"You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you?”
If those words gave you goosebumps, you’ve played The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask -
widely accepted as the darkest instalment of the Zelda saga, set in the parallel world of Termina.
If you’ve not played it yet, sorry, this article contains a lot of spoilers.
I’m currently playing Majora’s Mask (again). In my opinion it’s one of the best Zelda games, partly because of Link’s ability to change forms using masks. This makes Majora’s Mask a completely different experience and opens up new opportunities to tell a really immersive story. However, the game leaves a lot to the player's interpretation; as such there are a crazy number of theories about Majora’s Mask (hit up Reddit and YouTube if you don’t believe me ;) ).
While adventuring through Termina, I was looking for evidence to back up a theory from the Game Theorists I found really interesting; that Link is actually dead, and his adventure through Termina is all imagined as he tries to come to terms with his death. Along the way I found evidence to debunk this theory, but was also hit by some pretty dark realisations about Link’s transformations and started to put together a theory of my own. Other Zelda fans have realised some of the things I picked up on and you might have too. Before we get into that, here’s a quick recap of the story…
We join the story as Link rides Epona through the Lost Woods trying to find Navi, the friend he lost following the events of Ocarina of Time. Link is ambushed by the Skull Kid, a childish imp in a strange mask. Using the power of this mask the Skull Kid transforms Link into an irritating shrub-boy (as I like to call him), after stealing his Ocarina and Epona. As Link tries to catch his attacker, he comes across the enigmatic Happy Mask Salesman who reveals to us that Majora’s Mask, an ancient artifact used in forbidden black magic rituals (which for some reason, he was carrying around?), was stolen from him. Corrupted by its evil power Skull Kid ultimately plans to destroy Termina by crashing the moon into Clock Town. You only have three days to stop him, before the world ends and everyone dies. In the words of Ron Burgundy, that escalated quickly. On the final day, Link (in his shrub-boy form) confronts Skull Kid, but finds Majora’s power is too much for him. He does manage to reclaim the Ocarina of Time, though and uses its power to return to the dawn of the first day. In order to help Link to retrieve the stolen mask, the Happy Mask Salesman teaches him a song which restores Link to his human form; the Song of Healing. When he teaches us the song, the Happy Mask Salesman describes it as “a melody which heals evil magic and troubled spirits, turning them into masks”.
Don’t believe the hype; this hauntingly beautiful piece of music is actually the key to a strange and dark conspiracy. By the time we’re done here, you’ll be questioning a few things too.
As in all Zelda games, music plays an important part in Link’s quest. This particular song unlocks the ability to change forms, a definitive feature of the game. By turning troubled spirits into wearable masks Link can take on different bodies, often referred to by fans as ‘Deku Link’, ‘Goron Link’, and ‘Zora Link’. My initial understanding was that, despite transforming, you were always playing as Link - he was just changing the shape and composition of his body. After all he still has his iconic hat.
Now, I’m not so sure.
When we first play the Song of Healing (which is actually Saria’s Song, backwards. Who knew?!), the Deku mask is all that remains of our frustrating ordeal as a Deku Scrub - now we have the ability to change into Deku Link at will. Later in the game we come across the restless spirit of a deceased Goron hero, Darmani, who died in an attempt to defeat the creature in Snowhead Temple. After that, we meet the Zora warrior-guitarist, Mikau, who is on death’s doorstep after being mortally wounded by pirates. Sure enough by playing the Song of Healing, Darmani and Mikau are ‘healed’ and we receive the Goron and Zora masks respectively.
By putting the masks on, Link changes forms which allows us to make use of new abilities, such as the Zora ability to walk on the ocean floor, and enter areas which were previously off limits, like the Deku Palace. This adds so many layers to the game! Speaking to characters in your different forms will reveal more of the story, and you can return to previously visited regions of the game with new powers to help you discover secrets (if you haven’t yet, make sure you speak to the Business Scrubs in each region each of your different forms. Thank me later).
All of this fits with the naive classic hero narrative; Link is doing good deeds, helping those in pain, using and augmenting his power to help save the land.
Right? Sorry, but no.
Why does changing forms seem to be so painful for Link? The masks were created by the Song of Healing, which allegedly heals evil magic… but every time you put on one of the transformation masks, he screams in agony as that magic starts to work. These cutscenes remind me of when the Skull Kid uses Majora’s Mask (or is used by Majora’s Mask) to bring the moon down - he lets out a piercing scream as he taps into the ancient artifact’s true power. So maybe he’s not the only one using dark magic... things could be more sinister than we thought.
Did you pick up the hints dropped by Tatl and the Deku butler? The Deku Scrub that Link becomes is almost identical to the butler’s son who died prior to our arrival in Termina - you came across his body as you chased Skull Kid. Later we see the butler knelt next to it, sobbing.
Maybe you found it strange that while rolling around as Goron Link, all the Goron’s you meet recognise you and call you Darmani… Even though they know that Darmani died; they buried him. Goron Link even has his sideburns, as one Goron points out; “Those sideburns… Aren’t you Darmani? You’re supposed to be dead…”.
The other Zora don’t know that Mikau died on the beach, wounded after trying to retrieve Lulu’s eggs from the pirates. It’s not too unbelievable that the other members of the Zora band all believe that Link is Mikau (they do look very similar), but surely another Zora must have found the grave on the beach? Something doesn’t add up.
Maybe our ‘hero’ isn’t releasing these spirits from their pain and changing himself into a Deku/Goron/Zora version of Link. Call me crazy, but I think that the Happy Mask Salesman lied when he told us about the Song of Healing. The song isn’t a cure for evil magic - it IS evil magic.
My theory is that the Song of Healing actually traps the troubled souls in the masks for eternity! We already know that other spirits have been sealed away; the Happy Mask Salesman tells us that the powerful spirit within Majora’s Mask was “sealed in shadow” in an attempt to control its power. It may be the case that similar magic is being used to trap the souls of Darmani, Mikau, and the Deku butler’s son - allowing Link to use their power. Coming into contact with the pain of these trapped spirit would explain why Link suffers as he transforms into them.
In his desperation to get Majora’s Mask back, the Happy Mask Salesman may have been willing to dabble in some questionable magic; with this in mind, is it possible that Link is actually reanimating and wearing the bodies of characters who died? Well that would explain how he has access to these characters’ abilities and knowledge.
That’s right. Link has access to some of what these characters knew when they were among the living. If you don’t believe me, go back to Darmani’s grave at Snowhead. Try to read the inscription in Link’s Hylian form - understandably, Link doesn’t know how to read Goron writing. Now put on the Goron mask, suddenly he is able to read the words and understand them. Why?
Take out your Ocarina in any of the different forms; your instrument becomes Deku pipes, Goron drums, Zora guitar… Link is able to play them all as easily as he plays the Ocarina. How?
The most logical explanation? Link is no longer Link when he puts on the masks. He becomes the dead; the fearless Goron hero, Darmani; the Zora warrior and guitarist, Mikau; the Deku butler’s son, somehow brought back from the grave. Play the Elegy of Emptiness on your way to Stone Tower Temple and pay attention to the the statues Link leaves behind in each of his forms. They really don’t look that much like Deku/Goron/Zora Link, but they are almost identical to the characters who met their untimely ends.
Perhaps knowingly, perhaps not, Link is sealing their souls into the masks and using their bodies to achieve his goals. Considering the fate of the world is at stake, maybe his actions can be forgiven. Or maybe Link has no idea, and was manipulated by the Happy Mask Salesman? He does admit to following Link, and could be taking advantage of Link’s heroic disposition…
You may be questioning my logic here. After all, why would the Happy Mask Salesman lie? Well, all we know is that he is a wanderer who collects powerful masks. Apart from that we know next to nothing about him! There are no real indicators of his morals or his intentions. It’s worth noting here that in Japanese culture, villains are usually depicted wearing purple. Guess what colour our Mask-collecting friend happens to wear. One theory goes as far as to suggest that he may be one of the ‘ancient ones’ who created Majora’s Mask (he does refer to it as ‘my mask’ quite a lot), or even some kind of god… my point is, no one knows what he’s actually up to.
Who knows. As with the other theories about Majora’s Mask, there is just enough evidence to suggest that something dark is going on, but not quite enough evidence to prove or disprove anything. It’s definitely worth heading back to Termina to do some investigating of your own.
On this playthrough I’ve enjoyed Majora’s Mask even more. Having all these crazy theories bouncing around in your head while you’re playing really does add a lot of replay value. The game is packed with detail and underlying stories which run parallel to Link’s. It's entirely possible to go complete the main story and miss out on the individual characters and their struggles. Playing through with mindset of a conspiracy theorist I’ve chased up even the smallest hints of extra content, and come to appreciate Termina’s dark underside. A lot of other Zelda fans have done the same; how many of us have hunted down every single mask to unlock Fierce Deity Link? And does anyone have any ideas as to who he might be?
By leaving so many threads unfinished, and refusing to clarify the shadowy finer details of the game in interviews, Shigeru Miyamoto and the team at Nintendo accomplished something really special with Majora’s Mask. The beauty of a great story is that it changes in the telling. From person to person the tale changes, and everyone has a truly unique experience.