“A Place to Call Home”:  Musical Theming in Final Fantasy IX

-by Nathan Randall, Featured Author.

“How did you survive…?”

-Princess Garnet

“I didn’t have a choice.  I had to live.  I wanted to come home to you.  So… I sang your song.  Our song.”

-Zidane, Final Fantasy IX

A few weeks ago I posted an article focusing on theming in music, and how it’s an important strategy to use in both video games and music to drive home deep emotional thoughts.  Today I’d like to continue that analysis with Final Fantasy IX and the theme of ‘home’.  This game not only uses music to foreshadow future events, like in Xenoblade, but also uses music as a recurring theme to carry emotion.

Final Fantasy IX revolves around the theme of ‘home’.  Almost every moment of the game contains some reference to home, whether it be the destruction of one’s home, finding out a place is not one’s real home, questioning what one would destroy to keep their home safe, or, in the case of the above quote, realizing that another person is one’s home.  This quote from Zidane (the protagonist) is the very last in the game; it’s the moment when Zidane realizes that he’s finally found his home.  Until that moment, Zidane doesn’t know where he came from or where he’s supposed to be, yet he seeks to find that place.  The journey is hard, and full of heartache and pain.

In order to drive that ache home to the player, the developers of the game, Square, had several design options.  They could use gameplay, a script for the characters, artwork, and music.  The most effective of all of these options in Final Fantasy IX was music.  The theme of home is driven home hard (pun intended) to the player through the game’s main theme: “Over The Hill.”

The way in which this song plays with the idea of a musical key does a great job mirroring the theme of home that it’s intended to express.  The song is played in the key of G major, so in musical terms, the “home” chord of the song is G, and the “root” of the chord is also G.  The idea behind this is that G is the most basic note of the song, and so, in order to create a satisfying piece of music in this key, the music must “return to home,” and sound a G chord at the end.  But a good songwriter knows that in order to develop a meaningful piece of music, the chord structure must “wander away from home.”  The music wanders off on an adventure and then eventually returns to its home in a way that is satisfactory.

One of the times that “Over The Hill” wanders away from home, an E7 chord sounds, which is a chord known to be particularly bold and noticeable in the key of G because it contains a G#, a note not contained within the key of G. However, the root of the chord, E, does not actually sound.


This diagram maps out how to play an E7 chord on the piano, showing where the G# is in the chord.

When this chord sounds, its structure also communicates a message about the concept of home.  Since the root is absent, the listener feels a lack of grounding.   “Where we are” in the music becomes for a moment very hard to hear, though the music is very beautiful.  And since we don’t know where we are, it’s hard to anticipate where we’re going (i.e., G).  At this moment, too, G, the home note of the song, cannot be heard; in G’s place is G#.  If the listener searches for home, she will not find it.  When this chord sounds in the song, the listener feels very far away from home, and doesn’t know how to get back.

One of the wonderful things about music theory is that it explains structurally how the music feels to listen to.  The feelings of wandering and the ache of not knowing one’s place in the world are present in the song.  The wonderful thing about the music in this case is that those ideas don’t smack the player upside the head.  They’re hinted at.  The theming exists in the music, and allows the other types of storytelling to drive the point home a little harder later on in the experience.  The player has already felt Zidane’s ache and confusion in the main theme, long before his struggle to find home becomes clear.  And once his struggle reaches the foreground of the story, every time the “Over the Hill” theme reappears it brings with it all the emotional baggage that it’s developed over the course of the game.  That’s good theming.  What was upon first listening to it a beautiful and impactful song becomes the centerpiece of the emotional experience of the game.  That’s one of the many things music can do for a game.

When this chord sounds, its structure also communicates a message about the concept of home.  Since the root is absent, the listener feels a lack of grounding.   “Where we are” in the music becomes for a moment very hard to hear, though the music is very beautiful.  And since we don’t know where we are, it’s hard to anticipate where we’re going (i.e., G).  At this moment, too, G, the home note of the song, cannot be heard; in G’s place is G#.  If the listener searches for home, she will not find it.  When this chord sounds in the song, the listener feels very far away from home, and doesn’t know how to get back.

One of the wonderful things about music theory is that it explains structurally how the music feels to listen to.  The feelings of wandering and the ache of not knowing one’s place in the world are present in the song.  The wonderful thing about the music in this case is that those ideas don’t smack the player upside the head.  They’re hinted at.  The theming exists in the music, and allows the other types of storytelling to drive the point home a little harder later on in the experience.  The player has already felt Zidane’s ache and confusion in the main theme, long before his struggle to find home becomes clear.  And once his struggle reaches the foreground of the story, every time the “Over the Hill” theme reappears it brings with it all the emotional baggage that it’s developed over the course of the game.  That’s good theming.  What was upon first listening to it a beautiful and impactful song becomes the centerpiece of the emotional experience of the game.  That’s one of the many things music can do for a game.


Nathan Randall is a featured author at With a Terrible Fate. Check out his bio to learn more.

“It Won’t Stop Getting Louder”: What Video Games Can Learn From Musicals

-by Nathan Randall, Featured Author.

Along with video games, I also love music.  As a matter of fact, I spent much of my childhood alternating between playing Final Fantasy and playing the piano.  But for some reason I spent most of my life so far thinking that games and music were entirely different domains; the music I played on piano was usually not the music I listened to while I played a game.  Over the past few years that’s changed.  I’ve started playing songs from games on the piano, and writing arrangements of some of my favorite pieces.  It’s become abundantly clear to me that music and games are not separate– that the songs that I played on my instrument from games were as compelling as the ones I learned elsewhere.  And that idea got me thinking further.  What connections were there between video game music and other genres of music?  And as I was thinking about it, suddenly I made a connection between two very unrelated things: the musical Evita, and Xenoblade Chronicles.

A few weeks ago I was sitting in the audience of Evita, my favorite musical.  It caught my ear five years ago when I noticed the incredible use of theming in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music.  Webber does a beautiful job of creating recurrent concepts and shifting emotions throughout the musical by making use of repeating musical motifs—that is, recurring rhythms, chord patterns and melodies.  Good theming connects these musical ideas to characters, themes, and emotions in the play.  The story of the musical, then, is the intersection of the musical ideas with the action and speech onstage.  More specifically, the music draws thematic and narrative connections for the audience that can expand upon or even contradict the verbal and physical actions created on stage.

By way of example, I point to one particular theme that appears in the song “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You.”  This song is structured around a jazzy melody that repeats roughly five times before the song ends.  The audience becomes extremely familiar with the melody by the end of the song.

The melody takes on a particular thematic association throughout the course of the song.  When the song plays in Act I, Evita, a poor Argentinian woman gaining power in Buenos Aires through affairs with powerful people in the city, meets Colonel Peron, who within a few months both marries Evita and becomes President of the country.  The song is Evita’s completely successful attempt to seduce Peron.  But she does not seduce him purely through flirtation.  Her success also comes from her ambition—from what she claims she can offer to Peron politically.  As she points out to Peron, “I’d be surprisingly good for you.”  The melody of the song then becomes associated with both Evita’s sensuality and her intense political ambition.

In Act II of the musical, the melody reappears, bringing with it all the thematic associations present in the previous act.  It arrives while Evita, whose health is rapidly failing her due to her cancer diagnosis, tells Peron that she intends to run for Vice President in spite of her sickness.  This time, however, when the melody plays, it’s slower, the instrumentation is more somber, and, instead of finishing on a jazzy major chord, which would evoke a sense of inspiration, the melody finishes on a minor chord, which, far from inspiring, evokes despair.  And when this chord hits, Evita collapses to the ground, for the first time making clear to the audience her failing health.  The combination feels like a punch to the gut.  Not only does the audience see Evita collapse to the ground, but the audience can also feel the thematic sensuality and ambition of Evita collapse when the theme associated with those concepts falls apart.  Webber uses the music of Evita to make her spirit fall apart as her physical being on stage falls apart; in this way he has used music to thoroughly enhance the narrative.


At this point I imagine my reader is wondering, “why did Nate write an article that focuses so much on musicals on a site about video games?”  As mentioned in the introduction, it’s because music is an essential part of video games as well as musicals.  The player’s aural experience while playing a game can bring out thematic connections, intense emotions, and thoroughly enhance the narrative occurring onscreen, just like it does in musicals.

I’ll again show what I mean by way of example.  Xenoblade Chronicles features one of the best scores that I’ve heard in a game.  It’s full of pained violin melodies and complicated electronic motifs, fueling the themes of hatred, loss, and autonomy present throughout the game.  What makes the soundtrack remarkable, besides it just being incredibly beautiful, is how the music matches up with the narrative occurring on screen.

View of Mechonis

In a major battle early in the game, Fiora, the love interest of the main character, Shulk, sacrifices herself to save his life.  She dies at the hands of the Mechon, a race of machine creatures that kill humans for (what seems at that point in the game) no apparent reason.  After her untimely sacrifice, Shulk and his best friend Reyn have a conversation about how to move on with their lives.  It’s at this moment in the game that the ostensive plot emerges:  Shulk declares that the Mechon must pay and he will “kill them all.”  But Shulk does not yet realize that his decision is naive and actually counterproductive.  Late in the game Shulk finds out that one of the few survivors of a race of machine-humans actually built the Mechon in retaliation for the almost-complete extermination of his people at the hands of humans.  In deciding to kill all the Mechon, Shulk would only be contributing to the cycle of violence, rather than seeking an end to it.  Shulk’s decision to kill the mechon contradicts Shulk’s real goal of creating peace in his world.

Yet Shulk is aware of the contradiction to an extent.  He describes “two versions” of himself: one that chooses to follow the advice of his hero, Dunban, and “treasure the life” that Fiora gave Shulk by sacrificing herself, and another that says that Shulk should “make [the Mechon] pay,” that he must “kill them all.”  He describes the latter voice as getting louder and louder.  Eventually the second voice wins out, but the decision never feels satisfactory due to the existence of both voices.

Shulk's Frustration

The soundtrack that plays during this scene makes the contradiction more apparent.  Right after Shulk says, “it won’t stop getting louder,” a crescendo builds in the music, mirroring the voice in his head, and the violins sweep up toward triumphant G major chord.  But then something goes wrong.   Instead of going up to a G, the violins stay on F#, creating a G major seven chord, which is far more dissonant than a regular G major.  In terms of chord structure, the G major seven functions very similarly to G major, so the moment of triumph is still there, but even to the untrained ear, there’s something noticeably off about it.  Shulk has made a decision about how to react to Fiora’s death, but the music suggests, correctly, that it might be the wrong choice.

It’s important, though, that so much of the doubt about the choice exists in the music, rather than a more explicit, verbal form of storytelling.  Since Shulk doesn’t yet know the truth about the Mechon, he still believes at this early stage in the game that he’s making the correct choice.  In order to preserve the drama of late-game reveal, the fact that Shulk is making the wrong choice can only be hinted at. This type of foreshadowing is extremely difficult to do in words while preserving genuine suspense on the part of the audience, but music is perfectly suited for the job.  It communicates the message, “something is wrong here,” without explicitly giving away what is wrong.  The only thing the player can glean from this moment in a first-time playthrough (unless they’ve read this article, I guess), is that the music is not as triumphant as she anticipated.  The entire truth is still a mystery.

I choose to present both these examples, Evita and Xenoblade, in the same article because they share a similarity I find crucial to a great soundtrack for any medium.  They both make use of defying musical intuition to make the narrative more impactful.  In the case of Xenoblade, most listeners will expect the chord they are listening to right before the climax to resolve to G major, but it does not, and the fact that it does not can be felt, and creates a wonderful bit of doubt about Shulk’s decision.  In Evita, hearing the same theme with a different chord is extremely noticeable and draws attention to the differences present in that particular moment as compared to the past.  Changing the chord at the end brings out in firm clarity Evita’s failing health.

And there’s one more reason I chose to compare a video game with a musical.  Video games, ever since they started incorporating music, have made extensive use of musical themes.  For example, nearly everybody knows the Super Mario theme.  Video games then are in a fantastic position to make use of theming techniques, such as the ones in Evita, to create emotional experiences for the player.  Making use of a musical moment like the one I described in Evita made Xenoblade a better, more impactful game.  To make better games, perhaps creators should lend an ear to the techniques used in musicals.

Nathan Randall is a featured author at With a Terrible Fate.  Check out his bio to learn more.

Taking Defense Case #4: Sonic the Hedgehog, Saved by a Brilliant Composer

by Dan Hughes, Featured Author.

In this long overdue episode, Malcolm Lockwell examines whether Sonic the Hedgehog deserves to be lauded or forgotten. Only by listening to the sweet tunes of Mr. Masato Nakamura can he find his answer.

License:  Standard YouTube License

Dan Hughes is a featured author at With a Terrible Fate.  Check out his bio to learn more.

“Wait a minute Mister Postman”: the problem of Termina in a single man.

“In my mind, I am running for exactly

ten seconds without looking at a clock.”

-The Postman, “Legend of Zelda:  Majora’s Mask”

So far, my analysis of characters in “Legend of Zelda:  Majora’s Mask” has primarily been contained to major characters figuring in the game’s main plot — the Happy Mask Salesman, Skull Kid, etc.  But some of the most salient characters in the universe of Termina need not ever be encountered in order to complete the main plot of the game, and it is to one of these characters that I turn in this article: the meticulous Postman of Clock Town.

What exactly is the Postman?  At first glance, he might seem as much a piece of scenery as a NPC:  in later entries in the series (e.g., “Twilight Princess”) he interacts with Link by giving him mail, but the only mail he delivers in “Majora” is to other NPC’s, making him seem more like mechanic of Clock Town than an individuated character.  Yet just as different levels of ethical discourse emerge based on how much of the game the player engages, so too does the player have the opportunity to discover much more about the Postman by seeking him out and engaging with him.  As the pace of life in Clock Town accelerates over the course of three days (something which I described when analyzing the music of “Majora”), the pace of the Postman’s daily route accelerates as well, effectively keeping time with the town.  Each night, in his home which is identical to the Post Office, he practices “mental training” in which he visualizes running for precisely ten seconds, in order to perfectly adhere to his schedule.

Postman Training

Yet at the same time that the Postman epitomizes public service in unflinching adherence to ‘the schedule’, another part of the Postman runs counterpoint to this:  his desire to escape Clock Town.  In the same breath that he preaches his devotion to the schedule, he bemoans that he cannot satisfy is desire to flee because fleeing “[is] not written on the schedule.”  In this way, the Postman’s internal struggle is eerily reminiscent of the cosmic friction of Termina, which I previously described as the struggle between Armageddon and renewal.  I quote from my article on the musical metaphysics of Termina:  “Termina is a world defined by time, and time in ‘Majora’ is metricized through music.  We can even frame the basic tension of the game through music:  the story of ‘Majora’ is the push-and-pull of the Song of Time against the Clock Town Theme.  The accelerating, manic juggernaut of the Clock Town Theme is the underlying tendency of the game’s universe toward extinction, and the Song of Time is manifest will, the agency of humanity staring into inevitable demise and asserting themselves in the face of extinction.  On a Nietzschean reading, every other component of the game is derivative of the counterpoint between these two musical themes.”  At the time, I did not pursue the claim that other components of the game are derivative of the musical counterpoint, but the Postman presents an example of exactly that:  his turmoil is a microcosm of the universal tension between inevitable demise and the desire for salvation.

SisyphusPostman in anguish

At first glance, the struggle of the Postman looks like the Sisyphean primitive (i.e., being doomed, for all time, to push a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down to the bottom):  he is the man who is doomed to struggle for all time with an endlessly repeating task, with the only hope of ‘success’ manifesting in some form of existential transcendence (think Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus).  In the remainder of this piece, however, I will argue that the position of the Postman, from the player’s perspective, is too complicated to reduce to the primitive of Sisyphus.  It is that complexity which renders the Postman particularly salient as a case study within the world of Termina.

There are two levels on which we may assess the Postman.  First, we may ask the question of how he evolves as a character through the narrative of Termina, independent of the role played by the player as a narratologically significant agent; I will refer to this level of analysis as ‘flat analysis’, because it treats the game narrative as a planar construct independent of player involvement.  The second level of analysis, in contrast, takes player agency as an essential component of the narrative’s discourse, which coheres with my model of Termina as nontrivially dependent on player agency; in contrast to flat analysis, I refer to this as ‘full analysis’.  Readers who have been following the course of my argumentation may observe that this is a false dichotomy, for, if the narrative of a video game is dependent on player agency, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to examine its storyline independently of player agency.  What I hope to suggest in this article is that the process of first undertaking flat analysis, incomplete though it may be, can put the analyst in a better position for a full analysis thereafter.

Postman in Repose

There are two horns to the flat analysis of the Postman:  how he expresses his desire to escape on the one hand, and how he ultimately achieves “liberation” on the other hand.  To try to convince himself to flee the doomed Clock Town, the Postman writes and mails a letter to himself.  The letter reads:

To Myself,

You have been doing a great job delivering the mail.

I have a request for my hard-working self. All of the townsfolk have taken refuge. I want myself to flee, too. Even if it is not written on the schedule, I want myself to flee. Please…

From Me

What’s noteworthy here (no pun intended) is that the only apparent recourse available to the Postman in order to question his absolute adherence to schedule is an operation within the bounds of that schedule:  he must mail and deliver a letter to himself in order to question his uncompromising commitment to the delivery of mail.  This commentary is in 20th century literary theory:  our critiques of systems are limited to the language of discourse allowed by the system.

We get a fuller image of the Postman’s situation by considering the other horn of the flat analysis:  he is only able to attain “freedom” via a directive from his superior (Postmistress Madame Aroma) to abandon his schedule and flee (1:30 in the video).  After Aroma orders the Postman to flee Clock Town, the Postman remarks to Link:  “I have decided to flee.  It is an order from the Postmaster.  I am now free!  I can set my own schedule”; he then bequeaths his Postman’s Hat to Link, since he doesn’t need it anymore.  Yet there is an apparent contradiction in the Postman ‘deciding’ to flee based on an order from his superior — an order, to be blunt, from his master.  The problem, because of which I have been putting “freedom” in scare quotes, is this:  putting aside for a moment how we strictly define ‘freedom’, it seems as though being told to go elsewhere by the architect of one’s daily life (i.e., the Postmistress) cannot instantiate substantive freedom.

The dilemma of what ‘freedom’ means in the case of the Postman is fleshed out by the first horn of the flat analysis:  because the Postman’s life is determined by his schedule — and, more generally, by his role as the Postman, for we know him by no other name — he can only gain a sense of agency by the will of the determining system.  Because the Postmistress maintains the system, she is in a position to “liberate” the Postman from his schedule by ordering him to no longer follow it.  But this, of course, does not reveal the Postman to suddenly have free will; rather, it underscores the hard determinism of his existence by revealing him to be entirely subservient to his boss.  When he exclaims that he is ‘free to set his own schedule’, his words can be glossed as an exclamation of happiness that he is ‘under orders to operate outside of his previously-conceived schedule’.  When he dances out of Clock Town after leaving his Postman’s Hat, he does not do it as a result of having quit his work, or even from asking permission to leave the Town; he does it as the result of a direct order.

It’s not particularly interesting to derive hard determinism from a flat analysis, and the reason should be obvious:  if we artificially remove player agency from the narratological equation, then any remaining source of agency within the narrative seems disingenuous in comparison.  Because the ontological course of NPCs is charted purely by programs, it’s a trivial matter to say that their existences are determined — in point of fact, such a framework is really only useful for exceptions such as Mikau, whose existential state is indeterminate prior to player engagement.  So what’s much more interesting in the flat analysis of the Postman is his self-concept and matrix of sentiments in relation to his determined existence:  though his life is charted by schedule and work, his mental life is not one of polite acquiescence, but rather reflects a friction in a desire to survive — and, if we consider his joy at eventually being “free” to set his own schedule, a desire to transcend.  So the nontrivial understanding we can derive from flat analysis here is the picture of a man who is at once entirely subservient to the social structure, yet who, through internal dissonance, reflects a conceptual knowledge of and thirst for existence outside of that same social structure.

Postman's Hat

So much for flat analysis; what happens, then, when we return player agency to the mix and engage in full analysis?  Here I also propose two horns to our approach:  first, the role of the player in Termina’s metaphysical perpetuity; and second, the consequences of Link’s acquisition of the Postman’s Hat.  Lastly, I will comment on what agency in general adds to the case of the Postman, and what we might hope to gain from him as a character in the universe.

As a way into the first horn here, recall that I have actually already mentioned Sisyphean themes once before in this blog, during my general discussion of the theory behind the sidequests of “Majora.”  I quote the relevant section:  “The final result of the game’s counterfactual analysis is that not everyone can be saved; and indeed, insofar as Termina continues to exist as an apocalyptic world even after Majora is defeated, any instance of even one person being saved is entirely fleeting.  Yet though the game may tell you at every turn that your actions are meaningless, it demands to be played.  Like the structure of Hades’ punishment for Sisyphus, every new decaying causal chain Link learns about through sidequests and main quests cries out for him to save humanity, if only for one single moment.  It is this picture of Link saving no one but making everyone happy that emanates from the universe of the sidequests of ‘Majora.’”  We are now in a position to better articulate what I left implicit in that early account of Termina:  the Sisyphean nature of Termina is derivative of the player’s agency in playing the Song of Time.  We know this because the universe of Termina depends upon the player’s perception of it to exist [see my analysis of ‘meeting with a terrible fate‘], and because the Song of Time is the metaphysical mechanism that instantiates new timelines and keeps Termina in a state of constant decay, as opposed to allowing it to end [see my space-time analysis in my discussion of the absence of Zelda in “Majora’s Mask”].  While it is a useful mechanism for existential discourse to talk about human life metaphorically as “Sisyphean” (again, see The Myth of Sisyphus), the fact of the matter is that human lives end.  Without metaphysical intervention, the day-to-day “boulder pushing” of the Postman’s schedule would ultimately Terminate when the world was destroyed.  Yet because Link perpetuates the universe by constantly playing the Song of Time to continue engaging it, this framework is warped into one that is truly ‘endless’ in the Sisyphean sense.  The Postman may dance out of Clock Town after giving Link the Postman’s Hat, but Link need only play the Song of Time to stifle that timeline and see the Postman back at his delivery route on the Dawn of the First Day.  So what we see player agency doing here is transmuting the Sisyphean aspects of the Postman’s life, moving them from the physical to metaphysical domain.

 Admittedly, that sounds pretty terrible:  if Link’s actions are turning the Postman into an actual Sisyphus analogue, it’s hard for the gamer to feel good about their actions, metaethical nihilism notwithstanding.  Thankfully, the second horn of the full analysis — the consequences of Link acquiring the Postman’s Hat — offers us a more positive conception of this of affairs.  Recall from my discourse on the absence of Zelda the concept of ‘temporal afterimages’:  “mental remnants or representations of alternate timelines that necessarily precede the timeline in which one actually exists.”  When I first coined the term, I was concerned with what exactly a temporal afterimage is, as opposed to what narratological impact they might have.  Now, however, we are ready to move into the realm of narratology.  As I noted in my discussion of Zelda’s absence, a prime example of temporal afterimages is the collection of masks that follows Link through the proceeding timelines of Termina.  The Postman’s Hat, as a mask, is a temporal afterimage.  It is also an emblem of public service, tantamount in the Postman’s case to an article of faith.  Mechanically, it vests Link with the authority to act as a Postman, checking mailboxes throughout Clock Town, and even withdrawing items from the mailbox (i.e., a Piece of Heart).

That Link is able through the Postman’s article of temporal afterimagery to assume the role of a Postman is crucial because it allows the Postman to achieve the transcendence that we would imagine him denied as an NPC.  The way this works is as follows:  as the flat analysis showed, the Postman is incapable of expressing agency outside the bounds of the system of his determined role as the Postman.  However, as I have previously described, Link, as the conduit from the player to the universe of the game, is the sole entity capable of expressing meaningful agency within the game’s universe.  When Link dons the Postman’s Hat, he is able to enter into the system defined by the role of ‘Postman’, but is also able to express agency.  He can therefore break the expected routine, by checking mailboxes at inappropriate times, taking the Piece of Heart, etc.  What this means is that, by virtue of his connection with the player as an external source of agency, Link is able to subvert the expected routine of the Postman, symbolically defeating the same schedule that binds the Postman.

The Postman's angst

Now we have at least one viable account of why the distinction of flat/full analysis is useful:  analyses proceeding in this form offer us a more precise account of how player agency influences and molds narratology, making it a helpful model for the interpretation of video games as aesthetic objects.  Without the player, the Postman is a man consciously trapped in the construct of a role and schedule throughout his life; when Link and the player arrives, the Postman’s suffering is immortalized, but he also transcends this suffering by inviting the game’s one true agent into the framework of his own role.  Though the Postman can never truly be free, we might say that the interposition of Link allows him to truly flee.

Dawn of a New Year, and the curious case of the Happy Mask Salesman in Termina.

I begin by wishing readers a Happy New Year, and all the best in the year to come.  Though I see it as more of personal sentiment, I would take a moment before diving into our next series of analysis to reflect upon New Year’s resolutions, and to make an appeal to “Majora’s Mask.”  If you find yourself wondering how to approach resolving to change in the New Year, a practice that is commonplace to so many, consider perhaps seeing it as a Dawn of the First Day:  society has framed the celebration of New Year’s as a transformation of the self in light of what has transpired in the prior year, just as players of “Majora” are encouraged to chart each three-day cycle in light of what progress and mistakes they made in the prior cycle.  By meditating on Link in this way, we might just learn how to see New Year’s celebrations as a set of transformative milestones over multiple years, a perspective which could allow us to approach resolutions as steps towards self-evolution, rather than barriers that will inevitably defeat us.  With that in mind and a toast to new beginnings, I turn to the next subject in our growing aesthetic and philosophical model of what “Majora’s Mask” is.

Before the last interlude in With a Terrible Fate, I undertook a three-part analysis of the Song of Healing, a central game mechanic taught to Link early on by the Happy Mask Salesman.  But in spite of arising several times so far in our discourse, I have yet to ask the question of precisely what the Happy Mask Salesman is, or what he is doing in Termina.  In spite of existing on the outskirts of Termina’s world, some of the most memorable quotes from the game are uttered by the Salesman:  “You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?” and “Wherever there is a meeting, a parting is sure to follow” bookend Link’s entire adventure, and the Salesman says both of them.  I begin by providing background of the Happy Mask Salesman from “Ocarina of Time”; next, I assess the relation he bears to the world of Termina in “Majora’s Mask”; lastly, I turn once more to the Song of Healing to see what our new perspective on the Salesman can reveal about the sequence in which he teaches Link the song.  This post aims to argue a thesis as to what exactly the Happy Mask Salesman is in relation to Termina; what bearing his more famous lines have in the game will be treated individually hereafter.

Happy Mask Salesman in "Ocarina of Time"When Link arrives in Hyrule’s Castle Town in “Ocarina of Time,” he finds the Happy Mask Salesman running a storefront in the town square.  He invites Link to be a “happiness salesman,” which involves finding people in the world of Hyrule who want to purchase the masks available at the shop, and giving them the mask in exchange for however many rupees they think it’s worth.  Link must sell four different masks to particular characters — the Keaton Mask to the Hylian Soldier guarding the Death Mountain trail, the Skull Mask to Skull Kid in the Lost Wood, the Spooky Mask to the boy in Kakariko Graveyard, and the Bunny Hood to the Running Man — after which the Happy Mask Salesman will also allow him to loan out the Gerudo Mask, Goron Mask, Zora Mask, and Mask of Truth.  Each character to whom Link gives a mask has some desire fulfilled:  the solider believes “[his] boy will be very happy with [the Keaton Mask]”; Skull Kid thinks the Skull Mask will make him “look a bit tougher”; the Boy in the Graveyard thinks he will be “just like Dampe” with the Spooky Mask; the Running Man believes the Bunny Hood will allow him to “[return] to the wild life.”

The personal wishes of each character reinforce the Happy Mask Salesman’s statement to Link that “[somewhere in the world], somebody is waiting for these masks.”  Moreover, the microcosm of the Happy Mask Shop quests recapitulate the fatalistic framework of “Ocarina of Time,” which I outlined in my analysis of Kaepora Gaebora:  just as the overarching course of “Ocarina” is constituted by Link’s destiny of the Hero of Time, so too are each of the initial four masks in the shop destined for particular NPC’s.  So we see that the Happy Mask Salesman operates here in accordance with the deterministic metaphysics of Hyrule:  when he tells Link to “have faith” that he will find the destined owners of the masks, it is a coherent imperative because the player and Link can both rationally appeal to the design of the game’s world in order to seek out a particular NPC for each mask.  This invites the question:  if the Happy Mask Salesman of “Ocarina” is contiguous with the metaphysics of Hyrule, then how does the ostensibly same character relate to the universe of Termina?

I think the best way into our analysis here is the observation that the way in which the Happy Mask Salesman exists relative to Termina is not obvious.  Link meets the Salesman inside the Clock Tower, which constitutes the exact center of Termina and the target of the moon’s descent, prior to the start of any three-day cycle:  time only begins to “count” after Link exits the Tower and enters Clock Town (time also stops whenever Link later reenters the Happy Mask Salesman’s location within the Tower).  Moreover, at the game’s end (13:10 in the video), the Salesman famously “fades out” of the world of Termina, disappearing without a trace.  Both of these facts suggest that the Salesman, as opposed to existing within Termina, exists beside it in some way.  Two more observations will help explain what I mean.

Happy Mask Salesman entreating Link

First, when we consider how to frame the three-day cycle of Termina, we find that the game actually offers us two options.  The first way, which I have used in analysis thus far, is that Skull Kid / Majora’s Mask will bring down the moon and destroy Termina three days after Link’s arrival.  But the other way is actually presented to Link before time even begins to pass:  upon first meeting the Happy Mask Salesman, Link learns that the Salesman is leaving Termina in three days.  “I’m a very busy fellow,” the Salesman says, “And I must leave this place in three days.  How grateful I would be if you could bring [Majora’s Mask] back to me before my time here is up.”  So, curiously, in spite of the framework we have been analyzing of Link embarking on a quest to save Termina, an argument can also be made for the game very explicitly defining itself as an enormous fetchquest, in which Link must procure a particular item (Majora’s Mask) for a particular NPC (the Salesman).

Second, the Happy Mask Salesman appears to possess some form of limited omniscience when it comes to masks.  Link can return to the Salesman wearing any mask (except the Fierce Deity’s Mask), and the salesman will remark on the mask in a way that reflects knowledge of its history.  For example, he acknowledges Link’s Goron and Zora forms as possessing the spirits of Darmani and Mikau, “the [Goron and Zora] who could not be healed.”  So in spite of apparently remaining in the Clock Tower during the entire three-day cycle, the Salesman has an intimate knowledge of the ontology of masks acquired by Link.

The Outsider

What these two facts suggest is that the Happy Mask Salesman observes Termina from an independent vantage point — think, to use an aptly named example from another game, of The Outsider in Bethesda’s “Dishonored.”  The Outsider exists tangentially to the world of “Dishonored,” only engaging it through those whom he brands, such as Corvo Attano (the player’s character).  Analogously, the Salesman possesses no agency or apparent connection within the world of Termina, but interfaces with Link and “brands” him, as it were, by teaching him the Song of Healing, thereby granting him an ability to be extended by his own agency.

And what of the Song of Healing?  In my analysis of the game’s musical metaphysics, I framed the Song of Healing as a mechanism whereby characters could be recalled to the fundamental nature of Termina’s universe.  In my first pass at the temporal structure of Termina, I referred to the masks of “Majora” as ‘temporal afterimages’ linking its manifold timelines together, which implies that the Song of Healing has the capacity, by generating masks, to generate temporal afterimages and fix points on subsequent timelines.  The Happy Mask Salesman is the progenitor of this song within the game; combined with the thesis of his tangential relation to Termina, this suggests that the Salesman’s relationship to Termina is architectural in nature.

I will try to take care in explaining this claim, because it is easy to overstate it as saying something like ‘the Salesman is Termina’s God,’ and this is not what I mean.  In the course of my analysis, I have spent a great deal of time discussing what Termina is without discussing much of how it came to be — that is, its ontology.  What I have in mind by framing the Salesman as an architectural constituent of Termina is the beginnings of synthesizing an ontological explanation of precisely how the bizarre world of Termina came to be, and the Salesman is a major nexus of this account.  I offer this preliminary thesis in the form of a threefold statement of the Salesman’s influence on Termina as a universe.

1.  The Salesman is the imminent origin of fatalism in Termina.  This horn of the thesis is fairly straightforward.  The Skull Kid imposes existential threat and irrevocable disaster upon the universe of “Majora’s Mask” is contingent upon his possession of Majora’s Mask, and it was the Salesman from whom Skull Kid stole the Mask.  If we don’t want to pin responsibility on the Salesman for having the Mask stolen from him, consider this:  from his account of the Mask’s history (2:30 in the video), it is apparent that he understands the Mask’s potential, yet he chose to possess it rather than to destroy it.

2.  The Salesman is the source of Link’s agency within the set of Termina’s timelines.  In Part I of my analysis of the Song of Healing, I expanded my thesis of free will and determinism in Termina to include the observation that Link’s intra-timeline agency is contingent upon the Song of Healing vis-a-vis his being restored from the Deku Curse — and, of course, the Song of Healing is later needed to progress by healing Darmani et al.  As I just mentioned, the Salesman is the progenitor of this song; therefore, if we accept the free will / determinism thesis I argued in my earlier analysis, it must now follow that the Salesman is the furthest-back traceable source of Link’s agency within Termina.  And, since I have also argued that Link is the only strictly understood agent within Termina, it follows that, within the framework of the game, the Salesman is the ultimate source of agency within Termina.

3.  The Salesman is the cause of the apparent artifice of evil within Termina.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, it is the Salesman who ascribes the qualities of ‘evilness’ and ‘wickedness’ to Majora’s Mask, and it is also he who describes the Song of Healing as a song that can heal “evil magic.”  He is the one who frames the quest against Majora as a quest against evil — an ironic fact, seeing as we have just seen that he also frames the entire game as a fetchquest.  So at the same time as we previously identified Majora as the entity constituting that which is perceived as evil within Termina, we also see that it is the Salesman who has lead to the perceived evil which takes Majora as its object.  He is also partially responsible for the ultimate metaethical nihilism of Termina, but this is only by extensions of [1] and [2]; metaethical nihilism results from the friction between these, the Fierce Deity, and the Song of Time.  It does not appear that either of the latter two bears immediate relation to the Salesman.

The Salesman Encourages Link

By this paradigm, it becomes apparent that the Salesman is crucial to the architecture of Termina and “Majora’s Mask” as the player conceives of them.  Yet besides being such a haunting and important entity, the Happy Mask Salesman’s nature invites one particular question, with which I close:  why does the Salesman impart the artifice of evil to Link (and, indirectly, to the player)?  I would offer that it has to do with the history inherited from “Ocarina of Time”:  we would not be motivated to embark on the journey of “Majora’s Mask” if we initially perceived it as a mere fetchquest; therefore, the Salesman injects morality into the exposition early on, hearkening back to the strictly moralized framework of the previous games.  At the same time, we find embedded in this explanation an account of what the Salesman is up to when he tells Link to “believe in [his] strengths”:  to motivate Link is to encourage him, and, in a world lacking the Triforce of Courage to appeal to in order to grant Link courage, the Salesman must offer his own motivational laudations to the child.  The Salesman is the source of decay in Termina, but he is also the impetus for Link to bravely proceed in the face of futility, through timeline after timeline, ad infinitum.

Why can’t Skull Kid be healed? Part III of III examining the Song of Healing.

In the first two parts of this analysis of the Song of Healing, I offered a framework for understanding the song as a mechanism of transition between states of community and individuation.  Part I examined the instances of in-game healing that extricates individuals from communities, with a focus on Deku Link.  I argued that this direction of healing refined the game’s model of free will / determinism by tracking Link’s instantiation into Termina through the Deku community; I also offered a take on video games as a medium that took as inspiration this mode of entering a world through forcing individuation from a community.  In Part II, I examined the instances of in-game healing with reverse directionality, returning an estranged individual to their community — in particular, the cases of Darmani and Mikau.  I argued that this direction of healing allowed Link, the sole source of agency within Termina, to actualize the heroic-yet-ill-fated will of Termina’s fallen native heroes; I also suggested that this model of relating disparate entities through a single focal point of agency could also allow us to meaningfully unify the multiple Links of the “Zelda” series.

I pointed out in Part I that this theory of the Song of Healing is independent of any ethical valence, which is useful for my theory because it coheres with the thesis that Termina is metaethically nihilistic.  Yet an issue present in the case of the Song of Healing, as well as with regards to the game in general, is that moral valence appears to obtain even when morality fundamentally does not obtain.  For example, as I mentioned in Part I, the Happy Mask Salesman describes the song to Link as “a melody that heals evil magic and troubled spirits, turning them into masks.”  Likewise, Majora appears to be an evil being, in spite of the Fierce Deity’s counterpoint implying metaethical nihilism.  How, then, do we make sense of this more superficial level of morality that appears in “Majora’s Mask”?  I propose we engage this issue by answering the following question:  given the analysis I have offered of the Song of Healing, how can we account for the fact that Link cannot use the song to heal Skull Kid / Majora?  We will begin by tracing the ontology of Majora’s Mask (within the game, independent of the account of Majora presented within manga) in order to see whether it bears any relation to the masks Link acquires by using the Song of Healing.

Skull Kid and Majora

When the Happy Mask Salesman tells Link the history of Majora’s Mask (2:34 in the video), he describes the mask as having “been used by an ancient tribe in its hexing rituals.”  He goes on to say that whoever wears the mask — in the case of this game, Skull Kid — is endowed with “an evil and wicked power.”  It’s interesting to note what the Happy Mask Salesman does not say:  at no point in the game does he refer to any sort of spirit or sentient being living within the Mask; the closest he comes to referring to a sentient Majora is when he says at the very end of the game (after Majora’s defeat) that “the evil has left the mask.”  Yet we as players are aware that the Mask is in some sense sentient independently of Skull Kid, because the Mask eventually discards Skull Kid, at which point Link must face the three forms of Majora — Majora’s Mask, Majora’s Incarnation, and Majora’s Wrath.

Majoras Wrath

This matters to the ontology of Majora’s Mask because there is a difference between the Mask being sentient and a sentient being trapped within Majora’s Mask.  The language of the Happy Mask Salesman suggests that the sentience belongs to the Mask itself, and that it is identical to the evil that is purged from the Mask.  This is also corroborated by the fact that Link fights objects of Majora — Majora’s Mask, Incarnation, and Wrath — never fighting Majora itself.  Yet a problem remains, because by the very act of naming these forms, something named Majora is instantiated.  So, given the game’s framing of Majora’s Mask, just what might Majora be?

Fierce Deity's Mask

I would speculate that it is useful to think of “Majora” as identical to the game’s concept of evil.  Not only can this explain the Happy Mask Salesman’s description of the force of Majora’s Mask as simply ‘evil,’ but it also accounts for the superficial moral valence present throughout Termina.  The evil plaguing Termina originates from the Mask, particularly in Skull Kid’s use of the Mask to seal the spirits of the four Giants within evil bodies.  Similarly, the Fierce Deity’s evilness is postulated in relation to Majora — the only time in the game when Majora is referenced independently of Majora’s Mask, Incarnation, or Wrath.

This conception of Majora has the additional benefit of framing the driving conflict of the game’s story as friction between the apparently moral and the actually amoral.  The artifice of evil, on my reading, is congruent to Majora’s Mask threatening Termina, a world in which, I have argued, morality does not exist.  This friction explains why the problems of Termina on a regional scale are presented as a loss of natural order:  the swamp is turned toxic; the lush mountain is trapped in eternal winter; the ocean is inexplicably clouded; the desert is fraught with corruption.  Just so, the instantiation of morality fundamentally clashes with the natural metaphysics of Termina, which is why the Happy Mask Salesman describes the endgame not as a triumph of good, but rather as the purgation of evil — i.e., the removal of moral valence.

If we take this attitude towards Majora, I think the explanation of the Song of Healing’s ineffectiveness in this instance is readily available to us:  a mechanism without moral valence cannot functionally operate within the moral domain.  Rather, we see that Link must take on the form of an evil god, the Fierce Deity, in order to defeat the evil that is Majora; that is to say, Link must moralize himself in order to defeat Majora within his own domain.  We have previously identified Skull Kid and Majora’s Forms as lonely beings, and Skull Kid, at least, as returned to a community of friends after Link defeats Majora; yet even though this transition resembles our model of the Song of Healing, it is secondary to the moral game played out between the Fierce Deity and Majora’s Forms.  The beings healed via the Song of Healing do not possess the same moral pretense present in the case of Majora’s Forms, and so there is no artifice preventing the engagement of them with an amoral mechanism of transition.

Darmani being healed

Another tack we can take in defending the same model is to return to an earlier discourse about the way in which music constitutes the universe of Termina.  I quote the relevant section:  “the mechanism for healing the spirits of Mikau and Darmani… is a song:  the Song of Healing.  Link heals the pain of people by recalling them to the universe of music, reminding them of their loved ones and dissolving their acute individuation and loneliness.  To paraphrase Darmani, the sorrows of those who suffer melt away into the song.”  What I pointed towards in this passage was a fundamental relation between the Song of Healing and the musical formulation of Termina as the Clock Tower Theme in counterpoint with the Song of Time.  What follows is that the Song of Healing is in accord with the natural order of Termina, whereas morality, as I have said, is not.  This further distances the case of Skull Kid and Majora’s Mask from those in which the Song of Healing obtains.

Though Skull Kid himself is arguably most in need of healing, he is immune to the mechanics of the song because he is ‘possessed’ by the influence of morality, the power that is uniquely able to wreak havoc on Termina’s natural order by virtue of its moral valence.  What emerges from our analysis of the song, then, is the picture of a versatile tool for transitioning beings within Termina between community and individuation, but only as long as these beings operate within the normative constraints of the universe.  What makes Skull Kid uniquely problematic is that he is moralized in a world without morality, which is why the song that in so many ways defines the pivotal moments of Link’s quest is ineffectual against the ultimate object of his quest.  We might be tempted to view the Song of Healing as an instrument of moral goodness, but the limiting case of Skull Kid reinforces that, in keeping with the terror generally suggested by the game, any morality observed in using the song is ultimately ascribed by the player — the game itself rebukes moralization of the song.  We are left with the model of a tool for ‘helping people’ in the absence of morality, and this is possibly the most salient feature of the song:  by playing it, Link is able to help people in some way even when morality has no fundamental grounding.

“If you truly can see me, then follow behind me.” Part II of III examining the Song of Healing.

In the first part of this series on the Song of Healing, I argued that the Song of Healing, despite being described by the Happy Mask Salesman as “a melody that heals evil magic and troubled spirits,” is most parsimoniously understood as an intermediary tool between states of community and states of solitude.  I emphasized that the neutrality of this model was useful because it cohered with the thesis of metaethical nihilism with which we have been working since the beginning of this project; we will soon consider how moral valence might interact with this mechanism, but that exploration will follow the metaphysical analysis currently at hand.  I began this three-part analysis by considering the Song of Healing as it functions as a transitional mechanism from a state of community to a state of individuation, as in the case of Deku Link and Pamela’s Father; in this second part of the analysis, I want to examine how it functions when the directionality is reversed, and it returns an individual to a particular community.  Though I mentioned that the case of Kamaro falls into this category, I want to focus on the instances of Darmani and Mikau, for their cases are more directly pertinent to the structure of the narrative in “Majora’s Mask” than Kamaro’s is.  (Note that there is more to say about both Darmani and Mikau than is pertinent to this post, and that they will be treated further as the blog continues.)

Darmani in pain

When Link arrives at the frigid mountain of Snowhead, Kaepora Gaebora leads him to the Lens of Truth, a magical artifact that allows him to perceive things that would otherwise be invisible.  By using the Lens, Link is able to see the ghost of Darmani:  “If you can truly see me,” Darmani says to him, “then follow behind me.”  Darmani leads Link to his grave, where he laments that he perished while trying to free Snowhead from the “demon” of the Giant bound by the magic of Majora.  Darmani begs Link to bring him back to life so that he can save his village; or, barring that, to heal his sorrows.  Link then plays the Song of Healing, triggering a sequence in which Darmani sees himself applauded by his fellow Gorons; Darmani’s spirit then passes on, leaving Link with the Goron Mask and the charge to help his Goron Village.

Mikau in pain

Link encounters Mikau in similar-yet-distinct circumstances at the Great Bay, as I described previously in a discourse on the significance of death.  Though Mikau is not a ghost when Link finds him, his death is imminent, with Link being the only one to bear witness; Link is also the only one who can bury Mikau, and heal his pain with the Song of Healing.  When he plays the song, Mikau undergoes a sequence in which he sees himself reunited with Lulu, the singer of the Indigo-Go’s; they then walk towards the other members of their band, hand-in-hand, as the vision fades out and Mikau fades away, leaving only the Zora Mask and a charge to help Lulu (“that singer girl”).

In both of these scenarios, as I mentioned last time, the healing sequence triggered by the Song of Time involves a return of the suffering individual to the community they died trying to save — Darmani tried and failed to save his village, and Mikau tried and failed to save the eggs of Lulu from the band of Gerudo Pirates that stole them.  Importantly, in both cases, Link learns how to use the different features of the masks synthesized by the Song of Healing by reading the inscriptions of the fallen heroes’ graves.  This mechanic establishes a sense of heritage:  both Darmani and Mikau are passing on their histories to Link, effectively initiating him into their respective lineages.

The concept of inheritance, at first blush, is a clean way to parse how the Song of Healing functions in these scenes:  Link is carrying on the tradition of the Goron and Zora heroes, saving their people as the heir to the mantle of heroism.  Yet the relationship between Link, Darmani, and Mikau is more complex than this, because Gorons and Zoras do not perceive Goron Link and Zora Link as descendants of their heroes; rather, they believe Link to literally be Darmani or Mikau.  In the case of the Gorons, this causes confusion due to their belief that Darmani was dead, leading them to think that a miracle of some sort has occurred; in the case of the Zoras, this arguably precludes them from ever realizing that Mikau has actually died.  What does this conflation of Link’s identity with the identity of local fallen heroes imply?  I submit that there are two major consequences, which I enumerate below.

1.  The intra-timeline agency afforded by Termina to Link is hyper-protected, yet dependent on a relation to Termina’s native heroes.  We have begun to articulate a refined thesis of Link’s capacity to exert agency within any given three-day cycle (i.e. timeline) of Termina; one implication in the background of this thesis, which we have not hitherto explicated, is that this capacity to exert agency is in fact limited to Link.  This is obvious on an intuitive level, because Link is the sole character within the domain of the player’s control; yet this notion is also narratologically recapitulated by the relationship between Link and Termina’s native heroes.  Darmani and Mikau, as entities constrained to the apocalyptic framework of Termina, cannot independently succeed in advancing Termina towards the eventual defeat of Skull Kid; yet Link, whom we have already framed as a stranger in the alternate universe of Termina, cannot employ his agency within Termina without adopting the personas of the heroes who actually had a stake in saving the dying world.  What the Song of Healing does in these cases is to transform the relationship that Darmani and Mikau bear to Termina by establishing a connection between them and Link, the only source of agency within the universe.  We can use this paradigm to understand the association between the healing sequences of Darmani and Mikau, and the Masks that are left behind thereafter:  Darmani and Mikau perished in an effort to save their communities, and, in that act, they were fatalistically separated from their community by the veil of death; yet Link’s use of the Song of Healing allows him to don the guise of Darmani and Mikau and, using his own capacity of agency, to actualize the will of the fallen heroes by saving their communities.  So the thing meaningfully transmitted from the fallen individuals to their communities by the Song of Healing is their heroic will:  Link’s unique metaphysical freedom allows him to make a reality of what Darmani and Mikau were deterministically prevented from achieving.

2.  The macroscopic framework of the “Zelda” series can be collated using the same paradigm of transmitting the individual to the community.  In the same vein that I argued a meta-thesis about video games was derivable from the ‘community-to-individual’ direction of the Song of Healing, I submit we can extract a meta-thesis from the ‘individual-to-community’ direction.  Specifically, I think that this provides a useful means of answering the following question:  given that the “Legend of Zelda” series encompasses innumerable timelines, multiple ages, and multiple Links, how do we synthesize the stories of each game into a collective narrative?  While I certainly would not argue this to be the only response to that problem, I think a viable means of response is to point to the agency employed by the player in taking up the story of each particular Link, and, in so doing, experientially unifying them.  What I mean is this:  in spite of existing across various timelines and worlds, “Zelda” games maintain certain fixed points — for example, the Triforce, some incarnation of Demise (typically Ganondorf), Zelda, and Link.  Though I have argued that many of these fixed points do not obtain in “Majora,” one that always does, by virtue of being the player’s direct connection to the universe of the game, is Link.  What allows any particular Link to undertake his quest to save his particular community is the player of the game, and it is this dynamic that is identical to the functionality of the Song of Healing in this direction:  suppose Link, as an avatar, to be like a ‘mask’; you, the player controlling Link, are constant as the source of agency acting upon the game, even as each Link you control is distinct.  Thus, this paradigm endows the player with unique significance in fundamentally being the unifying thread of the series as a whole.

Mikau and Lulu

What is at stake when the Song of Healing sounds, and Mikau faces Lulu in a vision that will never come to pass?  The people wrenched apart by the inescapable apocalypse of Termina can never escape the universe of fate, but Link possesses a unique gift to offer them:  the agency to redeem their will and love of their community, in spite of their fate.  The Song of Healing in this direction extends the freedom of Link to the bound heroes of Termina, a special interaction predicated upon the special metaphysics of “Majora”:  by truly seeing Darmani and Mikau, Link is able to translate their will into action.  This, of course, remains an analysis that has been sanitized of moral valence — and it is towards this question of morality that I will turn in Part III of this series.