Of Masks, A Moon, And Melancholy
[one_third]The two stealth sections featured in the Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask feel like the ultimate expression of what Nintendo started in The Ocarina of Time. So why can they be completely cheated?[/one_third]
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is the critical darling of the gaming press. Though its initial release was met with a muted but appreciative response, it was only years later, with the beauty of hindsight, that the title was recognised for how unique it was amongst The Legend of Zelda pantheon.
Revolving around a never-ending three day cycle, Link’s adventure through Termina was characterised by an overwhelming sense of dread and unhappiness. This was relayed primarily through the giant, angry moon in the sky constantly reminding you what would happen should you fail your adventure, but also through the numerous touching, emotional stories that almost every NPC had to tell if you had the time to listen.
The central mechanic of the game revolved around collecting and using different masks to help you and the people around you. The three main masks of the quest turned Link into a Deku Scrub, a Goron, and a Zora, respectively, and only by using each individual mask with their individual strengths and weaknesses were you able to complete the dungeons and challenges ahead of you.
Link uses the masks to help people, but in doing so he is either hiding his own identity or assuming someone else’s.
With such an usually narrative-focused game for Nintendo, it’s fitting that an equally unorthodox stealth mechanic wiggled its way into the framework alongside the one introduced in The Ocarina of Time. The masks themselves are a particularly interesting mechanic as Link ostensibly uses them to help people, but in doing so he is either hiding his own identity or assuming someone else’s. Subterfuge and disguise are an integral aspect of stealth, and are all often ignored in games in favour of the easier elements to simulate such as hiding and avoiding noise.
Take, for example, the Goron and Zora masks. You obtain each of them only after Darmani and Mikau, the Goron and Zora respectively, pass away. The mask themselves don’t simply turn you into a Goron or Zora – they specifically turn you into Darmani and Mikau, and the characters you meet in each area will recognise you as such.
Darmani is viewed as a hero in the Goron Village and, in his attempt to rescue his people from the everlasting blizzard that had gripped his home, left to storm the temple and defeat the monster that had summoned the spell. He never made it, failing to help his people. Only with your help is his spirit finally able to rest, allowing Link to obtain his identity. Though Link goes on to rescue the Gorons from their predicament, he does so by lying to them and letting them believe that Darmani is still alive. He lies to the Goron Elder and his crying son and he learns the Goron’s Lullaby and gains access to the dungeon only through his deception.
A similar situation occurs when Link travels to Great Bay and meets Mikau – or rather, a near-death Mikau floating out in the ocean. Pushing him to the shore, you learn he’s a part of a band called The Indigo-Go’s and that he was trying to rescue the eggs of the lead singer of the band, Lulu, after they were stolen by pirates. Mikau passes away after asking you to rescue Lulu’s eggs, playing one last song on his guitar. Again, Link assumes an identity not his own, and again, he deceives the people around him, but here the deception cuts much deeper. While it’s never confirmed, it’s heavily implied that Lulu and Mikau were in a relationship and Link’s charade seems utterly heartless.
In both of these instances, much like the game as the whole, Link’s intentions are good, but the way in which he goes about solving everyone’s problems – and gets what he wants – hinges on a disguise and is inherently stealth-like.
Outside of the underlying mechanic providing a stealth-like atmosphere to the experience, Majora’s Mask has two scenarios that build upon the principles in Ocarina of Time. The first asks the player to sneak inside the Deku Palace in order to gain access to a dungeon. The Deku are a diminutive, plant-like race that are distrustful of humans, only granting access to their palace when Link transforms into one of them.
Being granted access to the throne room, however, fails to provide the information Link needs, as the Dekus’ prisoner is the only one who knows how to open the path to the dungeon. From there you must step into the courtyard and begin the long and windy trek towards the back door entrance. Here, the camera shifts to an overhead perspective and the sequence is carefully modelled after Hyrule Castle in The Ocarina of Time. The segmented screens of the Castle Courtyard are replaced with larger and more open areas with a greater amount of enemies – who finally have a displayed and understandable line of sight – to contend with.
Complementing the additional enemies, there’s also more shrubbery and cover to hide behind, making sneaking a relatively painless process, and the bird’s eye camera view allows more complex level design that can factor in corners and bends in the path. It’s a far cry from the simple pathfinding in Hyrule Castle’s courtyard that consisted of manoeuvring from right to left until the very last screen which – gasp – hurried you in an upward direction.
The highlight of the segment comes when you find yourself doubling back over the area you already covered, this time from a much higher vantage point by using Deku Link’s ability to float across short distances, to reach the uppermost point of the palace. There’s a tangible sense of achievement as you look down at all the ground you covered and laugh at the guard’s inability to simply look up and see you sneaking into their inner sanctum. See it in action at 1:57 in the walkthrough below.
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Should you let arrogance get the better of you and miss the nearest floating platform, however, you’ll find yourself tumbling down to the ground below and almost instantly be spotted by the patrolling guards. Much like in The Ocarina of Time, the punishment for getting caught is nowhere near severe. You’re simply thrown out of the Deku Palace and can attempt your infiltration again with no cost.