Halloween is nearly here. All across the United States of America, pumpkins are carved to look like severed heads. (Halloween is a weird holiday, man.) Horror movies flood theaters and fill bargain bins. ‘Tis the season for scares. Even the US government is participating—this year’s presidential election is positively frightening.
What better time could there be to discuss the scariest game I’ve ever played?
I’ve wanted to write about this game for a long time—more than a year, in fact—but never found the right opportunity. With this blog ending in a couple of months and Halloween just around the corner, this seemed like the right time. I began writing. When I realized my ramblings were too long for one blog post, I decided to split it in two parts and call it a Halloween special. Every blog needs a holiday special at some point, right?
On the surface, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask doesn’t look like a scary game. Its visual are bright and colorful. Its world seems like a generic fantasy setting populated by generic video game characters. Heck, the game received the most child-friendly rating from the ESRB: EVERYONE. (To be fair, the recent 3DS remake got a slightly higher EVERYONE 10+ rating, which is still pretty mild.) Don’t be fooled. This game is creepy as all heck.
Majora’s Mask is a game in the Legend of Zelda series, which consists mostly of lighthearted, well-crafted adventures. Zelda games are known not only for their legendary (no pun intended, I swear) quality, but also for their humor, charm, and kid-friendly action. Majora’s Mask is different. It has all the charm and humor of other Zelda games, but without their positive tone. Its tone is one of bleak, gnawing nihilism.
Believe it or not, I love this game. I ♥ Majora’s Mask. Can we put that phrase on a bumper sticker? Let’s put it on a bumper sticker.
Why do I love this game? Oh, let me count the ways.
Most Legend of Zelda games follow a predictable formula: an evil sorcerer endangers a damsel, and the hero Link must save the day—generally by going on a quest to obtain the Master Sword, a holy weapon. Various Zelda games play with this formula, but seldom stray from it.
Majora’s Mask completely abandons the formula. It doesn’t task the player with rescuing a princess. Nope. The player must prevent a freakin’ moon from crashing into the land and annihilating literally everything. For reasons never explained, the moon has a face, which is frozen in an expression of rage. It’s a surreal touch, and kinda creepy.
As days pass in the game, the moon draws nearer and nearer the earth. Every time the player looks upward, there it is, a looming reminder that the end is near. Characters in the game react to their inexorable doom with a convincing range of emotional responses: apprehension, denial, panic, grief, resignation, defiance, and getting drunk on milk.
The player has only three days to stop the moon. Fortunately, the player is given the power to rewind time… only to watch the moon fall again, and again, and again. Characters repeat their cycles of grief and panic. And if the player doesn’t travel back in time before the moon hits the earth, well, it ends badly.
I hope you don’t mind watching a celestial body annihilate an entire land and everyone in it. Game over, man.
As its title suggests, Majora’s Mask makes masks an integral game mechanic. By wearing different masks, the player assumes different forms, each with its own set of powers.
The plant-like Deku form lets the player glide through the air. The rotund Goron form gives the power to roll around like a runaway tire, and the sleek Zora form zips through water with graceful ease. These mask transformations would be cool as mere game mechanics, but each one also represents a story.
Each mask transforms the player into the likeness of a character who died with regrets. The Deku child became separated from his father and died alone. The Goron died in an unsuccessful attempt to save his people, and the Zora perished trying to save his true love’s unborn children. The player earns each mask by healing its owner’s soul and easing his regret; when the spirit rests in peace, the mask is left behind.
It’s a beautifully macabre twist on a game mechanic that’s already pretty sweet.
Come back on Friday for Part 2 of this Halloween special!