Why Testament of Love Is Legend of Zelda’s Greatest Quest
In a series that practically defined video game adventures, one Legend of Zelda quest still manages to stand apart from the rest.
Quests are an underrated part of the Legend of Zelda franchise. Granted, each Zelda game is basically one massive quest, but I’m talking about the series’ various side quests. They’re the adventures you find off the main story path. Some are so obscure that you can easily beat the rest of the game without ever realizing they exist.
The very best Legend of Zelda quests are often worth going out of your way for, though. They’re often daunting tasks that push fans to their limits while granting them painfully little knowledge of the road ahead or even what the reward for their considerable efforts will be. Often, the reward is an incredible new item or similar discovery that offers a practical gameplay benefit. Sometimes, though, the reward is the experience.
Yet, in the incredible history of Legend of Zelda quests, none quite compares to Majora’s Mask‘s Testament of Love. It’s not just the finest quest in Zelda history; it’s a testament to the power of letting daring gamers figure it out for themselves.
Not Just Another Zelda Trade Quest
In some ways, Testament of Love is similar to other classic Zelda “Trading Quests.” First introduced in Link’s Awakening, trading quests require Link to trade items between NPCs in order to eventually acquire some special item. It’s basically an elaborate bartering system. The Biggorn’s Sword mission in Ocarina of Time is probably the most famous example of that kind of quest. Like those other trading quests, Testament of Love requires you to interact with numerous NPCs in a certain order and complete a chain of events in order to reach the quest’s conclusion.
However, you’re not really trading items as part of this quest. If anything, you’re trading information that will allow you to piece together the story of what happened to a man named Kafei.
Kafei’s mother hasn’t seen him in quite a long time, and since Link kind of reminds her of her son, she asks Link to figure out what happened to Kafei. Accept her request, and you’ll soon learn that Kafei had a lover named Anju who he intended to marry. Despite having a bad memory for faces, Anju seems to be thinking of nothing but Kafie’s face lately. She can’t quite understand why he ran away, and she’s starting to buy into the idea that he may have indeed run off with another woman (as her mother suggests).
However, she thinks there may be a way to find him. She gives you a letter from Kafei and asks you to give it to a postman in the hopes that he will be able to return it to its sender. If you follow the postman, you might be able to find which house he drops the letter off at. From there, you’ll just need to talk to Kafei and find out why he left Anju.
It sounds simple, but it soon proves to be anything but. In fact, Testament of Love is arguably one of the most complicated video game quests ever. Its historic complexity can be attributed to the fact that time is not only not on your side in Majora’s Mask but is actively working against you.
A Pair of Lovers In a Paradox
Majora’s Mask is one of the earliest examples of a “time loop” game. The adventure is built around the threat that a menacing moon will crash into Link’s world in 72 hours. You obviously need to stop that from happening, but failing to do so isn’t the end of the world. At least not for you. Instead, you can play a special song right before the crash happens to go back to the beginning of the 72-hour period. Only through exploration, experimentation, and exploiting a few loopholes can you hope to break the cycle.
Global concerns aside, that scenario results in a number of lesser time paradoxes and chronological conundrums. That’s why it’s so easy for many players to miss the seemingly simple sequence of events I described above. It’s easy to find the characters involved with this quest on the “wrong” day, and it’s easy to perform a seemingly simple action that will prevent the correct sequence of events from happening on future days. What’s worse, you’ll likely never know that you did something that will prevent you from experiencing the rest of the quest. In a game filled with so many possibilities and variables, you must solve and complete the Testament of Love quest in a very specific way.
The quest becomes especially difficult once you find Kafei. It turns out that Kafei was not only turned into a child by Skull Kid but had his Sun Mask stolen from him by Sakon the Thief. He doesn’t believe he can convince Anju that he is actually Kafei without the mask, and he certainly can’t complete their marriage ceremony without it. So you have to find a way to convince Anju to meet Kafei for their wedding, retrieve the Sun Mask, get Kafei to the church on time (so to speak), and let Kafei’s mom know what happened to him along the way for good measure.
I can’t overemphasize how easy it is to mess something up along the way. Did you rescue that old poor old woman on the first night? Too bad, because Salkon will now change his schedule and you won’t be able to acquire a vital piece of information (at least not organically). Were you a little late when meeting a character? There’s a chance that your entire schedule is now off. To make matters worse, the marriage ceremony itself isn’t scheduled to take place until the final moments of the final day. As such, this quest runs through pretty much the entire course of the 72-hour period (less than an hour in real time, minus some stalling tactics), and there is very little room for error.
Mechanically, that makes Testament of Love a microcosm of the entire Majora’s Mask experience. Trade quests in Zelda games are often about figuring out a correct order through often vague clues, but those quests usually allow you to move at your own pace. You’re constantly on the clock in Majora’s Mask, which can easily make an already frustrating and cryptic experience that much more annoying. Like the rest of the Majora’s Mask adventure, some simply find this quest’s requirements too frustrating and vague to ever be properly enjoyed.
However, that’s really the brilliance of the whole thing. It’s a quest that not only asks more of you within the unique context of the game but a quest that rewards you in ways that no other Zelda game possibly could.
A Heart Container You Carry With You
If Testament of Love were in another Zelda game, it would almost certainly follow a more rigid structure that wouldn’t allow you to fail quite so easily. That would make it more accessible, but the twisted beauty of the concept would be lost or lessened.
This is a tale of two lovers who must overcome some truly incredible circumstances to be together again before the end of everything. Curiosity may have encouraged you to learn their stories, but it is your own perseverance that will inspire you to see it through to the end. You tell yourself that you will not let the game break you with its paradoxes and ambiguities. Once you know that two people like Kafei and Anju exist, how can you look at the world and not think of the things you can at least try to do in order to get them back together?
So you persist. You give Kafie’s pendant to Anju in order to convince her that it’s worth waiting for Kafie even in the final minutes of her existence to see if he shows up. You participate in an incredibly difficult puzzle/stealth sequence to get Kafie’s mask back. You even follow the thin trail that leads to the proper series of steps that ensures Kafie’s mom gets a note from him, and you manage to get Kafie to the meeting place with moments to spare.
There, Anju is waiting for him. She may not be good with faces, but she knows that her true love’s spirit is in this unfamiliar body. She and Kafie complete the ceremony at last, give you their Couple’s Mask, and embrace each other as they spend just a few final moments together at last. You, however, play the Song of Time in order to take yourself back to the first day. The day in which Kafie and Anju are still lost lovers.
It hurts, but that’s the quest’s true payoff. Yes, you acquire a new mask and a few items along the way, but the real reward is getting to see Kafie and Anju together at last. With that scene burned into your memory, you must now carry the painful realization that they are still apart in your current circumstances as well as the power of knowing that you are still capable of fostering something truly beautiful in a world that is truly doomed.
The best video game stories often blend established narratives and personal experiences in ways that can’t be achieved in any other medium. That is certainly what makes Testament of Love the best quest in Zelda history. It’s a hauntingly beautiful narrative that captures the heartbreak and brilliance of the entire Majora’s Mask experience. More importantly, it’s the kind of quest that rewards the bravest and most observant players not with a piece of gear that vanishes as soon as your console is powered off but an achingly beautiful memory that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.