"If you have the courage and determination to proceed in the face of destiny, then I shall teach you something useful." ~The Owl
Majora's Mask is not only designed to be frustrating, it is designed to intimidate players. While this can be seen in the mechanics of the game, it is just as easily present in the directing. The way the story is presented and the visual design of the world and dungeons are all meant to evoke feelings of complete and utter helplessness.
From the first moment you step out of the Clock Tower, the game does everything it can to make the task seem daunting. Link's first steps in Termina are almost directly below where the moon will hit. He is tasked with recovering a mask of incredible power and stopping the moon itself from falling--all in only three days. What's more, when he starts out, he is incredibly helpless. He is stuck in an unfamiliar body, has only one method of attack, and cannot access his inventory. And if that was not enough, a dog in the very first area of Termina you encounter will attack Link's Deku form! This is perhaps the most helpless Link starts off in any Zelda game.
When Link finally does face the Skull Kid, he finds himself impotent. He is minutes away from the moon's impact, and not only can he not stop the moon, he cannot even hurt the Skull Kid. He manages to recover his ocarina, and a little help from the Goddess of Time is all that helps him survive. Not succeed, mind you--only survive. Link is sent back three days to his first steps in Termina, and he has not accomplished any of what he set out to do. While the Happy Mask Salesman does cleanse his soul with the Song of Healing and regain human form, the message that this introduction presents is clear: Link is entirely helpless and must rely on others to succeed.
Everything about the world is designed to remind you of this helplessness. The moon is visible in the sky at any point in the world, even during the day. The location of the moon is no coincidence, either. Clock Town is in the direct center of Termina, and the clock tower (i.e., the point of the moon's impact) is in the direct center of Clock Town. Three of the four dungeons in Majora's Mask are also designed around a central room, with that room designed to be the most intimidating one in the dungeon. Woodfall Temple has a giant, spinning flower. Snowhead Temple has a tall, cylindrical room crossed with narrow pathways. Great Bay Temple has a deep whirlpool with a current that tosses Link around. [AN: I'd like to include images for these all three rooms, but am unable to find good images for the latter two. I hope to fix this later.] Even if those rooms are not actually the direct center of the dungeon, they all have the feel of being the central chamber--the room that the rest of the dungeon is built around. All three mentally lead the player back to the moon, sitting at the direct center of Termina.
Another thing worth noting is that Clock Town, as one might determine from its name, has a clockwork theme. As the game is built around a three-day cycle, time becomes very important. The player is reminded of the remaining time every twelve in-game hours, and there is a time indicator at the bottom of the screen. While the final moments (five minutes from the perspective of the player) do contain a numerical countdown that displays exactly how much time is left to the second, the time indicator for most of the three-day cycle takes the form of a half-circle--an analogue clock. This choice ties these two themes together: the slipping away of time, and everything leading back to a center. By choosing a recurring circular motif, a shape with radial symmetry, everything in the game leads back to the center: back to the moon. In addition, the circular shape evokes feelings of recursion: no matter how hard he tries, Link is always taken back to the start to do things over again. For him, time is circular, always leading back to the start and always pointing him to the center.
Termina is a mess. Everything in the game seems a daunting, impossible task. However, despite the apparent futility of everything, Majora's Mask makes it clear that Link is not alone. The Great Fairy in Clock Town gives Link the skill he needs to reacquire the Ocarina of Time from the Skull Kid. The Goddess of Time gives him the time he needs to accomplish the task. The Happy Mask Salesman returns him to his human form and teaches him the Song of Healing. All these interactions are required in the first cycle to advance farther in the game.
Perhaps the most important characters who aid Link early on are the members of the Bombers Secret Society of Justice. After Link is recruited into their ranks, he is given a notebook with one purpose: to keep track of those he has helped. They are such important characters because they present a shift in tone: one from receiving help to giving help. A key difference between Majora's Mask and other Zelda games is the emphasis on helping people. There are some games that offer a chain of deals, but those are presented as ways to get impressive prizes. Only Majora's Mask gives the impression that helping people is its own reward (see Forgiving Failure for more on this).
By making Link helpless, having to receive aid from others, Majora's Mask encourages a giving spirit. Link and the player realize how important it is to have help. It is a double-edged sword, since it shows him that he is not alone, but also becomes a frustrating reminder of his impotency. No one wants to admit to needing help, after all. On the other hand, both of these give Link (and possibly, by extension, the player) what he needs to continue: determination. The knowledge that there are beings out there to aid him and that this impossible task does not fall on his shoulders alone gives him the peace of mind to continue, while the feelings of inadequacy drive him to become stronger so that he doesn't need to rely on anyone. In fact, from this point on, most of the help Link receives is a response to help he provided. Getting aid from Darmani and Mikau in the form of transformation masks requires soothing their souls. Grog gives Link the Bunny Hood after Link allows him to see his chickens grow up. The mysterious hand reaching out of the toilet only wants some paper (but whatever for?), and complying with its request nets Link a Heart Piece. Link still receives aid, yes, but he receives it as thanks for what he has done. His determination and desire to do good transforms him from a helpless child to a hero bold enough to save Termina not just from the approaching moon, but from itself.
Link is set up in Majora's Mask through the game design as a boy in way over his head. But with help to get him on his feet, and the consequent courage and determination that gives him, he is able to overcome overwhelming odds to proceed in the face of destiny--for as the Owl mentions, Termina is destined to fade. But Link refuses to give up, no matter how many times the ever-ticking clock resets, no matter how many times he is brought back to the center of everything just to fail once more, because he has been given the hope he needs to continue.