There was a child once long ago who went into the woods outside Kokiri Village. The child was looking for someone, and was very sad because all of their friends had gone away, and they thought that they didn’t have any. As it came to be, these woods were enchanted, and it was said strange and mysterious things happened to those who travelled through them. Some of the village people thought these woods had been the dwelling-place of the Old Ones in the time no-one could remember anymore, and that their spirits and memories still haunted those same woods.
The child searched high and low, near and far, but couldn’t find any trace of the person they were looking for. Then, the child found a cave inside a hill they had never explored before. Supposedly, this cave opened up into a gigantic hole, and the child fell in. That was the last anyone ever heard of them. Some say the child found the kingdom of the faeries who are thought to live inside that hill, and that it was those same Good People who raised that child, and that they remain inside that hill to this very day.
From its outset, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is brave. The first explicitly direct sequel in the series’ history since Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and a sequel to the overwhelmingly successful and beloved The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to boot, there was a lot riding on this game, especially after director Eiji Aonuma was tasked with designing the entire thing from scratch in under a year. Yet before the game even starts, Majora’s Mask immediately sets about distinguishing itself from its illustrious predecessor in some very dramatic ways. The most obvious, of course, being the fact that the iconic Legend of Zelda sword-and-shield emblem and regal gold background adoring the box art of every game since A Link to the Past has now been replaced by an entheodelic maelstrom (or, prophetically, the main cast in the New Nintendo 3DS version) and the piercing gaze of the titular Majora’s Mask. This continues into the game’s opening moments: There are many ways in which one can note the Peter Pan influences in The Legend of Zelda, from Kokiri Village in the last game to Link’s tunic itself. Yet this time, Zelda has chosen to invoke Alice in Wonderland instead, and that one small change changes everything.
The literal rabbit hole is obvious, less obvious is the world that rabbit hole opens into. For the first time since The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, this Zelda is not a story about Hyrule. Instead, it is set in the land of Termina, a curious mirror universe of the Golden Land where everyone looks the same, but behaves very differently. Where Hyrule is always depicted as some kind of romanticized classic high fantasy world, Termina is in places shockingly modern, with Elizabethan and Renaissance-influenced fashion and architecture, and even a rock band. And yet, the sense and mystique of the fey is everywhere, and considerably moreso then in Hyrule: A strange and beguiling haze of dreams and dream logic hangs over Termina’s inhabitants, even as they’re obsessed with the mundane day-to-day. Terminans communicate and express themselves almost entirely through the use of masks, a performative metaphor, and even the trademark Legend of Zelda epic fantasy music has been all but completely replaced by an eclectic soundtrack that draws influence from Chinese theatre, world fusion music and even outright sampling.
But far and away the most striking aspect of the new land is how much its people are driven by time, indeed, they are slaves to it: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time had a time-travel mechanic and its story was based around standard genre fiction stable time loops, but its sequel Majora’s Mask interprets the time motif in a far more literal, mundane and materialistically gritty manner. Everyone single character in the game has a schedule, and every hour of every day they are doing something different. And in the centre of the aptly-named Clock Town, and thus the centre of the game, is the massive Clock Tower. Looming imposingly over all of Termina, the grinding of its great gears, cogs and mechanisms an omnipresent and inescapable part of the city’s psychogeography. Its giant hands march forward and its bells toll ominously, as it is counting down to an inevitable eschaton. On top of that tower stands the deranged god Majora who, in the possessed body of Link’s former ally Skull Kid, hurled the Moon out of the sky in a fit of jealous rage. In three days, the Moon will fall to earth, and the world will end.
Down below, the people of Termina go about their daily routines as usual, and though some have had their personal lives turned upside down by Skull Kid, others try not to pay much heed to the looming disaster, having accepted their fate as part of the natural order of things and desiring only to live their remaining moments to the fullest they can. It is this focus on people that is possibly the biggest difference between Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, as all the quests in the sequel centre around getting to know someone, being their friend and helping them through their difficult times. Indeed, the true ending of the game reveals that the Spirit of Termina is literally the collective souls of all of its people. This Link remains the Hero of Time and, with the infamous Ocarina of Time, can always return to the Dawn of the First Day and re-live the events of Termina’s downfall over and over until they can find a way to undo it. Going back in time does, however, necessitate re-doing every quest and becoming reacquainted with everyone in Termina from the beginning, as nobody will remember who Link ever was or that they were ever helped.
(Worth noting that the name “Termina” is said to come from the word “Terminal”, but not in the sense most have taken it to mean. The definition of “terminal” used here is not that of being an ending point, as the story’s apocalyptic tone might suggest. Instead, it is in reference to an airport terminal, a gathering-place where people from all walks of life who might not otherwise interact come to meet outside of the context of their regular lives.)
This overt shift towards a more intimate, mundane setting, and away from the mythic aspirations of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, makes the scope of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask appropriately deceptive. It is within Alice in Wonderland that the secret to understanding this can be found. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the quintessential Otherworld portal children’s fantasy story but, true to Lewis Carroll’s persona, it’s not quite as simple as all that. Though mirrors are not as much of a theme as they are in the sequel, Wonderland is a mirrored, or inverted Otherworld and Alice is an inverted fairyland story. Although they certainly act strangely and have a very alien code of logic and ethics, the denizens of Wonderland are also very clearly meant to be recognisable caricatures, thanks in no small part to the book’s illustrator being famous political cartoonist Sir John Tenniel. So Wonderland is in truth a satire of our world, and its bizarre nonsense logic is a commentary on our own.
This means Alice is not an Ordinary Girl who falls down the rabbit-hole into Faeryland and comes back a hero like a genderswapped version of the old Celtic myths. She’s a goddess (or a goddess-in-training, really) of the dreamtime who falls into our world and returns to her own awakened and with a better understanding of how mortals organise their lives. Gods, ultimately need mortals to remember them. This is especially clear in the opening and closing chapters of Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, given the way the narration describes her. As Jonathan Miller rightfully said about Alice in Wonderland: “Once you take the animal heads off, you begin to see what it’s all about. A small child, surrounded by hurrying, worried people, thinking ‘Is that what being grown up is like?’”.
And this is what The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is about too. Unlike Alice, however, Majora’s Mask doesn’t feature a goddess leaving the mythic realm to visit the mortal plane. Instead, the transition from Hyrule to Termina is rather one of going from one kind of fantasy world to another. Ocarina of Time‘s Hyrule is (and this is a gross oversimplification, but you get the picture) effectively the land of epic fantasy: The kind told about in patriarchal myths of power, conquest and lineage succession. That the story of Ocarina of Time is in reality a deconstruction of this type of narrative is a crucial fact, but an unnecessary one here. By contrast, and in spite of the fandom and game journalism master narrative accounts positing that Majora’s Mask and Termina is a “darker”, “grittier”, “edgier” or “more mature” Zelda, in truth, it’s children’s fantasy the same as every other Zelda. But the difference this time is that this version of the Legend is trying very, very hard to be honest children’s fantasy, explaining complex and difficult concepts in a straightforward, yet poignant way.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is without question the Hero of Time’s deferred coming of age story, but it pulls no punches about the world Link is coming of age into. Just like Wonderland, Termina is a warped metaphor for the modern world the way a child on the cusp of becoming an adult might see it. This time Link is a teenager, as opposed to being a prepubescent or an already-idealized adult (note the concept art in the manual and strategy guide, and the fact that, in game, this Link has the same body model as Young Link from Ocarina of Time, but can use all of Adult Link’s weapons and items), and in exploring Termina the Hero of Time comes face-to-face with death, loss, grief, fear and heartbreak, but also honour, loyalty, love, intimacy and devotion. And while Link’s quest is ultimately to stop the Moon from falling and save Termina, it is explicitly said the way to actually do this is to bring happiness back into people’s lives.
(Link can even befriend the monsters: Stalchildren, a generic skeleton enemy creature in Ocarina of Time, become allies after a quest where Link lays their captain to rest following a test of courage.)
Because of this, the stories given to all of Termina’s citizens, and in particular the subtlety and elegance with which they’re written, really deserve special mention, and perhaps the standout in this regard is the Romani Ranch story. Almost every character in Ocarina of Time has a literal doppelganger in Termina who even reuses their same in-game models, though their personalities are often wildly different. Malon, however has two: Cremia and Romani, orphaned sisters who run Romani Ranch outside Clock Town, who use Malon’s adult and child models, respectively. On top of running her family farm and raising her baby sister herself at a comparatively young age, Cremia is embroiled in a painful love triangle with her best friend Anju back in town (the brilliant Cucco breeder in Ocarina of Time‘s Kakariko Village who is unfortunately allergic to the chickens she raises and keeps losing them, here a nervously scattered young bride-to-be who works at the local inn). However, the way the script is written, it seems deliberately unclear whether Cremia’s unrequited feelings are for Anju’s fiancé Kafei…Or for Anju herself.
Should the Moon fall on the Third Day, Anju will take refuge in Cremia’s farmhouse. If Link speaks to Cremia then, she’ll confide in the Hero “Actually… I know… We’re not safe here, either… That’s how life goes, I guess. There are some things in life that you can’t change no matter how hard you try”. If Link helps Cremia during her quest earlier in the week, she’ll also say something that could well pass as the thesis statement for all of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask: “By doing one good deed, a child becomes an adult”.
It is Anju and Kafei’s story, of which Cremia is just one small part, that is arguably the true main quest of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. A massive quest spanning all three days and involving just about everyone in Clock Town, Link is tasked with tracking down Kafei, who seems to have disappeared right before their wedding. Finding him, Link discovers that Kafei has been turned into a child by Skull Kid and can’t face Anju because he’s afraid he can’t be her husband in this form. Link has to convince Kafei to reconcile with Anju anyway, which they do at the end of the story just as the Moon is about to fall. Though a story of obvious gravity and importance, the true implications of Anju and Kafei’s wedding are easily lost on those inclined to view it an annoying distraction from the comparative comforting familiarity of the dungeon crawling and puzzle solving.
Termina is an alternate universe to Hyrule, and also its mirrored self. Mirrors and Link’s Lens of Truth serve a similar purpose. Everyone in Hyrule is supposed to have a Terminan counterpart (And vice versa), and most of them are quite easy to identify, especially to anyone who’s played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Yet there are some curious, and curiously major, seeming omissions. Ganondorf is completely absent (though the Gerudo, the all female culture he lords dominion over in Hyrule, are not: In Termina, they’re a ruthless, though honourable, band of pirates living on the outpost in the Great Bay under an obvious matriarchy), as this is not a story about Hyrule’s mythological master narrative. Likewise Impa, probably due to her iconic and overt connection to the Hyrule royal family, who are irrelevant in Termina.
Most strikingly, and unavoidably, are Link and Zelda: The Hero of Time is of course playable, so there’s no need to reuse the Link model from a design perspective. But, in another first since The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (which also gets a nod, as the Ballad of the Wind Fish returns, along with a loving satire of Link’s Awakening‘s then-notoriously vocal and loyal fanbase), the titular princess plays absolutely no role in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask at all, save a brief (albeit touching) cameo at the very beginning of the game. And unlike Link’s Awakening, which prominently featured Marin in a starring role, this time she seems to have no equivalent (though some could make a case for Cremia).
But this is The Legend of Zelda. Zelda is *always* watching. And it’s Majora’s Mask, moreso than any other game in the entire series, that does the most to undermine and overthrow everything fans think they know about what Zelda is and how it works. It is with Majora’s Mask that the Heresy of Zelda finally makes its presence known, announcing itself for all who would hear. The game may not need to make new characters to reuse their models but who, hypothetically speaking, are the Terminan equivalents of Link and Zelda? For if we turn our psychic gaze to the cosmologically metaphorical, we know they have to exist. Zelda without Ganondorf or Impa is one thing. Zelda without Zelda and Link is impossible. Many say that Skull Kid is Termina’s Link, and it is true they are very explicitly paralleled in many ways. Both are children, both have lost friends (or think they’ve lost friends), both acquire masks that allow them to channel powerful spirits, both learn to move past grief and loss and both are positioned as absolute equals: The two narrative prime movers at the polar opposite ends from each other.
Textually this holds. Extradiegetically, however, it does not. If Link listens to Anju’s grandmother in the Stock Pot Inn after hours on the Second Day, she will tell the Hero of Time the story of Termina. Long ago, Termina was one united land held up by four mystical Giants, whose friend was a small, playful and friendly imp named Skull Kid. The world was broken into four regions, however, when the Giants decided to part ways, leaving to the four corners of the map to protect Termina while in hibernation. Devastated and confused by their departure, Skull Kid lashed out against the people of Termina, before being asked to leave the world by the Giants. By the time The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask begins, Skull Kid has returned, this time imbued with the power of Majora, an omnipotent deity with the mind of a selfish child. So while Skull Kid first appeared in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time‘s Hyrule, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask retcons him to be of Terminan origin. This does fit with the theory that he is Termina’s Link, except for the fact that Termina already has a Link: Kafei.
Like traditional depictions of Link, Kafei is a child who must undergo a rite of passage. Just like the Hero of Time, this is something forced on Kafei unwillingly, and, in an appropriately mirrored reflection of the famous twist in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Kafei is an adult trapped in a child’s body. Kafei is even briefly playable, a first for the series, and his quest ends with him winning Anju’s hand in marriage (or more accurately, and critically, keeping the promise he made to marry her). As the most prominent female character in the cast (not counting the Hero of Time who, please remember, is still explicitly genderfluid), this symbolic marriage ossifies the implications that revolved around this type of story in the past. The actual end goal of any rite of passage story is for a boy to grow into manhood and ultimately take a woman as his wife. Coming of age stories, as they exist in our culture, are by definition patriarchal: Why do you think all of our shōnen romances, or just about any romance in the west, feature the love story as a great quest, the goal of which is to win a woman’s love, with marriage (or implied marriage) being the necessary end of the story?
But like Ocarina of Time before it, Majora’s Mask is a blatant deconstruction of this narrative archetype. The romance-adventure is somebody else’s quest, not the player’s. And the supposed protagonist of that quest feels scared and unworthy and has no actual agency at the beginning: It’s up to the Hero to give him the confidence he needs to find himself. And Anju, whose character archetype would normally be ancillary and supporting to the male romance-adventure, is here quite clearly the true protagonist of the story. It’s her pain and confusion, tempered by her heart’s indomitable resolve, that is meant to drive Link to reunite Anju with her lover. Anju is furthermore far and away the person Link interacts the most with of the two, especially after factoring in quests that are not her own. If The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was about putting the Hero of Time through the ringer of a rite of passage gone horribly right, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is about the Hero of Time helping others through their own reclaimed, reconstructed coming of age story.
In this moment, the Hero of Time stops being Link. The Hero of Time has transcended Link, and that is their rite of passage: Passing that mantle to someone else and leaving them with the support and guidance to make something better out of it. For as bold and subversive as it was, ironically (though perhaps fittingly given the themes of time running backwards and in and out for our windblown Hero) it’s not until The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is truly sublimated. But if Kafei is Termina’s Link and the Hero of Time isn’t, then this must mean the Hero of Time and Skull Kid are someone else. Who are they?
Isn’t it obvious? They’re Zelda.
Who else would travel the world purely to help people in need and help them discover, and unite with, the greatness that lies within everyone? Who has, in fact, already done this oncebefore, wearing the Mask of Sheik? The Hero of Time didn’t fall out of Hyrule and into Termina. Like Skull Kid, they originated in Termina somewhere in the before-time, somehow making it to Hyrule and winding up in a Legend of Zelda story, where they encountered their true/future/alternate self. The Hero of Time doesn’t have a fairy. Why would they need one? Ironically, it’s the sheer inherent, fundamental wrongness of Zelda herself being in a Legend of Zelda plot that causes The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to implode so catastrophically (Hyrule underwent kernel panic), and why The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask feels so right and true by contrast. Majora’s Mask has the Terminan Zelda returning home and, like Alice, fulfilling her calling by coming into her own divinity (the Sheikah Gossip Stones finally reveal their true meaning). And, as this is an action game about therapy, she does this by facing off with, and subsequently healing, her own dark thought-form: Majora, the dark embodiment of all her negative energy, uncertainty and self-doubt, and Skull Kid, the shade of her own corrupted animus.
For this is who they must also be. For all the pain and suffering it may have caused, Majora remains a child. A cruel, sadistic, selfish child to be certain, but many children are like that. Majora is what becomes of raw childhood emotions left unfettered and channeled improperly: They become destructive, but even more importantly, they become self-destructive, and self-destruction is the perversion of ego death. Skull Kid is merely lost, confused and sad, which is why he must wear Majora’s Mask. Masks are, naturally, quite important to this story: Anju and Kafei must reclaim and reforge the Sun and Moon Mask, the symbol of their wedding vows (and also a symbol of the healed and reunified heavenly plane). The Hero of Time can transform into a variety of forms by wearing masks, which they can only acquire by playing a song to soothe the restless spirits of the dead who passed on before feeling like their purpose was complete. And, in doing so, completing it for them.
A mask serves two purposes. While it symbolically hides the face we present to the everyday world, it also allows us to take on the visage of esoteric concepts, metaphorically joining us with them. In many traditional African cultures, masks are used as part of a complex ritual of shamanic theatre, where the mask-wearer channels the spirit represented by the mask itself, which could be either ancestor spirits or the spirits of the land and the animals. This, a set of beliefs and rituals common to many Sub-Saharan African peoples, is the tradition most similar to the way masks are used in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask: Link’s transformation masks are all representations of people who have died, and while in each form NPCs will speak to the Hero as if they are the dead person in question. And fittingly, though it doesn’t cause them to physically transform, the Hero of Time acquires a Kafei Mask that is crucial to starting the reuniting Anju and Kafei quest, while Kafei himself begins that quest hiding his identity behind the mask of a Kitsune, a Japanese guardian fox spirit sometimes associated with fidelity.
Because of the ubiquity of masks and shamanic ritual themes, identity is fluid and mutable in Termina, and this is as it should be. A further subversion of the traditional coming of age story, where ascension into an ill-defined “Adulthood” is portrayed as a desirable, yet unavoidable teleological inevitability, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is a longform exercise in breaking down the notions of self, identity, adulthood and ego. The Hero of Time does not have a discrete identity they mature into by the end of the game (and indeed, what was the Adult Link of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time but another kind of mask? Early builds of Majora’s Mask even had Adult Link accessible through a literal in-game transformation mask before it was decided to just age Link up instead): Rather, they must be all things to all people. Another facet of the mask motif is the colloquial one, that notion that a person “wears a lot of masks” or “wears a lot of hats”: Certain quests will only start if Link wears a particular mask, and people will say different things to the Hero depending on which mask they’re wearing. Because that’s how it is in real life: We do not have one defined Soul that everyone sees objectively. We all wear masks, and we wear different masks for different people. Just as we can only ever see facets of the world, we can only ever see facets of each other.
The mask theme manifests the most strongly in the central mirroring of Skull Kid and the Hero of Time (Zelda). The titular Majora’s Mask, as described by the Happy Mask Salesman at the beginning of the game, was created by “an ancient tribe” who used it for “hexing rituals”. Dark magick then, where negative thoughts and emotions are channeled, weaponizing their form and power (this also means, implicitly, that Termina is, or at least was, a land where skilled magicians and masters of magickal arts live. Indeed, in spite of its technological superiority when compared to Hyrule, Termina’s syncretism feels at heart pre-modern and tribal). Skull Kid was angry and sad before he found Majora’s Mask, and this is part of the reason he found it in the first place: His feelings were not by definition negative, but his inability to understand and deal with them was. These negative energies resonated with those of the mask, drew him to it and compelled him to wear it.
The Hero of Time, on the other hand, acquires the Fierce Deity’s Mask after travelling to the centre of the Moon, soothing the fears of the children who live inside (children wearing the masks of the game’s bosses) and trading them every mask in the game except the three transformation masks. The Fierce Deity’s Mask, appropriately, allows the Hero of Time to transform into a literal god, whose divine power is said to draw on the strength of all the people in Termina, for the final showdown with Majora. For how else does a goddess draw Her strength, but through the belief and strength of Her people? And who is the ultimate mask-wearer if not a Deity, who takes on different aspects for different people at different places and times?
Skull Kid and the Hero of Time are engaged in a cosmic ritual performance, and this is also why they must wear the masks. By channeling the spirits of the faces they wear, they reenact the struggle for ascension and self-enlightenment over and over again. With their masks and chosen guises, they play the part of positive and negative role modes put in stylized conflict with one another against the backdrop of the land of Termina and the imposing Moon; a ritual combat that always ends with healing, reconciliation and reunification. The game itself a form of ritualized shamanic practice, we too assume these forms as the ritualized masquerade manifests on subgradient after subgradient. Termina relives the same three days over and over again (even if they never quite play out exactly the same way each time the cycle turns), just as we relive the same set of events and experiences every time we play The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
A sundial remains permanently affixed to the bottom of the game’s HUD, charting the progression of both the Sun and Moon across the sky and the rough time estimate in hours, an ever-present reminder of true deep time and its perversion. Thus becomes clear the true reason clocks and time play such an integral role to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask: The race to stop the Moon falling is a race to not outrun the clock or stop it, but to destroy it, erasing the very idea of clocks and their death-driven countdowns and klaxons from the reality of Termina altogether. The true happy ending is only obtainable once the Hero of Time completes every single quest at least once, then unmakes time itself so all the people they’ve helped along the way not only never have to live through any of this again, but never lived through it in the first place.
This is the crucial component of why the Hero of Time and Skull Kid reenacting their cosmic shaman’s dance really saves the world. Termina, this ancient land of primordial magickal rituals and spirit masks, is in truth the land of the faeries. The original faeries in Celtic mythology, the aes sídhe, were the Tuatha Dé Danann, the divine indigenous people of Ireland forced underground by the invading Milesians, the Gaelic Celtic peoples from continental Europe. And one translation of Tuatha Dé Danann is “The People of the Art”, referencing their mastery of the art and craft of magick. And just as the the master narratives of dynastic succession are incompatible with true deep time, there is no greater threat to faeries then forced subservience to patriarchal epic time, here symbolized by the omnipresent Clock Tower and its imposing and inescapable countdown (Zelda’s trademark Great Fairies, as well as their blessings and upgrades, return from Ocarina of Time, but here the Hero of Time must literally remake them by rescuing their shattered aspects). Freed from its dominion, the unfolding moment of experience for them continues, and though surely the people of Termina underwent hardship of some kind and may once more, never again will they experience suffering on the existential level that Majora would have wrought, no matter how unintentionally.
The hallmark of a great ritual is one that you are compelled to make a regular part of your life because it brings you closer to some deeper understanding of reality, and great video games deserve to be re-experienced and passed down through the generations. Fifteen years after its release, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask would return, just like its predecessor, as The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D. Both games are full remakes, not mere ports or re-releases, with entirely rebuilt models and textures: A godsend for a Generation 5 game, whose representatives have aged and become dated dramatically worse than those of any other console hardware cycle. Majora’s Mask 3D brings with it all the enhancements of its predecessor, with not only autostereoscopic 3D, but gyroscope aiming for Link’s first person mode and bow and hookshot weapons, both of which enhance the game’s immersion in palpable ways. Indeed, the Zelda dream of a world that can fit inside a drawer is arguably perfected in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D: Termina is more alive (and lived-in) then any other Zelda setting, so if there was ever a world that deserved a literal portal for us to look in on it through, it’s the Faeryland of Majora’s Mask.
Where The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D served as the “killer app” for the original Nintendo 3DS in its 2011 “launch window”, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D was likewise positioned as the same for the New Nintendo 3DS, a hardware revision released in 2014 that boasted vastly superior processing power, a better autostereoscopic 3D screen, general ergonomic updates and a second control stick that could be used for modern twin stick camera controls (The Legend of Majora’s Mask 3D does in fact feature this, in one of its many upgrades over the Nintendo 64 original, and while the game is playable on an original 3DS, this option won’t be accessible). And curiously enough, while it’s clear The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D was designed for the New Nintendo 3DS, in some ways, the New Nintendo 3DS was itself designed for The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D.
One of the signature features of the New 3DS was its interchangeable faceplates. Owners of the New 3DS could order custom interlocking faceplates for the system’s outer clamshell and they could be swapped out at any time, allowing players to personalize the console’s appearance to their particular tastes. The New Nintendo 3DS itself is always wearing a mask. While many of the faceplate designs predictably featured things like game concept art, a select few were created by noted Japanese fashion designers, in particular pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Kyary was also the face of the ad campaign for the New 3DS in Japan, and even wrote a song for it entitled “Kisekae”, which in English translates out to “Dress-Up”. The song is about changing clothes as a magickal ritual to change one’s identity, and the lyrics also mention ego transcendence through exploring new worlds: Possibly the definitive Nintendo thematic motif. They are also somewhat autobiographical, telling the story of a young girl at odds with her elders over her desire to discover her true identity, a friction that Kyary has said actually happened to her when she first started getting into underground fashion as a girl.
“Kisekae”, and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s involvement with the New Nintendo 3DS more broadly, transmutes the metaphorical ritual praxis of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask into an entirely new form. Kyary has been called the unofficial global ambassador of Harajuku and Shibuya ward, known as the youth culture and fashion capitals of Japan, if not the whole world. And her endorsement of the New Nintendo 3DS, and thus its version of The Legend of Zelda, says a great deal about who Nintendo was trying to reach with them both (it is also telling that mere months after The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D dropped, the 3DS line saw another Zelda title in the form of the extremely fashion-forward, and fashion-centred, The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes). Because a handheld game console with interchangeable faceplates, endorsed by one of the world’s biggest spokespersons of youth fashion and culture, seems to preclude the existence of a very specific demographic. The New Nintendo 3DS was not just a video game console, it was an accessory for the cutting-edge fashion-conscious youth of Japan, particularly young women.
The connection between video games and lifestyle and fashion is far more intuitive in Japan then it is in the west, and it always has been: Many underground fashion labels in Harajuku and Shibuya reappropriate retro video game iconography in their designs, for example, and the ground-up garage style culture of the two wards encourages young people to play with this imagery in their own unique transformative ways. But the New Nintendo 3DS was the first, and to date only, time a video game publisher, developer or hardware manufacturer actively tried to not just cater to this phenomenon, but cultivate and nurture it. And this is the environment The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D was released into, and where it found a very welcoming and fitting adoptive home.
It is perhaps debatable how effective video games truly are at filling the cultural and spiritual role they emulate on a structural level. In the end, all of this is just another set of masks we wear as we struggle through our days in the modern world. But sometimes there are ways in which the universe aligns itself and resonates that feel so palpably right they cannot help but capture our attention. The frission between Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s lifestyle of brazenly challenging bottom-up generative images in the form of bold and radical fashion and Nintendo’s reconstructed coming of age rite of passage ritual proves to all that this kind of creative exploration and discovery is possible. We can channel our higher selves in higher realms: The door has been flung open, the question is, will you choose to cross the threshold into the unknown? It has always been there and will always be there, waiting for us to be ready. No matter what else happens, that will always remain true. The sacred truth of Nintendo has always been the secret door hidden in plain sight that opens to everywhere. All you have to do is find yours.
Who Are You?