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SummaryAn innovative and wholly clever yet cumbersome Zelda game.
The GoodIn 1998 Nintendo released upon the world a Nintendo 64 game so epic, so stunningly beautiful and so carefully crafted it wowed gamers across the globe and gained tremendous praise from gamers and critics alike.
This game was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. For its time it was revolutionary. With its large, stunning and open ended 3D world, its loveable characters and the innovative lock-on system Shigeru Miyamoto and his team proved they could translate their awesome Zelda series into 3D without sacrificing anything that made previous titles in the series such a delight to play.
To live up to the expectations made by that game Nintendo had to come up with something very interesting for a new sequel. The result was a game that both succeeded in doing so tremendously well while it also had some frustrating and annoying elements. It's kind of a divisive game among Zelda fans and they hold an ongoing debate whether it or Ocarina of Time is the better game. I am off course talking about one of the most unique and quirky Zelda games: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.
Released in 2000 it was a game that hit the Nintendo 64 late on in its life cycle. It came out around the same time when Sony released its wildly successful and much wanted PlayStation 2. Some people may have missed it because of this. A shame, really, as it is an incredibly clever and well thought out game, though not without flaws.
It starts only a few months after Ocarina of Time. Protagonist Link is looking for his old fairy buddy Navi when he stumbles upon the mysterious Skull Kid who lures him into a trap and uses the powers of a strange mask, the titular Majora's Mask, to transform Link into a Deku Scrub, a plant-like creature that first appeared in Ocarina of Time. Not only does Link need to find a way to become human again, he also needs to find his way back home as he has been sucked into the mysterious new land of Termina, robbed of his Ocarina of Time.
While walking around as a tiny Deku Scrub in Termina's main town, Clock Town, Link meets the Happy Mask Salesman, a character from the previous game, who urges him to get back Majora's Mask from Skull Kid to prevent its evil powers to spread across the world. He soon discovers there is some serious trouble going on in Termina. The moon, as in: an evil-looking moon with red eyes, is about to crash into Termina within three days, wiping it of the map and all its living creatures with it.
This is all because of the dark powers of the Mask, in which the ancient demon Majora resides. Link soon finds his Ocarina in the hands of the Skull Kid. After playing his healing song to become human again, Link will have to use the Ocarina's time travel capabilities to return to the first day he arrived in Termina to save himself from being crushed by the moon. This is totally different from the usual save-the-princess story seen so many times before and it allows for an unusually dark Zelda game with the constant sense of impending doom looming over everything Link does. Majora is by far the most story-driven Zelda game.
Time travel, that's basically what this game is all about. You play the Song of Time and you go back to day one. This way you can save yourself over and over. Don't have enough time left to beat that dungeon? Just go back in time to restore your time and use warp points to get back to where you ended quickly. You can also play the Song of Time differently to greatly slow down the flow of time or to travel to the future. The downside of this is that your actions never happened if you go back so most of the game will be reset, although you usually can get an item to solve problems in an easier way the next time around.
At first you will be totally confused and not really sure what to do. But after a bit of exploration your main objectives become clear. To get the mask back you will need to awaken four giants in each of the winds four directions.
Across the plains of Termina Field are four regions, each inhabited by a different race. There is a swamp where Deku Scrubs live, a high mountain where the Gorons, the rock people, live, a bay with the Fish-like Zora tribe and finally a dusty canyon where all kinds of undead creatures such as ghosts and zombies reside. At the end of each of these four regions, there is a dungeon. Beat the four dungeons to awaken all four giants.
While four dungeons may seem like nothing compared to Ocarina's nine different dungeons, Majora compensates this by relying much more on side-quests. In this game you have to carefully observe the living patterns of the people living in Termina. The postman's round, the artists rehearsing in Clock Town's back alleys, it all seems completely unimportant until you delve deeper into the game and you find how unique this idea truly is. For example, there is a Goron staying at an inn also called Link. You can travel back in time to use information from the future to your advantage and use your own name to get the key from the reservation counter so you get into the room he was supposed to stay in. Many characters have equivalents in Ocarina and it is especially fun to see the lovable characters from that game as sometimes completely different people. Take Navi the fairy for example. She was rather annoying in Ocarina of Time with her high pitched yelps like "Hey!" and "Look!". She's now replaced by Tatl who's an improvement for sure. There are a few new characters as well, including the very first appearance of Tingle the wannabe-fairy. I like how Termina is both completely different from Hyrule yet eerily similar at the same time.
The NPC quest system also makes the player much more aware of his or her moral dilemmas, and touches upon an emotional level. You can never really save anyone because you will choose to complete different sidequests each time you go back in time. This allows for a rather dark and moody game in the series that surprised gamers back in 2000. Thankfully Link gets a notebook that keeps track of these kind of tasks early on in the game so you can see if you already saved someone in a different timeline.
Many of these side-quests will earn you special masks, while others are obtained by playing through the main quest. These masks play a much more important role than in the previous game. While some just enhance the game in simple ways such as the ability to run faster, others transform link into a Deku Scrub, a Goron or a Zora, each with their own abilities much like in Super Mario games. Many masks, particularly the transformation masks, are vital in progressing through the game and in solving puzzles. Need to be able to dive? Put on the Zora Mask. Need to glide across short chasms? Just whip out the Deku Mask. There are more than 20 in all and while not all are compulsory to beat the game, its fun to collect them all. These masks are very cool and truly enhance the Zelda formula.
The dungeons though, are still where this game truly shines. Particularly the Stone Tower Temple is one of the series' absolute gems. I will not spoil why but play the game and you'll get it. It's just a shame there is so few of them.
The heavy reliance on side-quests also makes this a much more replayable Zelda game. Finding all the weapon upgrades, masks and hearts is going to take a while.
While gameplay is solid, it also looks really good. Graphics are Expansion Pak enhanced and make an already stunning engine even better. There are better looking textures than in Ocarina of Time. Link just looks much better with more polygons and more detailed textures. One of the most visually impressive N64 titles. Even today it holds up pretty well.
The music is a solid mix from tunes from earlier Zelda games as well as new ones. Still as strong as ever! Nice classic effects, such as the puzzle solve sound and the item fanfare are here.
Other than that, everything that made Ocarina of Time such a great game is in here such as ocarina songs, cool weapons, horse riding, mini-games and so on.
The BadWhile this game is probably the most clever Zelda game ever, the bold choices Nintendo made also have some major downsides.
Let's start of with traveling back in time. You lose all consumables such as potions, money, arrows and bombs when traveling back to day one. This is very, very annoying. You can save money on your bank account (that apparently transcends spatiotemporal boundaries) but doing so all the time is cumbersome and should not be a necessity.
But the most annoying thing is the fact that all of the game is practically reset after going back to the first day. Sure, it's a terrific idea at one point making you think about your actions, but it can also frustrate you to death. Usually, newly found items, masks or ocarina tunes let you skip entire parts of the game. However, there are some tasks that need to be done over and over in order to figure everything out and you don't always know whether or not there is an item you should be getting first, let alone how, where or when. You may sometimes make a little mistake and you have to do a lot of work all over again.
The most important example is in the quest with Anju and Kafei, a sort of love tragedy revolving around a young couple about to marry at the festival at the end of the third day. It's a classic Zelda trading sequence, which is cool, but make one little mistake here and you can do it all over again... and again... and again. This frustrated me to no end.
Another thing that I found annoying was the saving system. The game saves your progress if you go back in time, putting you back in Clock Town. You can also save at other locations using owl statues, the warp points of the game. However, the game will take you to the title screen and you can only boot it up once. If you turn of the game after opening an owl statue save file, you get sent back to the last time you saved by going back to day one. I am not sure what they were thinking when they came up with this system.
And then there is the time limit. Sure, it keeps that sense of urgency alive and you can always go back in time. There isn't much trouble with it. That is, until you enter the dungeons. Sure, you can slow down time but even then it is frustrating if you want to figure out how to beat that nasty puzzle while time is steadily running out. And you'll want to collect all the fairies hidden in each temple in one run-through as well so you can get all the important weapon upgrades because if you don't and go back in time, yep!, you lose all of them and the whole dungeon will be reset so getting them all again isn't easy either, even with new dungeon items.
As said, heavy reliance on side-quests goes at the cost of having fewer dungeons. Some may not like the many side-quests.
The Nintendo 64 version requires the purchase of the Expansion Pak. I suggest you just spend your ten bucks on the Virtual Console version instead.
The Bottom LineThat being said Majora's Mask is all in all a fantastic game. It's unique, it's clever, it's pretty and it has a terrific way of telling a story but most importantly; it's fun!
The designers made some bold decisions in this game that work out very well while also come at a high cost, mostly when it comes to the accessibility of the game. This is the reason I still think that in the end, Ocarina of Time is simply the better game. If you never played both games I suggest you play that game first, it will make Majora's Mask more fun to play, anyway.
When all is said and done, Majora's Mask may be a game that's not for everyone, but fans of the series owe it to themselves to at least give this game a try. If you can look past its flaws you will discover what may very well be the most original and clever Zelda game made to this day.