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Majora’s Mask 15 Years Later

There is no going home again.

June 30, 2015

Link on the Moon

To kill some time in between sessions of jury duty, I recently bought a 3DS and a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. It’s been some time since I played it, and while each playthrough has been a wonderful experience, this time has felt very different. It feels almost rote and methodological. It doesn’t feel like I’m playing a video game at all anymore. It feels like work.

I have a very strong connection to the games of my pre-teen and teenage years. I’ve played through Final Fantasy VII at least nine separate times, only beating it once. I’ve done the same with Majora’s Mask five times, only beating it once. Wild Arms five times, beaten twice. Halo five times, beaten twice. I play Half-Life 2 about once every couple of years, and am actively trying to force myself to pick Sonic Adventure back up (although that one has not aged well with time).

Every time I replay one of these games, my perspective changes based on where I’m at in life. When I first played them as a teenager, they were fresh and new, like playing an interactive movie that kept me captivated for long stretches of time. In college, they were short bursts of escapism, moments of fantasy in between the pressures of studying or extracurriculars. Studying abroad in London, they were a window into a world back home, and a reminder that I’d be able to return there soon.

Playing Majora’s Mask in London was the one time I actually beat it, and for good reason. I had spent two months acclimating very slowly to the new culture, feeling very far away from home and struggling to get my feet on the ground. At its core, Majora’s Mask is about the same concept: A boy struggling to achieve equilibrium in the world so he can start making his way back home. And while my struggle wasn’t nearly as important as Link’s, the game gave me an outside perspective of that struggle, a foil to see myself in. So I consumed it rapidly, playing it after a long day of class or a late night romp around town.

When I finally finished the game, I had achieved 100 percent completion, completing all the side quests and experiencing everything the game had to offer. While I’ve 100-percent completed other games in the past, they tended to be for external rewards, such as points in Xbox 360’s achievement system. The reward for fully completing this game is the same as completing it normally: An image of the game’s protagonist happily waving me farewell. Poetically, that image was also waving me farewell on my trip back home; a week later, I was on a flight back to the USA.

Game Completion Screen option 2

But playing through Majora’s Mask four years later, as a working adult, the experience has been an enjoyable but hollow one. Wandering around and trying to figure things out is a frustrating endeavor in futility, and when I only have thirty minute bursts to play I’d rather give up for a short burst of Netflix. I keep myself sane by using guides, figuring out what side-quests I unlock after each temple, but this makes the game feel less interactive and more like I’m checking off boxes, turning the page so I can see what happens next. I could possibly give up on trying to fully complete the game, but part of the appeal of Majora’s Mask for me is the living, breathing world that’s open for exploring.

But I don’t think Majora’s Mask is the problem; the game has remained largely the same, with the only changes made being improvements: More accurate controls for using the bow, the ability to save at more points in the game, and a revised order of how items are obtained that just makes more sense.

These tweaks are fantastic, enhancing the original game to allow it to be more accessible for those who have never played it while still remaining familiar to those who have beaten it even a dozen times. The game really hasn’t changed.

I’ve changed.

I can no longer see myself as Link, the protagonist, struggling through an unfamiliar world trying to make my way back home. I’m older, (maybe) wiser, and with more specific views of what I’m looking for, both in terms of life and in terms of gaming. My habits have moved away from long-term gaming toward titles that allow me to make substantial progress in short bursts, like DS’s StreetPass titles, Hearthstone (where games take no longer than 15 minutes), or roguelikes such as The Binding of Isaac.

Instead, I’m more like a different character in the game, the Happy Mask Salesman. He’s a man we learn little about, save that he’s the original owner of the titular mask, and starts Link on his journey to retrieve it and, by doing so, save the land of Termina.

Glide64_ZELDA_MAJORA'S_MASK_41

Whereas Link’s story is a journey into and a return from an unfamiliar land, the Happy Mask Salesman’s story is one of patience and remembrance. He quietly waits in the game’s primary setting, Clock Town, recounting stories of the masks he’s acquired and giving hints to Link whenever he seems lost.

The Happy Mask Salesman is not an active character; he does not move, he does not go on his own adventures or explore new areas. He is found in only one location, and remains that way throughout the rest of the game. And while it’s assumed that after the game is completed his journeys will continue and he will acquire more masks to sell, he is never heard from again.

I am now that Happy Mask Salesman. I have acquired a host of experiences and achievements, items in my pack that I can look back on and which each tell a story. And there will always be other masks to obtain, games to play, new experiences to share. But the one item I valued most — my own Majora’s Mask — is lost, and I’m struggling to find it: The feeling of wonder from the games of  my youth.

Instead, it’s now someone else’s to experience, and for me to give hints to the next generation of gamers who come across it. That’s not to say I won’t feel that same wonder with a different game I play, but the games of my youth are now and forever changed in my eyes.

It’s true that you can’t go home again, get that same feeling of booting up a fresh new game and experiencing it for the first time.

But that’s because it’s someone else’s home. And they need the shelter more than you.

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