A psychological in-depth look into The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

An Article by Jonathan Poole

“You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”  Considered to be one of the most iconic quotes within The Legend of Zelda franchise and arguably the most significant within The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. It is the initial piece of dialogue, uttered by the Happy Mask Salesman, that truly sets the narrative of the game and signifies the essence and experience as to what Majora’s Mask entails (a story of loss and despair).

Considered among fans worldwide to be one of the darkest games within Nintendo’s Zelda franchise, Majora’s Mask’s narrative is set in the land of Termina, a parallel world/dimension to that of the familiar Hyrule. It is not long before Link, franchise protagonist, realizes that a troublesome imp named Skull Kid has stolen a sacred mask with the intention of summoning the Moon and, in the process, obliterate the land of Termina and all its living inhabitants. Link has a mere three days to prevent its inevitable destruction.

Unknown to some, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is a video game based on a robust narrative foundation encompassing various psychological underpinnings regarding not only characters but also the captivating storyline as a whole. As many knows, Majora’s Mask directly ensues Ocarina of Time’s storyline. Link, considered to be the Hero of Time, embarks upon a novel quest following Ganondorf’s defeat.

That said, why is Link acknowledged by many as the Hero of Time? More precisely, what generates a hero? Heroes are recognized and revered for their virtue and courage, the precise characteristics Link possesses. These acts of courage/heroism are accomplished in the service of people and/or communities in dire need (in this case the inhabitants of Termina). Further, heroes take larger risks and boast other qualities such as compassion, kindness, empathy and, specifically relating to Link, altruism.

Altruistic behaviours are defined as those that benefit another living organism while simultaneously appearing to be detrimental and/or unfavourable to the one performing said behaviours. From the beginning moment when the Great Deku Tree informs Link as to what is expected from him (saving the land of Hyrule) right up until he encounters Skull Kid and the Happy Mask Salesman, all of Link’s battles and victories are purely altruistic heroism (placing his life on the line in order to save the land of Termina from its terrible impending fate).

Upon stealing the mask from the Happy Mask Salesman, Skull Kid, Majora’s Mask’s antagonist, becomes a formidable and vigorously dangerous ancient sorcerer known as Majora. Skull Kid has always been a self-centred, anxiety-ridden, mischievous imp (hence why the four giants abandon him shortly after befriending him), but his encounter with the Happy Mask Salesman and his obtaining of Majora’s mask are the nastiest acts he has ever committed, shifting the entire land of Termina in the process.

It can be assumed that the act of being self-centred is one of many common characteristics of antisocial personality disorder. Other characteristics of ASPD in which Skull Kid tends to encompass include failures to conform to social norms, deceitfulness (such as lying and manipulating those close to him), impulsivity, aggressiveness (verbal and/or physical, such as the manner he treats his fairy companion, Tael) and, most importantly, a lack of remorse for those deceived.

What’s more, it is quite apparent that Tael, for fear of punishment, conforms to every last one of Skull Kid’s commands. Conformity applies the criterion of abandoning one’s own position (personal opinions/beliefs) to embrace a contradictory position (expressed by comparison other/group); that is, conformity occurs when real or perceived pressure from the other/group causes one to act differently than they otherwise normally would.

Furthermore, one can even go as far as to postulate the idea that Skull Kid completely loses/escapes his authentic identity the moment he slips on Majora’s mask. By wearing this ancient mask, Skull kid transcends into the mind, identity and personality that of the villainous sorcerer.

With that in mind (no pun intended), disruption of identity characterized by a minimum of two distinct and divergent states of personality as well as a marked discontinuity in sense of self and time, and alterations in affect (emotions), memory, perception, consciousness, cognition, behaviour, and/or sensory-motor functioning are signs and symptoms (that Skull Kid rightfully possesses upon donning the mask) of dissociative identity disorder.

To exemplify, once Link finally puts Majora’s reign to an end, and the mask is returned to the Happy Mask Salesman, Skull kid has absolutely no recollection as to what had transpired when he had the mask within his grasp as if he were, altogether, an entirely different entity.

Regarding the storyline, it is apparent that Majora’s Mask is a narrative of loss and despair. From parting ways with his fairy companion Navy to the encountering of Skull Kid, Link is dragged into Termina, a land overwhelmed by death and grief, to face his darkest fears and emotions. Upon entering Clock Town, the game’s primary location, it is evident that what seems to be a petty ‘squabble’ between bureaucrats can, in actuality, be interpreted as a metaphor for the first state of grief in the Kübler-Ross model, denial.

It is suggested that the Freudian conceptions of denial encompass a borderline psychotic refusal to recognize the physical facts of the immediate environment as well as the frequent reluctance to accept anyone event’s implications. The committee in charge of organizing the annual carnival, unwilling to acknowledge and prepare for the looming danger ahead, choose not only to ignore but openly ridicule the very idea of a falling moon, refraining it from interfering with the said carnival.

The very notion of refusing to take initiation can be directly linked to the psychological concept known as the bystander effect; the social phenomenon in which as the number of individuals within any one particular event/situation increases, the probability of providing aid in moments of distress tend to decrease. That is, the citizens of Clock Town consider no responsibility bestowed on them.

Following his arrival at the Deku Palace at the center of the Southern Swamp, Link encounters the second stage of grief: anger. The Deku Princess has been kidnapped by the Skull Kid, resulting in the Deku King’s endless fury. Eventually, Link manages to pacify this anger upon rescuing the princess from Woodfall temple and an otherwise terrible fate.

Thereafter, Link encounters the third stage of grief, bargaining (typified by desperate efforts and prayers to halt and/or reserve suffering and loss) as he enters the snowy, mountainous region of Snowhead, meeting the ghost of Darmani, a Goron warrior. Darmani’s ineffective desire to be brought back to life is a prime example of bargaining. It has been proposed that the paralyzing cold that has struck Snowhead symbolizes Darmani’s inability to move on into the afterlife.

The fourth stage of grief, depression, is accompanied by the desire to disconnect and retreat inwards. That said, it is perceptible that Lulu, a female Zora vocalist resigning in the coast of Great Bay, has fallen into a state of maternal depression, isolating herself from her fellow bandmates, as she realizes that her not yet hatched offspring have been stolen by Gerudo pirates. Nonetheless, Link manages to pacify Lulu’s depressive state once playing the “New Wave Bossa Nova”, only known by her offspring, implying that they have been salvaged at long last.

With Great Bay Temple at rest, Link journeys onward to his final destination, Ikana Valley. Amidst this voyage, Link encounters the fifth and final stage of grief: acceptance. Within the Stone Tower Temple, Link must defeat the Garo Masters who are identified as “emptiness cloaked in darkness”, exemplifying Link’s metaphorical journey pertaining to the endeavour of finding Navi and thereby replenishing the loss from his life. That is, by accepting the grief associated with that emptiness, Link demonstrates that he is no longer troubled by the loss of his friend.

It has become evident that The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is a game with rich narrative and psychological underpinnings. The psychology behind Majora’s Mask can be considered endless, exemplified by the plethora of theories and analyses stemming from dedicated fans. The reason being is as stated prior, the game can be considered the darkest/most poignant game of the franchise, leaving much to be desired and, therefore, elucidated.

With that said, Majora’s Mask will forever go down in history as not only one of the greatest games in The Legend of Zelda franchise but as one of the most preeminent video games ever to be developed.