting place or a rebirth (which this series has a lot of).
Not enough for you? How about this twist: Link had a massive amount of guilt upon his death.
Think about it. Link met the young Malon and became friends with her, was engaged to the Princess Ruto, lived as a Kokiri without a fairy, and knew the faces of a number of residents in Hyrule Castle. His failure to save Hyrule caused a large number of these people to die or face horrible fates worse than death. In a way, Majora’s Mask is his way of repenting for his actions.
Still not enough? In typical hero fashion, Link needed to save the world by saving others in order to save himself. Think about it: Link takes on the appearances of the Deku Sprout the the butler misses dearly, easing his pain. Link had to ease Darmani’s and Mikau’s pain of their own failures and help them reach their goals. The majority of the other masks you find involve healing pain of some sort, but normally are tied to regrets, specifically regrets tied to failures. You can argue that as Link soothes these regrets, he heals himself and can move on.
I’ve probably bored you with this rather crackpot theory, but the next time you play Majora’s Mask, think about it: you have a heroic protagonist who must repeat the same three days over and over again, possibly for all eternity as punishment for his failure and his guilt. Perhaps he’s like Rozencrantz and Guildenstern in “Waiting for Godot,” and is just too stupid or stubborn to realize that he’s dead.
Like any bad situation, and just like most of the old stories, there is always a way out, but it may not be the result you expected or wanted.