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.