In the most recent of the Boss Fight Books series, Matt Bell writes of Baldur’s Gate II:
The unspoken conceit is that this world was made only for the player. Everywhere you go, the world awaits your arrival. However the bounds of the game world are glossed, they are a way of enclosing the player inside a pocket universe, one in which every person, place, object, and event has been designed for the player’s amusement. According to [the developers’] guidelines, “the story should always make the player the focus. The player is integral to the plot, and all events should revolve around him or her.”
This is absolutely not the case in Majora’s Mask, in which every character goes about their business regardless of Link’s presence in their lives. Link can shift the course of events, but the other characters don’t necessarily wait for him to do so. He is an intruder into their existence, and they more or less treat him as such.
The disregard of the game’s NPCs renders the Anju and Kafei quest much more difficult and time-consuming than it would be if Majora’s Mask were indeed centered around Link. In the original N64 game, Link had to kill long stretches of time in order to complete the series of interlocking events. If he missed any of his cues over the course of the three-day cycle, then he would have to start over from the beginning. To make matters worse, the quest has two separate endings; and, to achieve them both, the whole thing must be completed from start to finish twice.
The 3DS version of the game, which allows Link to skip forward to a designated hour, makes the quest slightly less time consuming for the player, but the process still took me about two hours. I played the game for months on end when it first came out, so I can recite the order of events in my sleep, and I can’t even imagine how long it would take to figure out for someone who’s never played the game before.
If a player has any sense of self-preservation, she’ll never spend much time in the last quarter of the last day, always resetting the cycle as soon as the clock starts to count down in fractions of seconds next to an angry moon face at the bottom of the screen. The Anju and Kafei quest forces the player to remain in this disturbing space. The sky is red, the earth trembles, and the background music switches to a haunting melody.
The part of this sequence that hits me the hardest is giving the Postman one last letter to deliver. On the final evening of the cycle, the player finds him sitting despondent on the floor of his tiny room at the back of the post office. “I want to flee,” he says, “but it’s not written on the schedule.” When Link gives him Kafei’s priority delivery letter, he stands up, puts on his red hat and backpack, and jogs to the Milk Bar to hand it in person to Kafei’s mother. The route he takes through the deserted town is needlessly circuitous, as if he’s delaying the inevitable, taking in everything one last time before the moon falls and destroys everything, including himself.
Link has to follow him in order to receive his hat, and the trip is viscerally upsetting. The postman is trapped in his duty just as Link is; but, unlike Link, he is able to run away at the last moment.
The highlight of the quest is the love story between Anju, the daughter of the innkeeper, and Kafei, the mayor’s son. Kafei has been transformed into a child by the Skull Kid, and yet, if Link executes the sequence of events flawlessly, Kafei and Anju still perform the marriage ceremony in an upper room of the inn in the last hour before the world ends.
This is all very touching, but I wonder why it’s necessary for Kafei to have been transformed into a child. Certainly this makes him appear more vulnerable, but he is already in an awkward position without the metamorphosis. His wedding mask has been stolen, his fiancée’s mother obviously doesn’t approve of the marriage, and in any case everyone will die when the moon falls.
Perhaps the scenario is in some way a representation of Link’s feelings toward the Zelda of Ocarina of Time. Link has met and perhaps fallen in love with Zelda as an adult; but, after he saves Hyrule, he has been returned to the body of a child, and she has returned to being a princess who lives in a castle that he is not allowed to enter. If Link wins in Ocarina of Time, then he never becomes a hero, and nothing that would have happened between him and Zelda will ever come to pass. Poor kid.
In an interview with the Japanese magazine Nintendo Dream, Eiji Aonuma stated that the scenario was partially inspired by “the Taepodong uproar of the time,” in which it was rumored that North Korea might be testing missiles by shooting them over Japan. That’s pretty heavy.
Anyway, the best line in this quest is from Madame Aroma (Kafei’s mom), who says to the Gorman Troupe Leader that “I wish your face were the only thing annoying me right now” as she tries to deal with the various crises besetting the Festival of Time.
( Header image from The Why Button )