Finding the horror- The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

To mark the release of the new Mega Beardo EP Ledjent of Zelda, The Horror Pages presents a review of the darkest entry in the beloved Legend of Zelda series. Read on for an analysis of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. 

It begins, appropriately enough, with a theft.

Chasing the suspect leads Link to a fall into the depths of the earth. He slams his head and loses consciousness.

Outside, the moon gazes down. The man in the moon has been ousted, replaced with an atrocity, its face a grinning rictus of death. It grows larger with each passing moment, filling the frame above.

It is falling from the sky.

A tall, gaunt figure leers. On his back rests a massive rucksack hung with masks. Grinning, he leans over and whispers… 

“You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?” —————————————————————————————————

The grinning moon.

The grinning moon.

The Legend of Zelda series usually aren’t the first games one would think of when the topic of horror games comes up. The straightforward fantasy games are family-friendly fare, and it’s unlikely the pig-headed antagonist Ganon would scare any but the youngest of gamers.

Majora’s Mask breaks with this tradition.

The masks in this game range from the macabre to the really macabre.

The masks in this game range from the macabre to the really macabre.

The plot of Majora’s Mask, which takes place immediately after the events of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, has Link being drawn into the hidden world of Termina, where the ‘Skull Kid’ has stolen the absurdly-powerful mask of Majora. The mask’s prior owner, the Happy Mask Salesman, explains that Majora was a cult deity and the use of its cursed mask is drawing Termina into an apocalypse- dragging down the moon. Dark stuff for a Legend of Zelda game to be sure, but the spookiness of the plot is amplified by the game’s art direction. This is easily one of the most stylized games in the Zelda series- even the introductory cutscene of Majora’s Mask is thick with unease. Link seems to hang lethargically, almost sickly,  in his saddle as Epona slowly trots through a sparse forest setting. The lighting of the scene is uneven, the trees stark in front of a washed-out sky that could be dawn or dusk. It sets a tone that continues throughout the game.

Link screams as a mask bonds to his face.

Link screams as a mask bonds to his face.

It is clear that if anything, Majora’s Mask is closer in spirit to Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link than Ocarina of Time, both in its willingness to diverge from the typical gameplay styles of the Zelda series and its exploration of adult themes. The new and primary mechanic of Majora’s Mask is its use of masks which, when donned, allow Link to change into the form of the creatures native to the world of Termina. Putting on a mask initiates a cutscene of Link placing the mask over his face and screaming as it bonds with his flesh, leaving the player with the unmistakable certainty that this transformation is painful for Link to undergo. Should the player select the wrong mask for the scenario or puzzle at hand requires Link to remove the mask and place the correct mask on his face, undergoing the transformative process once again, along with its associated screaming cutscene, essentially forcing the player to punish Link for his or her mistake in selecting the wrong mask. It’s difficult to escape the inferences inherent in this game mechanic; the player is seemingly performing an act of sadism every time he or she directs Link to put on one of the masks. It is worth noting that the cutscene can be skipped by pressing the X button, but the player still sees the moments of the cutscene that play out before the button has been pressed, leaving no doubt of what transpired.

Majora's Mask is full of dark imagery.

Majora’s Mask is full of dark imagery.

The Happy Mask Salesman is also interesting, particularly the implications inherent in his name. Is he happy to be selling masks, or is he a salesman of happy masks? Is he a seller of identity, or a seller of the ability to appear happy to the residents of doomed Termina? Later on in the game, when the statement is made that the moon will “(…)consume everything”, can it represent anything other than an avatar of darkness swallowing life into death?

The moon slams into Termina.

The moon slams into Termina.

The largest failing of the game is its control scheme. Few things break the immersion of a video game more quickly than poor controls. For example, in the Ice Palace segment of the game, one room requires Link to switch into his Goron form and roll across a short bridge, jumping a gap in the middle. Frozen statues along the walls blow icy wind along the bridge at intervals, requiring the player to time his or her roll across the chasm correctly to avoid being frozen by the breezes. The difficulty is that Link will roll in whatever direction the player leaves him facing when the roll animation begins, and since it is difficult to precisely aim Link in a certain direction, it becomes a simple matter to roll off the ledge and into the lava below. This is not an insta-lose proposition; the lava does not harm Link in his Goron form. Having to climb the ladder and reattempt the roll only to spiral off the bridge and back down to the bottom again quickly makes the experience an exercise in tedium rather than fun. The controls are particularly disappointing in light of the excellent, precise controls offered by its prior-generation predecessor, A Link to the Past as well as its Gamecube successor, Wind Waker. The control problems don’t break the game entirely, but they’re enough of an annoyance to merit the mention of the issue.

It’s worth mentioning the internet following that has built up around an ARG related to Majora’s Mask called Ben Drowned. If readers want to read up on the ARG I leave it to them to do so, but it’s interesting to consider that the horror elements of Majora’s Mask are so pronounced as to have inspired internet users to have created their own works of horror related to the game years after the game itself went out of print.

Link gazes into the darkness.

Link gazes into the darkness.

It’s easy to assume Majora’s Mask is an allegory for death, but this may be a misunderstanding. It seems that Majora’s Mask is at its core a metaphor for both the human internalization of the reality of death as an inevitability, and the impossible- but very human- struggle to overcome that inevitability.

On another note, if you are a Zelda fan, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t check out Mega Beardo’s new EP, Ledjent of Zelda. Combining the scorching, technical guitar work Ryan Postlethwait displayed on his prior release Belmont with the stomping, machine-gun percussion of Angel “Masikus” Hernandez, it’s the perfect compliment to an evening of saving Hyrule- or just staring into the grinning maw of an uncaring moon.

Playthrough for this review was done using the version of Majora’s Mask included in The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition for the Gamecube console.

Images in this article are low-res versions of imagery featured in advertising material for The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, specifically Japanese and American commercial advertising, and are used in compliance with applicable Fair Use law for the purposes of review. 

~ by Redgoateerob on March 19, 2013.

2 Responses to “Finding the horror- The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask”

  1. I rarely ever find articles that are genuinely fun to read. Get in there, read a few sentences to understand the main idea and get out. Your writing, sir, is superb.

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