“You…Do you know much about the moon? It’s just that, lately, I think the moon has been getting bigger. I couldn’t help but notice it. What do you think?”
From the moment you step into Termina, the great falling Moon looms overheard, its red eyes glaring down at the world below. As it comes nearer, all the earth quivers, a reminder to the people of the ever-present danger. If you don’t succeed in your mission to stop Skull Kid and recover Majora’s Mask, that moon is going to fall, crushing the world of Termina in a fiery wrath.
Only you have the power to escape thanks to the protection of the goddess of time. But as everything starts over and you find yourself back at the foot of the Clock Tower, you can’t help but wonder if the world you left behind in the process was spared, or left to its demise at the hands of that wicked Moon.
This is what’s at stake in Majora’s Mask. If you can’t stop the power of the mask in three days, the world will be destroyed.
Everywhere you turn bears reminders of the threat that hangs over you.
Many of the city-folk in Clock Town talk about fleeing to safety if the Moon gets too close – and most of these actually do inevitably wind up vacating the city in the final hours. Even as they talk of hiding in safety, some whisper that there may be no refuge from the crushing, menacing weight of that terror from the sky.
“It looks like this is it for this town, you know. You saw the moon, didn’t you? It’s gotten so huge. All the townsfolk have fled. You should flee, too. Far away…”
“But in the letter it said he definitely would come back…”
“Come back to what?? Won’t this town be crushed beneath the moon the morning after tomorrow? Forget about that letter. For now, just try to survive.”
Tensions are high. The Carnival promoters engage in constant debate with the local soldiers about whether the moon will actually fall. For the promoters, all this talk of the end drawing near is just fear-mongering, a disruption to the status quo.; but for the protectors of the peace, the danger is all too real, and the safety of the people dwells in the forefront of their minds.
Is the danger really worth considering or are the people’s fears unfounded?
The sensei of the swordsman’s school boasts that he will cut the Moon in two with his sword, scoffing at the panic, encouraging everyone to come train with him so as to survive the coming apocalypse. When night falls on the third day, the sensei is nowhere to be seen. Intrude into the storeroom at the rear of his dojo and you’ll find him hiding there, cowering helplessly.
Even outside the town, the object of your quest and the cost of failure are seen and felt everywhere. No matter where you run, the Moon hangs high in the sky, its eye fixed on Termina, looming closer with each passing hour. Meanwhile, the emblem of Majora’s Mask watches you from around every corner, adorning all sorts of fixtures across the land from stone blocks to ancient pillars to temple entryways.
Your only clue to putting an end to the danger is a cryptic hint from a tiny fairy: “Swamp. Mountain. Ocean. Valley. The four who are there… bring them here.”
With the fate of the world in your hands, that’s not much to go by.
Balanced against your task of changing the fate of the doomed world are opportunities to intervene in the suffering of others.
A mother searching for her missing son. A happy couple whose wedding plans have been interrupted. A grumpy old circus troupe headman who has forgotten why he got into show business in the first place. A young girl who just wants to save her cows from the imminent alien invasion.
Helping them takes valuable time away from your real quest – and on top of that, you can’t help everyone – but… It feels good, doesn’t it? Making people happy…
“You… What makes you…happy? I wonder… What makes you happy… Does it make…others happy, too? The right thing…What is it? I wonder… If you do the right thing… Does it really make… everybody…happy?”
Bring back the mother’s lost son. Reunite the separated couple. Make the circus leader cry. Fend off the alien attack to rescue the ranch.
Can you do all that and save the world?
The delicate balance between saving the world and making the people happy is at the very heart of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. No other game in the franchise has successfully replicated the sense of urgency in the hero’s quest to defeat evil, nor the intricacy and sense of investment in helping out the various townspeople with their troubles.
Yet these two themes are at the very heart of what it means to be a hero.
I believe that one of the reasons why Majora’s Mask has become so popular in recent years is that it captures this “essence of the hero” extremely well. Players like feeling as though their actions have weight and meaning and purpose, and the world of Termina delivers with its impending doom and its cacophony of troubled denizens.
While many previously saw the three-day system as an unnecessary burden, they now see it as an asset, a tool for fostering that sense of heroic accomplishment and a deep connection to the game world. Being able to turn back time gives them have the freedom to pursue whichever path suits them. They can put on the mask of the epic hero who will deliver the world from evil, or they can don the mask of the modest hero who restores smiles to the people’s faces – they can even try to juggle both at once. It’s just like the transformation masks Link collects over the course of his journey: the one you wear will change you, but which mask you choose to wear is up to you.
Will the franchise ever be able to recapture that “essence of the hero” for future generations of players? I certainly hope so, but it’s going to require that Nintendo take the gloves off and give players a dangerous and deep world, full of darkness and of a broken people desperately looking for light.
Alex Plant is a founding member of Zelda Informer. Five years after the site’s inception, he has moved on to new career opportunities, and is now Editor-in-Chief at GenGAME.net, a general gaming news and discussion site. Fans of his work can continue to follow him at his new Internet home and on Twitter (@LegendofLex).