‘Majora’s Mask’: A somber classic

Link is traveling through the Lost Woods until a mysterious Skull Kid kidnaps his horse, Epona. After giving chase, Link meets with a terrible fate: He falls down a chasm into a mysterious land and is turned into a wooden Deku Scrub. He is tasked with finding a cursed mask all in the span in three days before the moon crashes into the Earth.

It sounds like an odd premise to those unfamiliar with it, but “The Legend of Zelda” fans are instantly at home. It’s been almost 15 years since “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask” released on the Nintendo 64, and while many advances have been made in the “Zelda” series since then, it remains exactly what it still needs to be: a somber exploration of some of the most mature themes video gaming has ever tackled.

On the outset, the game is an adventure very similar to its predecessor, “Ocarina of Time.” The structure is similar, and many of the character models are ripped wholesale from it. It feels almost like an expansion pack to “Ocarina” — many today would perhaps call it a strange piece of story-based downloadable content.

It’s easy to admit that “Ocarina,” as lauded as it is among game enthusiasts, isn’t the best game mechanically. But what “Majora’s Mask” does with its characters is crucial. It lends the experience a sense of uncanniness, a sense of the unreal. It’s harder to get sucked into this world because it’s filled with details that are too familiar — almost like a bad dream.

However, it uses this surrealism to explore concepts that games at the time — or even today — haven’t dared to explore, concepts like loss. Grief. Inevitability.

One of the mechanics that “Majora’s Mask” introduced was a timer. As mentioned before, the moon will crash in three days, and after main character Link wraps up whatever he does in that time, he must play a tune on his ocarina and travel back to the first day. Players repeat this almost like a fantasy version of “Groundhog Day,” and the only things that Link can bring with him to the first day are main story items, health upgrades and the like. Even the bosses resurrect themselves on the time skip. The problems Link solves are only solved for as long as he can wait before playing the “Song of Time” again.

This makes the game feel daunting, but deliberately so. The crushing nature of time only reinforces the overall themes of sadness and grief.

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If it sounds like a dark game, it is. But it resonates with the human spirit. The characters, as uncanny as they are, feel human because they deal with deep, emotional problems that everyone has dealt with. “Ocarina” was a “Zelda” game that was mechanically flawed. “Majora” realized that it was mechanically flawed, and instead of fixing the flaws, it used them to create something meaningful. That is what makes “Majora” powerful, and now that it’s available on 3DS, that is why you should play it — be it for the first time, or for the umpteenth time.