The Legend of Zelda powerfully weaves a dichotomy of good and evil into its plot. Between the virtuous natures of Link and Zelda, and the corrupted evil of Ganon there can be no starker contrast. This develops into an opposition between complete virtue and abject evil. Link goes and saves the day, Hyrule is free from Ganon’s reign of terror, and all is well in the land.

But, as the series has progressed, so has its plot. Subtle touches add significant depth to the plot. In Majora’s Mask there are many things that Link encounters that hardly prompt the player to give them a second thought. Despite this, they reveal the maturity of the Legend of Zelda series far beyond its humble beginnings.

The Bomber’s Notebook, perhaps, is the oddest new way to organize reward challenges and puzzles. On the other hand, the Bomber’s Notebook casts light onto the temperament of many characters, and aids heavily in characterization. Sure, many of the things you do are rather frivolous. But life is rather frivolous, and the frivolity can only shed light onto the characters you interact with. For once you aren’t the center of attention. Talk to characters and they will interact with you, they will scorn you, they will hurry on their merry way. But I’m the hero! You are, but you’re the hero walking in on everyone else’s lives. Listen, and listen closely. Some will give you helpful tips, others will confide in you their deepest secrets. No one remains unchanged in the end.

The basic idea is pretty simple. Help someone out- get a reward for it- and observe the advantages that come from this, advantages accruing to you like interest on capital. The light starts to filter in from the facet of humanity that they’ve inserted into the story. Helping out one person unlocks doors (figurative ones, usually) to other obstacles.

The transformation masks were touted as one of the most salient points of the game. Yet, how does Link obtain them? The Zora Mask is granted to you after you play the Song of Healing for Mikau. No, it doesn’t heal him. In fact, he dies, and by his death you gain the Zora Mask. In video games, especially in Nintendo games, characters simply don’t die. How many times will we have to defeat Ganon? No one knows. Ganon’s longevity eclipses all known human records, including Cher’s farewell tour and Michael Jordan’s returns from retirement. It is not uncommon to see lesser boss characters return in later installments of a series, in fact it is expected. When you kill most enemies, they explode or go away in any other number of exaggerated scenes (further mitigating the impact of death). When death is employed, something serious has truly happened.

The nature of good changes, yet evil does too. The Skull Kid becomes the antagonist early on. He takes Link’s ocarina and runs away with it; later he abandons Tatl because she is too slow. Skull Kid also gets Epona, and he leaves Link stricken as a Deku Scrub. Skull Kid is evil. But just how evil is he? It seems he wanted friends, just like everyone else, before he was hijacked by the remorseless Mask. Skull Kid breaks from the pure evil paradigm that Zelda bosses have traditionally been housed in, and becomes a tragic enemy.

“Can’t repeat the past?” cried Jay Gatsby, the tragic hero of The Great Gatsby, “Why of course you can!” Of course, he couldn’t, and the past came back to haunt him. No one can erase the past. Even the time traveling antics of Link cannot erase the past. More specifically, they cannot erase the permanence of the effects of evil. This is shown most poignantly in two of the Skull Kid’s victims.

The Deku Butler’s son is a character that you encounter far before you can know of his significance, in fact, before you even journey past those iron gates into the wider world of Termina. Towards the start of your mad chase after the Skull Kid, you chance upon a lone and mournful tree. Tatl remarks that it is sad looking and might just start to cry. The Deku Butler later reveals to you that he has a missing son, and in the credits you can see him juxtaposed against this tree, his son. Looking back at it with later knowledge you can gain a painful realization: he had an unfortunate encounter with the Skull Kid, and his life will never be the same. He is stuck that way. There is no resolution to his problem. There is no fairy-tale ending. There is simply the cold and vexing fact that the Deku Butler’s son has been permanently marred by the Skull Kid’s selfish and evil rage.

Kafei leads you on an epic, and quite frankly, exhausting quest. Kafei has been transformed by his encounter with the Skull Kid, and is ashamed of his current state. Through a complex web of events, it is your duty to reunite Kafei with his bride-to-be, Anju. Spanning the entire three day period allotted to you, you finally can reunite them within the final minutes of the last day. This is a sad and somewhat surreal unification before the breaking of the world.

When the time comes that your labors are complete, and the care of Termina has passed from your stewardship, you are treated to a montage of all those whom you have helped. Yes, even Kafei and Anju are there to be wed. But Kafei is still as he was, sullied from his disfiguration by the Skull Kid.

Perhaps you can query, almost wistfully, why the creators allowed two such things to slip past their nets. Why forget to restore the Deku Butler’s son? Why forget to heal Kafei? I find it hard to believe that these were unintentional occurrences. Not in a game so tightly scripted. Not in a game with such a central function as the “Bomber’s Notebook.”

The traditional lines of good and evil have been muddled. The truth is that good does not always win (a bitter pill to swallow!), and that even your most heroic efforts can fall short; that there is no magic solution to every problem. The Legend of Zelda series has matured by virtue of the plot of Majora’s Mask. The answer is, and remains, that Zelda is growing up.

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This retro article was originally posted January 20th, 2005.
  • Not only Link grows up, but so do the woeful characters surrounding him. He decides to help them and, together, they feel that they can surmount any problem. So Zelda also covers how unity can slap the face of adversity silly after it keeps laughing at the malicious perils it incurred.

    • I must have been really bored. =]

  • Linktomyass

    And that’s why Majora’s Mask in particular will never be bested.

    Maybe Nin needs to hire some emo staff to write for them.

  • Sanity's_Theif

    I liked this, good read

  • chukazurikyri

    It's amazing how much you can pull just from a simple video game made for children. The lessons of life never seem more true when there hidden away in some of the least expected places.

  • Cody Gee

    Exactly why Majora's Mask is my favorite Zelda game. It goes far beyond the classic hero saves princess plot.

    • Sanity's_Theif

      Same here, that plot gets boring after a while

  • Well very good

  • Magma976

    Um… I didn't think the game implied Kafei didn't get restored. It never shows Kafei during the wedding scene. I always believed that he had been restored (though I admit, there's really nothing to base this on).

    • They didn't show Kafei's entire body, you're right. However, I would bet anything that he was restored, because I sincerely doubt Anju would marry a…

      • Shaelyn

        They didn't show Kafei at all.

        and they left it completely open to interpretation that way. you'd bet anything he was restored. Bobslob was evidently counting on the idea that he wasn't.

        It's up in the air, though.

    • Hero of Winds 2

      If everyone else is restored from Majora's curses on them in the credits, then why wouldn't Kafei?

  • Muffin-Puddin

    (flame)(woof)!

  • Olympion

    First of all, really nice article, the subtle maturity of Majora's Mask is well worth focusing more closely on. A few thoughts:

    The dreadfully sad scene with the Deku Butler and his son at the end of the game was a very intelligent move by the developers. With stories like the one told in Majora's Mask, i.e. gripping stories featuring many likable, complex characters facing hardship, I personally crave a happy ending. However, the ending can't be too happy, as a 100% happy end to a story that contained so much sadness and suffering runs the risk of feeling fake, or somehow wrong, inauthentic. Majora's Mask pretty much nails it, with an ending that's 95% happy, 5% sad. It's not so much a bittersweet ending as the happiest credible ending the game could have.

    Also, I definitely think Kafei was returned back to his true form at the end of the game. The person looking Anju in the eyes during the wedding was certainly Kafei, and he was surely of normal size at that point. So that storyline did definitely have a happy end, fortunately!

    • zelda man23

      its optional on how it is a happy ending

      • Olympion

        Very true, in Majora's Mask you're literally earning your happy ending (though I've personally always finished the game with all the masks found, so the happiest ending is the only one I've ever actually seen while playing the game myself).

    • LINK KOKIRI

      THIS IS ACTUALLY WRONG BECAUSE WHAT ABOUT THE DEKU BUTLER'S SON?
      IF KAFEI RETURNED TO NORMAL WHY DID HE NOT RETURN TO NORMAL?
      PERSONALY I WOULD THINK THIS GAME HAS A SAD ENDING NOT A HAPPY ONE (THE IRONY IN ALL THIS IS THE GUY WHO ACTUALLY HAD MAJORA'S MASK IN THE FIRST PLACE OWNS A SHOP CALLED THE HAPPY MASK SHOP!)

  • Phantom7

    Very nice read. But IMO the "Link grows up" theory seems to apply only in OoT and MM. As most of us know, MM was indubitably designed for players who have beaten OoT. At the very end of OoT, Zelda explains to Link that because of her mistake, Link did not have the experience of a full childhood, so she warped him back to the past, seven years ago. During the seven years Link was asleep, he did not actually grow up and mature. But in MM, the "good" and "evil" archetypes are abandoned, and the nature of evil doing becomes more complex, primarily in Skull Kid. It is during this period of time, while Link is in the corrupt and fated world of Termina that he truly grows up, learning the truth of the nature of evil and that happy endings really aren't so common.

  • zelda man23

    ''LINK GROWS UP'' is a good story to read. one thing i reallised is that link did not have a home when Zelda returned him back to young link, that is why link returned to zelda in oot.

  • Olympion

    Also, before I forget, great point about Link not actually being the center of attention. It's yet another example of how much more complex the many characters are in this game compared to the other Zeldas. The NPCs feel like actual persons in their own right, they have lives and schedules of their own, and don't come at all across as if their sole purpose in life is existing for Link's sake.

  • zombiefragger

    Majora’s Mask introduced a fact of the real world in to the world of zelda. There is no such thing as black and white, just many shades of gray.

  • itwontaccept

    hahahahahahaha "the Bombers" sounds like a terrorist group!

  • TheMaverickk

    I personally believe that Kafei was returned to his proper stature and form. It's heavily implied as when they show the wedding scene you see it through Kafei's eyes.

    When he greets Anju it is at eye level and he looks up and down at his beautiful bride to be. If it was meant to be interpreted that he was left in his child state, they would've matched it in the ending. You don't get to see a polygonal model of Adult Kafei probably simply because it would've taken more time to create a special character model just for an ending.

  • Alex

    Great article. Here's one for you; The Goron and Zora transformation masks come from the deaths of members of those respective races you meet in the game, right? I think the Deku butler's son wasn't even a conscious target of the Skull Kid; he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and had his soul or whatever taken from his body and used to transform Link.

    That scrub was an overlooked character throughout the whole game right until the end, his fate not even acknowledged to Link but only the butler and the player (that's a very rare thing in a Zelda game, for them to show something to the player without Link being there to witness it too). The Song of Healing saved Darmani and Mikau in their own deaths, but we're never given any sign that the young Deku scrub was given any similar kind of release – when the Song of Healing was used to create the Deku mask, it was just to heal Link, and although he and the player could have made the connection between the mask and the Deku-looking tree, it was never made explicit that anyone but Link was wronged when the Skull Kid transformed him.

    This article's about the grey area in which Link is challenged to mature and face situations that blur the lines between good and evil, but I'd argue that the situation with the Deku butler's son is something much darker; a situation that Link wasn't just powerless to prevent, but in fact completely uninformed about in the first place. It's the one example I can think of in the whole Zelda story that such tragedy falling on an undeserving character is completely ignored by any forces driving the quest of the player.

    A young scrub just ran away from home, clearly started to regret it, and then without warning was killed for no reason other than to unwittingly contribute to the torment of a more important character. And Link spends the rest of his quest carrying around this representation of that tragedy in his pocket, the Deku Mask, using it as a tool like any other item when it suits him without ever receiving the blessing of the one that had to be sacrificed for its creation, not even knowing a sacrifice was made. It's gutsy and a really uncomfortable idea to think about and one of many reasons that Majora's Mask is my #1 game of all time.

  • marceloafb

    great article bro! your descriptions of the events in majora's mask were awesome, you made me fell the same way i did when i played the game.
    Your argumentation is also good, you have opened my mind pal. Even through majora's mask is my favorite zelda game, i had never thought about how it changed the maniqueist theme always present in the series.
    But
    I have to disagree with your conclusion, as this kind of stuff we saw in majora's mask did not get a comparable follow up. In fact, majora's mask is an exception in the zelda series. This game shows the potential the series has to present a beatiful piece of art that make us reflect for hours and hours, but the subsequent games are evidence that this potential has not yet been understood or aimed by the producers

  • Artimus-Maora

    I've never played Majora's Mask before; and I'll be honest, I had never really wanted to. When I read this, I guess I realized that the game is more than the annoying time limit… Now, I want to play the game; it sounds like one of Zelda's better games. There are a few games you could last the series without playing, but I think I really need to play this one.

    • Alex

      You really do. What it lacks in length it makes up for severalfold in depth.

  • FilipeJMonteiro

    I'd like to make a small suggestion for future article's reference – Is it possible to include Spoiler Alerts to the paragraphs that need it?
    For example – "The following Paragraph contains spoilers from [x game] – Read at your own risk"

    That'd be cool ; )

  • brockdilley

    Kafie was eye to eye with his bride at the wedding, so he was back. Plus, who could forget "THEM"?

  • why would you believe me when I make a statement about his mind? What gives me the right, per se, to make an assertion about someone else from some other culture?