Meï needs rest.

The World that ends in Three Days

You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you ?

God this is gonna be a long one. Feel free to take breaks while reading this, really.

Lights a candle.

Let's travel a bit back, shall we ?

This is a story that begins on Christmas 2001, with a 4-year old Meï, whose gaming experience amounts to Super Mario 64, Zelda Ocarina of Time, and getting bonked by the first thug in Double Dragon for the NES. But under the tree was the box of a game that came out around a year before:

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.

The game technically wasn't even mine. At this point, it was still my mother's hobby and I was mostly watching her play. As young as I was, reading was still out of my reach, so pretty much all my comprehension of the game came out of my mom's reading the dialogue out to me while she was playing. I was pretty fascinated by the whole thing. So many strange creatures that felt similar but also different to the ones I saw when playing bits of Ocarina of Time.
There was this big city, Clock Town, that felt so much fleshed out and livelier than the Castle Town of Ocarina of Time. You could see NPCs moving at their own pace between the different areas, the postman doing his daily routine from mailbox to mailbox...

It felt so alive.

To be perfectly honest, my memories of back then are somewhat foggy nowadays, but those are a few the feelings that stayed clear and strong. I really felt a whole city was living in Majora's Mask. It wasn't just buildings and NPCs repeating their lines. They moved, they changed their actions as the days passed... For a game that came out in 2000, I do think it was a very impressive show.

I do believe a tangent about the genesis of this game isn't a bad idea. I'll try to not go too much in-depth for my readers not necessarily used to video games!

Majora's Mask is a weird piece of art. At first, after the very clear success of the previous game, Ocarina of Time, Shigeru Miyamoto, dad of both the Zelda and Mario series, felt there was more that could be done with the engine. Sure, the game was excellent and praised unanimously by the video game press at the time, but he felt like there was more to do.

But if more had to be done, it nonetheless had to be done fast. This new game won't be completely original, it will be be a modification of Ocarina of Time, and it will be done with the intent of supporting 64DD, the disk drive addon for the N64. That made a complete and absolute flop and didn't even came out outside of Japan as far as I know. Oops.

This project was known as Ura Zelda, but here in the occident, it became what's known as Master Quest, an harder version of Ocarina of Time with remixed dungeons that was available in some GameCube compilations, with a few ports later on. I'm not saying Master Quest is bad (it isn't!), but it certainly isn't my focus here. My focus is a guy in Miyamoto's team.

His name? Eiji Aonuma.
Aonuma wasn't really vibing with the whole concept of recycling stuff for Ura/MQ. To a point he even began working in secret on some completely original assets and dungeons, to later present them to the producer, Shigeru Miyamoto. Look, sir, we could do so much more with a true sequel, shouldn't we strive for more, or something like that~

Bet. Miyamoto just.. Handed the development of this new original game to Aonuma. As a challenge. Can you really make this in a year ? Feel free to try.

Well, a year is short, so I won't keep the suspens or anything: It took a bit more than that. Around two years, give or take. But nonetheless, it was here. What was first announced as Zelda Gaiden in June 1999 became what we today know as Majora's Mask and came out in the last stretch of 2000. In a way, it was a baton pass, a passing on the flame from Miyamoto to Aonuma as the big figure behind Zelda. While Miyamoto kept having some implication in the next Zelda games, Aonuma definitely was the thinking head of the series from this point onwards. In that way, the heritage of Majora's Mask still shows today.

But let's get back to young Meï.

Not that the story back then goes for much longer, sadly. At the time, my mother wasn't able to spend too much time to video games, as she was single handedly handling the family farm. The free time she had to play was small, but every single occasion was a bonding time for the both of us. At some point, she even printed out a walkthrough from french website (Back then, it was an honestly great website. Can't even call it a shadow of what it once was, rofl!).

I very vividly remember her progress. We were as far as the third big dungeon, and I think it took about 6 months. I remember us talking during dinners about what we had to do (Or at least she was telling me her ideas and I was just listening, given I didn't have much initiative back then!), what our objectives were..

You may not know it if you never played or saw much gameplay of Majora's Mask, but the game has a very important gameplay mechanic: The clock. It's always, always ticking. This meant you had to stuff as much stuff as you could in your sessions, as at some point, the time loop reseted, and a lot of progress was gone just like that. Preparation was key!

And I wanted to help while she was gone. So, from my (almost!) 5 years, I booted up the Nintendo 64, the TV, and...

Deleted her save.

Wouldn't know better, I couldn't read. I still feel a lot of guilt over it to this day. She was heartbroken because of all the progress she had made, but couldn't even get angry at me.

And yet, more than two decades later, I still am very angry at myself, for she never picked the game up again. Or any other game for that matter.

Game over.

And so the sun rises on the dawn of the Second Day, and of the second part of this essay.

We left lil' Meï in the end of summer 2001, and went forward a good decade later. The game left a bad taste in my childhood, to be honest. While I wanted to love it, my mind always reminded me this was the game that broke the video game bonding times I had with my mom when I was younger. I did try to play it multiple times, but I never went too far.

But all this changed in 2015 when Nintendo, following their Ocarina of Time remake on 3DS, released Majora's Mask 3D. I couldn't not get my hands on the game and-

I didn't play it much. Again.

Don't get me wrong, this was a very impressive remake, with a bit of a different graphical style that did support its universe as well as the original.. But some changes I felt were weird, and I still suffered from the whole guilt thing. I left the game again, for a few more years.

Until September of 2019, to be exact. At this point, I did see multiple speedruns of Majora's Mask, I saw people playing through the game, but I still had to do a real run myself, one where I would get to the end of it. And what helped me was a mod for Majora's Mask 3D called Restoration Project. This is something I will develop in further articles, no doubt, but I am a huge fan of fan content. I could talk about mods and fangames for days, honestly. And I will probably in the future! But for now let's just get back to Restoration Project. The whole shtick there was to restore what felt lacking in MM3D compared to the original game, make the game playable without the Touch Screen, and with its HD HUD side mod, pull up stuff on the top screen so you can almost completely forget about the bottom screen when playing the game through emulation.

And it was absolutely dope, not gonna lie. Add some HD Textures to that, (and in 2024, a reorchestrated soundtrack) to the mix, and you get an incredible result.

And that's when it sticked. Majora's Mask was a masterpiece. It felt every single decision made by the developers was right. I felt like the Meï 18 years before who was absolutely enchanted by the life sweating out from Clock Town and its surroundings. I had a blast discovering the habits of very single NPC, trying to solve their issues...

I stopped a thug from stealing a old lady's bag.
I gave some food to a stranded Goron.
I won a race against beavers.
I gave her voice back to the Zora singer.
I played music in a VIP-exclusive bar.
I won another race, against Gorons this time!
I stopped Them.
I made their marriage possible.

And it was great.

But I can't just stop there, can't I? Sure, the game was great, but how comes it went up to take a spot in the *Big 5* games of all times in my silly little life?

Majora's Mask is an absolute anomaly for the Zelda franchise as a whole. It's probably one of the reason the game divides so much, not unlike Zelda II: Adventure of Link back on the NES. Made in a short time, and trying things a lot more differently from the usual entries. No Ganon and Zelda here, the former doesn't appear at all, and the latter just makes a small appearance in a flashback at most. The game develops an entirely new region, Termina, completely distinct from the usual iterations of Hyrule.

The game completely embraces its weird setting. As it was admitted later on by the development team, they had a clear wish to create something more mature, that could particularly attracting to adults. The intent isn't really to make the whole thing scary as much as it is making it weird.

Admittedly in an interview from 2011, part of the inspiration of the disturbing NPCs of Majora's Mask, although indirect, comes from the inhabitants of Twin Peaks (A TV series my S/O won't ever shut up about!). The cutscenes help a lot to show that. The Happy Mask Salesman never moves in cutscenes, despite him clearly moving places in an instant between two shots, for example. We get to see a few new characters like Tingle, but most of the inhabitants of Termina are actually using the same assets of the ones from Ocarina of Time's Hyrule. While it was definitely a good way to save on development cost and time, it added to the effect of weirdness for returning players, that met with similar yet completely different characters.

Majora's Mask tries to take on themes that the saga never really touched on, that video games themselves didn't really try to work with. Majora's Mask is a story about death, the concept of happiness, about suffering and its consequences. It's a game about choices, about people trying to live in the moment despite the disaster coming for them. It's a game about loneliness.

It's a game about failure. About getting back up.

The world is ending, and you're not going to stop it. Not yet at least. The moon will fall, and you'll have to make the ultimate choice. All the people you helped ? It will be for nothing. The people who remember you ? Forget them as much as they forgot you. You're back to square one, Dawn of the First Day, Link.

In a way, this is very frustrating, but in most others, this feels good to get through the loops, and little by little understand how you're supposed to help more people, how the things you manage to retain between each loop and your newfound knowledge opens new ways for you to accomplish your duties.

From my first complete playthrough in 2019 to now, I played Majora's Mask multiple times, and one of my favorite things to do before finishing the game is a "perfect run". With all I got and all I learnt, I work towards helping as much people and places as I can before going to the Final Boss. Not only am I saving the world, I am also making said world better.

Dawn of a New Day.

I can't really end a write-up about Majora's Mask without talking a bit more about how fans, me somewhat included, see the game, and made we made of it.

As I said earlier, Majora's Mask doesn't shy from telling us about death, about grief, and about what stays when you go. All three main transformation masks Link uses through the game host the soul of a deceased character. Two of those you even meet in some way or another, characters even recognizing you as them. The third one isn't clear at first, but it does make sense if you start digging just a bit, and I'll just say that losing your own son must be one of the most brutal feelings in the world. I'm sorry, my friend.

The game shows us a tourmented Link in the early cutscenes. The game directly follows Ocarina of Time, and it is at the very least my own vision that the lad is feeling guilt over all that happened. While he was just trying to help, he was actually the one to unseal evil when taking the Master Sword out of its pedestal. The future he went through happened at least partly because of him.

A lot of players, me included, see a bit of the symbolisms behind the Kübler-Ross model with the five stages of grief. Clock Town is full of denial, of people unable to accept the upcoming disaster, choosing to close their eyes and getting ready for a festival that will never happen. Meanwhile, the Deku Palace and its ruler are full of anger, the Goron mountain has a character who's ready to bargain anything for another chance at making things right, The Great Bay is home of a mother who lost her children and is at the claws of depression, closing herself into mutism as a simple way to cope...
And Ikana is just acceptation. A desolate land with little to no living beings, where the dead themselves accepted and embraced their condition.

Eiji Aonuma did say they never intended to provide a precise and unique feeling to each area, so this is apparently all but a coincidence, but I nonetheless really live this vision of this world and it's cardinal points.

What else did I have to talk about...

Oh, yeah. Masks.
Masks are a big part of Majora's Mask. You collect like two dozens of those through the game. I can't express how much I love the whole thematic of masks that this game offers. If you look at humanity through history, masks have been part of our cultures for entire milleniums. To beautify yourself, to have fun, scare people.. They're an essential part of culture if you ask me.

And in Majora's Mask, they're for me associated to the concept of persona. A persona is supposed to be like.. The social archetype of a person. Each individual has their own, and you may even use different personas in different groups, be it only between like your professional context and your different friends groups. Your persona isn't you, it is what others and even yourself believe you are or should be.
Masks in Majora's Mask all offer something different. Some characters will react differently to specific masks. Some masks will change the pose Link adopts. Others will give him some specific moves to replace its usual toolkit... And some of them completely change his appearance, specie, its whole identity really. Link's Masks allow him to better understand his environment, and ultimately other people.

God I love this game.

I talked with this again even yesterday with my best friend, but he and I are alike in the sense that we both hate being pushed by time constraints in games. He's probably even worse than me on that, but FTL: Faster than Light rebel fleet following you closely and forcing you to keep going fast and forward is a perfect example of a time constraint we try to deactivate when we play.

And yet, Majora's Mask timer is not an issue for me. If anything it's a big part of what makes me love the game. The whole concept of time loop is huge for me. It allows for so much more narrative value in ways that can't be exploited by any other situations. Shout-out to my friend Viyers who's doing a TTRPG Campaign using Majora's Mask as its base, and giving players completely new situation to work with. Time loops are hard to work with, especially with volatile players in an environment as open as a Pen-and-paper Role-playing game. Good luck, mate.

I don't necessarily want to take much time on it, but I feel like I should give at least a small shout out to Jadusable. If you don't know the guy, you may know his work, as he is the person behind the Ben Drowned Creepypasta, which then through time became a whole Alternate Reality Game, or ARG. I followed the thing from afar at the time, but seeing people build things on top of Majora's Mask was fascinating to me.
The project has ended now, despite not really getting the end it deserved, but it's nonetheless an important piece of the history around this game ; and worth reading a wiki or two, if you're into the vibe.

And that's a wrap, I think. If I forgot things and edit this, you will see a whole bunch of funny "EDIT: I fucked up" here, eheh.

I can't express how much I love Majora's Mask. A truly fascinating piece of video game history, and a masterpiece of a video game. I don't think it's too far-fetched to say that it partly made me be who I am.

I recommend it to anyone. You can play the original game on the Switch N64 thingy as long as you have a online subscription, or you can adopt more yarr-y methods and play the 3D Remake with Restoration Project, or even recently play the game natively on PC through Wiseguy's N64 Recompilation Project.

Oh, and... I'm no musician, and can't play the Song of Healing, but after decades, my mother is slowly picking video games back up. Majora's Mask is on her roadmap but we have quite a few other games to try to play before that. My family as a whole and my little sister went through a lot recently, so it took time, but I hope we get to spend more time together enjoying games.

Thanks for reading! ♥

Official artwork from the remake of Majora's Mask for the 3DS. I love this game aaaaa-

#essay #video-games