The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Characters, Part 1
As a silent protagonist with a flat character arc, Link is often a quiet observer in the Zelda stories. Never has this been more true than in Majora’s Mask, a game framed around his search for his missing compan ion, Navi. Even though the game begins with text stating that his current mission is ‘…a secret and personal journey…A journey in search of a beloved and invaluable friend…’, Link’s search for Navi doesn’t influence the plot. However, it does provide context for his willingness to accompany the fairy Tatl, as she’s strikingly similar to his former companion, both in appearance and attitude. Unfortunately, there are never any direct parallels drawn between the two fairies in the game, so his exact motivations for working with Tatl are up for debate.
Link’s primary role in the story is to help the struggling people of Termina and collect masks that symbolize his good deeds. This willingness to help others suggests he has a strong sense of compassion. Unfortunately, Link’s lack of dialogue makes it difficult to glean exactly what he’s feeling, especially when his animations are limited in both variety and detail. His most memorable animations depict his transformations, illustrating the physical and mental anguish he experiences when he inhabits a different form. Those scenes provide little information on his personality, however, which leaves the audience to determine Link’s character for themselves.
Link’s youth also plays a role in his narrative detachment, as his age shuts him out of certain things. People are frequently reminding him that he needs to be an adult to access certain places, like the Sword Training Center or the Milk Bar, and he’s not allowed to enter Termina Field until he proves his maturity with a sword. Link’s age also affects his ability to understand certain events occuring around him. This is most evident during the sidequest to reunite Anju and Kafei after Kafei gives Link a pendant to pass along. The tooltip for the item, ostensibly written from Link’s perspective, reads: “Though you may not understand these grown-up matters, you should probably take the pendant to Anju, anyway.” Although this item description is easy to miss, it helps explain why Link doesn’t react to troubling things the way a grown-up might. It’s not that he’s indifferent to people’s struggles; it’s that they simply don’t make sense to him.
If Majora’s Mask was a typical Zelda game, Link’s exceptionally flat character might be detrimental to the story, but it works in a game focused on its ensemble cast. By making Link a silent observer, the developers gave themselves the flexibility to develop dozens of interconnected stories untainted by the protagonist’s judgments.
The Skull Kid
The Skull Kid’s character arc ties into the game’s central themes of grief and loneliness, as his actions in the game are his way of mourning his departed friends. Although his character is largely developed through the game’s main narrative, key pieces of his backstory are only accessible through sidequests. Only with that backstory does the motivation behind his actions make sense in full, as it reveals the full extent of the loss he suffered when left behind through his friends. The way Skull Kid grieves the departure of his friends also draws an interesting parallel to Link, as both of them suffered similar losses yet react to them very differently. It’s that difference that makes them a strong protagonist/antagonist pair.
The Skull Kid’s backstory recontextualizes his actions throughout the game’s main narrative. The primary source of this backstory is the tale told by Anju’s Grandmother in the Stock Pot Inn, which Link is only able to hear in its entirety by wearing an expensive mask that keeps him awake. According to Anju’s Grandmother, Termina was once guarded by four giants, and they lived together with the people of the land. When the day came that the giants decided to depart for the four corners of the world, they left behind their friend: a small, woodland imp. Feeling abandoned, the imp took out his anger on the people who remained with cruel tricks and pranks, but his schemes came to an end when the giants returned and cast him out of the land.
While there’s no direct verification of the old woman’s story anywhere in the game, it does match the main narrative’s events. Although the ‘imp’ is still present in the land, there are indeed four giants in the four corners of the world, and they come to Clock Town when called to stop a catastrophe. They recognize the Skull Kid as well, going so far as to call him ‘friend’ when they ask Tatl and Link to help him. When they return to Clock Town, the Skull Kid acknowledges them as his old companions, but he’s incredulous that they still remember him. Though they don’t respond with words, their presence is answer enough. Not only did they remember him, but they sought to protect him, as well.
With the Skull Kid’s backstory laid out, his actions do a solid job of emphasizing the game’s themes of grief and loss. Skull Kid, mourning the loss of his friends, was able to be controlled by the dark power of Majora’s Mask and used it to wreak havoc on the world he felt had wronged him. The depth of his anger is so great that he calls down the moon itself in vengeance, threatening every single person in Termina. Link’s countless loops through time prove that had it not been for the giants, the Skull Kid would have succeeded in his plans. For him, the antidote to his grief was nothing less than the return of his lost friends. This provides a stark contrast to Link, who takes a proactive approach in searching for his missing friend. Link can also put his search aside to help others, whereas the Skull Kid will go out of his way to hurt others as an outlet for his own pain. In the end, Link’s virtues are what throw the Skull Kid’s failings into the starkest relief, as Link’s compassion proves that he can work through grief without hurting others.
The Happy Mask Salesman
The mysterious salesman who peddles masks around Termina is almost as inscrutable as the cursed mask that was stolen from him. He’s given no backstory, and his only motivation is recovering his mask, but he still plays a prominent role in the story. It’s his mask that gave the Skull Kid his dark powers and his song that heals some of the damage those powers cause. The story behind that song—”a melody that heals evil magic and troubled spirits, turning them into masks“—also suggests that the Mask Salesman has turned spirits into masks himself, which adds another level of mystery to his backstory.
Although the Mask Salesman’s origins and motivations are unknown, his desire to heal others suggests he possesses compassion, even if healing those spirits also helps him make his beloved masks. He’s also capable of mercy, as he gives Link a second chance when Link returns to him without Majora’s Mask. Those better qualities stand in contrast to his more sinister side, as he’s capable of great rages, going so far as to pick Link off the ground and shake him when he fails. He also freely admits to seeking out Majora’s Mask while knowing full well what power it holds. These contrasting qualities are part of what makes him an interesting character, as neither Link nor the player can ever be sure what he’s capable of—or what he’s going to do next.
Little is known about the origin of Majora’s Mask, or the evil force that fills it. Only the Mask Salesman seems to have any idea of its history. According to him, “It is an accursed item from legend that is said to have been used by an ancient tribe in its hexing rituals. It is said that an evil and wicked power is bestowed upon the one who wears that mask.”
As a physical object imbued with dark power, Majora’s Mask does not seem to possess complex motivations, but it does speak with its own voice when separated from the Skull Kid. As the giants struggle to hold up the moon, the mask remarks that the Skull Kid was too weak for his power, then says: “A puppet that can no longer be used is mere garbage.” After tossing the Skull Kid aside, the mask retreats into the moon, and the moon’s eyes light up as it promises to consume everything. This desire for destruction suggests it to be less of a character and more of a force, but the dialogue that occurs when Link enters the moon suggests otherwise.
Inside the falling moon, Link finds a field with a group of playing children, including one wearing Majora’s mask. It’s unclear exactly what the other children in the moon represent, but their desire is clear as they ask Link to play games like ‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘Mask Salesman.’ Even the child wearing the mask of Majora wants to play a game: ‘Bad Guys versus Good Guys,’ in which Link is the bad guy who must run. Whether this is the residual will of the Skull Kid or the will of the mask itself, there’s evidence enough to