Majora’s mask is totally a horror game

An image of Skull Kid looking at the moon, which will crash into Termina in three days.

Hey Skull Kid, do you like my face ???
Picture: Nintendo

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of The Legend of Zelda: The Mask of Majora is that horrible moon. It’s disturbing, still smiling, a reminder that death is inevitable for everyone. It lingers in the background, like a shadow against a wall, waiting to strike. If after three days you can’t save the world, perhaps wasting too much time looking around when every second counts, this horrible moon crumbles towards Termina. And on impact, everything is crumbled, Link screaming into oblivion. It’s so me real scary shit.

It’s an image that’s been etched into my brain, one that still haunts me today, and that’s part of why I believe Majora’s Mask is a horror game.

Released in 2000 on Nintendo 64 (and 2003 on GameCube and 2015 on 3DS and in the future on Nintendo Switch Online), The Legend of Zelda: The Mask of Majora takes place two months after the events of Ocarina of time. On a quest to find her fairy friend, the talkative Navi, Link meets an imp named Skull Kid who is possessed by a vengeful spirit that dwells in the mask he wears. Like a tyrant who steals Halloween candy, Skull Kid attacks Epona, Link’s trusty steed. After giving the chase, Link plunges into an abyss, falling into psychedelic darkness before landing in a mysterious but familiar land called Termina. This kicks off Link’s haunting journey to stop Skull Kid from inflicting more irreparable damage.

Right off the bat, things are terrifying. Not only does his shit get stolen, Link is also quickly transformed entirely against his will. He screams in utter bewilderment at the revelation that he has become a Deku Scrub. The face he makes now might be one of constant pain or sadness, but one thing’s for sure: Link looks like he can “start crying anytime,” as his new fairy mate Tatl puts it. at the start of the game when you meet a sad looking Mojo tree. This tree has good reason to be sad. In fact, his story of doom resulted in his soul being trapped inside the very mask Link was forced to wear.

And the screams don’t end with the first time Link is transformed, quite violently by Skull Kid, into a Deku Scrub at the start of the game. Majora’s Mask are… masks. Each time he’s equipped, Link twists in agony as his body transforms to match the mask’s face, whether the result is close to his actual body (Deku) or far away from him (Goron). And this happens every time he puts on a mask, just one of the many reasons that place Majora’s Mask In the Realm of Horror: The game plays with body horror as Link repeatedly goes through nasty transformations to become someone new, screaming each time. And I am aware that the masks he wears come from the dead.

A screenshot of Link writhing in pain as he transforms into Zora after equipping Mikau's mask.

I see — No wait, I AM the dead!
Screenshot: MajorasMask9 / Kotaku

The game is to put some kind of face, especially in the middle of death. The townspeople, in denial of the impending catastrophe which befalls them until it is too late, continue their daily lives. Those bound by duty stay at work, while everyone else plans a fucking carnival, as if it wasn’t strange. They’re all gonna die in three days, damn it! And yet, whatever face we adopt, death is the constant we share. Nowhere is this more iconic than in Majora’s Maskthe last moments, when the moon collapses.

Read more: Majora’s Mask is a game about death

And what a moment! If you forget the three-day cycle or just let the time pass, an impossible-to-skip cutscene plays out in the final five seconds. It depicts the moon rushing towards Termina with its bewildering smile and pointed nose, crushing Clock Town and erasing everything in seconds. After a moment of darkness, Link emerges, only to be swept away by the explosion. The last things we hear and see are Link’s screams and Majora’s mask in a crackling fire. It’s a striking scene, exacerbating all my fears of a global calamity either because of climate change (worsening) or a collision with an asteroid (what could happen). It also speaks of the impermanence of time, which is also frightening. Time moves forward in the same way that the in-game moon descends steadily, an inevitable reality for everyone.

But perhaps the most terrifying thing, besides this spooky moon and the strange soundtrack accompanying the whole game, that’s what it all could mean. We’ve been talking about it for a long time The link may have died in Majora’s Mask, with Termina serving as a sort of purgatory for her soul to accept her death. I mean, the hero of time falls down a long ass “rabbit hole” inside a tree to get to Termina, a world supposedly parallel to Hyrule. He falls in love with what could be miles away, and this psychedelic streak playing out during the fall indicates some sort of passage. This place is also called “Termina”, which seems way too close to “terminal”. We should be intimately familiar with the implications of this word, especially given the game’s conclusion if you don’t do anything. All of this suggests to me that it’s either a dream or that Link is in fact dead here. Both notions are troubling.

Further consolidating Termina as Purgatory is the fact that most of its inhabitants are copies of characters seen in Ocarina of timeis Hyrule. Whether it’s wandering ghosts or just reflections of what Link knows, it’s up to everyone to guess.

And then there is the Elegy of emptiness, an endgame song you play to spawn heartless, heavy clones of Link. I’ve always been curious that you could only create copies of four characters, three of which died: Deku Butler’s Son (Deku), Darmani III (Goron), and Mikau (Zora). The fourth is Link, who tells me one thing: he’s absolutely dead. Just look at this weird and off-putting Link clone. It’s disturbing, with its bizarre smile, static eyes, and odd resemblance to a living person.

A screenshot of Link's clone after playing the song Elegy of Emptiness later in Majora's Mask.

Am I… Am I a real boy now?
Screenshot: Cresun / Kotaku

I was literally a kid when I first played this game. I didn’t quite understand everything that was going on, and I certainly didn’t understand the subtext at the time, but I knew I was scared every time I took my Majora’s Mask save. The soundtrack, the atmosphere, the enemies, it all gave me shivers. I never finished the game – I couldn’t stand the nightmares it gave me – but his evocative mood and gruesome vibes have stuck with me ever since. Even coming back to the game, I can’t help but shake at most of his footage. Link’s screams in particular echo in my mind.

But the thing that scared me the most? Skull child. This mischievous little bastard is more than a threat, as Majora’s Mask slowly erodes his sanity, making his “pranks” more and more violent throughout the game. It’s Skull Kid who transforms Link into Mojo Scrub. It was Skull Kid who “got rid” of Epona, whatever that means. It’s Skull Kid who summons the moon and places it on a collision course with Termina. It was all Skull Kid’s fault, and that kind of power crippled me.

I’m older and a little braver now, but I’m not sure I can brave Majora’s Mask again. It’s scary, filled with terrors that are part of a horror movie, making it an unusual and fascinating release from the generally family-friendly Nintendo. For me, this horror is what defines it. That’s why I remember the game so well: because it scared me. But more than that, it clearly speaks of our deepest fears, of death, loss and impermanence. After all, we are still running out of time.


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Raymond I. Langston

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