The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
In 1998, fresh off the phenomenal success of the Nintendo 64’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Nintendo wanted another Zelda, and they wanted it fast. To meet that goal, they gave a team of developers a single year to repurpose the assets from Ocarina into an entirely new game. The combination of high expectations and a tight timeline led developers to rethink what a Zelda game could be. As a result, the final product ended up eschewing many hallmarks of the series, both in the narrative and the gameplay.
Like Link’s Awakening before it, Majora’s Mask steps outside the traditional Zelda narrative and explores a different premise. Gone is the familiar Hyrule and its inhabitants Ganon and Zelda; in its place, the parallel world Termina awaits with a wide cast of eerily familiar faces. Some of these faces mirror his old friends from Hyrule, but others are carved into the enchanted masks hidden around the world. Above the ground, an even more terrifying face dominates: the blood-eyed, grinning moon set to strike the earth in three days. Only Link, equipped with Termina’s masks and his Ocarina of Time, can reverse the inevitable destruction by reversing the flow of time itself. It’s a stark departure from the linear stories presented in previous Zelda titles, especially when the narrative’s focus shifts to the ensemble cast and their interrelated stories.
Twenty years after the release of Majora’s Mask, the game remains one of the most divisive entries in the series. Some considered its lack of dungeons and emphasis on character interactions to be too far afield of Zelda tradition, but others found the changes refreshing. Fans of the game connected with its unique world, unsettling feel, and eclectic cast of characters, as well as the time-travel component that allowed players to change the course of story events. The mixed reception resulted in lower sales than its predecessor, but the game has been re-released multiple times since, most recently on the Nintendo 3DS.
Although Majora’s time-travel mechanic introduced an element of non-linearity to the story, there is still a basic five-act structure supporting the narrative. The large cast of secondary characters is well-defined, with many receiving miniature arcs that resolve over the three-day span. Its primary theme, grief, pervades both the central story and the side stories, and is enhanced by the reoccurring motifs of masks and death. While Majora’s Mask’s non-traditional style may not have resonated with all fans of the series, discarding tradition was the very thing that allowed it to integrate complex subject matter and storytelling styles.