The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is a game that has stuck with me for a long time. I've never entirely known why. When I imagine playing Majora's Mask, I don't sense the buttons of the controller beneath my fingers or picture the light moving across the screen. I'm enveloped in an atmosphere - a feeling of some kind. As is the case with the game's predecessor, Ocarina of Time, I think this is partially due to the game's wonderful sound design.
Majora's Mask picks up the story of Link after the events of Ocarina of Time. Link is ambushed wandering through a forest, where a creature named Skull Kid and its two accomplices steal his horse and ocarina. After giving chase, Link is transformed into the body of a Deku. Crucially, while these events play out on the screen quite literally, they don't always feel literally true. Majora's Mask actually feels more like folklore: I can't really take the events of the game at its word, but rather watch as the game moves between the real world of the narrative and something else. Maybe it's a story, passed from generation to generation - each iteration meaning something different and personal to those who repeat it.
To put it another way, things don't quite make sense in Majora's Mask. After following the Skull Kid, Link falls down a huge ravine, filled with trippy visuals, before arriving in the landscape where the real adventure will take place. Some have interpreted this as the death of Link or the representation of his grief and trauma at Ganon's hands in his previous adventure, but I'm happy not to know. When it comes to folklore, after all, you never really know where the truth fully lies.
This complex narrative - a question of where the game begins and truly ends - is mirrored in the music. Of course it is. The Legend of Zelda's music has always told a story. Take something as simple as the overworld music from the original Legend of Zelda - it's a song of triumph. It's almost a marching song in rhythm, spliced with ascending tones and a quick descent, only to come roaring back up again.
Majora's Mask's Song of Healing is a much more complicated affair. When I was a kid playing this game for the first time on my friend's Nintendo GameCube, this was one of the songs I remembered when I finally bought my own copy. Like Kingdom Hearts' Dearly Beloved and some others I'm far too embarrassed to name publicly, it was one of a few songs loaded on my old iPod with the intention of helping me doze off at night.
Despite its dark tone and atmosphere, there's something relaxing at the core of this song. Likely a product of its time, it starts with a drone from an electronic organ. This follows the central melody but eventually clashes with it, outstaying its welcome. In Majora's Mask, this is the music used to return you from your Deku form. Used as both narrative tension and a physical impediment on the game's controls, Link's Deku form is restrictive.
For this very reason, the opening portion of Majora's Mask can be hard to get used to. As a kid, I was unsettled by the game, as I was unsettled by the music. But sometimes, as with my teenage horror obsession or my newfound love of mustard, sometimes the things that push you away at first gain a subtle depth as you age. With time, Majora's Mask has slowly drawn me back in.
As is the case with most direct sequels, Majora's Mask was expected to be more bombastic and over the top than its Ocarina-wielding brother. Bucking this trend, Nintendo's sequel actually feels more idiosyncratic. It's darker in tone and shorter in length. There's glory at the end of Ocarina of Time that is entirely thrown out by the start of Majora's Mask.
In a sense, the Song of Healing is the exact same thing. Its dark tones and even darker subject matter can be abrasive on first listen. Many may hate the melancholic melodrama of Majora's Mask. But not me. I love that jarring tone switch from the relative ease of Ocarina of Time to, ironically enough, the most time-sensitive game in the series.
As well as telling its own story, the Song of Healing plays into the narrative well. Initially only used to heal yourself from your Deku affliction, you can use it on signs, the game's inhabitants, and more. The game makes an important point in how the song works: it doesn't fix everything. You can't use it to restore the land or stop the approaching moon. But you can take those first steps.
In this sense, The Song of Healing is one step in a chain - an action needed to start something greater. Earlier on, I compared this song to folklore and this becomes clearer the more you listen. It's a song that tells a story, a tapestry of moments from the game that we remember two decades later. Without all of this preamble - this oh so necessary context - it's simply a pretty song in our ears.
It is like a folk song because, when I sit down, place my earbuds in my ears and close my eyes, I'm transported to one of the weirdest and darkest games in the entire Legend of Zelda franchise. It's just one brilliant moment in a franchise, a few minutes in time, yet it allows me to experience that game once more.
By itself, the central line of the song is no more than a handful of notes with sparse instrumentation. This being said, it's had an impact on people that has lasted even outside of the legacy of the game. Being reversed for the "Ben Drowned" creepypasta or remixed into endless EDM mixes, it's almost a cultural phenomenon in itself. It is the perfect little ambassador for the game it comes from - containing a palpable sadness that is both haunting and enchanting.
Even now, as I ponder one of my favourite songs in the entire franchise, I see it as little more than a way to connect with others who have similar experiences. Its loneliness is contrasted by the millions of people who have been touched by it. Though it is titled after healing, its sadness is representative of the contrasts we need in life. Our happiness is often symbolic of the absence of sadness. Our healing is a sign of the damage we have sustained. The Song of Healing, for me, is a painful realisation of my own sadness and the joy that must come from it.