Majora's Mask more mature than your M-Rated games

Discussion in 'Video Games and Technology' started by Omega Supreme-1, Jun 6, 2009.

  1. Omega Supreme-1

    Omega Supreme-1 Autobot Sentinel

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    4 color rebellion Majora’s Mask - Nintendo’s Fluke

    "This morning, Jody wrote a sweet little article on why he loves Phantom Hourglass (go read it, it’s pretty rad). As much as I love the lad, I completely disagree about Hourglass. It’s a good game, don’t get me wrong. I just didn’t really like it. Something has bothered me about it ever since I finished it, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was until this morning.

    The title of this piece probably has you wondering what this has to with Majora’s Mask. Well, to completely simplify it, everything comes down to thematic structure. Majora’s Mask was a bizarre, unrepeatable fluke for Nintendo. It was one of the most mature and complex exercises in gaming narrative that has ever existed, and it came out of a company most famous for a princess who is the target of repeated kidnappings and the man who has to save her ad nauseum.

    What the hell am I talking about, and how does it relate back to Phantom Hourglass? The answer lies beyond. It’s a bit of a long, winding, and slightly pretentious road, but everything will hopefully make sense by the end.

    Recently, Leigh Alexander wondered when “mature” games will actually be mature (read this one too, I’ll still be here when you get back).

    This actually happened back in 2000, albeit on a bit of a technicality, as Majora’s Mask was rated “E for Everyone” in the United States. But that makes this all the more poignant. Why is it that this E-rated game is more mature than the bulk of games rated Mature? It isn’t because of boobies or blood, nor is it because Link decided to take up superfluous, forced swearing as a hobby. It’s because Majora’s Mask is a game that evokes an incredibly guttural emotional reaction from the player. I don’t mean glamorized emotions like love or anger, either - the centerpieces of what would be a real “mature” title. Majora’s Mask instead evokes far more primal emotions – those of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness.

    The majority of Zelda games take Link and build him into the fated warrior his destiny dictates him to be. They represent the classic coming of age story. Yet the opposite is true of Majora’s Mask. From the beginning, Majora’s Mask takes an experienced Link and renders him helpless. Link is turned into a Deku scrub, a weak and weaponless form that could be brushed away with a strong gust of wind. If that wasn’t enough, it quickly becomes clear that the world is coming to an end and there isn’t exactly much that Link can do to save it. From the beginning, you are left with seventy-two hours to prevent the moon from crashing into Termina with seemingly no way to stop it.

    Very few videogames deal directly with the concept of defeat. There is an implicit understanding between developer and player that the main character is meant to win. MMORPGs are notoriously addictive because they empower the player in this respect. Every character in an MMO is a badass. Final Fantasy VI is the most direct example that I can remember of a game that rips all hope away from the player. Halfway through the game, the bad guy wins. The world is torn asunder and your characters are thrown to the wind. It is a powerful experience to be utterly defeated, and both Final Fantasy VI and Majora’s Mask are made far more memorable because of this.

    In Majora’s Mask, you are trapped in the same three-day cycle over and over again. Despite knowing that you are utterly unable to defeat the Skull Kid, you must wait until that very last minute before turning back the clock. You are faced with that hopelessness, and you have to overcome it to win. Of course, this becomes easier as the game progresses. You slowly acquire more powers and weapons, and you quickly learn ways to work within that oppressive time limit. In my opinion, your progression through the game is twice as rewarding because, at the same time, that feeling of hopelessness is disappearing. When you manage to complete a dungeon with time to spare, you actually feel like you accomplished something.

    Another thing that few games deal directly with is the end of the world. Nearly every role-playing game has a villain that could potentially destroy the planet. However, there is a pretty huge difference between the threat of the apocalypse and the clear and present apocalypse in Majora’s Mask. There isn’t the “possibility” that this bad guy could blow up the planet. The sky is literally falling. The moon is constantly drawing closer as a very literal reminder of your time limit. There is no death laser, no hypothetical device. From early on, there is a massive celestial body speeding towards the ground. This visual cue is far more effective at creating a sense of anxiety than any cackling villain could ever be.

    If this next part sounds pretentious, forgive me and bear with me a little longer. Cool? The themes of Majora’s Mask are completely reflected by its art style. On one level, Termina is similar in many ways to the more familiar Hyrule of Ocarina of Time, save for this niggling little difference. Just as Majora’s Mask is a thematically darker game than Ocarina of Time, Termina is a slightly twisted and diseased version of Hyrule. The clearest example of this is in the character and monster designs. Majora’s Mask leans a little more towards the grotesque. When Link puts on a mask, the transformation is not exactly smooth. He almost appears to be in pain as he is twisted and bent into his new shape. The game is filled with these little artistic marks, these indications that something is wrong with the world. Even the innocent townspeople smile in this way that makes them seem a little more suspicious.

    The darker themes are reinforced by the color palette. Typically, a game with darker themes makes them quite literal by setting the game in a “dark” world. Even the Zelda series did this in Twilight Princess. Majora’s Mask is a little different, and therefore a little more effective. Majora’s Mask uses a darker color palette, but it doesn’t do this by turning down the brightness. Instead, it heavily focuses on harsher colors like purple, red, and green. Many areas and characters in Majora’s Mask are just as “bright” as those in Ocarina or Time, but the difference is that through their colors, they are made more alien: familiar, but a little different. Again, everything seems just a little more twisted and, by extension, a little darker.

    The first time that I played the game, I didn’t fully comprehend these emotions and why I felt them. It is only with multiple play-throughs and another near-decade of maturity that it all makes sense. Majora’s Mask may be rated for everyone, but I think that it is a game that is most interesting and rewarding to the mature gamer. The games that are rated as mature are filled with things that are only of interest to the immature. Who cares about blood? Who cares about sex and titillation? Sure, they can be used to make a mature artistic statement, but most of the time they aren’t. These things are usually thrown in by snickering developers and are of the most interest to people who snicker when they see a nipple or who think it is awesome when Scorpion rips out some guy’s spine. I think that the true mark of a mature game is when the game makes an emotional or artistic statement that becomes all the more nuanced with time and maturity. There are very few games that even attempt to do this, and I think that Majora’s Mask is one of the most effective.

    This brings me back to the title of this article. Majora’s Mask is a fluke for Nintendo. It was a one-time only occurrence where the wires crossed in just the right way. Eiji Aonuma was faced with the enormous task of following up Ocarina of Time and was given the freedom to do what he wanted. Nintendo is an infamously conservative company and with good reason. It usually works out well for them. However, Majora’s Mask came during a period of confusion and uncertainty for them. They were no longer the king of the gaming industry, and they had no idea what they wanted to do as a company. Because of this, Aonuma was given the rare gift of creative freedom. Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker are arguably the two most ambitious games that Nintendo has ever made and neither of them would be approved if they were being pitched today.

    Nintendo is not an ambitious company. They are successful because they stick to what they do best. This has always been true, but it seems truer today. Nintendo’s “touch generation” strategy was hailed as innovative, and it did take a leap of faith for them. The tragedy is that the success of the blue ocean strategy has destroyed their creative ambition. Their strategy was innovative the first couple of times, but it has become boring. Their recent titles have been their most successful in years, and it has rendered Nintendo as a company afraid to do anything that doesn’t follow the same template.

    This is what bothers me about the more recent Zelda titles. Twilight Princess and Phantom Hourglass were fantastic games. The gameplay mechanics were as solid as they could possibly be. But they were unsatisfying, and I think the reason for that is that they were ”safe” games. Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and Wind Waker were amazing, ambitious games that, despite sharing common gameplay mechanics, were all radically different experiences. Every Zelda game to come since then (with the slight exception of Minish Cap) has felt like a retreat to, and retread of, familiar ground.

    Phantom Hourglass contains many of the components that made Wind Waker great. The beautiful graphical style survived the transition to the DS surprisingly well and the thrill of discovery is intact via the sailing element. The problem is that Phantom Hourglass feels like Wind Waker robbed of its ambition. It was critically acclaimed for its controls, but they weren’t actually innovative. The movement to touchscreen controls was implemented exactly the way that one would expect it to. Sure, it was different in the way that buttons and touchscreens are different, but “different” is neither synonymous with “innovative” nor “creative.” I wasn’t looking for a scaled-down, portable Wind Waker. What I wanted was something new. I wanted something like Majora’s Mask, something that felt like a Zelda game at its core but that wasn’t rehashing the same previously-covered territory.

    Will Spirit Tracks, the Zelda game announced earlier this week, be the game I’m looking for? I’m not exactly filled with hope since the game was basically introduced as Phantom Hourglass on a train. The new gameplay mechanic of controlling a monster sounds intriguing, but the game still sounds entirely too safe (granted, we haven’t heard much else about it, so there may be a few surprises yet).

    Reaching out to a new audience took a leap of faith for you, Nintendo. But then you seemed to stop trying. I want you to take another leap of faith. I want you to create something even half as ambitious and emotional as Majora’s Mask. Defy my expectations. Surprise me. You’ve done it before, and I know that you can do it again."
     
  2. SoundMaster

    SoundMaster Likes RID Bulkhead.

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    I kind of get what you mean.

    I once played it at a friend's house. I forget most of it, but I had about 20 minutes to find something that was hidden in a village before the moon crashed into the earth. I failed every time. For some reason, it scared the heck out of me. Seeing that giant face slowly coming closer. Now it kinda makes me laugh because of how ridiculous it is.
     
  3. Nutcrusher

    Nutcrusher Decepticon

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    The article is so true. I tried playing Majora's Mask right (like a day) after Ocarina of Time. And I felt crushed. You start out so helpless. Your best friend is gone. You're lost. Your horse is stolen, then you turn into a Deku Scrub. It's so deft at making you feel that this is a challenging game without taking the obvious route of obviously powerful game bosses with high HP. It's brilliant.

    I'll have to admit, though. I gave up on it because I really got depressed. Especially right after Ocarina of Time. It's been a while since I've touched it. Maybe it's time to pick it up again.
     
  4. magmatron

    magmatron Hyper Sentinel Force!

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    I was planning on buying this for VC, never bought the original due to lack of memory thing!
     
  5. Prowl

    Prowl Well-Known Member

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    In that case it happened back in 1989 when Nei died in Phantasy Star one, and the theme of global warming was presented in a game. Phantasy Star 2 had no boobs or swearing, or even a bloody mess, but it was one of the first RPGs to end the life of one of the main characters, and for its time it was done tactfully. The surprise finale had you discover that the enemy of the game was actually humanity. After having exhausted our resources, humans found the star system which the player lives in and decided to make it their own. I remember trying desperately to make Nei survive the battle, but it just wasn't gonna happen. And the rest of the game you had to live without her. The same thing happened in Phantasy Star 4, only a bit more dramatic.

    So mature themes and situations were beyond boobs and blood long before Majora's Mask and way before the rating system.
     
  6. Cloud Strife

    Cloud Strife 01000011 01000101 0101010

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    this article is truly profound. i, like the author, never realized it till now how dark this game was. but he is right, it was a real leap for Nintendo and they need to do this more. we can hope the zelda for wii (real one not TP) will be half as good as the OoT or MM.

    i especially liked this paragraph
    i have been saying this for years, just not in such wonderful wording. blood, guts, boobs, and strong language do not a mature game make.....
     
  7. Prowl

    Prowl Well-Known Member

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    Yes I agree with you and him, but I think they are confusing apples and oranges. Games that are rated M for mature aren't doing though because they are claiming "We have mature storylines, themes and or three-dimensional thinking." They are rated M because they have boobs blood and badwords. Yes, there are a CRAPload of games that have Mature themes but are rated E or T because they don't have those elements to take them to M. To claim that Zelda is more mature than any M-rated game is almost so much of a given that I think he wasted hours of his life composing this. M rating has nothing to do with how little or much the game is for "Mature" audiences in the vein of adult thinking, it is just as simple as some boobs on the screen. There is no way to tell whether a game will evoke emotions like the ones described here until it is played, which is why I said, Zelda: Majora's was far from being the first game (even on Nintendo) to be truly applicable as a Mature game. And hundreds of games with that little "M" on the front are bloodfests that only have the "M" for said blood.

    It's like saying Blade Runner has no depth or story because it's Rated R. It's rated R because there is blood spilling in the movie, but there is so much more to it than that. I think the mistake here was making the rating of "M" stand for Mature, when it's really more like the rating "R" which is for a certain age group, not a level of thinking. I have never confused "M" for a game with potentially adult-level thinking and moving emotional experiences
     
  8. Cloud Strife

    Cloud Strife 01000011 01000101 0101010

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    agreed, but i dont' think it was a waste of time, there are alot of people who will not buy a game unless it's got a "M" rating, i remember back before i got married and had a life of nothing but games, i would talk to my friends, ask if they played "x" game, they wer like, has it got guns and blood? no, what about boobs and language? no, well then y would i wanna play?

    ther are alot of gamers out there (sadly) who think if it's not rated "M" it's not worth playing
     
  9. Prowl

    Prowl Well-Known Member

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    yeah that's definitely true, but if that's the case, they probably wouldn't appreciate something as amazing as Ocarina of Time.
     
  10. Pravus Prime

    Pravus Prime Sorcerer

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    Since I got it 9 years ago (Wow! That long ago?), I've asserted that Majora's Mask was not just a surprisingly deep game for a Zelda title, but for a game period. There are a lot of story aspects that really show a range and depth that you don't see (or at least I haven't) in a lot of games. From the grandmother's tales to the drama of wedding, to the nature of Majora itself, there's a lot there if you care to scratch beyond the surface. A whole lot. Actually I don't think that article really did the games depth any justice.

    There are some interesting questions raised as you play through the game, especially about the nature of friendship and what it really means to help someone. The Happy Mask Salesman is really an interesting character, especially at the end of the game. I always found that as obviously painful as the transformation masks were to use, that finding out the story of the beings who died to become the masks were absolutely tragic.

    I was partway through the game when I came to the realization that I'd never be able to help anybody in Termina, it was a sobering moment. In every RPG game, you play as someone who goes around righting wrongs and helping townsfolk. It didn't matter what I did, eventually I'd turn back the clock and it would all happen again for them, but I'd be doing something else and they wouldn't get my aide that time around, and that final cycle I wouldn't help 99.9% of them before we moved to a new day.

    I won't go into game spoilers, but there's a moment during the final minutes that Link is transported to what is essentially the Elysian Fields. Sometimes I wonder just how many people picked up on that, just what was going on, and enjoyed that nice little turn of events.

    For me, that story depth is what makes it a favorite game of mine, and IMHO a better game then OoT was, putting it in a similar category as Chrono Trigger, as a fun game to play that also had an excellent story.
     
  11. DaggersRage

    DaggersRage Autistic bastard.

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    I with Windcharger on this. The article is talking about a game's story which is not what the ESRB base their ratings on. A game is rated Mature because of it's graphic content not because of it's story.

    That's not to say that Majoras Mask is not a mature story (Never played the game though) but the article is mixing things up. A better title for the article would be "Majora's Mask is a mature game".
     
  12. CdnShockwave

    CdnShockwave The Prince of Poses TFW2005 Supporter

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    I never had the patience for that game. OOT was great, but MM is just bloody confusing.
     
  13. MnemonicSyntax

    MnemonicSyntax Rooks Gang Leader

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    Majora's Mask is probably my favorite Zelda game of all time. Most of my friends didn't like it because of the curveball that was thrown at them right from the start, but I couldn't put it down.

    It's also the little things, like you need bombs, have none, and you get the Bomb Mask... yet unless you know how to use it correctly it literally blows up in your face and deals damage, yet sometimes that mask is a necessity.

    I also appreciate that they didn't just take Hyrule characters, reverse their personality and run with that in Termina. Some people are still doing what they do in Hyrule, (like the labor boss in Clock Town) while others are doing something drastically different, but along the same lines of what they did in Hyrule, (like Malon and to an extent, her little sister.)

    Oh, Zora mask FTW.
     

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