We all play games that we either enjoy or have a strong connection too. Jumping on mushroom creatures to save a princess, saving Midgar from a massive meteor, rolling around at the speed of sound and exploring uncharted lands for treasure…..gaming has taken us on magical adventures.
But one adventure is one that will always stick with me; my adventure with Link exploring the haunting and tragic town of Termina. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask released on the Nintendo 64 in 2000, only two years after the release of the groundbreaking Ocarina of Time. With high and lofty expectations to fill, how does this new adventure stack up to the N64 Classic?
In my humble opinion, it is not only better than Ocarina of Time in some specific areas but its stands up tall as one of my favorite games in the entire Zelda series and gaming in general. I want to share my tale of exploring Termina with you all. Put on your masks and lets set out on one of Link’s darkest adventures.
A Radical Transformation
Majora’s Mask didn’t start development as a sequel to Ocarina of Time, but rather as an expansion on the title. It was called Zelda Gaiden and was going to offer new dungeons to explore on top of the main story of OoT. But plans changed when the platform the game was going to release on, The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive, didn’t release outside of Japan.
Development shifted to the Nintendo 64 and the team was tasked with completing the game in one year after the games producer saying they didn’t like the direction Link’s next adventure was going in. This lead to the game morphing into a completely different beast…..one which many fondly remember to this day.
Majora’s Mask released to critical acclaim and is cited today as one of the Nintendo 64’s best titles. The game would later release on other systems after it’s N64 debut. It was part of a special Zelda GameCube Collectors Disk and playable via emulation (though it lead to some major slowdown issues) and got a release on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console platform (with the slowdown issue fixed completely).
In 2013, Ocarina of Time got released on the Nintendo 3DS in a remake that fixes key issues with the base game (Iron Boots being an item for example), has a higher frame rate and offers better control options. It was a remake that many enjoyed and many wondered if Grezzo, the developer behind the remake, would tackle Majora’s Mask next.
Nintendo was eager to answer that question in Fall 2014, with the announcement of Majora’s Mask 3D being announced for Spring 2015. With a lot of major improvements (3D Camera Control, extra item slots, map on the touch screen, refined Ocarina controls, refined Song of Time systems, ect) and updated visuals, it stands tall as one of the best 3D Zelda remakes Nintendo has ever put out.
The Endless Time Loop
The story of Majora’s Mask is powerful, with it covering many important topics; death, loss, empowerment, evil, and spirituality. You join Link in saving the people of Termina through completing various side quests and these quests all show a level of personality that no other Zelda game has since captured. They have stories and lives, each following the in-game clock, and how they interact with Link changes based on your actions.
Anju can just run her Hotel and mind your business but if you wear a special mask, she asks you to help her find her lost husband. A dancer on a hidden rock will just continue endlessly mind dancing but once you use the Song of Healing, he passes on to the after life, rewarding you a mask to help you dance.
Some of the games most powerful interactions are with the beings of the transformation masks. Even the very first one you get, the Deku Mask, has major importance. This mask is implied to be belonging to a Deku Butler’s son, who passed away getting lost in a maze. He is trapped in a tree form and his soul is lives in the Deku Mask. When wearing the mask and talking to the Deku Butler, he even comments on the fact you look like his son. Moments like these, pull at your heart strings and make you feel for every character you meet.
But only scratches the surface on the games world; nothing you do has permanence. Time is endlessly reset over and over until the Majora’s Mask is given back to the Happy Mask Salesman. Meaning, all those good deeds you did on the farm to ward off the aliens? Helping the troubled couple find love again? Meeting the Milk Bar owner for one final drink? All of that never happened. This is something that not only shattered the idea of ‘You are the hero!’ but makes you realize ‘My actions mean nothing…..but they are important to get done’. It makes you, the Hero of Time who defeated Ganon and saved the Triforce, feel like a normal person.
Playing with player agency and expectations is a powerful design choice that pays off big time in Majora’s Mask; you want to help others and you get rewards for doing so, but your actions are not set in stone….until you finally saved the world and defeated the Skull Kid.
Speaking of the Skull Kid, he is a great tragic character. He is just a friendly little wood creature that plays his flute and plays tricks on people. But is in reality a very lonely person. He meets two little fairies that become his best friend and they have fun together. However, he gets hold of the powerfully evil Majora’s Mask. This dark mask…..changes Skull Kid in making him a grander trouble maker by making the moon. Yes, THAT MOON. The one with the creepy face, the one you always look at no matter where you are in the game world.
That was such a powerful and iconic image, one that forever stuck with people that played Majora’s Mask. Overall, the story and design elements that are woven together within the games ongoing narrative is some of Nintendo’s best work in storytelling.
Dawn of The First, Second and Final Days
Majora’s Mask plays very similar to OoT, with Link more or less controlling exactly like his Child Form from that title. He can roll, jump off ledges, use three items (four in the 3DS remake) and has access to the Ocarina of Time. But how these mechanics work within Majora’s Mask differs in some clever ways over OoT.
Link is locked on a three-day timer system, where each in-game day lasts for about 20-30 minutes, with the game ‘ending’ when you play for about an hour. But playing with the Song of Time in creative ways (Inverted Song of Time and the Song of Double Time), you can manipulate the flow of time to make thing less troubling. You will get then 3 hours to play through a cycle, making dungeons far more easier to tackle.
But before we talk about dungeons, we need to discuss the transformation masks. These tools are some of the best items in Zelda history; Link puts one on (Deku, Zora, Goron) and he transforms, painfully so, into that race. It is a clever way to touch on the different types of creatures in the Zelda world but each form adds a lot to the game.
The Goron form is a powerful heavy hitter with powerful punches and being able to roll around at the speed of sound (damaging anything you roll into). It is also quite fast, quickly replacing Epona as a way to travel across Termina Field (though you can still use Epona if you would like to once you get her back). The Zora form offers Link the ability to swim like a fish, granting you some of the best swimming controls in 3D gaming. I loved swimming around in this form in the N64 version of the game and it was a joy to simply swim around. You can also use a version of the iron boots to walk on the water and use your fins like boomerangs.
Lastly, we have the Deku form which is the first one you get access too. The little guy can skip across water five times, shoot bubbles using magic and can fly when you leap out of flowers. I loved this form just for how skipping across water works and how it represents how hopeless Link’s adventure begins; he is trapped in this form for the entire first cycle in the game. So turning back into normal Link and still having the Deku Mask is a memento for your hard journey ahead.
Dungeons in Majora’s Mask are fun, as they play around with the different mask abilities in such a way, that I loved visiting both Stone Tower Temple and this games version of the water temple. They make fantastic usage of the three transformation masks and are some of my favorite Zelda dungeons.
Overall, Majora’s Mask on the gameplay front is a really impressive game in the series, one that trumps Ocarina of Time for me personally despite how that game has more dungeons and a more traditional Zelda structure.
Breathtaking Horror – The Hidden Beauty of Majora’s Mask
Majora’s Mask is one of the most impressive titles in Nintendo’s catalog not just for gameplay and story, but for it’s presentation as well. The game to this day looks solid despite now muddled textures from the titles N64 origins.
The world has this really twisted color pallet that while similar enough to Hyrule, is nothing like the location at all. It has this otherworldly feel to the adventure, as many times the game uses colors and gradients in ways you wouldn’t expect a Zelda game to use them. Visiting a observatory that is exploding with color and talking to one of the four giants after clearing a dungeon are great examples of this.
Music is one of my favorites of any Zelda title. The haunting and tear inducing ‘Song of Healing’, fearfully running away from ‘Final Hours‘, running across Termina Field to a slightly warped remix of ‘Hyrule Field’, the catchy track of ‘Stone Tower Temple‘ and the bopping beat of the Deku Palace…… All those songs are some of my favorite songs in the Zelda series and capture how powerful and flexible Koji Kondo’s musical work can become.
But when I saw the very first mask you see in Majora, I saw that and it really brought to mind for me, for whatever reason, a type of Chinese opera. The kind where the performers wear masks and the music is all percussive [makes the sound of a cymbal being struck rhythmically], and there’s a lot of cymbals and bells and what not. Those two linked up when I first saw Majora’s artwork, and I thought a Chinese-influenced theme would be the way to go.
Something else I remember is in the scene where the mayor is sitting and you have the two sides having a discussion over the top of him. He’s sitting in the middle of his office, and you have the people on the left talking about something, and then the people on the right, and there’s this discussion back and forth. I had a lot of fun making the music feel like that argument so that you’d have music pouring in from the left speaker and then music coming in from the right speaker. That back and forth was a lot of fun to create.
Majora’s Mask stands tall as one of my favorite Nintendo games and one game I can always come back to. I highly recommend you give this game a shot, through either the N64 version on the Virtual Console service (on both Wii U and Wii) or the high quality Nintendo 3DS remake.