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Level Up: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

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Legend of Zelda - Majora's Mask

Anyone else extremely disappointed that nothing happened on December 21st? How’s your pineal gland feel? The same, right? Me too. In the spirit of the then-looming non-apocalypse the Zelda subreddit organized a mass playthrough of the dark horse of the Zelda franchise, Majora’s Mask on the N64. Having never finished the game, the end of the Mayan long-count seemed like a good excuse to jump back in.

Those familiar with the title will see the armageddon connection. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask sees Link saving the dream-like world of Termina from annihilation by way of celestial collision. As time progresses, Termina’s moon careens towards it, finally crashing to earth on the third day. Link’s only option is to travel back in time and relive the days over and over. In true Groundhog Day-form you gain insights into the problems of Termina and its people as you repeat these three days. Eventually you bring back enough key items and knowledge to save the strange land from lunar devastation.

The time-travel mechanic itself makes MM a departure from the series. It adds a level of urgency that doesn’t sit well with some players. Once you’ve mastered the time-travel mechanic, the falling moon is really a non-issue. You can travel back in time as much as you’d like. The feeling of dread on the final day as the music becomes twisted, the ground shakes and the people of Termina learn their fate, is not as easy to ignore.

Most Zelda games have some charming townsfolk that give you small fetch quests to do between the main dungeons. MM varies from the norm yet again, successfully reversing this Zelda-formula. There are only four dungeons, yet every character is having a crisis at the end of the world. Some are silly: one guy just wants to see his chickens all-grown-up. But most quests, like reuniting two lovers just as the world ends, feel down-right tragic. Adding to the somber tone, time-travel resets the world, problems and all. Victory feels fleeting, leading to a fatalistic tone. The only thing you have to show for your efforts are the items and powers you gained.

Which brings us to the next way MM departs from the series: the masks! You still get the classic items like the hook shot, light arrows, and mirror shield, but most of the unique powers come from masks. There are three main quest masks that completely transform Link’s skill set. In each case you gain the mask from a hero as he dies. By wearing the masks Link can take the form of the deceased Deku Scrub, Goron or Zora. This is actually pretty damn creepy because people will mistake you for their dead pal and Link just plays along. The rest of the masks you get from completing side quests, finding secrets and helping NPCs. The main thing you get to prove your heroism isn’t problems solved and happy people, but a mask used to pretend you’re someone else. Zelda has gone meta. We pretend to be heroes in our games, but all we have to show for it are achievement points to stoke our e-boners. It’s all make-believe, an escape.

And before you say I’m lighting up more than torches if I think a video game is that deep, know this: The game comes right out and says it. Before the last battle a group of strange children wearing masks say strange things like:

Your true face… What kind of… face is it? I wonder… The face under the mask… Is that… your true face?”

and:

“The right thing… what is it? I wonder… if you do the right thing… does it make… everybody… happy?”

Posing these questions to the player at the conclusion of the game is not without import. What’s under the mask? As Link you are the ultimate altruist, helping everyone and saving the land without a thought for yourself. In reality you’re sitting on your ass, hogging the TV and neglecting your cat who could use a good petting. It’s easy to be a hero in a video game where there are simple problems with simple solutions. Reality isn’t so simple. After that head trip there’s an epic boss fight, but it’s these questions that resonate with you long after the credits role.

If you haven’t played Majora’s Mask don’t wait for another apocalypse to get to it. It’s a unique take on Zelda that envelopes you in its dreamy atmosphere, evokes emotion and inspires thought.

So while I’m getting heady; is it possible that Nibiru was actually going to crash into the earth on the 21st, but that the mass playthrough of MM had enough people meditating on stopping a celestial object from entering the atmosphere that the crisis was averted? And the answer is yes, it is possible.

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