The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000) is one of the most acclaimed sequels in gaming history. Coming on the heels of Ocarina of Time (1998), it expands upon and twists the gameplay mechanics of its predecessor, resulting in a deeply uncanny atmosphere. But in that newfound twistedness, we find a game with one of the darkest identities a mainline Nintendo game has ever had. Majora’s Mask is a game engrossed by darker themes of death and despair – but yet hopeful.
The world we live in is far from perfect. There’s suffering around every corner, political upheaval, wars and famines. Even in materially prosperous countries people are lost in a materialistic culture that doesn’t know what it wants to do with itself. Everyone’s unhappy with the world as it is, unable to cope with suffering and accept it as it is. The world’s problems are insoluble in many minds. The effects of original sin are everywhere for all to see. Our world, like the world of Majora’s Mask, is marred.
Termina, the world of Majora’s Mask, is already doomed when the player first arrives at Clock Town. The grotesque, terrifying face of the moon grimaces horribly at the player from the moment he steps outside. In three days, the world will be destroyed by the impact of the moon. And all of the NPCs in the game know that they are doomed. The player has three in-game days to save the world, and must restart the cycle every time before the moon falls. To make matters even worse, the regions of Termina are all suffering from plagues inflicted by the villain Majora itself. The swamp has been poisoned, the people of the mountains are freezing to death in an endless winter, the ocean is tormented by ravenous monsters, and the spirits of the dead wander the valley, unable to rest. The overall result is one of the darkest atmospheres in the Zelda franchise, and indeed for gaming in general up to 2000. Everyone knows there’s a problem with the world but they don’t know how to solve it.
The hero, Link, is mostly an observer as Termina’s inhabitants spend their last days. What’s fascinating is that no two characters have the same perspective about their impending doom. There’s a sidequest about helping baby chicks grow into chickens for a farmer who regrets he won’t see his animals grow. Or the mayor of Clock Town, who is in the middle of a political debate with the soldiers and laborers of Termina on whether to evacuate as the Carnival of time begins the morning that the moon finally impacts the land. And if you visit the milk bar later, the bartender says he can finally accept his fate with no regrets because his favorite customer stopped by.
These are only some highlights of Majora’s Mask’s dark atmosphere. For the remainder of this essay, I will focus on one of the game’s bigger side quests that explores its themes of despair: the sidequest with the Romani’s Ranch sisters.
Romani’s Ranch is a continuation of the Lon Lon Ranch story from Ocarina of Time. It is a farm where two sisters live: 10 year old Romani and 17 year old Cremia. For their livelihood, they raise cows, whose milk they sell to the Milk Bar in Clock Town. Romani tells the player that aliens are coming to steal the cows in the night, and asks you to fend them off from the barn. If you lose, everyone in the barn gets abducted – oh yeah including Romani. After failing this quest, Romani is gone for over half of the second day in the three day cycle as her sister Cremia worries. When Romani comes back, she is changed. She looks blank, and acts as if she had gotten some sort of lobotomy. She is a shell of her former self and her sister is consumed by grief.
If you win, the barn is saved, and Romani calls you her hero. The next night, you can escort Cremia on her delivery trip to Clock Town. On the third day at the ranch, you can see the sisters enjoy one last day together before the end– but not without one dark twist. Cremia gives her younger sister a drink of Chateau Romani, an alcoholic drink. Cremia is giving it to Romani because she sees her as an adult now, as well as wanting Romani to sleep in her room that final night. But Romani is still referring to herself in the third person in her familiar childlike way, saying things like “Romani likes your hat!” It is thus implied that Cremia gave alcohol to her immature sister so that she wouldn’t be scared during their last night together as she dreamt. But that’s fine right? You saved the day, these sisters are happy now right? Wrong. You restart the cycle and all your progress with the sisters is undone.
Because you continually reset time until you are finally able to stop the moon from crashing, you will have to live with your inability to save everyone. Throughout the game, death and failure are just around every corner, a constant pressure and temptation toward despair. This is a not-uncommon way to relate to our world today, isn’t it? “Why pray when the world is already far too gone?” is an obvious reaction to hopeless cases of government failures or wars and disasters in other countries. Or, in the secular view, “why have children in this horrible world?”. This is a modern notion that denies the pain of the past, or refuses to regard it as equal to the pain of the present. The believer knows that this world suffers from the consequences of original sin, and that many of the Saints suffered terribly during times better and worse than these. There arises an easy temptation to accept the nihilistic judgment. Our modern world loves to say that our actions don’t matter, but the early Christians saw death all around them all of the time and still held onto hope.
The world of Majora’s Mask resonates with us as death comes for us all and not equally. The dead who roam Ikana Valley cannot rest because of their curse, dragged from their graves to continue a war with a long-extinguished kingdom. The player must learn to accept this world as it is, a world where suffering is inescapable. We all have to learn to accept the things we cannot control in this life, but what Majora’s Mask paints so beautifully is the hope of the next. The entire game, Link heals the souls of the dead with his mystical Ocarina’s song. In the midst of their agony, they are released from their regrets, accepting death and finding peace. We as Christians can learn from this. St. Justin Martyr boldly told his judge that he believed he would ascend into Heaven when he died.
Death is a reality we all have to deal with. Secular culture cannot abide this notion, struggling with constant frenzied terror to evade it. And why not? Death is painful, for the one who dies and for those who loved him. They experience a taste of the agony found in Jesus’ crucifixion. We find ourselves weeping just as the Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross alongside St. John the Apostle. But I think there’s a universal truth Majora’s Mask is trying to communicate: that we have a choice to live worldly lives and die with regrets or to live in acceptance of our eternal destination and prepare ourselves for something greater. Through acceptance we find ourselves in a new place on this Earth. What does death mean to us anymore as Christians? As St. Paul asked in 1st Corinthians 15:55-58: “O death, where is your sting?”. In death we witness a Christian going to be with the Lord. It is such a sad reality we must experience death for it is painful and uncomfortable, so think of how the Lord Jesus must’ve felt while dying for us. Imagine the people we’ve lost in our lives going through the same thing. Death comes for us all but the Lord taught that we will be alive in him.
If, like the characters of Majora’s Mask, no one knows how to solve the world’s problem of suffering, we find the answer in the Lord who holds the keys of life and death. The dark and gloomy atmosphere of Majora’s Mask makes it beautiful, reflecting the brokenness of the real world. It taught me about death in a profound way, so that when I encountered Jesus and the Gospels, I could see the answers to our suffering in this world. It is in Christ Jesus we have hope and find ourselves in a way beyond anything we ever could conceive of.