by Gregory Gay - 03.27.09
This morning, Jody wrote a sweet little article on why he loves Phantom Hourglass (go read it, it’s pretty rad). As much as I love the lad, I completely disagree about Hourglass. It’s a good game, don’t get me wrong. I just didn’t really like it. Something has bothered me about it ever since I finished it, but I couldn’t quitefigure out what it was until this morning.
The title of this piece probably has you wondering what this has to with Majora’s Mask. Well, to completely simplify it, everything comes down to thematic structure. Majora’s Mask was a bizarre, unrepeatable fluke for Nintendo. It was one of the most mature and complex exercises in gaming narrative that has ever existed, and it came out of a companymost famous for a princess who is the target of repeated kidnappings and the man who has to save her ad nauseum.
What the hell am I talking about, and how does it relate back to Phantom Hourglass? The answer lies beyond. It’s a bit of a long, winding, and slightly pretentious road, but everything will hopefully make sense by the end.
Update 2.5: We’re number one on reddit’s gaming section!Update 1: Jamie Love wrote a fantastic response over at our sister site Toronto Thumbs.
Recently, Leigh Alexander wondered when “mature” games will actually be mature (read this one too, I’ll still be here when you get back).
This actually happened back in 2000, albeit on a bit of a technicality, as Majora’s Mask was rated “E for Everyone” in the United States. But that makesthis all the more poignant. Why is it that this E-rated game is more mature than the bulk of games rated Mature? It isn’t because of boobies or blood, nor is it because Link decided to take up superfluous, forced swearing as a hobby. It’s because Majora’s Mask is a game that evokes an incredibly guttural emotional reaction from the player. I don’t mean glamorized emotions like love or anger,either - the centerpieces of what would be a real “mature” title. Majora’s Mask instead evokes far more primal emotions – those of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness.
The majority of Zelda games take Link and build him into the fated warrior his destiny dictates him to be. They represent the classic coming of age story. Yet the opposite is true of Majora’s Mask. From the beginning, Majora’s Mask takesan experienced Link and renders him helpless. Link is turned into a Deku scrub, a weak and weaponless form that could be brushed away with a strong gust of wind. If that wasn’t enough, it quickly becomes clear that the world is coming to an end and there isn’t exactly much that Link can do to save it. From the beginning, you are left with seventy-two hours to prevent the moon from crashing intoTermina with seemingly no way to stop it.
Very few videogames deal directly with the concept of defeat. There is an implicit understanding between developer and player that the main character is meant to win. MMORPGs are notoriously addictive because they empower the player in this respect. Every character in an MMO is a badass. Final Fantasy VI is the most direct example that I can remember ofa game that rips all hope away from the player. Halfway through the game, the bad guy wins. The world is torn asunder and your characters are thrown to the wind. It is a powerful experience to be utterly defeated, and both Final Fantasy VI and Majora’s Mask are made far more memorable because of this.
In Majora’s Mask, you are trapped in the same three-day cycle over and over again. Despiteknowing that you are utterly unable to defeat the Skull Kid, you must wait until that very last minute before turning back the clock. You are faced with that hopelessness, and you have to overcome it to win. Of course, this becomes easier as the game progresses. You slowly acquire more powers and weapons, and you quickly learn ways to work within that oppressive time limit. In my opinion, your...