Maybe it’s because I was expecting Ocarina of Time 2, but I never truly appreciated Majora’s Mask back in 2000. Despite repurposing a lot of the assets, it felt wildly different, mainly in tone.
Set in the new land of Termina, Link has three days to stop the Skull Kid from causing the moon to come crashing down. The three days are able to be restarted Groundhog Day style thanks to Link’s trusty Ocarina. Doing so though will lose certain items and even dungeon progress. And that’s really the aspect that can be a turnoff for some.
The time limit can be harsh, that is unless you know of the inverted Song of Time, a song that doesn’t actually have to be learnt at any point in the story. Just play the Song of Time backwards and you’re able to slow down the passage of time. And trust me when I say it’s pretty much required, unless you want an ungodly amount of stress.
On my initial N64 play through, I hadn’t learnt of this song till quite late in the story, now that I’m aware of it from the start the whole experience became much more manageable. It almost felt like cheating, but the Zelda series has been about exploration, and when you’re constantly looking at the clock, the ability to soak in the atmosphere almost gets lost. And boy do you want to get sucked into this crazy world.
Majora’s Mask is the most dark and weird world ever seen in the Zelda series. Right from the start you’re greeted to the moon with its evil face looking down on Termina, inching closer and closer as each day passes by, until the final day when the world is literally shaking. You witness characters over these three days going about their busy lives, seemingly oblivious (or in denial) that in three days they’ll all perish. Conversing with certain characters can trigger side quests that are handily recorded in your Bombers Notebook (a feature that wasn’t in the original). This is a living, breathing world that hasn’t been seen before or since in the Zelda universe.
It’s this constant sense of foreboding that is really Majora’s Mask’s greatest accomplishment. On the first day the soundtrack is lively and vibrant, and on the third it gets given a dark underlying score. “Dark” looks to be word of the day when it comes to this review, it’s not exactly survival horror dark, but for a series that has largely been in the realm of family entertainment, it’s a definite change of style and direction.
The world of Termina itself does feel smaller than the Hyrule of Ocarina of Time, unsurprising when you consider the game was developed in a year, compared to the three that OOT took. The size difference though is merely cosmetic. Hyrule Field in OOT was vast, and just riding Epona across from one end to the other was one of the highlights of that generation. In comparison, Majora’s Mask feels a lot tighter. The world may be smaller, but the amount of content crammed into this small space makes it feel massive.
The central area Clock Town is full of life and quests, then going through one of the exits places you onto Termina Field, again it may be smaller than its OOT equivalent, but graphically it looks so much sharper with plenty of detail and obstacles to overcome. Then there are the many areas that Termina Field connects, from the swamps to the high Goron mountains. It’s a glorious world to get lost in.
While the basics haven’t really evolved a great deal from Ocarina of Time (hit things with swords, explore dungeons, solve puzzles), the new mask mechanic adds its own flavour. There are a huge number of masks to be found, most are just obtained by completing sidequests and don’t really affect the gameplay as such, whereas a few of them allow Link to transform into a Zora, Goron or Deku Scrub. Each one comes with the unique traits specific to that species, such as the Goron’s roll attack and the Zora’s ability to swim underwater. Naturally with each transformation, certain characters treat you differently, apparently Clock Town not getting many Goron visitors, such was their shock at encountering one.
More than just a remake, it’s surprising how much care and attention to detail has gone into this 3D iteration. While other companies would just quickly throw it out as a quick cash grab, Nintendo and co-developers Grezzo have finely tuned it to the handheld format. Saving is now a lot more straightforward, the touch screen use for the inventory is brilliantly handled and it just looks so damn good.
Initially you may think to yourself that it looks just as good as on the N64, of course your mind can play tricks on you when you think back to the graphical power of yesteryears games. Only by going back and looking at the original N64 version can you see how much better it looks. The horrible, trademark N64 blur is eradicated and there’s even some new animations to gawp at. This is the sort of remaster that other companies should aspire to.
It may have taken fifteen years, but I’ve finally decided to embrace Majora’s Mask for what it is. A weird and wonderful game that tried to take the Zelda series in a brave and unusual direction. Hopefully others who were put off by the time mechanic all those years ago are willing to try it again and hopefully, much like myself, they too will finally learn to love it.