As if the doomed world of Termina isn’t ominous and morose enough, there’s another thing about it that’s been bugging me as I am currently playing Majora’s Mask 3D. No matter how hard Link works to solve the many problems across the land, no solutions are permanent. He always has to turn back time and return to the dawn of the first day, which in turns undoes all of the good deeds.
Each time Link plays the Song of Time, all of the Great Fairies are separated again. The strange ghosts once again threaten Romani Ranch. The monkey in Deku Palace is once again innocently charged with a kidnapping. The Goron Elder remains frozen in ice. Kafei is back to being lost and his bride left alone. Lulu and the Zora lose their eggs again. The dead citizens of Ikana become restless once more.
I think it is possible to run around and defeat all four bosses in one three-day cycle before facing the final battle against Majora. But there’s still not enough time to do everything. Several events overlap, or allow for only one choice to be made per cycle. For example, Kafei never spots Sakon going into the Curiosity Shop if you help out the Bomb Shop Lady on the first night.
Still, in this world of impermanence and futile heroism, some things carry over. Healing the souls of Darmani and Mikau are events that remain forevermore cemented in time. The Great Bay always has the grave of the legendary Zora guitarist after you heal his weary soul. Surely there is a reason for these to never reset? From a gameplay perspective, resetting them would be counterproductive. Yet everything else in the world except for the items Link has found is reset. An interesting choice.
This essentially allows Link to restart the game every time we return to the Dawn of the First Day. Think of each restart as a New Game Plus, where you have items from your last playthrough, and can use them in new ways in old places. Progress is small, but it’s there. Each time you’ll get just a little further, a little better.
If you consider it from this perspective, Link isn’t simply a hero whose deeds are forgotten. Link remembers what he’s done, and the player as well. In the movie Groundhog Day, Phil Connors spends the first portion of his time in limbo figuring out what’s going on. He then starts messing around and abusing his advantages. After a while, he realizes that all of this endless time can at least be spent bettering himself and trying to help others. That’s what Link can do with his time. Just because he can’t help everyone in one cycle doesn’t make a difference to them. They appreciate the help when they get it, and have no way of knowing there could have been an alternate timeline.
Link actually has unlimited time. He can fix mistakes, and stop bad things from happening– so long as they occur within the key days. And Link can do this as many times as he needs to, each time growing a little bit. By the time the moon stops falling, Link could have been stuck in Termina for hundreds of years. By the end of it all, he must have an old soul that has reached a point of Zen.
At the end of Majora’s Mask, after the Dawn of a New Day, we see everyone throughout Link’s quest celebrating the Carnival of Time. Certainly this place shows some timeline where Link really was able to help everyone. Or perhaps it’s a combination of many altering versions of events have converged. Or perhaps it’s only a vision of what Link wishes he could have accomplished before leaving Termina.