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It's the End of the World as You Know it
One of the biggest challenges for me playing Majora's Mask was the desire to make a lasting impact on the citizens of Terminia. As you constantly integrate yourself into even the smallest details of their lives, you can't help but feel a personal relationship from every single person you meet. As the game fleshes out and detracts you from your main quest of stopping the moon, the literal weight of the world grows in relation to just how little time you have left. The beautiful thing about Majora's Mask is that it forces you to make choices... choices that ultimately mean nothing.
This is seen in its entirety with Kafei and Anju, as you attempt to reunite two star-crossed lovers. It is one of the most integrated, intricate, and emotionally rewarding quests in Zelda history. This quest alone requires you to abandon nearly everything else, and to get the full benefits of the quest, you must do it twice. The Couples Mask is the result of a selfless hero changing how two souls spend their final minutes together; it's a fantastic ending to an invested side quest. Erasing the beautiful moment that captures Link's true purpose in Termina moments later is heartbreaking. When the dawn of the first day arrives, you'll be faced with the knowledge that you can save them once for your own memories, but be dealt the consequence of a broken couple while you try and save a much bigger world.
The game is about choices and therein lies the emotional battle you encounter when you simply take a different path. What if you never choose to help Pamela with her father, or cheer up Gorman in the Milk bar? The Moon Children at the end seem to reflect on this by asking you if your actions meant anything:
Your friends...What kind of...people are they? I wonder... Do these people...think of you...as a friend?
The right thing...what is it? I wonder...if you do the right thing...does it make...everybody...happy?
What makes you happy? I wonder...what makes you happy...does it make...others happy, too?
The way the game is designed gives you an unlimited number of chances to try and get everything right, but shows us that the events that happen in a character's lifetime only get to be enjoyed by Link if he chooses to do your quest that new set of minutes.
So at the end of the game, you save the land. You can look at your accomplishments from the past as tokens of what you achieved, but you are still left with the knowledge that Darmani will still have died with his destiny unfulfilled, and Mikau faces the same fate. The monkey will be tortured, the couple will never marry, and a mother will never be able to protect her unborn children. At the end of the game, without the time to save everyone at once, can you ever save Termina once and for all?