The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D Originally released for the Nintendo 64, remade for 3DS (and GameCube) Developed by Nintendo and Grezzo Originally released in 2000, 3DS remake in 2015
Following the release of Ocarina of Time game director Eiji Aonuma was wondering what kind of game could possibly follow up on such a worldwide success. While a next title was in development for the Nintendo 64DD, known mostly as Zelda: Side Story, this concept soon evolved into one of the more divisive entries in the series. Some swear by Majora’s Mask and hold it up as the most groundbreaking game in the series, while others just can’t get it to click with them. Personally, I fall somewhere in-between.
Dark side of the moon
Majora’s Mask picks up where Ocarina of Time ended. With Ganondorf defeated Link has been teleported back in time to have the childhood he missed due to his adventure. Not ready to put the life of questing behind him though, Link says his goodbyes to Hyrule and heads out to reunite with a lost friend, presumably Navi the Fairy.
While riding around in the forest Link is then robbed by a Skull Kid wearing a bizarre, satanic-looking mask. During his chase Link then falls down a hole and winds up in Termina, a land very similar to Hyrule. There he finds out that Skull Kid is causing chaos for everybody and intends to finish it off by crashing the moon into Clock Town, Termina’s capital city, on the night of a big festival. Link has 72 hours to awaken the guardians of Termina, who are slumbering in temples located in the four corners of the land, in order to prevent Skull Kid from mooning everybody to death.
Termina is probably a parallel universe to Hyrule and I say that because, while the design of the world is completely different, the characters most certainly are not. Almost every asset present in Ocarina of Time is recycled here, which means that 90% of the population of Termina consists of basically the same people you met on the last adventure. Playing these two games back-to-back is therefor a bit lame as you end up looking at the same shopkeepers and quirky civilians.
To make up for this Nintendo put in a lot of effort to give each character more story and dialogue. People that just kind of stood around to give you a funny bit of dialogue in Ocarina of Time are now tied to interesting side-stories and have a lot more character to them. For example: Anju the Chicken Lady from Kakariko has a counterpart in Termina that is getting married on the night of the festival, but her husband-to-be has mysteriously disappeared and she is struggling to hold on to her hope that he will return. Every person in Termina feels significant and while not all of them get as much polish as Anju, the effort is much appreciated and makes Majora’s Mask a more story-driven experience.
I also enjoyed how the game rewards you for going out of your way to discover more story. Using the Bomber’s Notebook the game records every potential quest you interact with and gives you descriptions of the characters you meet. Some side-quests literally just involve meeting people at the right time and listening to their stories, which are well written enough to stay interesting and you can usually use the rewards you get from them in future encounters to get even more out of it.
While that is pretty sweet, it would have been nicer if we had new characters altogether since not every Terminian is necessarily an improvement over their Hyrulean counterpart and it creates unfavorable comparisons to the more popular entry in the series.
Story score: 8/10
Only an hour long?
72 in-game hours roughly translates to about 54 minutes, which is of course way too short for a Zelda game. With that much time you can maybe get yourself through the tutorial of most of these games if you happen to already know what you have to do. The game isn’t really just an hour long because you have the Ocarina of Time, which allows you to infinitely relive your three days in Termina. However, progress you have made is semi-lost: key items and awakened guardians remain, but you lose all of your resources and all the flags and characters reset, meaning paths you unblocked are once again closed and everybody you saved is in trouble again.
In many ways this is a neat idea, allowing for complex routines for each non-player character, which supports all those interesting side-stories I mentioned earlier, but for many people it’s a frightening concept. It gives you the Zelda experience everybody knows, but adds in looming, ever-present time pressure you can’t escape from. Everything you do in this game costs you time and if you are not fast enough, then all your progress is for naught and you have to reset. You can’t take this game at your own pace, you’re always trying to get as much, if any, permanent progress done before you have to wind the clock back, and not having a few full days available right when you want to enter a dungeon really kills your motivation to even try.
While it is tense and causes some frustration, like when you just keep messing up that difficult part in Snowhead Temple over and over again, I will say that it’s worth it just for the storytelling. Majora’s Mask also scores points with me for solving one of my main issues with Ocarina: the bosses. Whereas every boss in its predecessor was a pushover you could beat in under a minute, temples this time around are concluded with tense battles against complex opponents. It’s even one of the few modern Zelda games that escapes from the boring, old routine of: use the temple’s new item to beat the boss.
Items as a whole are less emphasized in Majora’s Mask. Instead, it focuses on masks that bestow you with interesting abilities, but are mapped to the C-buttons (or X, Y and touchscreen on the 3DS version) all the same. Some of these are really situational and only serve to advance a specific story-line while others are really useful, such as the Deku, Goron, and Zora masks that transform you in those races, providing Link with a completely new move-set. The first three dungeons are all completely based on each of these forms and it’s interesting to see how the world of Termina responds to you as a different race.
While the dungeons feel less conventional compared to other Zelda titles and the masks are a great idea, it has to be said that the filler between dungeons is some of the worst in the series. With “filler” I am referring to the mandatory questing you must do in Termina to unlock the way to the actual temple, which in Majora’s case is some of the most dull content in the series. While I love the atmosphere of the Deku Palace, having to sneak around it is a major annoyance, as is trying to find the lost Elder in Snowhead Temple or the entirety of Ikana Castle. By far the most egregious task, though, is gathering the six eggs from the Pirate Fortress in Great Bay, which must be kept in bottles of which you have a maximum of 4.
Gameplay score: 7/10
What are you all doing here?
The character designs aren’t the only assets that Majora’s Mask plunders from its predecessor. Music and sound-effects are also borrowed from Ocarina of Time, meaning you’ll hear a lot of familiar tunes in situations that aren’t that iconic for them. Hearing Guru Guru plays the Song of Storms without a windmill, on a clear night, really doesn’t do the tune justice, and the same goes for having Saria’s Song play in some random forest near the swamp. Especially the latter comes off as some sort of Lost Woods rip-off with a slightly changed name.
I don’t want to criticize the game for this too much since it’s going to be an ongoing habit in the series and, to be fair, the new music it does add is really fantastic. Deku Palace is perhaps one of the catchiest tunes in any game on the Nintendo 64 and other tracks like Stone Tower and the remixed versions of the Song of Time are fantastic. Sadly, most of the new songs you learn aren’t as catchy as the warp songs from Ocarina. Being able to play other instruments by using Link’s Deku, Goron, and Zora forms does lend a new feel to the music and Nintendo added in several new sound-effects, including more noises when interacting with characters.
I also find it somewhat hilarious that Majora’s Mask fixes my issues with the world design without actually addressing it at all. The design is still technically the same: everything of value is in the corners and there is a field in the middle connecting it all. The clever twist here is that Clock Town is the central point from which you start, meaning every other zone is much closer to your starting point than it was in Ocarina, but it also makes the map resemble an actual clock, with Deku Palace, Zora Hall, Snowhead Temple, and Ikana Valley being at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock relative to Clock Town. There is also much more happening in the field this time around, making traveling between locales feel less like a commute.
What really sucks though is that the game feels less satisfying to play. You are always playing as Young Link and your fencing is simply less impressive than it was when playing as grown-up Link. Ocarina of Time also made you feel like you were on a journey to restore the world and due to the time-travel mechanics of Majora’s Mask any similar event where you save people is temporary. You stopped the eternal winter plaguing Snowhead? Good job, you’ll have to undo that in about fifteen minutes give or take. It just feels anti-climactic and even after you end the game it still doesn’t feel like you’ve achieved much.
Fun fact: I used to know a guy that kept a save file at all times where he was on the last night, all the zones were saved, and several main side-quests were finished. He couldn’t bear to get rid of that file and sometimes started playing in it just to enjoy Termina in as save a condition as it can be.
While the game is kind of a hotchpotch of recycled materials and new stuff, what is more important in the long run is that Majora’s Mask is coated in atmosphere. The world of Termina is a beautifully-presented place filled with strong emotions. It’s hard not to shed a tear when a character perishes in a beautiful cutscene or not to appreciate the many brilliant touches in the music. While “somber” and “depressing” are great words to describe the game with, Nintendo nevertheless worked in some levity, featuring some of the best comedy and comedic timing in the series. It all comes together in a fantastic whole, but like with the story it would have benefited if it felt more like its own thing.
Presentation score: 7/10
Y, L, R, Y, L, R
Replaying Majora’s Mask isn’t exactly my favorite thing to do. While the sidequests are more elaborate than they were in Ocarina of Time, everything I do in Majora’s Mask drains my energy. There is a lot of planning that goes into this game and not even all of it is just for side-stuff, so replay value varies based on how much you can tolerate the time pressure.
What I will say in the game’s favor is that it has both the most and the best side-questing material in the series. The various games you can play in Clock Town are much more elaborate than anything else in the series and finding this content isn’t particularly hard, unlike the fun games in Twilight Princess that got lost in the sprawling city. The most important side-quest, however, is collecting all the masks in the game, which will earn you an amazing extra that makes the final boss way too easy; it would be remarkable if you manage to get this item and still not win the fight in one shot.
Other interesting, long-running tasks you can undertake are the fairy quests, that have you hunt down small, stray fairies in each dungeon and return them to the Great Fairy well for a neat upgrade. These can be a bother because finishing dungeons in time is hard enough as it is, but the rewards are really useful, especially the enhanced magic meter comes in handy due to the game’s larger focus on magical items.
Extras score: 8/10
What makes Majora’s Mask so impressive and inspired its most renowned twists is also what holds it back the most. Majora’s Mask was produced in a criminally short span of time and while that lead to the realization of the time-travel mechanic and strict NPC schedules, it also meant the team cut corners all around. It’s not short by any means, but rarely has a Zelda game felt this padded with dull content, and the amount of music, models, and textures that were borrowed from its big brother don’t work in the game’s favor. The game is unique, alright, and highly atmospheric too, but it feels too much like an expansion to Ocarina of Time, like a Zelda: Side Story.