Review by Arkrex

"So much to do, so little time..."

This is my 2nd retrospect review. In the lead up to the much hyped, Twilight Princess, I'm here to spill my thoughts on what I consider to be the greatest Zelda game up until now. While Ocarina of Time (OoT) built a solid foundation, transferring the world of Hyrule and the Legend of Zelda successfully from the 2nd to the 3rd dimension, it was still ultimately just a reinvisioning. The same core ideas were still there and it was clear that inspiration was what made the product bloom so well.

But then along came the "Gaiden" or side-story, just 2 years later. Majora's Mask used the same graphics engine, same 3D mechanics, same models, same sort of gameplay.. kinda. Time was again integral to the proceedings, but it was used in such a unique way, it made the whole gameplay experience so much more enjoyable for me. Time was now NOT on your side. A sense of urgency was implemented as you had to finish dungeons or other initiated tasks ASAP. The whole schedule factor made the world more "real" than ever before. Granted some people dislike the fact that they are not as free to wander around, but it really did give the game more substance than nearly every single action-adventure title that preceded it.

Visuals - 9
Sound & Music - 7
Gameplay - 10
Lasting Power - 10
Replay Value - 9
Difficulty - 8

Side-quests - 10
VERDICT - 9.5/10

A Parallel World

The graphics engine is a direct rip from the mega-hit prequel which came out 2 years prior. The use of the N64's expansion pak did allow for more models to be drawn and displayed at a time without a negative hit on the framerate, but the overall esthetics remains unchanged. In contrast to OoT which had an epic feel, the land of Termina here seems much more disjointed, dark and menacing; most highly appropriate given the situation our young hero, Link, finds himself in.

The 4 main dungeons each have their own distinctive style whilst keeping in with the darker tone. The overworld is similar in this way too, with the day/night cycles affecting the nicely done textures displayed throughout. The enemies are imaginatively modelled and display smooth animations as they hunt you down. The larger ones, in particular the boss characters, definitely exude an aura of magnificence.

Everything is displayed in full 3D this time (bar a few sprited background objects) and everything chugs along at a relatively smooth framerate. It may be no Hyrule, but "something evil waits" is the impression you will get, and it is here that the graphic artists and programmers have succeeded in capturing this element. From the murky expanse that the Great Bay offers to the busy district of Clock Town, each environment looks great and best of all, most of them are pretty large too! There are still a few flaws here and there, but use your imagination (easy when you are having much fun!) and it just looks perfectly competent.

Grade 8 Ocarina - Pass with Merit
I'll be perfectly honest here. The music in the Zelda games have never been amazing. There are a few themes (overworld and variations, dark world, Zelda's lullaby) that are memorable, but over so many sequels and duds, the soundtrack variety has been somewhat limited. Majora's mask is not a disappointment for this reason. I did not expect an epic score, especially with the dark, mysterious universe thing going on. The overworld theme, a modified remix from the original classic, sounds clangy, the dungeons are mostly environmental rhythms, and everywhere else sounded absolutely generic if my memory serves me right (and it should).

But, does it matter? All the pieces are appropriate to the explorative nature of the game. The battle themes still are energetic and exciting, and the music that plays as you engage in conversations or carry out side-quests and minigames are still driving. The myriad sound effects are just as goofy and brash as they have always been. 5 years on, I may not recall any perfect tones, but everything works out just right when you play. After all, music is an accompaniment, a device to absorb the gamer; gameplay is what really matters in the end.

If you could turn back time, what would you do differently?
This is the key focus of the game. Just like in the film, Groundhog Day, the days repeat themselves. Over the 3 day period you are free to do whatever you please, but before the 3rd day ends you must literally go back in time to avoid a certain lunar catastrophe. The concept is quite simple, but the execution really allows for a lot, and I mean a heck of a lot of variety.

A schedule system has been built into this mechanic. Nearly every NPC goes about a set routine depending on the time of day. On first play, it is really interesting to see what the everyday folk do this virtual world. You really will be overwhelmed initially; there's just so much going on at once, there's no way you can be everywhere at once... but then you can! There are a truckload of side-quests to experience and each one depends on certain circumstances. You have to be at a certain place, at a certain time, with a certain character present, or with a certain item on you. The variability is astounding (especially for a 20th century video game!) and you will lose track of the many tasks available to you.

To help you organise yourself more, you are given the Bomber's Notebook early on in the game. This helps you track down what promises you have made, what items you have obtained, what things you have accomplished, everything really. This way you can focus on what you really want to achieve in a single 3 day loop. There's a lot of replayability to be had here. It is more fun than you imagine going back and doing things differently to generate different outcomes. With every action there is an equal an opposite reaction (Newton's 3rd law) and this concept applies here in every meaning possible.

With the time limit, some have argued that freedom is limited. I wholly disagree with this. Time does make you have to work harder. But you can slow it down somewhat to make each 3 day cycle last for about 2-3 hours; how much you should be playing at one time anyway! The inevitable disaster is something to make you stop with the dilly-dally in dungeons, but with what I consider to be the grand feature of the design, that is the multitude of side-quests, time is not a negative factor in any way. Being able to go back and stalk certain characters, always knowing what they are gonna do is sweetly satisfying (if only this were a reality :P)

But it's a Zelda game still, right?
Yes it is. Even though there is a massive focus on non-essential questing, there is still the main adventure to go through. This consists of finding an item by means of talking/helping people or searching the land, and then using the said item to help you pave the way to your next destination. The major highlights are again the dungeons. Although there are only 4, a far-cry from all past Zelda's, they are just as challenging and rewarding to get through. You are then met by a boss at the end of each one which you will have to use your wits and skills to defeat. Yep, typical Zelda here.

But with just 4 dungeons, it seems quite short. But don't be fooled, for this new journey will take anywhere from 15-25 hours for the brisk gamer. And that's just getting through the main quest btw. How is this? Even with less main dungeons than I have fingers, there are an assortment of smaller ones. These are generally less taxing to the grey matter and usually more action-packed (thumbs-up here!) And getting to and fro requires certain conditions, such as destroying that large, obstructing rock with dynamite, or finding your lost horse, Epona again. This equates to more overall time OUTSIDE, and I really can't see how this is a bad thing; you are not confined to dank, bland looking corridors too much, so I'm not complaining!

The cast of crazy races returns here again. The gorons, zoras, gerudos are all back with all the others, and there is also a new focus on the dekus too. Their lands do seem a bit unmatched, but this is most likely due to OoT having developed such a cohesive, believable world in the first place. But even with the oddities (such as the reused character models), understanding that this is not Hyrule, but an alternate dimension in trouble, forgives this part. It still looks like a great Zelda game despite the whole new look, which I love.

The Many Faces of Link
There is a brilliant new system with the rewind time mechanic. But the true "gimmick" of Majora's Mask are the many masks themselves. It is an extension from the mini-quest featured in OoT, but now there are 24 masks in total to collect! Each one is also unique in their own way and they no longer are just a simple trading tool; by wearing them, Link gains a whole host of different abilities.

The 3 main masks allow you to transform into a deku scrub, a goron, and a zora. These transformations result in a brand new look with a brand new moveset to compliment. So essentially we have multiple characters to play as! Use of the different transformations will allow you to overcome obstacles you encounter. For example, as a zora your swimming (more like flying-through-water!) is unsurpassed and you can easily navigate any ocean with ease. This adds more strategy of thought when attempting to solve problems (after all it is a problem-based game) and freshens the whole "use that item to unlock the next part" focus that Zelda probably overuses too much.

As for the other masks, there is no physical change, but they are still useful in their own ways. The bunny hood allows you to sprint (good seeing as Link moves slower than a deku in 3D), the great fairy mask helps with locating stray fairies within dungeons, and the postman's cap allows you steal stuff from mail boxes (bad link!) That's just a taste of things, and there's an individual purpose for each and everyone of them which makes collecting them highly satisfying, despite the fact that they are not essential for main game completion. They are helpful and make progression more un-linear and free than ever before.

My Mask vs. The World
OoT has been regarded by many as the greatest game ever made. That's one great achievement. It definitely is in my top 10, but it just doesn't have that spark that Majora has jolted me with.

There's more stuff to do, much more variety, and nary a dull moment. The game is more action-centric, with plenty of events unfolding all around you. The classic Zelda gameplay still exists with the bog-standard dungeons, puzzle-solving, enemies, mini-games and charm. But the whole new take on things - the rewinding time and the functional masks - made for an experience which I really thought was near-perfect. Minor quibbles aside, this is my definitive top 3D action-RPG of all time. But the twilight doth approach...

9.5/10 - So much to do, so little time. Let's do that again!

12/11/06


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/13/06


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