There have been few games in The Legend of Zelda series to have inspired as much textual analysis as Majora’s Mask. Since its initial release in 2000, the creepy follow up to the critically celebrated Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has become a focus for speculation and thematic discussion in a way that no other entry in the series has. From its unfamiliar setting ‘Termina’ to its narrative centred on impending doom and loss, this offbeat entry in the beloved Nintendo franchise has inspired many long-term fans to write and blog about their own interpretations of the game. It is my firm belief that Majora’s Mask presents a game world – perhaps imagined by Link himself – that acts as a space for the exploration of Link’s own psyche. Although Link is constructed to be an empty vessel for the player to enact heroism through, there are compelling reasons to believe that aspects of Link’s character maybe be reflected in the narrative arcs of Majora’s Mask.
It’s not much of a stretch to argue that Majora’s Mask is a game that is largely about identity and persona. The mere fact that the game leans heavily into the premise of collecting different masks in order to assume different roles and be granted different social access in this new world speaks strongly to this idea. Who you are perceived to be and how you look in this game matters a lot, despite the fact that this mechanic relies entirely on deception. Much of the game is about lying to others and getting away with it – reaping rewards and accepting the praise that, for the most part, was meant for someone else. Majora’s Mask is a game about being a fraud.
“Your true face… What kind of… face is it? I wonder… The face under the mask… Is that… your true face?”
– Child wearing Twinmold’s mask
For the benefit of this argument we need to look back at the events of Ocarina of Time and look at how they lead into the beginning of Majora’s Mask. In Ocarina of Time, Link begins the game as a child who travels into the future in order to stop Ganondorf from gaining the power of the gods and spreading evil across Hyrule. Once Ganondorf is defeated, Zelda sends Link back to his original time so he can prevent the mistakes that lead to Ganondorf’s uprising in the first place. What you should notice here is the idea that there now exist two different timelines for the series – one where Link grew up to become the Hero of Time who defeats a great evil in battle, and another where Link pre-emptively stops the evil and never goes on the ‘heroes journey’ that was meant to make him a legend.
According to Hyrule Historia (Nintendo’s official encyclopaedia on the Zelda franchise) Majora’s Mask is set in this timeline where Link never became the hero. In the establishing moments of the game, the prologue states:
“Done with the battles he once waged across time, he embarked on a journey. A secret and personal journey…”
Which, to bring things around to my original point, sets up Majora’s Mask as a game being about Link, in a very personal way. But what could this game be saying about the ways in which Link sees himself?
I think largely what Majora’s Mask presents to us is a journey of Link coming to terms with the Legend and the Hero that – in this timeline – he was never able to become. It’s worth remembering at this point that this is the very same Link from Ocarina of Time. So although the events from Ocarina of Time did not occur in the timeline for this game, it’s fair to say that Link did experience them and remembers them. Otherwise he would have been unable to pre-empt the rise of Ganondorf. So this version of Link – who had just jumped back and forth through time from childhood to adulthood and back again – would have memories of things that not only haven’t happened yet, but now never will. I can only imagine how hazy, uncertain, and dreamlike those memories must be to a young child – who saved a world and forged bonds with characters that literally exist in a different time and place. It is a version of Link that has been robbed of so much of who he is and who he was. To go back to the theme of masks–he has been robbed of his identity.
Because of the game’s reliance on character models recycled from Ocarina of Time, everything and everyone who populates Termina feels eerily familiar. They look the same but have different names, and whilst they act in a way that is similar to the way they are in Ocarina of Time there is almost always a strange, off kilter twist to them that reveals itself. Could this be Link’s attempt to re-explore his relationships with the people he once saved in Hyrule? Could their different and often more sinister behaviours in Majora’s Mask be a sign of Link doubting how much he really knew about these people? Is he coming to terms with the friendships he had to abandon for the sake of becoming a hero that no-one would remember?
“Your friends… What kind of… people are they? I wonder… Do these people… think of you… as a friend?”
– Child wearing Odolwa’s mask
It’s interesting to bear these questions in mind when you examine the Skull Kid – the primary antagonist of Majora’s Mask. What sets Skull Kid apart from other Zelda villains is how he is presented sympathetically as a lonely boy, without friends, who suddenly came to possess huge power that changed both himself, and his relationship with the world in which he lived. The same thing can be said of child Link in Ocarina of Time, the difference being that Skull Kid uses this power to bring the threat of impending annihilation to the world of Termina rather than apply it for good. If you take it for granted at this point that Termina is likely to be an imagined world in Link’s head, it seems fitting that Skull Kid represents the friendlessness that Link must now come to terms with. What’s also interesting is the way that Termina is in a constant state of near destruction because of the Skull Kid. A creepy moon glares down at the world of Termina – due to crash into the world in three days’ time. It is a threat that only Link, who can already travel through time, can prevent. Has Link imagined this world and its imminent destruction as a way for him to fulfil the role of hero that he had been denied? If so, it’s fitting that there are many aspects of Link that are reflected in Skull Kid. Because if Link created this world in order to save it and be a hero, then is he not also the villain in this world who is orchestrating the threat?
“What makes you happy? I wonder…what makes you happy…does it make…others happy, too?”
– Child wearing Goht’s mask
Speaking of characters that are a reflection of Link, let’s talk about Tingle. Tingle is an interesting character for a number of reasons, especially given that he is one of the very few ‘brand new’ characters in the game. In other words, he isn’t a borrowed Ocarina of Time model and therefore has no doppelganger from the previous game.
Or does he?
What’s notable about Tingle is that he clearly has a Peter Pan complex. He states that he is 35 years old in game and despite all evidence to the contrary, he believes himself to be a ‘forest fairy’ like Link. What’s interesting about this is that, in Termina, there are no forest fairies analogous with the Kokiri children in Ocarina of Time. So how would Tingle, who dresses in an ill-fitting green bodysuit (similar to Link’s), know about forest fairies? What’s also interesting here is that Link grew up with the Kokiri thinking he was one of them (a child that never grows up), but suddenly learns that he was a adopted into the community as a baby to keep him safe.
So is Tingle a reflection on how Link sees himself, a confused and delusional imposter? A strange man-child trapped in a body that no longer feels appropriate for him (remembering that Link just turned back into a child after becoming an adult)? How easy it must be – now that the kingdom he saved is locked away in some strange, foreign place – for Link to look back on the hero he once was and question it. Was he loved or laughed at? Was he a hero or a fool?
“The right thing…what is it? I wonder…if you do the right thing…does it really make…everybody…happy?”
– Child wearing Gyorg’s mask
So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Have I missed anything? I would love to hear your thoughts on what this strange, offbeat Zelda game means to you.