I think I have anxiety issues. I say “I think” because they’re not diagnosed by a professional, but panic attacks and chronic nervousness are sort of indicative of some kind of anxiety problem. Sometimes, my panic attacks are induced by things that most people wouldn’t expect to induce panic attacks. Maybe it’s a little ironic that The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is my favorite game of all time.
Majora’s Mask is rife with anxiety. The characters feel it, the artistic design reeks of it, and the game mechanics themselves empower it. But I find myself turning to a peace of mind when I think about the beautiful and amazing world that director Eiji Aonuma had the courage to create in just about a year.
The initial premise of Majora’s Mask sets the uneasy tone replicated throughout the game. Link is subjected to an Alice in Wonderland-esque fall through a hole into a bizarro world filled with familiar, yet strange, faces. The reason for that is realistically technical: Majora’s Mask was created so quickly because Aonuma and his team reused many assets from Ocarina of Time. But even if the citizens of Termina look like their Hylian counterparts, they may not have the same names or act the same way. Link is in a decidedly different world, and by extension, so is any player familiar with Ocarina of Time’s visual cues.
A large part of my anxiety stems from the existential. My perception of reality is often a cause for concern for me. The way things look and feel can just seem “weird” one day, and I really can’t explain it more than that.
The crux of Majora’s Mask, of course, is the freakish moon bearing down on Termina, threatening to destroy it three days after Link arrives in the world’s central Clock Town. If that doesn’t make someone anxious, I don’t know what will.
So, fittingly, nearly every character you encounter in Majora’s Mask is experiencing some kind of crisis in the face of the imminent apocalypse. The Happy Mask Salesman is feeling a simultaneously selfish and selfless need to get his stolen Majora’s Mask back. Lovers Anju and Kafei have lost each other on the eve of their wedding. Troupe performer Gorman is drowning his sorrows in the Milk Bar after losing his chance to perform at the town’s festival, with his bad feelings outwardly manifesting in harsh negativity.
I struggle with doing what I want and doing what’s best for others, most notably my loved ones. My perceived (and sometimes actual) selfishness has been a point of contention with a few people in my life, even if I feel I sacrifice a lot for them. Further still, I struggle with coming to terms with the separation from loved ones I have felt and will come to feel. My father was absent from my family after I was four years old. As if that wasn’t enough to give me separation anxiety, my girlfriend is moving to the opposite coast of the United States in August. And I’m kind of a mess when things simply don’t go my way. My anxiety manifests more often than not when trying to anticipate and/or prevent all those bad feelings.
Termina’s Moon crashing into the ground affects more than Majora’s Mask storytelling. The game operates on a three-day cycle, which can be reset or slowed down upon playing certain songs on the Ocarina of Time, so every action you take has an inordinate amount of weight and consideration associated with it. Dungeons usually require a full three days and sidequests can only be activated or completed at certain times on certain days. Every aspect of the game requires planning and an understanding of how your actions will affect the amount of time you have left.
As someone that finds it stressful to be busy all the time (like most, I would imagine), that mechanic should be a little too real for me. It’s hard for me to come to terms with the fact that I don’t have as much free time as I used to, nor will I ever. It’s even harder for me to get out of the “well, I could be doing this instead” mindset. In other words, it’s hard for me to be present. I feel like there’s never enough time to do what I want. Admittedly, that’s a childish and reductive viewpoint.
It may seem like every aspect of Majora’s Mask is actually dark and sad and anxiety-inducing. But as I’ve said, it’s my favorite game of all time, and it’s because it makes me feel like I’m not alone. Majora’s Mask distills nearly every aspect of my anxious behavior and recreates it in a fantastical, fully realized, and fun world that somehow retains a level of innocence and optimism. It’s an unparalleled masterpiece because it so perfectly balances dark, “gritty” themes and the wonder that can only be found in a Nintendo game.
Majora’s Mask turns 15 on April 27; that’s when the game came out in Japan in 2000. I turn 19 on October 4; that’s when I came out in 1996. I realize my problems are temporary. There’s probably a lot of teenage angst still lurking within my soul. Until it’s gone, however, and probably for a long time afterward, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask will be there if I need it.