I was reminded recently how Majora’s Mask, a game from 2000, is my favorite Zelda story, if not necessarily my favorite Zelda game. Part of this is certainly nostalgia: I have memories trading off at a friend’s house on the road to Snowhead before my parents let us have console games. But there’s more to it than that.
(Content warnings for discussion of Recent Events as well as minor spoilers for Majora’s Mask).
Majora’s Mask has slowly become one of my favorite Zelda games, not for its gameplay but for the richness of its stories. Unlike all the other games, Link (the protagonist) is not really the hero, or even a hero. The game is bound to a three-day cycle that you have to repeat over and over again to progress forward; the people and the world are eerie parallels of the previous game in the series; the side quests are all accomplished by solving people’s problems, usually emotional troubles. Forgiveness and redemption are themes that pop up again and again. And there are stories everywhere.
Lots of games have the hero attempting to stop an apocalyptic event, but few have that event actually happen if you don’t take action. Lots of games have the general populace unaware that there’s an apocalypse coming, but few have such blatant willful ignorance when the evidence is literally hanging over everyone’s heads. And lots of games have the hero treated just like everybody else, but the whole premise of Majora’s Mask is that Link saved the world and only he and Zelda and Navi know, and in Termina it’s just him. Link, a silent protagonist with little personality of his own…is lonely.
And it turns out that a large portion of the mainline and side stories is about loneliness, and loss, and regret. Sometimes the stories end in happiness, but other times it’s closure. (There’s a theory that the overall game was loosely designed around the “stages of grief”.) This, too, has been done elsewhere, but doing it in an adventure game without it being heavyhanded, without telling the player that that’s what’s happening, is a risk, and I commend the writers for it.
One of the reasons Majora’s Mask works so well is because it’s a sequel, and an alternate universe. Link is already a hero, even if no one knows, but in Termina there’s no Zelda, no Ganondorf, no hidden Triforce. In Termina, Link is just a kid with a sword, meeting echoes of people he already knew. He, and we, can’t help comparing them to their counterparts in Hyrule, but they’re just going about their own lives. You can’t get this effect without being an AU, and making it a sequel makes it true in-game as well.
Due to Recent Events I’ve been thinking again about the Clock Town residents, the ones who alternate between panic and denial, and the ones who don’t seem to even know there’s an apocalypse impending. At the time it seemed so foolish to go on instead of trying to evacuate, even if the outside world is dangerous. But now I feel like I get it a little more. When there’s nothing you, personally, can do about a situation…what should you do? Can I blame people for reaching for what they’ve always known, when I do the same myself? When I throw myself into work and writing and entertainment to avoid thinking about how bad things are?
In the real world, there’s not a moon falling from the sky, only rising CO₂ levels. We had 30 years instead of 3 days, though we have fewer now. And because that wasn’t acute enough of a disaster, we have Covid; and because that isn’t acute enough of a disaster we have what might be the start of World War III. And like the residents of Clock Town, there’s nothing most of us in the US can do to directly affect any of these things. And it’s hard to work on the indirect parts—the lobbying, the organizing, the campaigns for change—when we still have to work to pay bills and take care of ourselves and take care of each other. Doubly so for the people who’ve had to do extra and deal with extra all their lives, as opposed to my privileged self. (I didn’t even mention Black Lives Matter, or the legislative attacks on trans kids, or the refugees being deported.) We should still be doing those indirect things. But I have more sympathy for Clock Town now.
I went looking for Majora’s Mask fanfiction, and found “Meet Us at the Milk Bar”, a story about the residents of Clock Town on the Final Day, written in 2022. At that point there really is nothing to be done; it’s too late to even evacuate the town. And so, in the last hours of the story, they come together as a community, and support each other to the end.
We’re not at that point in the US. We still need to be organizing and campaigning and figuring out where we can help and then doing it. But we also shouldn’t be waiting to find community until it’s too late, and I’m so grateful for the communities and the people I do have.
“We’ll be okay,” Rena murmurs.
“We won’t,” he says, his voice breaking as he looks up at her. He doesn’t know what’s happening, but he knows, in his gut, in the back of his head, he knows they won’t be okay. “Not for long.”
Rena hesitates. He thinks she might believe him.
“Then we’ll be okay for a little while,” she says.
We’re not okay, and we’re still not sure things will work out. But maybe, together, we can be okay for a little while at a time, until we manage to make things change.