The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
- Platforms: Nintendo 64, Nintendo GameCube, Wii (Virtual Console), Nintendo 3DS, WiiU (Virtual Console).
- Suggested Platform: Debatable.
- Developer: Nintendo
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Release Date: 10/26/00 (NA)
- Why Play It?: It has an interesting and unique world packed with character (and memorable characters) and secrets alike. It’s also the first Zelda to really deviate from the formula. Add in some memorable boss fights, and you have my favorite Zelda, no question.
- Why Skip It?: The time mechanic requires you to get a certain amount of things done within a certain amount of time. Failing to do so results in lost progress. I could see some being upset with that, and creates a sort of percieved difficulty that isn’t really there.
I have a theory: Your favorite Legend of Zelda is the one you grew up with. I certainly fall into this category, as The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is the Zelda game I grew up with. In fact, the first time I played Ocarina of Time was on the 3DS; I had no nostalgic connection to it, same with a Link to the Past. If you’re my age, your favorite is probably either Ocarina or Majora, depending on which one you had, or the one you spent the most time with. If you’re a little older than me, your favorite is probably a Link to the Past, and if you’re a little younger, it’s probably the Wind Waker. Honestly, these are all fantastic games, but Majora’s Mask stands out to me as being the best Zelda game ever. Why? Well, there’s a number of reasons, but first let me get the basics out of the way.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time. I mean, technically, there are three sequels. I’m no Zelda lore scholar, but let me educate you if you’re unsure of the Official Legend of Zelda Timeline. At the end of Ocarina, there are three possible timelines, due to Link hopping back and forth between two of them. In one, Ganondorf defeats Link. So if you died in the Ganondorf fight at the end of Ocarina, Hyrule declines, but Ganondorf is sealed in the Shadow World… Leading to a Link to the Past, though not a direct sequel, as you do not play as the same Link from Ocarina, but a descendant, somehow, and definitely a large number of years into the future.
Okay, so, what about when you defeat Ganon at the end of Ocarina? Well, there are two separate timelines: kid Link and adult Link. In the adult Link timeline, the Demon King Ganon is sealed, and Link lives out his days… Before Ganon is resurrected and Hyrule is flooded… Leading to the Wind Waker, again, a large number of years later, and you’ll play as another descendant. Alternatively, in the kid Link timeline, Ganondorf is executed before his big rise to power in Ocarina. No more Ganondorf! Unfortunately for kid Link, this hopping back and forth between timelines leaves him weary and weak… And a bit of an anomaly when it comes to time… But kid Link is looking for his dear friend Navi from Ocarina. This means that Majora’s Mask is a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, seeing as you’re playing as the same Link from Ocarina.
Looking through some misty woods in a land called Termina upon Epona, Link is dozing off a bit before being attacked by a masked imp who steals his horse, his ocarina, and takes off. Link, in hot pursuit, realizes that this masked imp has immeasurable power when he transforms Link into a Deku Scrub… But not just any Deku Scrub (this is important later, but I won’t tell you about it in this review). At any rate, Deku Link runs into the Happy Mask Salesman who senses Link has lost his body as well as his ocarina. The Happy Mask Salesman too has lost something very important… Majora’s Mask, an all-powerful mask imbued with evil and capable of destroying the world… The same mask the imp that assaulted Link ran off with. Link and the HMS make a deal… If Link gets his ocarina and Majora’s Mask back, the HMS will return him to his original form. No problem right? Wrong. The HMS is in a bit of a rush, and can only stay in the land of Termina for three days. Coincidentally, the horribly grinning moon is slowly descending on Termina, centered right on the game’s central hub, Clock Town, and will destroy Termina in three days, lining right up with Clock Town’s festival. Coincidence? It’s for you to decide.
Link then begins his grand journey to get Majora’s Mask back. There are a ton of things to do in Majora’s Mask, far more than three days’ worth, but the thing is, once you get your ocarina back, you can play a song to start over. You’ll keep any major items you’ve found, but many other things like rupees, bombs, or that person you rescued will be back to the default. Essentially, what you want to do in a three day cycle is complete a dungeon, which frees one of the spirits you need to save. Usually, you’ll have a bunch of prerequisites to complete before the dungeon is available, so you’ll spend one cycle opening the dungeon, and another cycle actually clearing the dungeon. Don’t forget the many cycles you’ll be spending getting collectibles like heart pieces and masks.
Speaking of which, aside from the time mechanic, there is also the mask mechanic. Three masks (and a hidden 4th) will allow you to transform into a character from the Zelda universe: a Deku Scrub, a Goron, or a Zora. When you transform, you gain all sorts of abilities, though lose the ability to use most items. Luckily, you can put on and remove masks at will. The first three dungeons revolve around your ability to put each character’s skills to the test, all the while switching to Link’s normal form when necessary. The 4th dungeon will require you to utilize everything you’ve learned about every character.
Aside from the transformation masks, there are 20 other masks for Link to find and collect. Some are as simple as talking to the right person at the right time, while many other masks will require you to own other masks or complete challenges. Similarly, a good deal of heart pieces require you to use all of your masks at the right moment. Each mask is very unique in function, and many are useful the whole game through, not just for their intended use. For example, the Bunny Hood makes Link run much faster, the Stone Mask makes Link invisible to most enemies, and the Mask of Truth will enable Link to read the otherwise illegible Gossip Stones, teaching you useful hints.
The story and characters you meet in Majora’s Mask have a much darker and somber overtone than other Legend of Zelda games. Many characters have to deal with death, loss, and suffering. Many characters will require you to “heal their souls”, often the souls of the dead. The moon hangs eerily over the world as you progress, with its creepy grin, slowly getting closer and closer to the inevitable. Everyone knows what’s going to happen, but many just go about their lives pretending that the moon won’t fall. Some try to evacuate Clock Town, while others stay due to an obligation, or a carefree feeling that the moon couldn’t possibly fall, despite the obvious signs. The game’s narrative is all about how one deals with loss in the face of impending doom… It’s all very strange, somber and surreal…
Much like the last area of the game. I won’t spoil it, but the last place you go before you fight the final boss is so peaceful and surreal, it creates this strange sense of dread in the pit of your stomach. Another thing that’s kind of… strange about Majora’s Mask is that most of the characters are all characters you’ve met before in Ocarina, but they’ve got different names and roles now. Is this laziness on the part of the developers? Quite the contrary. As the story goes, Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to create a remixed Ocarina of Time, using the same world, but different dungeons. Not only that, but Miyamoto wanted it done in a single year. For reference, Ocarina took 4-5. Lead developer Eiji Aonuma wasn’t a fan of this proposition and wanted to create a brand new Zelda game. Miyamoto eventually agreed to this idea, brought on Yoshiaki Koizumi, and got cracking. Miyamoto’s idea of reusing assets from Ocarina and Koizumi’s time mechanic made it possible to create a large, new Zelda game in a short amount of time. And that’s exactly what they did.
But what about from a story standpoint? Well, remember how I said the game was about dealing with with loss in the face of impending doom? Well, as it turns out (again, I won’t go too deep into it) but could Majora’s Mask be far more symbolic that you may think at first? Well, watch this YouTube video of game theory if you don’t mind Majora being spoiled for you… It all seems to make TOO much sense. The ending isn’t as satisfying as Ocarina, it’s more of a somber conclusion, but it seems to fit with the theme of the game.
Story and lore aside, another thing I really admire about Majora’s Mask is the departure from the usual Zelda formula. Princess Zelda only appears in a flashback, the Triforce is never mentioned (but three masks symbolizing courage, power, and wisdom? hmm…), and Ganondorf is dead, remember? I LOVE this about Majora’s Mask. I hate how long series can fall into tropes and you’re just kind of repeating the same things… Beat dungeons > get Triforce > defeat Ganon > Congration, You Done It. Also, in Ocarina, the pattern for dungeons is Explore > Find important item > beat boss who is weak to item. Not in Majora. Instead, you’ll have to utilize the character and Link’s abilities equally, there’s no special INSERT BOMB HERE sort of boss… And I love that. You can use the items you found, and yeah, they’re probably effective, but not necessary to win… Most of the time, though the subbosses often make you use your new gear. Plus, there are some DAMN COOL bosses in Majora’s Mask, like a raging mechanical bull that you must knock down in a high speed chase, and twin giant worms that you must rise to the occasion for. It’s amazing.
When you’re not fighting and dungeon delving, you’ll be helping the various citizens of Termina. There’s a LOT to do, and many things are time sensitive, so luckily, you get a notebook that keeps track of all the things you discover and what needs to be done yet.
I personally prefer the original on N64, but either way, some things must be said about the 3DS version. A lot of things were streamlined in the 3DS game to make it more user friendly. Some of the items were changed around, and an extra bottle with a new quest on how to get it were added. The things that changed were generally changed to make the game easier, quicker, and less tedious for the first timer. Aside from looking beautiful, many animations were added or changed. When you play the song to skip ahead in time, in N64 you could only jump 6 hour increments, but in the 3DS you can jump by the hour, and you can choose by how much. Like Ocarina 3D, the heads up display has changed as well, with the bottom screen being pretty user friendly for the 3DS. Throw in aiming with gyro controls (which I hate so I turn them off), and you’ve got a pretty decent package. I did like the ability to go back and keep playing after besting the final boss and being able to use the item you only get against the final boss against other bosses… That was a nice touch. I’m not a big fan of moving the items around (so you get bottles quicker, and the magic upgrade sooner), but the added bottle quest fit right in.
Another minor gripe is the change of the clock. I was a big fan of the clock in the first game, now it’s been changed to a simple bar… I get the idea was to use up less screen space, but I think the old clock fit better thematically… Plus you wouldn’t have to go into any menus to see what day it is if you forgot.
My major gripe though is what they did with bosses. Firstly, each boss now has a big, glowy “hit me here!” eyeball… WHY? This sometimes forces you to use different tactics than in the original game. They even changed and added in some mechanics in the boss fights. The third boss mechanic changes are welcome, but the 4th one completely ruined an otherwise REALLY COOL fight to me… I wish they would have stuck with the age old “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
At any rate, Majora’s Mask is my all time favorite Zelda game. Go and play it if you never have, you should be pleasantly surprised. It is definitely deserving of its spot on the list of Best Games Ever.