Majora’s Mask: My Trip Through Hell

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Image source: Wall Convert
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.

The Prelude
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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.

The Theory

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).
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The Evidence

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.

Then What?

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. . .

Further Thoughts

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.

Enough Already!
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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.

2 comments

  1. So until a few months ago I had never played a Zelda game. The only relation to the world itself was through using Link in Super Smash. With the help of my girlfriend I beat Ocarina and was excited to play Majora. Now at 23 years old I think I can put enough together to progress through a story in a video game. The first portion of the game involving finding the Ocarina and the Moon’s tear was my own version of hell. No guide and no help I ran from one end of clock town to the other doing nothing and trying to figure out any way to progress. When the time expired and I started again at the happy mask man, I was #1. Pissed off, #2. creeped out by the mask man and #3. Really confused by everything. Finally I got the hang of the game and made it through the first temple. I beat the boss, got the giant mask and was completing a side quest before time expired. Right before I played the song to go back to day 1. I still had the giant mask, but the area I had cleared and the poison waters I healed were back to being poison. nothing had been accomplished other than me having the mask. It was a learning experience for Link more than him actually doing anything. In ocarina, after you beat the absolute torture of the water temple, Lake Hylia returns to life and there is a sense of completion of that area. In Majora you get none of this. It’s filled with ghosts, leaps of faith on invisible paths, dark characters and an all together haunting plot. I had never heard this death theory before but knowing that there is a failed hero timeline this should absolutely be apart of it. It makes perfect sense to someone who is brand new to the franchise because as a direct sequel to Ocarina, it just doesn’t make sense (Not that I really think the ending of Ocarina does either). This game now is even more creepy to play though. It might be time to head over to wind waker of grab Link and continue to beat Fox into the floor in Smash.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad (and sorry) to see that I’m not alone in this!

      A few things for you:
      First, if you are enjoying the Legend of Zelda and want to know how all the games ties together, I’d suggest giving the Hyrule Historia a glance. The majority of the book tells the story of Skyward Sword, but close to half of it tries to spin the entire series together, linking the games into one storyline. While I have my moments of disbelief (like Majora’s Mask), it is an interesting story to weave.
      I no longer have my physical copy (borrowed and never returned), but the timeline hinges on Ocarina of Time, and splits off there.
      One timeline branches off if Link looses to Ganon (which is how we get the classic Legend of Zelda if memory serves correctly).
      The next has Link winning, and follows the timeline from his childhood on (beginning with Majora’s Mask).
      The final timeline is essentially how the world of Adult Link continues on without him.
      It’s…odd.

      Second, the ending of Ocarina of Time was supposed to by symbolic. Link needs to be a hero, apparently, and will step up again to make sure the world is safe. There’s a possibility he fell in love with Zelda, and the game ends when they meet to show that. Essentially, the game ended at the beginning, but this time the world is safe…or is it?

      Sorry if I made this game even creepier for you. I finally found time to hit the water temple and decided to put the game down for a little while; partly due to the repetition, partly due to that feeling of “Trench Warfare” (fighting so hard for a mere inch of progress), and partly due to needing something that wasn’t so depressing.
      I won’t be picking up Wind Waker anytime soon (I tried playing it multiple times, including just a few months ago when I bought my Wii U; just couldn’t get into it), so I’ll find alternative games to play and write about.

      Happy Gaming!

      Like

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