September 5, 2017
The story of Majora’s Mask is a twisted and dark tale that follows the adventures of Link from Ocarina of Time. Returning the Master Sword in it’s resting place after the defeat of Ganon, Link waves goodbye to Hyrule and sets off on a journey to search for his missing companion Navi. What ensues is a series of traumatic events and discovery that sees Link battling not only a new foe, but also an inner demon. The five stages of grief theory isn’t a brand new concept linked to this game. Suspected of being the influence for the storyline, Eiji Aonuma himself all but confirmed that the game was designed around this concept. In an interview with Game Informer in March 2015, before the release of the 3DS remake, Aonuma stated, ‘It’s certainly true that each one of these different episodes you talked about has a different emotional cast to it. One feels like it’s tinged with sadness, and another with anger – that certainly was intentional’.
To those unfamiliar with the ‘stages of grief’ let me brief you before we investigate its relevance to this epic game. The five stages of grief is a psychological theory that outlines the processes or ‘stages’ an individual goes through when dealing with a loss. A person must go through each stage before they can move on from the grievance. The first of these stages is;
- Denial: At this stage an individual is first coming to terms with the loss. The person is unwilling to let go or fully comprehend the ramifications of what has just happened. It is a confusing time and making sense of things is difficult, feelings may be cold or non-existent and shock may take over. As the reality of the situation starts to set in, questions are asked. This then leads to the second stage.
- Anger: This stage is the expulsion of pain. We use anger to exert our inner turmoil and to cover up our vulnerability. Directed anger is also the first time that the grief has direction. Even if it is misguided, like taking out your anger on someone unrelated to the cause, it allows you to target the grief for the first time. Now that a control is being implemented it allows the individual to move on to the next stage.
- Bargaining: Now there is an outward show of emotion, the feelings start to escalate leading the individual to battle and bargain with logic. At this point a person could be trying to reverse the outcome or delay it. This can be as simple as trying to reason with the thoughts in your head and ‘bargaining’ with them, ‘If I devote my life to helping the needy will this stop me from ever feeling pain like this again?’. Or it could be bargaining with an individual’s god or gods, ‘If I now go to church ever Sunday will you take my wife’s cancer away?’ The realization of the actions futility then leads to the next stage.
- Depression: Bargaining hasn’t worked and now reality hits. The grief intensifies and the darkest thoughts come to life. This stage is arguably the hardest to go through and can be the longest. At this time an individual may become withdrawn, a recluse, hiding away burying themselves further in secluded pain. There is no right or wrong way to deal with this process, unfortunately some do not successfully navigate the path. However those who do, come out stronger and go on to the final stage …
- Acceptance: Now it must be made clear that this isn’t the equivalent of being ‘over it’ or fully healed. This is the first stage to recovery. The individual has now gone through the brutal mental process of the previous stages and is now learning to control the emotion and feeling. The person may never fill the hole left from the trauma but they are developing the coping mechanisms to survive. Scars will be left, but it’s how these scars are worn which determines how a person copes in their new world.
Now at this point avid lovers of Majora’s Mask may be able to recognize how this process applies to the game’s storyline. Or you may believe it has no relevance at all, going back to Aonuma’s March 2015 interview there is another interesting quote that throws a typically ambiguous spanner in the works. ‘I also want to point out that it’s not that each one of these episodes only has the one emotion that they are conveying. There are certainly other notes that we’re trying to hit as well, and the reason we did this is always to allow the player to experience that emotion – to give them a chance to hook into the emotional tone of this scene and react to it and feel like they want to accomplish something in the game as a result’. A skill that must be taught at Nintendo HQ is to show your hand without actually giving anything away, something Miyamoto has also employed in various interviews. Though it is clear that the plot to this game is influenced by the grief theory it has never been confirmed how it is applied and at what point in the story. With this in my mind let me try and explain where I believe each stage intersects the plot line.
- Denial: Clock Town and the first three days – The very beginning of this game represents the first stage of grief. Not one character or their actions signifies or clearly represents this process, but the many interactions Link faces as the Deku Scrub show that each conversation and action form a piece to the denial puzzle. Speaking with the townsfolk there is an acceptance of the closeness of the moon, however its fate is contested. This is best evidenced by the debate scene you walk into in the Mayor’s office between the head of the town’s guards, Viscen and the leader of the Carpenters, Mutoh. ‘You cowards! Do you actually believe the moon will fall? The confused townsfolk simply caused a panic by believing this ridiculous, groundless theory … If the soldiers wish to run, then run, Viscen! We councilmen will stick to tradition. This carnival will be a success! I’ve never heard of a defense unit abandoning its town!’ Mutoh’s objection to the cancelling of the carnival is his denial to the danger that everyone else seems to acknowledge above. A pivotal plot point is revealed in this interaction and it is intrinsically linked to the first stage of grief. Talking of links, Link’s own denial is evident when he finally makes it to the top of the Clock Tower in the final hours to confront the Skull Kid. In his current form he has no way of challenging the Skull Kid and is powerless to the inevitability of doom. In this process to deny the fate of the world Link uses his recovered Ocarina to reverse time and go back to his first day in Termina.
- Anger: Woodfall area – Link’s journey to awaken the Giants of the four regions of Termina first takes him to the Southern Swamp. When he finally reaches the Deku Palace he meets the Deku Tribe and the second stage of grief. It is discovered the Deku Princess has gone missing, her father and King has decided to incarcerate an innocent monkey who he blames his turmoil on. Refusing to reason, the monkey is punished out of the King’s anger, ‘We’re about to punish the foolish monkey who kidnapped the Deku princess! He has insulted the Royal Family. I’ll show him what happens when you do that!’. Not recognizing the true culprit of the missing princess and the dire surroundings the swamp is facing, Link is tasked in investigating the truth and the Temple of Woodfall. Though at this point it isn’t clear how Link is affected by this stage of denial, there are several metaphorical actions in this point of the game that seem to point to Link getting over his own anger. To summon the Temple from the poisoned waters of the swamp Link must use the Song of Awakening. In doing this there seems to be an indication that by recognizing the problem (in this case the anger) Link is able to get the results he is looking for (represented by the temple rising from the waters). There is also Link’s battle with the boss that resides in the temple, Odolwa. This chaotic warrior seems to represent the sporadic nature of moods and feelings. He jolts across the battle area in a seemingly random nature while his body contorts in an unusual way. Link’s victory over this demon could be seen to signify our hero’s own control of his emotions returning with the last slash of the blade.
- Bargaining: Snowhead – Link heads north to awaken the regions Giant, its here with the aid of magic and the Lens of Truth that he encounters the ghost of former Goron leader, Darmani. Above his grave, the former hero begs Link to resurrect him, ‘As I am, I can only watch as Goron Village is slowly buried in ice…I may have died, but I cannot rest. So, you can use magic? The soaring one also told me that you are able to use it… I beg you! Bring me back to life with your magic!’ Darmani is trying to bargain with a perceived power Link is said to possess. Darmani is unable to rest due to his belief that he has failed his people. Here we also see a recurrence of denial, in refusing to rest until his desires are met his soul is left in stasis until he believes the mission is complete. Instead of resorting to anger like the Deku King however, Darmani has passed this stage and is trying to use Link to irrationally bargain to save his people and appease his failings. Darmani’s soul is eventually cleansed by the heat from the Hot Spring’s water and the reminder of his son. When Link is able to take the complete version of the Goron Lullaby to the former Goron leader it satisfies his qualms. He finally rests knowing that his son will lead the Goron people back to prosperity and that Link will avenge his death at the hands of the beast at Snowhead Temple. Our hero’s own bargaining is represented by the battle with the demon at Snowhead, Goht. The four legged mechanical animal harkens in similarity to a raging bull, fairly unpredictable and singular minded in its intent. The arena that the battle itself is in is just a circular track. The unrelenting nature of Goht as well as the linear root of the battle area can be seen to represent the stage of grief we are currently at. Going round in circles in a uncompromising fashion trying to get back what we may have lost. Link’s defeat of Goht signifies, like Darmani, that now there is a path to acceptance that maybe what he is searching for may not be found.
- Depression: Great Bay – This stage of grief is represented by Lulu and her missing offspring. When Link gets to the Great Bay on the back of Epona he encounters a dying Mikau, Lulu’s partner. Mikau explains how their eggs have disappeared and how he was mortally wounded in the search for their children. Mikau dies leaving Link to try and recover the missing eggs. When Link tries to consult Lulu in the form of Mikau with the Zora Mask she is secluded to her own despair and silence. Her low emotional state can only be associated to her missing eggs leading to the belief she is experiencing a maternal depression. Another interesting point that verifies the maternal depression theory is what happens when Link is able to collect all the eggs. Once recovered, the eggs hatch and teach Link the New Wave Bossa Nova. When sung back to Lulu she then arises out of her slump and regains her singing voice, which is evidenced once the concert is performed upon the completion of the Great Bay Temple. This part bares similarity to how a mother names her child after a miscarriage. The regained voice from being able to identify her children from the notes of the song bring her closure. Each note symbolizes each of the eggs. Link’s depression in this area is represented by the temple itself, navigation is limited in this area due to a complex piping and tidal system. Link must redirect the flows of the water and deal with the frustrations of limited movement to get to the final chamber where the boss Gyorg resides. The defeat of Gyorg symbolizes how Link has navigated the complexity of his feelings and been able to find a metaphorical exit towards the light.
- Acceptance: Ikana Valley – The final stage of grief focuses solely on our hero himself. In the land of the dead Link only comes across two living characters, a young girl and her cursed father. The final area also doesn’t have a transformation, allowing the main character to be reflective. There is no more significant representation of this than the empty shells he needs to create to ascend the Stone Tower. The Elegy of Emptiness learned from the King of Ikana allows Link to create four lifeless forms from each of his transformative masks. These shells must be left in certain places in the tower to allow Link to ascend towards the heavens. The metaphorical significance is hard to contest, by leaving each grief stricken shell (Deku = Anger, Goron = Bargaining, Zora = Depression, Human = Anger) behind he is able to progress toward his goal. Further more, once Link is climbing to the top of the tower he obtains the Light Arrows, which grant him entry to the temple once he has reached the top.
After Link has battled each area and stage of grief it is time for the Hero of Time to recover. For this to happen the final battle with Majora’s Mask must commence. At this point it is worth pointing out that during Link’s journey the Skull Kid who is possessed by the Mask has also experienced a similar fate. The ‘imp’s’ loss is related to the returning of his friend’s to the four corners of the world for their slumber, the Giants. It is possible that the Skull Kid would have also gone through the same stages of grief as Link but was unable to make it to Acceptance. With the negativity of Denial, Anger and Depression, Majora’s Mask fed off this and eventually bore to life without the need of the Skull Kid’s shell. Link to save Termina and fully heal must then defeat this monster …
- Recovery: The Moon – interestingly this isn’t part of the five stages of grief but is acknowledged to be a plausible result of the process. Link’s recovery comes in the form of the interaction with the children he meets on the Moon’s surface. By exchanging his collected masks and his time to play their games, he is able to claim the Fierce Diety’s Mask. This mask alone is the single representation that Link has now recovered from his pain and is now stronger for it. The contrast evidenced by Link’s adult like form as the Fierce Deity comparatively to Majora’s random child like character proves this further. Assuming the form of the Fierce Diety against Majora, Link is able to easily dispatch the evil that the mask holds and save Termina and it’s people. Once the power of Majora has left the mask, it isn’t coincidental that the Skull Kid is able to reconcile his relationship with the Four Giants and accept their necessity for departure. Further proving that with the eradication of the stages of grief allows one to regain some form of their former self.
The discreet sophistication of this story makes it my favorite Zelda game. Not only for its plot line, but for the introduction of some new game play mechanics that reinvented the tried and tested formula. What makes it more relevant to me is the time of life I played this game. The 3DS re-release came at a time that was very difficult personally. As some may know who have read my previous posts, I suffer from depression and anxiety. During this time I was possibly at my lowest, suicide was a viable option in my head and I was trying to quantify loss. I couldn’t control spiraling feelings and this lead me down a very dark path. So when February 13 came around I was in my last cycle. To me there was nothing beyond the immediate future … very fittingly I was on a limited time scale with no Ocarina to reverse the period. But playing this game again after a decade and a half made me find relation in someone else’s darkness. It allowed me to follow the path of a hero who not only struggled, but prevailed. I played the game on my 3DS on full charge until the battery died. I then would plug it in and continue playing. I was Link, I was searching for answers, I started recovering by exploring my inner demons. No psychologist or professional taught me that more predominantly than the elf dressed in green who went looking for his friend. I can not firmly state enough how much of a positive impact this game had on my life. Though I may not have achieved my Fierce Diety Mask yet, I am one step closer every day thanks to Aunoma and his development team. For that, this is who I dedicate this article too …
This article can also be found on aJNation71’s website along with other great writings.