Retro-Active: Majora's Mask

A comprehensive look at the black page in Zelda history
October 08, 2010
Retroactivity: the act of purposefully seeking out popular objects or trends of past generations.

Knowing and recognizing all of the wonders of the past is an arduous and almost impossible task. Being born in the late 80's it is safe to say that I missed out on some great things. It could have been the fact that I simply hadn't been born yet or that I was too young to understand the complexity and deeper intricacies of something. The fact remains that some things simply are too good to be missed, but now I'm older and (hopefully) more mature, so what's stopping me (and any of us for that matter) to seek out those marvels of a lost age?

When I was a young boy growing up in the late 90's a friend of mine introduced me to a game on the Nintendo 64. Its predecessor was hailed one of the greatest games of all time and so I was intrigued to try this game out. However, the dark and gloomy ambiance, the vague sense of where to go, that 3 day time limit and the overall eeriness of this game caused me to shun it back in the day and go back to more simple games. Now with the 9 year anniversary of this game and its re-release on the Wii's Virtual Console I was tempted to give this game one more chance. Ladies and gentlemen, as the third episode of Retroactive I present to you:

Three days, 72 hours. It feels and sounds like an early premise of the show 24. However we're talking about the game Majora's Mask for the Nintendo 64. Let's keep it simple: Majora's Mask is complex. So complex even that I completely shunned the game back when I was a little bastard. The first time playing this game at a friend's place I just felt completely overwhelmed so I dropped it and completely forgot about it there and then. Yet a thought always lingered in the back of my head. There's something about this game that draws you in and never lets you go. Now, after finally finishing it on the Wii I understand the magic behind this game that I failed to understand years ago.

Development on the sequel to the highly successful Ocarina of Time began somewhere around 1998 when it was first shown as Zelda Gaiden (translation: Zelda Sidestory) alongside Ura Zelda (translation: Behind Zelda). Ura Zelda eventually became The Legend of Zelda Master Quest and Zelda Gaiden became known as Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Released on May 27th 2000 in Japan Majora's Mask was released in the latter lifespan of the Nintendo 64, developed using the same engine as Ocarina of Time albeit with a graphical update. Originally Majora's Mask was to be released on the Nintendo 64DD but commercial failure forced the developers to use the slightly less powerful Nintendo 64. To compensate they used the Expansion Pak (used in Donkey Kong 64) to make up for the downgrade. As a result Majora's Mask was smoother, more graphically detailed and more visually stunning than its already impressive predecessor. But it wasn't the graphics that made this game as intriguing as it was...

The complete Japanese box set of Majora's Mask, Expansion Pak included.

As the eerie and slightly demented grandma from the Stockpot Inn would say: "It's quite a long story, but it is a good story for you to hear, so I'll read it with some extra gusto! *ahem* oh and *SPOILER ALERT*:

The Four Giants

This tale's from long ago when all the people weren't separated into four worlds like they are now. In those times all the people lived together, and the four giants lived among them. On the day of the festival that celebrates the harvest, the giants spoke to the people:

"We have chosen to guard the people while we sleep
100 steps north
100 steps south
100 steps east
100 steps west

If you have need, call for us... your cries shall carry..."

Now then, there was one who was shocked and saddened by all of this.

A little imp.

The imp was a friend of the giants since before they had created the four worlds.
"Why must you leave? Why do you not stay?"
The childhood friend felt neglected, so he spread his anger across the four worlds. Repeatedly, he wronged all people. Overwhelmed with misfortune, the people sang the song of prayer to the giants who lived in each of the four compass directions. The giants heard their cry and responded with a roar. Oh imp! Oh imp! We are the protectors of the people. You have caused the people pain. Oh imp, leave these four worlds! Otherwise we shall tear you apart!

The imp was frightened and saddened, for he had lost his childhood friends. The imp returned to the heavens and harmony was restored to the four worlds. And the people rejoiced and they worshiped the giants of the four worlds like gods.

And they lived happily...



-An excerpt from the book "The history of Termina."

Link, having fulfilled his duties as Hero of Time, was now on a personal quest to find a friend he once parted with. Weary and tired of his seemingly endless quest Link found himself in an endless forest
where he met with a shadowy figure.

It was the figure of a masked imp.

The little imp quickly disposed of the weary hero, robbing him of his horse and his ocarina. As the ultimate punishment Link was transformed into the feeble state of a Deku Scrub. Teased by the tomboyish fairy Tatl and left alone it seemed all hope was lost for the hero.

Until one person took pity on the heroic yet burdened soul. Out of nothing a voice arose from the windmill:

"You've met with a terrible fate haven't you?"

Out of the darkness a familiar face showed himself to Link. It was the Happy Mask Salesman. He himself had fallen victim to the masked imp's antics. He explained how the imp had stolen a precious and evil mask from him. A mask containing the powers of an evil sorcerer. It was imperative that the mask be returned to the Salesman, and he begged Link to do it in 3 days. Together with the reluctant Tatl whom the imp had left behind Link set out to stop the masked menace.

Their journey was perilous and crossed many lands and even time itself.
First the poisoned swamps of Woodfall
Then the frozen mountains of Snowhead
Through the barren seas of Great Bay
And into the cursed canyon of Ikana Kingdom

After many battles and healing the burdened souls of the fallen ones the hero had freed the slumbering giants and used their power to stop the terror that was Majora's Mask for the tiny imp, who had little power on his own, had already been completely usurped by the devilish being. A fierce battle deciding the fate of Termina ensued. And as the mask let out a terrible howl he used all his power to summon the moon to fall upon the earth. It took the combined strength of the hero and the four giants to stop the catastrophe. But in the end, Majora's wrath was no more.

The four giants then let out a roar:
"Forgive... your... friend..."

All that was left behind was the imp that was once abandoned. Streams of tears ran down his eyes. "They hadn't forgotten about me after all." The imp apologised and thanked Link and the mistreated fairies for all that he had done. The burden on his soul was no more. The Happy Salesman got his precious item back and all of Termina had been saved from the terrors of Majora. The hero set off with a feeling in his heart that his friend hadn't forgotten about him either, and he moved on.

And they lived happily ever after.

The fact that the creators only had three "game-days" to fill with storyline and sidequests meant that everything could be meticulously planned. Every character had a background and some sort of quest to fulfil. Every second in the already lively main hub known as Clock Town had some sort of event going on giving the feeling that the town was really alive. The time-travelling plot not only provided a neat and original gimmick but also allowed the developers to create an environment as alive and filled with detail as possible creating a truly different experience. Some of these experiences include:

-Dealing with losing items and story progress as you're forced to travel back through time[/align]

-Eerie transformations through masks into awesome creatures

-Mummified scientists creeping in the closet

-Frickin' Tingle. This was his first game...

-The redesigned Mirror Shield. Seriously...

-The Kafei and Anju sidequest. Especially the last minutes are nerve-wrecking.

-Travelling to hell to face the penultimate boss. In fact, the entire Stone Tower Temple deserves special mention.

And who could forget the motherfucking dancing zombies!

Perhaps out of all the experiences the story of the masked imp himself is especially riveting. A young child cast away by all his friends, doomed into mischief. Out of all the sidestories and underlying themes Majora's Mask had, his was the one that appealed to me the most.

Like a child left for dead: "Will you play with me?"

There are, however, minor issues with Majora's Mask. There are a shitload of sidequests to complete, some intricately long and difficult, but almost all of them result in the same thing: a piece of heart. With a whopping 52 to collect in total, the reward feels a bit lacklustre after a while. The fact that there are so many sidequests makes the game feel a little bit ... clusterfucked, for lack of a better description. There are so many things to do that it drifts away a little bit from the main story.

40 hours of sidequesting and what do ya get? Another frickin' heartpiece.

Even with these minor flaws it is impressive to see how much of an impact Majora's Mask still has on the gaming community today. Entire websites filled with theories and discussions on the origin of Termina, the significance of Stone Tower Temple (even a brilliant allusion to the Tower of Babel) and the theme of hope still thrive to this day and continue to find deeper meanings behind the game. If you're interested I've put down a couple of links at the bottom of the article. They're worth a glance, trust me.

But there is one particular story that deserves a special mentioning...
The story of Jadusable and the haunted cartridge:

I first heard of this story on a website called Creepy+Pasta, a website that specialises in collecting strange ghost stories and making them public. The story goes that a young man found an decrepit Majora's Mask cartridge at a yard sale that turned out to be haunted. The boy is then taken through a psychologically twisted experience of the original Majora's Mask game and finds out that a boy's soul is trapped within the cartridge. The story itself isn't that original but the execution and storytelling (especially the accompanying Youtube videos) is interesting to say the least. It adds another layer of mystery to an already enigmatic game and honestly, the videos scared the crap out of me. The link to the website is also included at the end of the article if anyone's interested.

"You shouldn't have done that"

EDIT: It turns out there is more to this story than meets the eye, as other vids by similar users have started popping up, different games yet all sharing the same theme. I see a new internet meme in the making.

For me, Majora's Mask stands out as one of the most original Zelda games around. It's darker, it's edgier and slightly more eerie than usual and the story is more than just "go save the lazy princess" (in fact: Princess Zelda only makes a minor cameo in the beginning). It's also rather difficult, something that made me quit the game a couple of years ago, and its pacing is more original than the usual Zelda game. The locale is different, the characters more intricate and the music is spot-on. If you haven't tried this Zelda yet, I seriously suggest you give it a go. It's totally worth it.


Further reading:

Well, that was my third experience with retro-activity. Hope you liked it and next up in the search for gems forgotten is the merc with a mouth, back before he became so ridiculously popular (he has like, three/four/five (???) monthly books these days?), the assassin with elan, Deadpool.

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