Sometimes, it’s hard growing old. Bills pile up, joints creak, and the world just doesn’t seem to be capable of looking after itself. Looking on social media, it’s not hard to find sentiments along the lines of “I don’t know how to adult” or #takemebacktoneverland, with people pining for a simpler time, when all you had to worry about was whether or not the Very Hungry Caterpillar was going to recover from its stomach ache (spoiler alert: it does). This is especially true for 90’s kids like me, for many of whom the Nintendo 64 was a huge part of our lives growing up. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, known for being one of the darker entries in the Zelda series, sees a young Link being thrust into a world due to be destroyed by the falling moon in three days, and the characters in-game react to the crisis in different ways. Given the monumental threat facing the world, it’s unsurprising to see that the majority of Termina’s adult population is trying to keep a stiff upper lip and go about their lives in their final days. But in this case, hope comes from an unlikely source…
Ocarina of Time’s storyline had a storybook quality to it, where the basic story beats and problems faced by the characters were all rooted in fantasy (“An evil man has cursed our tree! A dragon is going to eat everyone! Get me some eyeball frogs so I can make eyedrops for a giant!”). The game essentially played out as a fairytale, albeit a dark one. By contrast, while Majora’s Mask still has fantasy qualities to it, the characters deal with more realistic and adult problems. Anju is searching for her missing fiancée and is worried that he might be having an affair. The mayor of Clock Town is stuck in an endless meeting, a problem many adult players can probably empathise with. The band members in Zora’s Concert Hall clash with each other over creative differences; the uptight keyboard player thinks the bassist is trying to one-up him, while the laid-back drummer is trying to keep his head down. There’s even a sidequest where an old lady gets mugged. All of this serves to drag the game away from fantasy, giving Termina the impression of a world in line with our own.
As the adults struggle to deal with their dilemmas, you get the sense that many of them are simply lost, or lacking the perspective that they need to find a solution. A prime example is Grog, the farmhand at Romani Ranch, who is despondent and depressed with his miserable life, and only wants to see his prized chicks grow into roosters before he dies. Elsewhere, the Gorons have tried everything they can think of to get their prince to stop crying, and are reduced to covering their ears to block the noise. When the Deku Princess is kidnapped, the King launches into a blustering rampage, imprisoning an innocent monkey on the flimsiest of charges rather than actually doing something productive to find his daughter. It’s hard to blame the people for having defeatist attitudes, considering that the state of the world would have worn them down to a point where their own problems can seem unsolvable. But while the people of Termina are at least aware of their problems, not much is being done to solve them. That is, until Link arrives.
In a sense, a child’s narrower and more optimistic worldview results in them perceiving problems in a more straightforward and simplistic way, which results in them discovering solutions that elude their adult counterparts. Many of the solutions that Link finds to sidequests in this game come across as simple gestures that speak of an earnest, childish desire to simply help where help is needed. When Gorman is in a drunken stupor over the fact that his troupe’s act at the carnival was cancelled, Link snaps him out of it by playing the song that got him into show business in the first place. In the aforementioned endless meeting in the mayor’s office, where the carpenters and town guards are bickering over whether the carnival should go ahead, Link breaks up the meeting by wearing the Couple’s Mask to remind them of their loved ones. And to stop the Goron prince crying, Link plays him a lullaby. Where the adults see only their own inescapable dilemmas, Link only sees opportunities to help people in need.
And Link isn’t the only one; if you take a closer look, the majority of the proactive players in the plot turn out to be children. The Bombers Secret Society of Justice, which dedicates itself to solving problems around town, is made up entirely of youngsters. When the Deku Princess finds out that the King is torturing the monkey suspected of kidnapping her, she immediately takes charge of the situation, bouncing on his chest and angrily demanding that the monkey be released. Quite literally seconds after they are born, Lulu’s Zora tadpoles teach you the melody you need to get into Great Bay Temple and restore the oceans. And when alien ghosts attack her ranch, Romani defends it all on her own when Cremia doesn’t believe her warnings. Just like Link, Termina’s youth take up the slack when the adults are paralysed in the only way they know how; simple, well-meaning and ultimately decisive action that ends up winning the day.
It’s saddening, but perhaps only appropriate, that the cynicism and despondence that comes with adulthood eventually ends up applying to Link himself. This same Link ends up becoming the Hero’s Shade, a bitter and regretful spirit, who finds purpose by teaching sword techniques to the Link who stars in Twilight Princess. Indeed, given that Majora’s Mask came out sixteen years ago, the gamers who were in its target audience at the time are adults now, growing into an era of increasing uncertainty in terms of financial stability, housing affordability, and the environment. It’s perhaps appropriate then that this game was recently re-released on the 3DS, bringing the game’s story and themes to a whole new generation of fans. Part of what makes Majora’s Mask so great is that the story leaves itself open to a whole variety of interpretations, but in my mind, this is a story about how childish perspectives, unburdened by cynicism and regret, can end up making all the difference in the world.
2 – http://zelda.wikia.com/wiki/South_Clock_Town
4 – Screenshot taken from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKlOzo1sQ7M