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“[When] I say hospitality, I don’t mean waiting on you hand and foot,” said Yoshiki Haruhana, character model designer and animator on The Legend Of Zelda: The Ocarina Of Time. “I mean that when you go somewhere, all kinds of play await for your enjoyment.” Right after Ocarina 3D came out back in 2011, Haruhana sat down with Nintendo president Satoru Iwata and the old development team to talk about how it was made and how it has endured. The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has always been a fascinating twin to Ocarina, and now even more so, thanks to the new 3DS remake that I’ve been plowing through over the past couple of weekends. Majora’s Mask may be rich, but it’s never luxurious; hospitality is not its concern. Even with all the modern niceties added to the remake, it’s defined by unsettling inhospitality.
Right from the start, Link can’t seem to get a damn thing right. He gets beaten up by some punk in the woods, has his horse and his ocarina stolen, and then gets cursed, forced to wear a mask that turns him into a literal scrub (of the tree-person variety). Once his quest gets rolling, saving the world is once again on the agenda, but it’s a matter of debt rather than being a good Samaritan. The Happy Mask Salesman, a squirrelly dude hawking head pieces that would freak out bad guys from Ray Bradbury stories, only lifts Link’s curse so he’ll go out and steal back Majora’s Mask from the punk that cursed him in the first place. In order to do so, he has to keep reliving three days over and over again, rewinding time before a bug-eyed moon crushes the countryside. Everything you do is marked by failure, by bad luck, by not having enough time to get everything done.
That pervasive air of cruel indifference from the world permeates the game, even when you meet what should be friendly faces on good land. The very first place you go is a poisonous swamp and while there are plenty of goods that can help you navigate it—you can get that Bunny Hood early, and a fast Link is the best Link in Majora’s—the game never points you in the proper direction.
Majora’s Mask 3D does offer a more detailed journal that clues you into strange events and the schedules of doomed town Termina’s inhabitants, but those hints are still vague and sometimes counterintuitive. How the hell are you supposed to know that you can get a bigger wallet, which will let you carry enough cash to buy a terrifying mask that will keep awake during an old lady’s long-winded stories? Even the original Zelda relied on nature (out of place trees to burn, conspicuous boulders) to clue you into its hidden goals. Majora’s Mask is as bizarre and thorny as a homemade fairy tale.
And it’s better for it. When I first played Majora’s Mask on the Nintendo 64, I walked away perturbed, almost hating the game. It was stressful! So much to remember, so much to keep track of, so much messing up and having to start over. The game’s brand of needling motivation stuck with me, though, and my response grew from hate-respect to admiration to real love. This weekend, as I try to coax masks by helping Terminians make peace in the face of certain moon-related death, I’ll be grateful for how Majora’s inhospitality has endured.