Majora’s Mask – Wrap-Up Post

Vincent Bisschop Majora's Moon

I got all the heart containers, got all the items and upgrades, got all the masks, beat the game, and cried.

I’m not sure what to say about this game. It hurt my heart.

The last time I played Majora’s Mask, Operation Moonfall was in full swing. Thank goodness the message that people love this game and think it’s important finally got through to Nintendo (although it’s been argued that fan feedback didn’t have much of an effect on the decision). The 3DS release is gorgeous.

It seems they’ve posted a series of short essays about the game on Zelda Dungeon. I’m looking forward to reading them over the next few days.

Next up is Skyward Sword!

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Majora’s Mask – The Moon

Majora's Mask and Fierce Deity Mask

When Link collects the masks (or “remains”) of the four temple bosses, he can summon the four guardian giants after midnight on the last night. Between the four of them, they catch the moon and hold it above the town clock tower, but Majora’s Mask detaches itself from the Skull Kid and vanishes into the moon. Of course Link follows it.

The inside of the moon is a hyper-saturated green field suspended under a hyper-saturated blue sky. In the middle of the field is a single tree. Four kids wearing the boss masks are ambling in circles around the tree, and a kid wearing Majora’s Mask is sitting at the base of the tree, his knees curled up to his chest. All of the kids seem to be child versions of the Happy Mask Salesman. This is the most surreal thing in the entire game, and that’s saying something.

If Link gives some of his masks to one of the children, he will be transported to a mini-dungeon which functions as a master-level test of each transformation mask. The fourth “mask” is Link’s own form. When he completes the last series of trials, the child wearing the Twinmold mask asks him if the face he wears under his mask is indeed his true face. Creepy.

Should Link complete all the dungeons, he will have given all of his masks to the four children. In return, the fifth child gives him the Fierce Deity Mask, which holds a power just as terrible as that contained within Majora’s Mask. When Link puts on the mask…

The artist isn’t messing around; the Fierce Deity design is legit Sailor Moon cosplay.

As Sailor Fierce Deity Moon, Link is so overpowered that he only loses one full heart in his battle with Majora. It’s kind of obscene. Majora is scary, but Fierce Deity Link is horrifying. No wonder Majora calls him “the real bad guy.”

I wish someone would write fanfic in which Link, who is possessed by the Fierce Deity in the same way that the Skull Kid was once possessed by Majora, threatens the safety of Termina. Has that been done already? I found this list of fics set after the end of the game, but it’s going to take some time to sift through them…

Although the moon doesn’t fall, it’s difficult to describe the ending of Majora’s Mask as celebratory. The Deku, Goron, and Zora from whom Link received his three transformation masks are still dead, and Tael tells Link to go home, because she, Tatl, and the Skull Kid are going to the Festival of Time without him.

Anyone who expected a happy ending from this game obviously hasn’t been paying attention.

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Majora’s Mask – Anju and Kafei

Majora's Mask Postman

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.

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Majora’s Mask – Garo

The Garo Master

I think we can all agree that the ghostly Garo tribe of assassins is delightfully macabre, but where does the name “Garo” come from? Does it have any meaning or cultural context?

Ash from the blog Experiments in Manga recently tweeted a link to a short essay about academic scholarship on Garo, an alternative manga anthology magazine that ran from 1964 to 2002. According to the author, what’s been written about the magazine and its artists in Japanese is “mainly personal impressions and subjective accounts.” Meanwhile, many of the creators associated with the magazine, such as Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Shigeru Mizuki, and Tadao Tsuge, are starting to receive more attention from the international comics community as their work is being translated.

One of Garo’s founders and primary contributors, Sanpei Shirato, still isn’t well known internationally. According to the Wikipedia entry on Garo, the magazine’s title is derived from a ninja character in Shirato’s manga Kamui, which was published from 1964 to 1971 and collected in 21 volumes. I was able to track down a copy of the one volume translated into English, which was originally published by Viz Media in 1987. I’m interested in learning more about the story and who this “Garo” character is, but he doesn’t seem to appear in this section of the story.

Garo magazine had a reputation of being dark and creepy and deliberately dysfunctional, and the manga I’ve read that were published in it (and its American tribute zine) certainly fit this description.

Although I can’t make any conclusions, it would be cool if the name of the Garo tribe in Majora’s Mask were a tribute to the 1960s pulp comics magazine.

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Majora’s Mask – Stone Tower Temple

Link vs Twinmold

The Stone Tower Temple is one of the only points in the game during which the three-day cycle feels less like a series of checkpoints and more like an actual time limit.

I played this dungeon three times over the past two (real-word) days. I didn’t make it all the way through to the boss during the first three-day cycle, so I had to try it a second time without collecting any of the fairies. I got all of the fairies on the third try. The Stone Tower Temple is no Water Temple, but it’s a pain in the butt nonetheless.

The guiding mechanic of the dungeon is that it can be flipped upside down. It’s unclear whether gravity is being flipped for just Link (as in the case of the tunnel dwellers in Patema Inverted) or for the entire temple, but either way it’s freaky to see the sky underneath the ceiling framework of the dungeon’s entryway.

Dungeon flipping sounds interesting in theory, but it’s actually rather tedious in practice. There’s no one clear route through the map, and backtracking is built into the process of exploration. The final dungeon of any Zelda game is supposed to be tricky, but this dungeon especially has no sense of flow. The player feels endlessly kicked back and forth from one state to another, which is how I imagine Link himself is feeling by this point.

As an interesting aside, the temple theme music is (somewhat) palindromic, with key musical phrases in the right-side-up map being played in reverse in the upside down map. This is really cool, right?

The boss fight with Twinmold takes place in a desert otherworld that can only be accessed when the temple is upside down. There’s nothing but sand and sky in the arena, and the battle is long and painful. When Link defeats one of the giant centipedes, he receives the Giant Mask, which turns him into – you guessed it – a giant. Although he’s now large enough to fight the remaining Twinmold, his magic meter drains constantly, and he loses the use of his tools, including this sword and shield. He’s slow and sluggish, and all he can do is roll and punch. There is no grace or art required for this battle, just a whole lot of patience.

After the boss is defeated and the dungeon is cleared, the Ikana Valley area is “purified,” which means very little in the grand scheme of things. The land is still barren, and the dead are still dead. The Garo tribe is still lost to time, and none of the mysteries of the Stone Tower are any clearer.

If the player manages to find all of the dungeon fairies, Link can take them to the Great Fairy of Kindness, who rewards him with the Great Fairy’s Sword. This two-handed weapon is powerful but too unwieldy to be of much use, and in any case it comes too late in the game to be fully enjoyed by the player. The blade is engraved with twin black roses, which reminds me of Revolutionary Girl Utena, so much so that I can’t help but wonder if the reference is deliberate.

Now that he is in possession of the masks of all four giants, Link is ready to take on the Skull Kid. When you reset the three-day cycle after beating the dungeon, the fairy Tatl urges you to do just that, saying that she’s gotten tired of adventuring.

I, however, am excited about all the sidequests I can finally complete!

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Majora’s Mask – Stone Tower

Majora's Mask Stone Tower

The lead-up to the fourth and final dungeon is one of my favorite areas in any Zelda game. On the far side of Ikana Valley is a vast bottomless pit surrounded by endlessly tall towers made out of a colorless material that my expert-level deductive reasoning tells me is probably stone. These towers are featureless save for rows of tiny black windows that extend as far up and as far down as the buildings themselves. Or perhaps it’s only one building (the Japanese name of the structure, Ishi no tō, doesn’t differentiate between singular and plural) and Link is making his way up a hollow center. Certainly he doesn’t interact with the towers themselves, but rather rock ledges that appear more natural than artificial.

The switches Link manipulates with the creepy statues he summons with the “Elegy of Emptiness” trigger magically floating stone blocks, which seem unnatural but may operate according to scientific principles. He also moves up and down by way of hookshot pillars, which are more in keeping with the samurai and ninja style technology of the Ikana warriors than that of whoever built the towers. It could be that the Garo ghosts Link fights rose to prominence due to the ancient technology they pillaged, but who’s to say.

The Zelda wiki has outlined some cool theories concerning the tower/s, including the theory that the people who built the structure are the same people who created Majora’s mask.

I have my own convoluted headcanon concerning what the whole Ikana area is supposed to represent to Link based on what he experienced in Ocarina of Time. To make a long story short, I think Ikana Valley is where the more negative implications of the three human races in Ocarina of Time – Hylian, Sheikah, and Gerudo – all meld together into a giant monument to the horrors and ultimate futility of armed conflict.

Regardless, I think this is one of the first instances in the series of there being a hint of a much earlier and much more technologically advanced civilization having left its traces on the land.

Hyrule is so postapocalyptic, it really is.

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Majora’s Mask – Ikana Castle

Igos Du Ikana

I keep forgetting how weird this game is, and how much I love it.

There’s an enormous castle beyond Ikana Valley that’s completely deserted except for crows, giant spiders, and animated corpses called ReDeads. If you walk in wearing the skeletal Captain’s Mask (which I did because I always wear the Captain’s Mask, why would you ever not), the ReDeads don’t attack you but instead dance in place. The ReDeads have mastered five dance moves ranging from pirouettes to a sort of Cossack dance, and they are all bizarrely well animated.

In my experience, the fight with the King of Ikana is one of the hardest in the series. He moves so quickly that, if you Z-target him, he (or his disembodied skull) will get behind you and drain a substantial portion of your health. The player therefore has to play the fight almost completely by ear, listening for where he is in the room and hoping that, when Link spins around to smite him, he’ll actually be there.

I’ve died any number of times in this fight, which is grueling even with sufficient preparation, but the cut scene afterwards is worth it. The king’s two guards bicker with each other over who is at fault for their defeat before he silences them, saying that his kingdom was ruined because of its lack of mercy. The king then teaches Link the “Elegy of Emptiness,” which creates a grotesque shell of Link’s form that he can leave behind standing in his place in order to solve puzzles. The statues are super creepy, and the process of making them looks extremely uncomfortable.

The mummy-infested underground tunnels that Link uses to access Ikana Castle are where he acquires this game’s version of the Mirror Shield, which is stained with a pattern representing a screaming face. What this means is that, when Link runs forward away from the screen, the pained face on the shield strapped to his back is turned toward the player. It’s more than a little upsetting.

Perhaps the major guiding theme of Majora’s Mask is regret. Aside from the Skull Kid, who has been possessed by the eponymous mask, none of the NPCs in Termina has done anything particularly regrettable, so I’m guessing that the regret in question is Link’s.

If I were to take this theory one step farther, I might say that the whole of Termina is a projection of Link’s anxiety concerning his experiences in Ocarina of Time in much the same way that the monsters on Koholint Island are a projection of the trauma Link experiences because of the events in A Link to the Past.

I guess the moral of the story is that ten-year-olds can become psychologically scarred when they’re sent out on murder missions, go figure.

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