Majora's Mask is A Timeless Masterpiece
This video has been sponored in part by Surfshark. There is only one, fixed constant in life: “Time and tide wait for no man.” These words are as true today as they were when ole Jeffy Chaucer first uttered them, nearly seven centuries ago.
Life is filled with upheaval and uncertainty Life is filled with upheaval and uncertainty -- and after the year that has been 2020, -- and after the year that has been 2020, this truth couldn’t be any more apparent. But the inherent uncertainty of existence also contains within itself the only hard truth we can all agree on, regardless of religion or creed: Death will come for us all one day, just as surely as the turning of the seasons. You, me, and everyone we know will eventually pass away, and there is no way for any of us to escape this fate. Human mortality is a solemn, heavy concept.
We live our lives in an unending struggle to understand the nature of our limited time on earth… Right up until the casket drops. So, a bright and colorful adventure game series (which revels in coming-of-age tropes and swashbuckling derring-do) might seem like an unlikely place for a thoughtful exploration of these collective fears of mortality. But there’s one legendary game that not only pulls off this unlikely synthesis-of-opposites, it also manages to smuggle some incredibly profound and spiritual themes into what is, at heart, a fairytale story aimed primarily at younger audiences. This is a tale of melancholy, and woe. It is also, far and away, the darkest and most mature Zelda incarnation to ever grace a Nintendo console: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
Both story and gameplay of Majora’s Mask work hand-in-hand to express an essential and unifying theme of the human experience: Despite our terrible fate, can we find meaning in a doomed existence, and summon the strength needed to persevere? And when everything seems hopeless, and lost… Can we still keep hope alive? Alright, before we go on, I'd like to express my thanks to Surfshark for sponsoring the making of this video. So in return, let me show you what they've got to offer to you! Now I myself have been actively using VPN services for a long time, because your data out there, without protection or shielding is being non-consensually pushed through the data-meat-grinder; it's stored, mined, sold, stolen, abused and constantly logged to profile you at every turn; and in the past year-or-so I've been actively using Surfshark to protect my data-streams from this and I've honestly been really happy with it. Surfshark features an easy-to-use and straightforward interface on many different platforms, that you can run on as many devices as you want. It turns you anonymous online, with uncrackable end-to-end encrypted data transfer through secure VPN services running on RAM-only servers, meaning all data gets flushed, nothing gets stored, and the encryption makes your data efficiently useless for anyone who taps into your online activities. You can login from over 60 countries across the globe to also get access to region-locked streaming services libraries like Netflix, Hulu, Disney TV, HBO, etc. and it lets you circumvent any kind of country-or-internet-provider-mandated blocks and restrictions.
If you want that! So, for this video I got offered an affiliate deal that grants you an 84% discount for a subscription plus 4 free extra months to boot. If you're curious, you can try this out with a 30-day no-questions-asked money-back guarantee; so if it's not for you, you can just drop out any time. Just make sure to use the promo-code... umm... RAGNARROX to unlock it! This link, you can also find in the description of this video. Thanks a lot again, and now, I hope you enjoy the rest of the video! The patented ‘Zelda formula’ is instantly familiar and well-worn for most players these days. Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time both set a template that has been massively influential to the action and adventure games that followed in its footsteps.
But trailing after the world-devouring success of Ocarina of Time in 1998, series directors Eiji Aonuma and Shigeru Miyamoto resolved to try something entirely new for the next Zelda game. Originally, Majora’s Mask wasn’t even supposed to happen: The team had initially planned to create a “master levels” remix of the Ocarina of Time dungeons, but there was little internal enthusiasm for the project at Nintendo HQ. So while the rest of the Zelda team was wrapped up with the early stages of development for the Gamecube entry of Wind Waker, Aonuma and Miyamoto resolved to create a spinoff to Ocarina of Time, and gave themselves a one-year deadline to finish the project. Inspired by the German 1998 time-looping thriller Run Lola Run, the team laid down some foundational principles for a project dubbed ‘Ura Zelda’. * Rewinding time would play a key role, with the player being made to repeat a relatively short segment over and over again as part of the core gameplay loop. * In keeping with this more focused approach, the story, encounters, and dungeons would be designed around smaller and more self-contained narratives, rather than the sprawling epic yarns of previous titles.
* And in order to meet the tight deadline, they would re-use as many assets as possible from Ocarina of Time. It’s often said that limitations breed creativity far better than having unlimited time and resources. That was certainly the case with Majora’s Mask: Over the course of development, this side project blossomed into a mainline Zelda title that could stand on its own merits, while simultaneously breaking with nearly a decade-and-a-half of series conventions. All of the familiar Zelda tropes and touchstones are gone from Majora’s Mask: You are far from the land of Hyrule, there is no evil-overlord Ganon to defeat, no Master Sword to attain, and Zelda herself only gets a single mention in the opening minutes before disappearing for the rest of the game.
But even more importantly, the role of Link the protagonist has fundamentally changed. You are no longer a child of divinity, blessed by the gods with a special destiny. (And even if you are still the Link of Legend from Ocarina of Time, it’s in many ways rather irrelevant to this tale.) You are no longer occupying the role of the traditional adventure game savior of prophecy, the Center of the Universe around which everything (and everyone) revolves. No, in Majora’s Mask you’re simply one person, in many ways no more special or important than everyone else, and your main concern is simply to try and find a way to survive in a weird and unfamiliar place.
And just as the story abandons all of the usual Zelda narrative tropes, And just as the story abandons all of the usual Zelda narrative tropes, Majora’s Mask similarly puts far less of an emphasis on the core Zelda gameplay elements. In a sense, the experience of playing Majora’s Mask is more akin to that of a classic inventory-based adventure from LucasArts or Sierra than a straightforward 3D action game. But to be sure, this is still a solid action-adventure Zelda title that controls just as nimbly as Ocarina of Time, Z-targeting backflips included. There IS still plenty of combat and dungeon-delving to be had in Majora’s Mask, but it’s also simply less of a priority for this game than previous titles in the series. Which is an interesting case for the long-term validity of video game reviews, isn't it: Majora’s Mask was, at the time, critically far less warmly welcomed than the more traditional Hero’s Journey structured Ocarina of Time, but in hindsight, it’s the game that has stood the test of time far better because it built its foundation around something else than just “for the time” good running, jumping and dungeon crawling.
If you play Majora’s Mask without goggles of Nostalgia, the parts that have aged the the least well are the ones that rely on contemporary Zelda gameplay – while the game’s unique and for-a-Zelda uncharacteristically dark and haunting storyline is what has eventually turned it into a timeless cult-classic. There are fewer main dungeons for instace -- only four, compared to Ocarina of Time’s nine. Instead, the player will adventure through a whole cornucopia of smaller, self-contained encounters and puzzles scattered across Termina, most of which are much more condensed than the usual framing device of “recover a biblical number of mystic artefacts and defeat the evil Uber-Antagonist™.” In order to progress through Majora’s Mask, you’ll have to do the opposite of what decades of action-adventure videogames have trained you to expect: Rather than master your combat skills, you’ll need to master your... social skills.
To access the four main temples you’ll need to finish the game, you first must spend a good deal of time getting to know the denizens of Clock Town, and the wider world of Termina. You’ll learn people’s schedules during their final three days through keen observation, follow them around on their day-to-day errands, and complete sometimes-menial tasks for almost everyone you encounter. The small and seemingly unrelated acts of kindness you perform gain weight and context as the story advances.
Throughout the game, the player learns that the only way to “progress” and become the hero of the land is to perform acts of charity and altruism. It is, on a meta-level, a fascinating commentary on our common storytelling tropes when it comes to “saving the world” stories. The world is about to be destroyed - we are the hero to save everyone. How do we do it? By killing things; by destroying things.
That’s how we tell stories, especially in video games. Majora’s Mask goes a long way to reduce this notion to absurdity. Each individual act of selflessness becomes a piece of a larger mosaic -- a big-picture view that becomes clearer and clearer as you pull back to observe it: The thing that just might save the world isn’t your skill with a sword, your magical warding shield, or your enchanted bow and arrows. The thing that will save us all… is something far more intangible than acts of individual heroism… It's something truly… selfless… In stark contrast to just about every other Zelda game, the Link of Majora’s Mask is a near-nameless nobody the Link of Majora’s Mask is a near-nameless nobody -- a stranger in a strange land.
-- a stranger in a strange land. Following the events of Ocarina of Time, Link finds himself lost in a mysterious forest in a faraway land. After an ambush by the Skull Kid and his mischievous fairies Tatl and Tael, Link loses his magical ocarina and his startled steed Epona dashes off into the underbrush. And following a dizzying trip down a psychedelic-wormhole...
Link awoke from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into a... pint-sized Deku Scrub. He soon after that emerges aboveground in the town of Termina, where an extremely sinister Happy Mask Salesman makes him a deal: Recover the mystic mask the Skull Kid stole from the Salesman, along with Link’s ocarina, and he’ll return everything back to normal. But even as he chases down the Skull Kid and reclaims his instrument, Link soon discovers that his quest is only beginning.
His foe still has the mask the Salesman needs – Majora’s Mask, and he’s far too strong for us to take him on head-first; Link has no chance of winning in a head-to-head fight. Now, suspended in the skies above Termina is the moon itself, sporting wild eyes and a snarling rictus-grin. For 72 hours, this meteor-moon will inexorably draw closer and closer, until it finally smashes into Clock Town at the end of the third day -- ironically, just in time for the town to celebrate the Carnival of Time, the Zelda equivalent of a pagan-harvest-festival-meets-New-Year’s-Day. But Link discovers the seminal twist that becomes Termina’s only hope: your Ocarina has the ability to rewind the clock and start the 3-day-cycle of doom anew, allowing you to buy yourself another 72-hour period to untangle the threads of this mystery and, potentially... hopefully... avert the apocalypse. The entire game is played in these three-day chunks, and any quests or dungeons you fail to complete within the time limit will be reset after the third day.
The unrelenting march of time is a constant companion throughout Majora’s Mask. No matter where you are -- out in the Termina Fields Overworld, or on the streets of Clock Town -- the Meteor-Moon will hang ever-present, inching closer with each passing second. But sheltering indoors will not allow you to escape this existential dread: So many interiors in the game also feature a big mechanical clock that ticks ceaselessly onward, each shift of the gears marking another step in the steady procession to oblivion. And when The Day of Judgment arrives, the soundtrack adds truly ominous stringed instrumentation to the mix, foretelling the grim fate that awaits. If youa re a first-time player, and especially if you’re going through Majora’s Mask without a walkthrough, you will fail...
A lot. Over and over again you’ll rewind time, or be forced to watch the moon destroy you and everything you cherish. And all you can do is pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and begin rolling the proverbial boulder back up the hill again. The time-loop gameplay of Majora’s Mask both literalizes and systematizes a profound and essential human experience: Our lifelong struggle against entropy and death. In every single moment of the game, the player is engaged in an unrelenting struggle against their own mortality. And it’s all the more powerful for how this grim battle is juxtaposed against the bright-and-cheery, cartoony hues of the world of Zelda.
Indeed, for all of its Western-inspired fantasy-fiction aesthetic trappings, the philosophy underpinning Majora’s Mask is strongly informed by the religious traditions and mysticism of east asia. For a series that began with some not-so-subtle invocations of Christian imagery, Majora’s Mask stands out as a game firmly rooted in the Hindu-Buddhist concepts of Dukkha, reincarnation, and the Wheel of Time. (And a lil Nietzsche... as a treat) Dukkha is a central tenet of both religions. The term’s nearest english translation is “suffering” or “sorrow”, especially as it relates to the larger mythopoetic belief structures of these two faiths. But translating the term so literally does it a disservice, especially given the unambiguously negative tone of the word “suffering.”
Both of these beliefs teach that all of existence is bound up in a cycle of struggle, suffering, and reincarnation. But the nature of this “suffering” is both a curse… and also the key to overcoming it. Buddhism and Hinduism both teach that, first, we must achieve a conscious understanding of how we construct our individual “selves” as a reflection of and response to earthly dissatisfactions, or Dukkha. It is only then that we can attain the enlightenment needed to end the cycle of reincarnation, and ascend to the next stage of existence. In other words: Suffering is intrinsically linked to the inability to perceive reality outside of yourself. The only way to overcome the suffering of existence is to shed your egoistic attachment to your “self.”
It’s only after enduring many cycles of Dukkha and reincarnation that we may finally transcend this mortal coil. It’s only by letting go of your attachment to your self… that you can free the world from the cycles of suffering and destruction. The ultimate theme and message that Majora’s Mask conveys to the player is the value of humanism.
Humanism can mean a lot of different things to different people, but its essence can be boiled down to a simple statement of principles: Our highest calling in life is to care for the wellbeing of those around us -- even and ESPECIALLY if there’s no apparent benefit or reward to be earned from it. It’s a simple but tremendously evocative message for Majora’s Mask to take up, one that is further driven home by the game’s expert unification of narrative and gameplay. You cannot win the game by acts of sword and sorcery alone.
You must get to know the inhabitants of Termina; follow them throughout the mundanities of their day-to-day-routine; and demonstrate kindnesses small and large to those in need. Empathize. It helps that these characters and their associated quests are, almost without exception, extremely charming, with weird quirks and twists that masterfully compel the player forward, even absent the usual “you’re an epic hero on a quest to save the world” framing: * For instance, you're gonna help the farmhands Cremia and Romani as they uncover the mystery of the strange alien abductions plaguing their ranch, and restore the bustling dairy trade to Termina’s Milk Road * You’ll help the surprisingly mature child Pamela to break a mummification curse on her scientist father, with the help of an enchanted music box * You resolve Cuckoo-loving Grog’s one sorrow by parading his chicks in front of him, making them grow up to have him to see his babies mature into their prime as big and sturdy roosters before the world ends. * And in a truly heartwarming quest that is one of the top fan favorites, you’ll help reunite the estranged lovers Anju and Kafei, culminating in an End Times-themed wedding for the ages It is this laser-like focus on people, and their deeply personal stories and struggles, that allows Majora’s Mask to subvert one of the most confounding bits of design-dissonance in gaming especially when it comes to big epic action-adventures and RPG games like The Legend of Zelda: How many times in a game have you taken up the mantle of Mister or Miz Hero, and readied to embark on an epic quest to save the world from an encroaching apocalypse… Only to immediately find yourself waylaid by the village crone, who *really* needs you to kill the rats in her pantry? Rather than treat these “sidequests” as a frivolity or a distraction to pad out the game’s runtime, these encounters are far and away the main attraction and the core of the narrative of Majora’s Mask. Many quests offer rewards that, rather than enhance your combat prowess, instead open up new areas of the map, unlock new quests, and generally make it easier for you to explore and by that learn more about the land you're bound to save.
For example, after rescuing the bovines of Romani Ranch from their ghostly-alien abductors on Day One, you’ll trigger a followup event at the ranch on the evening of Day Two. Solve this puzzle, and you’ll receive Romani’s Mask, which allows you to enter the grownups-only milk bar in Clock Town. And the regulars at the milk bar have their own woes to deal with, of course, setting you down another chain of quests and side-digressions. The characters who inhabit the world of Termina are more than lifeless NPCs that exist only as set-dressing or to dispense exposition and keep the plot moving.
The people of Termina are every bit as integral to this world as you are, and they all have their own stories, dreams, hopes, and fears. The player must learn to see their value as individuals who have their own distinct place in the world you’re trying to save, because you cannot complete your quest without them. That’s a tall order, since there are dozens and dozens of NPCs to keep track of. Fortunately, you get the handy Bomber’s Notebook early on in the adventure to keep track of all the different people you meet, and their various routines. And where other Zelda games place a heavier emphasis on the player’s personal arsenal of magical weapons, Majora’s Mask instead replaces the bulk of your inventory with masks that transform the player into various forms, granting new skills that widen your ability to traverse and explore the world of Termina. The gestalt of Majora’s Mask -- the sum-total of the themes and ideas it expresses -- is clear and direct: The True Victory does not come from wielding mighty weapons, or from slaying hordes of foes.
True Victory lies in letting go of your self, by walking in someone else’s shoes, and by appreciating that their existence has an intrinsic value, just like yours. It seems to be something of a running theme on my channel lately: Majora’s Mask is yet another beloved, cult-classic piece of gaming history that is becoming more and more difficult to find and play. To say that preservation and emulation are not priorities for Nintendo is… probably a bit of an understatement.
Which is all the more confounding and frustrating, since Nintendo owns and controls the rights to a sizeable chunk of retro gaming history, purely on the strength of the NES-SNES-N64 console trifecta. Currently, the original N64 version of Majora’s Mask is only available on the Wii and WiiU’s Virtual Console storefront, which is in the process of being phased out in favor of the Switch’s eShop. There is also a pretty solid enhanced port released for the 3DS in 2015, much like the one for Ocarina of Time released in 2011. However, neither version of Majora’s Mask is available on the Switch However, neither version of Majora’s Mask is available on the Switch at the time this video is being released.
There have been long-running rumors of an “N64 Classics” emulator for the Switch’s online service, which could potentially include Majora’s Mask, but we’ve seen nothing in the way of official confirmation. We can only hope that fan demand will force Nintendo to make more of an effort to preserve its own history, because the appeal of a title like Majora’s Mask still shines through brilliantly, even for players who have been raised on generations of spectacle-driven, high-octane AAA titles. Because the quiet, gentle humanism of Majora’s Mask is a perfect antidote for anyone tired of the latest open-world shoot-em-up slogfest. Ocarina of Time was a tough act to follow, and Majora’s Mask will likely always be overshadowed by its staggeringly successful and influential predecessor.
But Majora’s Mask to this day maintains a dedicated cult fanbase, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest games ever made. This praise is well-earned, as it boasts some truly masterful game design, the crown jewel of which is the three-day eternally recurring cycle whose palpable immediacy strengthens every other element of the game. This time limitation makes the world take on an eerie, almost lifelike quality -- as though the player is experiencing a 72-hour snapshot of a town encased inside a snowglobe, of the final days of a doomed lost civilization. Majora’s Mask is a textbook case of quality over quantity.
There may be less traditional “action game stuff” to do compared to other titles in the series, There may be less traditional “action game stuff” to do compared to other titles in the series, but in hindsight, this omission makes the game that much stronger but in hindsight, this omission makes the game that much stronger of a singular and focused experience. It is a truly classic, timeless experience which every lover of fantasy-adventure or emotional gaming experiences owes it to themselves to experience at least once I say. Majora’s Mask is a powerful reminder that the greatest and most meaningful stories often have very little to do with conquest and domination in the name of power. The greatest hero tales -- the ones that hold the most important, long-lasting lessons for us -- are those that remind us how our fates are bound up in those around us...
Even people we might not like, or find a little weird and off-putting. It’s a theme and message that couldn’t be more relevant or inspiring, especially as the exceedingly kafkaesque year of 2020 draws to a close. In a year that has seen untold suffering and death rage across the globe, now more than ever, we need a reminder that we’re all in this together.
Our only hope for the future is to keep this flame of kindness burning in the darkness: So, what is this affirming light going to be? You know, while I'm currently having your attention, I'd like to make this... a challenge. If you're watching this video at the end of the year, or if you're watching it at a later point - I'd like you to take this as an incentive to engage in a kindness big or small, to find something to do that helps out and supports others without execting a reward or a benefit in return. And no, I won't preach to reach out to those that engaged in nothing but hurting and burning bridges all year round and longer, but there are many out there that really need it right now. How you achieve that, for now, I'll leave completely up to you - if you find a charity you believe in and support it, if you give or help out someone who's struggling right now or if you just pick up the phone receiver and call someone close to your heart and tell them something that will make them smile for a moment; you got this. I’d love to encourage you to put your passion into... a smol humanism to end the year with. So how am I gonna put my money where my mouth is? I've decided to end the year with something I've been wanting to do for ages but always pushed ahead of me because there was always several things that had "priority" and were "more important right now" -- you know how that goes.
But no more excuses! On the 28th of December (2020 that is), I'm going to host a charity stream collecting for the preservation and protection of Red Pandas. Red Pandas are categorized as an endangered species by the IUCN due to hunting, poaching and drastic loss of habitable area due to deforestation and habit degradation. Together, we'll collect donations for The Red Panda Network, a non-profit organization I myself have been actively supporting for years, which extends community based conservation programs, creating sustainable living centers, planting adequate forest areas and monitoring and maintaining designated, dense and diverse forest areas for the protection of those cute little fellers.
And I’d love you all to join me in this! The stream is taking place over on my twitch. Here's the link.. And you can find the starting time in different time zones on the screen or in the description of this video. The game we’re gonna play is Control - and that's a title that I knew I wanted to play since it was announced, so I shielded myself from all information and spoilers, which means I’m going to going to go into it knowing virtually nothing that's gonna happen! Just like last time we did a charity stream, earlier this year, I’m going to use a part of this sponsorship income from this video to kickstart the donations at the beginning of the stream and then I hope we can multiply that amount together over the course of the stream! So, I hope you will stop by and we can have a fun and chill hangout together! And... if you should be watching this video after the stream took place,
you’ll find the results of it posted in a pinned comment on this video! Now before I let you go, a little plug for my own livelihood: the work on my channel is, in big part, funded and dependent on the generous donations from my backers over on Patreon! If you would like to help out and support my work as well – that could be another way to spare a little kindness that goes a long way – if it’s an amount that won’t hurt or stifle you financially. Thank you for considering, thanks to everyone who supports me there already, and my special thanks this month go out to: LAIRD WACKYLA CORDELIA CRESCENDO TIGHE MCCANDLESS MALYM KENNAN WARD CHUCK TAYLOR NORBERT GERARD MATYNKA MATT GRETTON RONINKROM AKA DANIEL242172 DR HAYLEY-ISABELLA CAWLEY NEKOT THE BRAVE HOANG VU WOBBLES AND BEAN THE WONDER DUCKS LORENZ E. BUBEN MARI DAVID ZELENAK SWALLOWTAILNIGHTS ALEX PAPOW CASPAR RAHM MURA CASARDIS IAN RHODES RAUL BLANCO GISELLE ALMONTE LEX RECKLESS ANDREW HINES PABLO ARCELUS HUNTER CRAWFORD & MARGARETE STRAWN QUENTIN PROD'HOMME FAULTYGEAR DANA ROSA CHRIS-CHAN BILLY LOTT BORIS BÜGLING CHRISTINE THWAGUM KEVIN H. YANG
CHRISZY MAURICIO REYNA DAVID SOUTHPAW TERRI COLLINS SHANNON BLUE JIN HANSSON FEDERICO ROCHA CATHERINE ESCOBAR MAX MACULA REFKINS AGUSTIN ORTEGA POOKAPRINCESS ISABELLA STONER SOPHIE POULSEN NINEBALL9606 and STARINA ABRAHAMSEN Until next year... ta ta!