Majora’s Mask: The Essence of the Hero

“You…Do you know much about the moon? It’s just that, lately, I think the moon has been getting bigger. I couldn’t help but notice it. What do you think?”

From the moment you step into Termina, the great falling Moon looms overhead, its red eyes glaring down at the world below. As it comes nearer, all the earth quivers, a reminder to the people of the ever-present danger. If you don’t succeed in your mission to stop Skull Kid and recover Majora’s Mask, that moon is going to fall, crushing the world of Termina in a fiery wrath.

Only you have the power to escape thanks to the protection of the goddess of time. But as everything starts over and you find yourself back at the foot of the Clock Tower, you can’t help but wonder if the world you left behind in the process was spared, or left to its demise at the hands of that wicked Moon.

This is what’s at stake in Majora’s Mask. If you can’t stop the power of the mask in three days, the world will be destroyed.

Saving the World

Everywhere you turn bears reminders of the threat that hangs over you.

Many of the city-folk in Clock Town talk about fleeing to safety if the Moon gets too close – and most of these actually do inevitably wind up vacating the city in the final hours. Even as they talk of hiding in safety, some whisper that there may be no refuge from the crushing, menacing weight of that terror from the sky.

It looks like this is it for this town, you know. You saw the moon, didn’t you? It’s gotten so huge. All the townsfolk have fled. You should flee, too. Far away…

“But in the letter it said he definitely would come back…”

“Come back to what?? Won’t this town be crushed beneath the moon the morning after tomorrow? Forget about that letter. For now, just try to survive.”

Tensions are high. The Carnival promoters engage in constant debate with the local soldiers about whether the moon will actually fall. For the promoters, all this talk of the end drawing near is just fear-mongering, a disruption to the status quo.; but for the protectors of the peace, the danger is all too real, and the safety of the people dwells in the forefront of their minds.

Is the danger really worth considering or are the people’s fears unfounded?

The sensei of the swordsman’s school boasts that he will cut the Moon in two with his sword, scoffing at the panic, encouraging everyone to come train with him so as to survive the coming apocalypse. When night falls on the third day, the sensei is nowhere to be seen. Intrude into the storeroom at the rear of his dojo and you’ll find him hiding there, cowering helplessly.

Even outside the town, the object of your quest and the cost of failure are seen and felt everywhere. No matter where you run, the Moon hangs high in the sky, its eye fixed on Termina, looming closer with each passing hour. Meanwhile, the emblem of Majora’s Mask watches you from around every corner, adorning all sorts of fixtures across the land from stone blocks to ancient pillars to temple entryways.

Your only clue to putting an end to the danger is a cryptic hint from a tiny fairy: “Swamp. Mountain. Ocean. Valley. The four who are there… bring them here.”

With the fate of the world in your hands, that’s not much to go by.

Making People Happy

Balanced against your task of changing the fate of the doomed world are opportunities to intervene in the suffering of others.

A mother searching for her missing son. A happy couple whose wedding plans have been interrupted. A grumpy old circus troupe headman who has forgotten why he got into show business in the first place. A young girl who just wants to save her cows from the imminent alien invasion.

Helping them takes valuable time away from your real quest – and on top of that, you can’t help everyone – but… It feels good, doesn’t it? Making people happy…

You… What makes you…happy? I wonder… What makes you happy… Does it make…others happy, too? The right thing…What is it? I wonder… If you do the right thing… Does it really make… everybody…happy?

Bring back the mother’s lost son. Reunite the separated couple. Make the circus leader cry. Fend off the alien attack to rescue the ranch.

Can you do all that and save the world?

The Essence of the Hero

The delicate balance between saving the world and making the people happy is at the very heart of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. No other game in the franchise has successfully replicated the sense of urgency in the hero’s quest to defeat evil, nor the intricacy and sense of investment in helping out the various townspeople with their troubles.

Yet these two themes are at the very heart of what it means to be a hero.

I believe that one of the reasons why Majora’s Mask has become so popular in recent years is that it captures this “essence of the hero” extremely well. Players like feeling as though their actions have weight and meaning and purpose, and the world of Termina delivers with its impending doom and its cacophony of troubled denizens.

While many previously saw the three-day system as an unnecessary burden, they now see it as an asset, a tool for fostering that sense of heroic accomplishment and a deep connection to the game world. Being able to turn back time gives them have the freedom to pursue whichever path suits them. They can put on the essence of the epic hero who will deliver the world from evil, or they can don the essence of the modest hero who restores smiles to the people’s faces – they can even try to juggle both at once. It’s just like the transformation masks Link collects over the course of his journey: the one you put on will change you, but which mask you choose to wear is up to you.

Will the franchise ever be able to recapture that “essence of the hero” for future generations of players? I certainly hope so, but it’s going to require that Nintendo take the gloves off and give players a dangerous and deep world, full of darkness and of a broken people desperately looking for light.

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  • videogamefan


    • WillDaBeast

      nice ur second
      its such an acomplishment!

  • videogamefan

    there needs to be a sequel to Majora’s Mask! I know I will get it! Who is with me?

    • diabloaura

      MM is my favorite zelda game. As much as people say it isn’t dark… it is. As you make everybody happy (except the gorman Bros.) ,they all just die in the end

      • JuicieJ

        No they don’t. Didn’t you watch the credits? You wind up making everbody happy and healing the wounds on the land that were prevalent as you entered. Dark would be seeing destruction constantly happening throughout the game without us being able to do anything. But that’s not what happened.

        • diabloaura

          It takes many cycles to complete the game. It took me 70 to 100% it on my first run through imagine Anju and Kaife holding each other as they wait to die 70 times.

    • rickdeath

      yes a sequel to majora’s mask would be awesome!!!

  • videogamefan


    • Person

      I don’t think there sound be. Majora’s Mask was such an amazing game, and it ended so perfectly that making a sequel would just ruin it, in my opinion. Besides, how much abuse do you want to put this kid through?? He does all of it, then is forced to jumo forward in time 7 years, has to save the world, then goes back and has to repeat the same three days over and over again to save ANOTHER world, and you want him to do MORE!? ^.^ So I don’t think there should be a sequel.

      • me

        Look at it this way, the link from alttp has been through 4 games according to the Hyrule historia. I’m sure OoT link can suffer more than he did.

  • videogamefan

    I’am so alone…

    • Adam Junichi Kopp

      I’m in need of a sequel to say the truth. I mean, I have the whole plot in my head! Trust me, your not alone :)

  • videogamefan

    Goddesses give me strength!

  • MadE Gemtree

    The whole turn back time thing is the reason i spend the first 3-day cycle after getting back the ocarina to gain as many masks as i can before proceeding to the swamp. This includes the bunny hood.

  • Roy

    Outstanding article! MM is my favorite game and what you just wrote made me feel so excited because it gave me a reason to not just play a game just to beat it but to also understand the achievements and fears everyone goes thru during your time in the game. Thank you.

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  • lizalfos

    Everything about this game is pure genius. After almost 15 years, I’m, still astounded by how well they were able to incorporate npc’s into the game, and make the player actually want to get involved with them. And it was only doable because of the three day system that allows the player to learn the npc’s stories and schedules. The three day system was also pivotal in creating the sense of urgency relating to the main story, as well. It really was genius.

  • Dathen

    Great read Lex. I feel Skyward Sword made an attempt to duplicate the Clock Town style of citizens with their individual issues within Skyloft’s gratitude crystals as a sort of Bombers Notebook, but it came across as quite forced. What I think was lacking was the element of time.

    Gaming has progressed through 2D to 3D, but not readily to the fourth dimension, namely time. Majora’s Mask’s strength, I think, came not only from this focus on individual NPCs, but the operation of time making them more humanly relatable.

    The finite time frame imposed by Majora’s Mask made the sidequests not merely more urgent, but more emotive as people revealed their true selves, their true struggles, in their final days and hours.

    I’d like to say that games should incorporate time moreso, but without something like Majora’s repeating three-day cycle, and just one time continuum, there’s the problem of too much players miss and cannot go back to; probably making gaming a little too real. Hopefully there’s a balance to be found however.

    It stands as as testament to the game that 14 years later the feeling it invoked has yet to be effectively duplicated, and it remains uniquely relevant because it is alone in that. Although I would argue a Final Fantasy X-2 style game, divided in chapters, allows a sort of perceived time, it is not on Majora’s scope of impact.

  • Erick Gonzalez

    too bad link is already dead in Majoras mask

    • chocobo9

      Game theory?