I was gonna do a plain ole feature article on Majora’s Mask, but I thought it’d be much more fun and do the game much more justice to talk about the deep and prevalent themes that are featured in the Zelda game which I consider to have the best story. My favorite Zelda game switches between Majora and Wind Waker frequently, but if I had to pick the one that spoke to me more on a personal level, it would certainly be Majora.
WARNING! Spoilers ahead. But I mean, come on, the game is like twenty years old at this point, it's no one's fault but your own if you spoil the game for yourself XD.
With that, let’s jump in, shall we?
A lot of people have many theories about Majora’s Mask that are quite fun to look up, including the endlessly debated one on whether Link is dead in the game or not. But while theories are fun, I think the things in the game we can be certain about are far more interesting to think about than the what-ifs. But that’s the great thing about Majora’s Mask, it’s a piece of art that everyone reads something different into and everyone gets something different out of it; it’s one of those unique pieces of media in which I feel like the feelings of the people who made it just appear on the screen and you can feel what they were going through at the time they made it. Simply put, the game feels personal (it even says in the opening that Link is embarking on a personal journey) and I want to explore some of the themes put forth in the game.
Theme 1: Loneliness/abandonment
This to me is the most prevalent and heavy theme in the game. The game even opens up with a lonely Link searching for his companion Navi. I’m not sure it’s ever explained why Navi leaves Link at the end of Ocarina, but I always assumed it was because she thought Link was at the point where he didn’t need her anymore. But, seeing as how she was the only one who was with him the whole time in Ocarina and was always there for him, I think clearly this was a really meaningful friendship to Link and he wasn’t ready for her to leave him yet. I think Link probably had a familial relationship with her since this incarnation of Link had no family and at the start of Ocarina, he is the outcast among the Kokiri and doesn’t even appear to have friends other than Saria. Navi did always strike me as something of a surrogate mother to him since she bosses him around to get up early and is always trying to keep him on task XD. Come to think of it, his relationship with Navi was probably the most personal and important one to this particular Link.
Anyway, as he rides through the forest in the opening cutscene he always looks miserable—to me it even looks like he’s hanging his head. He’s the lone figure in a misty forest and the only thing accompanying him is Epona (reinforcing the theme of loneliness through imagery) before Skull Kid comes along and takes Epona.
Speaking of Skull Kid—his backstory also fits in with the theme of loneliness. We are treated to a cutscene later in the game of Skull Kid shivering alone in the rain and also looking miserable. Later when we learn more of the backstory in this game, we learn that Skull Kid was abandoned and rejected by his friends, the four giants. The two fairies in this game, Tatl and Tael, meet up with Skull Kid and become his friends as they’re all seeking warmth. It’s pretty cute and heartwarming and it actually mirrors Link’s relationship with Navi from the Ocarina in many ways.
Lastly we have Majora’s Mask itself whose loneliness is portrayed in what I consider to be the most menacing and perhaps the creepiest part of the game. The deceivingly peaceful paradise on the moon itself where the moonchildren are the lone citizens and there is bizarrely no music. The children ask Link to play hide and seek with them and ask some weird questions when Link finds them in which you can read in whatever meaning you want from them. But the imagery here and how Majora asks Link to play with him once again speaks of loneliness. One of the children asks Link a particular question that really stands out to me. This one right here.
He asks Link if the face beneath a mask is your true face. This makes me think that not only is Link really lonely in this game, but he may have been going through an identity crisis that he thought he couldn’t solve on his own without the help of Navi. Navi kind of leads him to and gives him his identity in Ocarina, and when she leaves she leaves him without guidance and without an identity to cling to. Perhaps Link’s identity was so tied into being the hero of time (his ‘mask’) and fulfilling his destiny that he didn’t know how to go back in time and just be a child. Perhaps he doesn’t even know who he is without that mask. This right here is speculation on my part, but its certainly interesting to think about. There’s also an interesting quote on Young Link’s Melee trophy in Super Smash Bros. that calls him the ‘true Link’ rather than the adult one which I think lends credence to the idea that the hero of time identity was something of a mask to Young Link.
The direct quote is this:Link's younger incarnation is often considered to be the true Link: he was a young boy in the very first Legend of Zelda game, and he has appeared as a youth in most of the subsequent games. Since his debut on the original NES in 1987, Link's appearance has changed over and over again, each time adding to the mystique of his incomparable story.
Theme 2: Death
The secondary theme in this game seems to be death, which is the one most people seem to be the most interested in.
We see death portrayed over and over again in significant ways in this game. Heck, if you don’t stop the moon from falling in three days, everyone in termina dies XD.
But, on a more personal level, all of the masks that allow Link to transform in this game belonged to dead people starting with the death which is to me the most visceral death in the game, the Deku butler’s son.
The sequence of events that eventually lead to you uncovering the knowledge that Link’s deku form is actually the Deku Butler’s son is just really sad to me. First thing in the game, you’re treated to this absolutely haunting depiction of this poor dead Deku boy with Tatl commenting that it looks really sad and that it looks like you.
and then as you follow along with the story and do the Deku Butler’s little minigame, he informs you that you remind him of his son and it dawns on the player that the withered tree you saw earlier is in fact, the Deku Butler's son. And then during the credits of the game you’re treated to this heartbreaking scene of the Deku Butler finding his son’s dead body and weeping over it. It’s heart rending.
Next we have the Goron mask given to you by Darmani who died trying to ward off the evil demon from Snowhead and Link takes his form as well. There's a pretty darned sad sen off for him as well as you see him depart from a crowd of gorons admiring him as a hero.
Lastly we have the Zora, Mikau, who died trying to retrieve his (girlfriend?) Lulu’s eggs from pirates so she could sing again. Another heartbreaking send off is seen for Mikau as well as we see him playing the guitar and having a grand time with his band and Lulu.
As stated in the beginning, a lot of people think that Link himself may be dead in this game. But to me it’s more interesting to think about why death is just such a prevalent theme in the game in the first place. I'm not sure about this one myself, but here's the best thing I came up with.
To me, in many ways, Majora’s Mask feels like a goodbye to childhood and a loss of that identity or maybe even just a loss of innocence despite Link’s attempt to reconnect with it. Death is usually something children don’t have to deal with and yet Link has to deal with the possibility of his own death as well as the deaths of the aforementioned characters in the game. This concept of Link trying on different masks also brings to mind the idea of him trying on different identities and trying to find one that fits as well as he prepares for an adulthood without a mother figure to guide him.
Theme 3: Catharsis
Tying back into the idea that this is the most personal Zelda game ever, the way in which Link helps people in this game is on a really personal and individual level. This isn’t like some of the quests in the other games where someone asks you to find an item and they’ll give a prize. These are long, drawn out quests you do in order to address the social and psychological issues the people in clocktown are having in order to make them ultimately happy.
One of my personal favorite quests in the game is the postman’s. He’s an adult through-and-through. He’s obsessed with working to the point that, even though he wants to flee clocktown before the moon falls, he refuses because he’s such a slave to his job that he won’t do it unless it’s on his work schedule. You can find him on the third day clutching his head in misery unless you help him out.
It’s extremely cathartic to set this work-obsessed man free from both his job and clocktown as the moon is falling and you get to see him literally skip out of town, free of burdens. When I first played this game as a kiddo, I of course thought the postman was a weirdo and nuts for not leaving the town, but as an adult, I kind of thought to myself that that’s probably what Link himself thinks as well and that adult motives don’t always make sense to children and children don’t understand just how wrapped up in, and worked to death adults can get. I just feel like the postman is someone we can all relate to.
We also see catharsis plainly displayed in the main quest of the game. Particularly when Darmani begs you to heal his sorrows in any way you can. You end up playing the song of healing to him, and he can leave the physical world in peace before he becomes a mask, and then again when you play it for the Zora Mikau and you literally ease their pain as they die as they pass their last wishes on to you. Link plays the song of healing throughout the game and in the end and it isn’t hard to imagine that this whole journey for Link is something of a personal catharsis for himself as he searches for a new identity now that his hero of time mask is removed and kind of comes to term with the fact that his own childhood is ending.
The last shot in the game is an etching on a log of Link holding hands with Skull Kid with the four giants and Tael and Tatl in the background. In the end, I think this is a representation that both Skull Kid and Link got what they wanted out of this very personal journey; Skull Kid got his friends back, and Link came to terms with the fact that Navi won’t be coming back and left a memento of his childhood deep in the forest. The fact that Skull Kid is eternally a child and Link leaves him behind is fitting and is perhaps a physical representation of a goodbye to childhood and now he can come to terms with the loss of his old identity and continue searching for a new one on his own.
Majora's Mask is an extremely emotional journey and almost feels like it doesn't belong in the Zelda series just because it delves so deeply into more mature themes than the other games do. I would love for Nintendo to make another Zelda like this one one day that feels so personal and emotional.
Anyways! Tell me what Majora’s Mask means to y’all! Do you have theories of your own? What’s your favorite side quest in the game? Did you notice some themes in the game that I didn't?