Sunday, January 27, 2013

Angels and Demons: Majora's Mask part 6

  I'm gonna take a moment to step back from the story and look at something I find to be pretty important.  Within the story of Majora's Mask exists a sort of conflict that doesn't exist in any other Zelda game.  Most games in the series pit Link against some power hungry sorcerer like Vaati or Ganon who are pretty much the antithesis of the sort of Everyman that is Link. The villain of Majora's Mask shares more similarities with Link than any other character in the series.  As such it would seem like the two are just two sides of the same coin.

   Some would say to this, "Doesn't Link already have a dark counterpart?" I recall that the counterpart in question, Dark Link, first appeared in the previous game, but most my memories of that have been repressed given that this segment was in the midst of the accursed Water Temple (I think I heard a very rare bird fall out of a tree when I typed those words just now).  Even when Dark Link shows up in later games like Four Sword Adventures, there really isn't any detailed exposition about what he is or where he came from.  The Skull Kid is such a great villain because he has something more than the other villains: a motive driven by sorrow and rage.

   The Skull Kid, like Link, grew up in the woods.  As mentioned before, Skull Kids are children who die in the Lost Woods of Hyrule (that hasn't ceased to be morbid).  It's safe to say that this Skull Kid was originally from Hyrule just like Link since there are none other like him seen in Termina.  Also like Link, Skull Kid was greatly alienated by those around him.  He mentions in the previous game that he is mocked for having a plain face (which is a cruel joke seeing how all the skull kids are identical).  Likewise, Link is mocked by several children in his village for not having a fairy, which is an identifying feature of all residents of this village.  Both of these characters have a sudden change in their lives when they become friends with fairies.  Link befriends Navi who summons him to his quest, while Skull Kid befriends Tatl and Tael when they find him crying in a hollow log during a storm.

   Both Link and the Skull Kid come across magical items.  Skull Kid stole Majora's Mask from the Happy Mask Man while Link was given the Ocarina of Time from Princess Zelda.  While the power of the Mask is almost limitless, it is easy to abuse and capable of corrupting.  The Ocarina of Time only has power in careful hands, and the knowledge of its power comes from trials of knowledge and discipline (and a cool ninja with a harp).

  Once Skull Kid left Link in the cave, both characters were left with a fairy.  Tatl became Link's reluctant ally while Tael became Skull Kid's prisoner.  I feel that this is a largely visual nod to the similarities of these characters since Skull Kid clearly won't be asking Tael for advice on how to deflect stones with a shield.

  Perhaps the greatest similarity between these two characters is how neither character has anything that made them unique or more likely to become a hero or a villain than anyone else around them.  Prior to Ocarina of Time, there had only been three Links, the one from Skyward Sword, the one from the Minish Cap, and the one from Four Swords.  The Link of this game and the previous doesn't start off with some adventurous spirit or need to achieve glory.  When all future incarnations of Link look back at the legends, they generally look back to this one, and they are all pretty much humble yeomen with less than thrilling lives.  Skull Kid has no name, no discerning features aside from the mask, and no remarkable powers or cruel motives of his own.  It becomes more and more apparent that he is only looking for a friend, which is similar to what Link was doing at the start of the game.  However, Skull Kid is too mischievous to retain his friends as he proceeds to do some really horrible things which leads to his anger and growing cruelty to spite others.  Link also meets many miserable people that dislike him and try to thwart him (probably for slashing through their gardens and breaking all their pottery), but his qualities that render him the hero are his convictions and his persistence.

  Although Link and Skull Kid only had one confrontation in the entirety of the franchise, I still believe that he remains one of the most memorable antagonists from the series.  Sure, there will always be Ganon as the primary villain of the series, but Skull Kid represents this sort of idea that evil doesn't always manifest itself in a manner worthy of loathing.  Even though Skull Kid is deserving of pity and is truly feeble behind the mask, it is his unchecked neglect leads him to cause such widespread torment and destruction.  It is fitting that Skull Kid should be the ultimate villain to face against the relentless hero that is Link.

  Now back to the story, where we find our hero in a swamp.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Three Days to Deliver, Three Days to Die (Day 3): Majora's Mask part 5

Day three is a little uneventful up until the end, so I'm gonna go ahead and talk about a few other things in this post.

Throughout day three, the festival music in the background has become more ominous, but beyond that everything seems pretty normal.  A little past noon, it becomes apparent that there are tremors running through the land of Termina.  The moon is closer than ever and by nightfall, everybody has gone indoors. It's safe to say Termina has gone terminal and has hours left until the inevitable. In the town square near the clock tower, there is a single man still standing.  He is the foreman who was building the bridge to the clock tower.  Upset that all of his apprentices had run away with the job unfinished, he stands alone shouting straight up at the moon.  He shouts again and again hoping that it will scare the moon back into the sky.  I don't think there's been a better time to use the word lunatic beyond this scenario.

At the stroke of midnight, the clock tower door opens as the structure converts into a platform.  Being forward thinking, the flower Link bought from the deku tree person merchant guy allows him to jump up towards the stairs of the clock tower.  Upon ascending, he finds the Skull Kid hovering around with Tatl's captive fairy brother present as well.  Having waited so that Link may have front row seats to the end of the world, he takes the last few hours to taunt Link without end.  Tael blurts out to Link and Tatl to go to the forest, mountain, ocean, and canyon and to "bring them here."  Skull Kid smacks his captive and then lets out a keening death wail to bring the moon down faster.  As the moon draws closer, the bell of the clock tower begins to shake uncontrollably, becoming the death knell of the world.  Skull Kid then reveals the Ocarina of Time and holds it over Link to taunt him some more.  To challenge the Skull Kid's limitless and apocalyptic powers, Link musters his magic and spits at him.  This gives just enough of a distraction to make Skull Kid drop the magic flute, thus reuniting the Hero of Time with the righteous power to do some serious wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.

Hey kids! Now you can play along on you nearest instrument.
Piano, guitar,  fiddle, banjo, or even kazoo if you feel so inclined.

As he holds the instrument, the first memory that comes to mind is Princess Zelda.  I suppose if you're gonna remember something at the end of the world, it might as well be a good memory.  In the memory, he hears the notes of the Song of Time.  The Song of Time, when played on the Ocarina of Time by the Hero of Time in the nick of time at the end of time, allows Link to jump back in time to the first day when he arrived at the base of the clock tower, a structure built to measure time.  Tatl at this point begins to wonder who Link is, but before she continues this thought, she remembers that the creepy mask man (technically the happy mask man, but we will see why creepy is more befitting in a moment) would help Link had he reacquired the ocarina.

Link goes under the clock tower where the man is waiting.  He seems to be somewhat aware that Link has gone to great lengths to retrieve the instrument.  As such, he summons a pipe organ out of nowhere and teaches Link a new song, the Song of Healing (Listen to it on Youtube. It's creepy but strangely relaxing.)  This song lays tortured souls to rest.  How exactly does this help Link?  Well, the dead tree person that he saw in the cave had it's soul taken by the Skull Kid, and then impressed on to Link causing him to transform.  By laying the deku spirit to rest, Link is returned to human form.  He has a similar hallucination to the one he had before (the David Lynchy one) but this one is a lot less unsettling as Link playfully waves goodbye to the giant tree person that was chasing him.  The spirit is then placed into a mask, that Link might take it on his quest.

Of course, the mask salesman asked that his stolen mask be returned.  When he sees that Link doesn't have his mask, he loses his cool.  He did this in the previous game (yeah, it's possible he's been stalking Link for a while now) at his shop when Link didn't return with the money he made in selling masks.  This time, there's no counter between the salesman and Link and also no witnesses.  He proceeds to strangle Link, but is overcome with the horror of losing the mask forever and decides to give Link a better reason to complete the quest (as if the end of the world wasn't enough).

He tells that the the mask in question, Majora's Mask, was one used by an ancient tribe in hexing rituals.  When the demon within the mask became too dangerous to control, the mask was sealed away.  The mask collector, whether to add another mask to his collection or perform nefarious acts, sought out and captured the mask.  He tasks Link once again to retrieve the mask.  This leaves me with the sense that this is probably one of the most morally ambiguous quests given in the Legend of Zelda franchise.  Leaving the mask with the Skull Kid leads to certain destruction, but returning it to the mask salesman who has no qualms with strangling children doesn't seem like the best alternative either.  Link is left with the only thing that seems right:   saving the world.

Continued in the next post.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Three Days to Deliver, Three Days to Die (Day 2): Majora's Mask part 4

    After an episode in gaining the trust of the children of the town, Link goes to the children's clubhouse and uses the kindly astronomer's telescope to look for the Skull Kid.  The only thing I felt was worth mentioning about that scene was that these children are kinda bigots against Link since he's a tree person (you may call it bigotree if you like).  You see the Skull Kid on top of the clock tower, and then he turns to look at Link.  He turns Link's attention to the sky, and that's when you witness for the first time arguably the most dreadful thing in gaming history.  Fans of this game, if you feel so inclined, you may now go crazy.  Like Bieber Fever crazy, not psychological warfare crazy or prison break crazy and especially not tribal ritual crazy.
Goodnight Moon

    Folks, here's the moon:  unblinking orangish red eyes, nose like an arrow, bared teeth, and leaning closer and closer toward Clock Town.  The only thing I can think to compare this moon to is Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings.  Throughout the quest of the Fellowship, the fiery blackness can be seen burning with deep ominous echoes on the horizon. It is the consistent reminder that it is the end goal of the quest. On the first day, the moon wasn't immediately shown to you, but on the second day it is far more difficult to miss.  I believe that all of the fear that comes with this dark heavenly body abides in the subtlety.   It falls in complete silence, inching closer and closer with the patience of a shadow, waiting for the moment it will sweep death across the world.  Once you see it the first time, you can never forget it is there.  It doesn't matter where Link goes in this land, the moon is always in the sky, always crawling closer, always inescapable.   As time rushes by until the deadline of your quest, the moon gets closer to the town.  Gamers watch knowing the consequences of  what happens the clock strikes zero, while the rest of the town anticipates a festival of frivolity and entertainment.  They all continue to pretend that nothing bad is happening, weddings are planned, the mail is delivered, dancers dance, jugglers juggle, and the city guards keep to their posts.  The guards will not even let Link leave the town stating it is for his own safety to not be out in the surrounding wilderness.  The moon serves as the symbol of the inevitability of death; it is the memento mori of the masterpiece.  While everyone will turn a blind eye to the grim future, it still doesn't change the future.

   As Link gazes up through the telescope at the moon, a sudden sparkle shows in its eye.  Tearing down through the rain clouds is a blue glistening gem.  The astronomer identifies it as being the most rare and beautiful gem in existence, the moon's tear.  Link is given stone as the astronomer already owns the only other one.  The astronomer mentions that at midnight on the third day, the stairs to the top of the clock tower will open and Link will be able to confront the Skull Kid.

   A crew of workers are building a bridge to the clock tower for the festival, but it looks to be behind schedule.  In the same area is a deku person, a territorial merchant holding on to the kind of flower that Link had hopped around on in the strange cave.  He refuses to move from the flower, because he is looking for a souvenir to take to his wife from the festival.  Link offers the Moon Tear to the man, and as a sign of gratitude, the deku man gives Link the deed to the flower (tree people take stuff a little too seriously sometimes).

   I feel that this tear is too often overlooked.  The fact that the menacing moon could conjure the beautiful tear is the one ray of hope amid the despair, the one drop of mercy in the basin of wrath, the olive branch in the flood.  At the same time, the fact that the moon is so close its tears fall to the world below could also be the sign that only despair may follow and that any chance of salvation is now lost.  I prefer the former interpretation over the latter given that there was another moon tear in the astronomer's observatory.  It would seem to show that in the past the world had been threatened, but it endured and survived.  On this basis, the escape from the jaws of the deathly moon is presented as a possibility.  However, escape from destruction is still not guaranteed.

  What happens next will be left to the next 24 hours.  Until then, good night.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Three Days to Deliver, Three Days to Die (Day 1): Majora's Mask Part 3

      Link and Tatl walk through the door to find themselves at the foot of a large clock tower in the middle of a town.  Following the adventures in Ocarina of Time, one will notice that a great number of the people walking around this town look perfectly identical to the people seen in Hyrule.  It should be said that the land of Termina, where this game is set, is something of a parallel universe to Hyrule.  The people here are all doppelgangers if you will of their Hyrule counterparts and generally go about their lives in a similar manner.  Seeing the bustle of Clock Town is in many ways similar to that seen in the market surrounding Hyrule castle.  Everything seems normal except for two things.  All the veterans of this game are waving their arms around at this point, but we're gonna wait for the big one until later.

        The first apparent oddity is this. If you look around the town, in sharp contrast to the Hyrule presented in just about the entire series, there is not a single Triforce.  The Triforce is both the royal and religious symbol of Hyrule that symbolizes the three goddesses that created the world: Din, Nayru, and Farore.  After creating Hyrule, they imbued a fraction of their limitless powers into a golden artifact that consists of three triangles, one on the top and two on the bottom.  This symbol is revered by the people of Hyrule as it exemplifies the three virtues of the Hylians:  Power, Wisdom, and Courage.  The lack of this symbol may also say something about how unimportant or ignored the related virtues are among the people of Termina.  Remember I said fear will play an important role in this story, and fear would be the opposite of courage, the quality which Link represents traditionally in the games.  
It's also kinda like a fractal, so it's very easy
to draw on geometry notebooks.


    Tatl suggests that Link visit the Great Fairy of North Clock Town.  Even a fairy as unruly as Tatl respects the Great Fairy and believes her to have far greater powers than the Skull Kid.  When Link arrives at the Fountain where the Great Fairy resides, you find the Fairy has been broken into hundreds of these pitiful floating pink things.  The host of pink things claim that its shattering was the work of the Skull Kid and if the one missing piece is returned to the fountain, the Great Fairy will be restored.  It's in this moment that it becomes clear that this land is in great danger of ruin and that no power within it can save it from the evil of the mask.  

    You find the fairy fragment in the laundry pool during the daylight hours (which is a sort of cruel joke given that fairies generally live in pristine fountains). Upon restoring Clock Town's Great Fairy, Link is given the power of magic.  Link of course had magic in the previous game but seems to have relinquished this power at the end of his previous adventure.  While this isn't explicitly stated, it can be interpreted that Link has the distinct power that neither Ganon in the previous game nor Skull Kid in this game has which is the power to let power go.  The drawback is that in his deku form, magic can only be utilized in spitting bubbles.  Again it shows that the creatures of Termina are horribly outmatched.

Day 2 will be explored in the next post.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Fallen and the Freaky Mask Guy: Majora's Mask part 2

  So as it was, the skull kid floats off leisurely with one of the fairies while the other fairy quite literally kicks the warped tree person (called a Deku for all future reference) Link while he is down.  Being distracted as such, Tatl, the she fairy, fails to notice until it is too late that the mask wearing skull kid has absconded with her brother Tael (obvious name pun is obvious). She immediately blames Link but in the name of self preservation forms an alliance with him.

  After hopping from flower to flower in this new deku form in a manner comparable to something from Alice in Wonderland, Link stumbles upon a tree with a vacant face like the one he now bears.  It states that he can feel the sorrow of the tree.  Like its face will start crying at any second.  The skull kid had also taunted Link about his crying after claiming to have gotten rid of his horse.   It becomes pretty apparent that this is a sign of things to come.  This dead deku was the last poor victim to wind up down here, and now Link is just a chapter behind this poor fellow.
The face only a father could love.

Did I mention the grass runs away if you threaten it in any manner? Yeah, tall grass just throws itself against the wall until it shreds to pieces. Just thought you should know that.  I'll get into fear and death later, because in this E for everyone rated masterpiece, it's not getting old anytime soon.
"I'll save you rupees; I'll save you strife.
I'll take your time; I'll take your life."

After escaping tree hell by way of the door behind the dead deku boy (so close and yet so far), you find yourself in a sort of waterworks with gears turning along cogs and a set of stairs leading up to a door.  Walking up to the door, you hear a voice say with a soft chuckle "You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you?"

Tatl, who assaulted a guy with a sword and was hanging out with a masked creature with evil powers, hides behind you as you witness the most fabulously creepy gent you will ever see in a video game (that is in having all three qualities of being fabulous, creepy, and a gent).  On his back are several masks, few of which look like they actually want to be there.  While most of them look quite appalled, he never ceases to smile.  As all good business deals start, he admits to stalking you.  He's probably watching you through the window while you read this right now.  He goes on to mention that he sells and collects masks and that one from his collection has been stolen. Guess which one.   He then offers to help you return to human form so long as you reacquire the ocarina of time and his lost mask.  He then adds that he will wait in that spot, but only for three days, after which he must leave on a "business errand".

So that's your quest.  No princesses to rescue.  No wizards to battle. No dungeon crawling.  Just stop an unruly thief and get back his loot.  It's not like it's the end of the world, right? (Spoiler:  You'll be begging for a princess to rescue by the end.)

Next begins day 1