Review by Phediuk
"An interesting experiment for the Zelda series that some will like and others will hate."
Majora's Mask is a difficult game to review. The first time I played it, I hated it with a passion. However, I recently decided to give it another chance and I've now changed my view on the game. I've come to the conclusion that there are two things that anyone should know before plunging into this second N64 Zelda installment:
1. By just looking at screenshots, it appears to be just like Ocarina of Time, but the moment you start playing it, it becomes immediately apparent that Majora's Mask is about as different as it can be while still retaining the core elements that make it a Zelda game.
2. Majora's Mask is not a game for everybody. It's a simple matter of fact that not everybody's going to like the various experimental gameplay elements utilized throughout your adventure. This is definitely a rent-before-you-buy game, assuming that Majora's Mask is even on store shelves anymore.
With those two absolute truths out of the way, it's time to discuss what exactly makes them so.
Majora's Mask opens simply enough; Link is riding on his trusty steed, Epona, through a foggy forest. Presumably, he's looking for his fairy friend Navi, whom he parted ways with at the end of Ocarina of Time (this is one of the only references to its predecessor that Majora's Mask ever makes). Things don't stay peaceful for long, though, as Link is suddenly bucked off his horse and is knocked unconscious. And who are the perpetrators of this heinous act? The bit character Skull Kid from Ocarina of Time and his two fairy homies, Tael and Tatl (Tail and tattle? Tattletail? Get it? >_>). Skull Kid, keeping up his usual act of being a troublemaker, steals Link's magical Ocarina right from somewhere inside his tunic. Links wakes up right around this time, and Skull Kid decides to book it by escaping on-what else?-Link's horse. Despite Link's most valiant effort to save Epona, Skull Kid manages to get away.
This is where you first gain control of Link. Aside from a few acrobatic flips as you jump from tree stump to tree stump, the game appears to be very similar, if not identical to Ocarina of Time. The game quickly moves to destroy that notion during Link's confrontation with Skull Kid shortly thereafter. It seems that Skull Kid has gained some terrible magic powers from the mask he's been wearing this whole time, and he doesn't hesitate to use them on Link. We can only watch as our elfish hero is transformed from his usual self into the form of a pitifully weak Deku Scrub. Skull Kid and Tael then abandon you, but Tatl is left behind. Because she wants to find her friends and because she also feels a bit sorry for you, she decides to stick with Link until she's reunited with Skull Kid.
One event leads to another, and it's eventually revealed that Skull Kid wants to summon the moon to crash down onto Termina (the land in which Majora's Mask takes place) and destroy everything. The apocalypse will occur in three days (in game time; it's 72 minutes in real time.) While it is possible to beat the entire game in those three days, you're extremely unlikely to do that on your first time through.
That's where the Ocarina comes in. By this point, Link has been restored to his normal self and has reclaimed his trusty instrument. Using the Song of Time, Link can go back to the beginning of the first of the three days before the moon crashes. This is the most prominent gameplay element in Majora's Mask, and is actually quite original. The main idea behind it is that when you reset time, EVERYTHING is reset. Halfway through a dungeon? You'll have to do it all over again. A hair's breadth away from completing that long and arduous side quest? Play the Song of Time and it'll be as if you did nothing at all. In other words, the only things that you keep after resetting time are any non-expendable items you've obtained.
This is an interesting concept, but there's one major flaw with it that keeps it from being completely enjoyable: resetting time is the only way you can perform a hard (meaning permanent) save. The game balances this out by giving you the option to do a soft (meaning "once-you-load-it-it's-gone") save at any of the numerous owl statues throughout Termina, but the whole system is just a pain in the ass. There's a song you can play on your Ocarina to slow the flow of time, giving you over 3 hours of real time, but I personally didn't like the feeling of constantly being under a time limit.
It doesn't help that there's a new focus on sidequests throughout the game. About three quarters of Majora's Mask is optional. The rest consists of optional little things you can do to obtain new items and whatnot. This really seems like a counter-intuitive approach to game design to me. If the game encourages you to explore around the world so much, why does it keep you under constant pressure to complete everything on time? Unlike in Ocarina of Time, it doesn't feel like you have the time to be lazily checking out your surroundings and see everything the game has to offer. So you've finally beaten the Snowhead Temple and melted the thick ice sheet in the Goron Village? The game doesn't tell you, but there's about three or four new sidequests open to you only when the ice is melted. Unfortunately, you're not likely to have a whole lot of time left to check everything out after you've gone through an entire dungeon. So, you'll be forced to play the Song of Time, the Gorons will be freezing to death as if nothing ever happened, and in order to check out the thawed Goron Village a second time, you must go through the entire Snowhead Temple. Again.
Speaking of temples, I suppose I should bring up another one of Majora's Mask's big quirks: there are only four dungeons in the game. Yes, you read that right. FOUR. What happened to the eight of Ocarina of Time, or even the as-of-yet-unmatched ten dungeons seen in A Link to the Past? The dungeons in Majora's Mask aren't even noticeably larger than those in Ocarina of Time. They're about the same length, and there's half as many of them. The focus of the gameplay simply isn't on trekking through labyrinths in Majora's Mask. Instead, it's largely about interacting with the characters in the game, all while you've got armageddon floating above your head.
I guess it's also time to bring up another strange element of Majora's Mask: it's the first Zelda game to focus more on puzzles than on combat (the only other being the excellent GBC title Oracle of Ages.) Whereas A Link to the Past's were very simple and infrequent, and Ocarina of Time balanced its puzzles with an ample dose of action, most of the adrenaline in Majora's Mask comes from the time limit itself. If you're looking for epic battles and tense conflicts with hordes of enemies like in the previous games, you're bound to be disappointed. There are seven bosses in the game...three of those are reserved for the final battle. Seeing as how there's so few encounters with difficult enemies, you'd think that there'd be a lot of effort put into them. As it is, though, only the mechanical goat named-wait for it-Goht-really struck me as particularly exciting or original, seeing as how it's more of a race than an actual fight.
To be fair, though, Majora's Mask does fix several of the minor issues found in Ocarina of Time. Wading through menus to equip items is much faster now. The game's dialogue scrolls about twice as fast as Ocarina's (but cutscenes are STILL unskippable...*sigh*.) Termina Field is considerably smaller (or at least it feels that way) than Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time, though its massive size was barely an issue to begin with. The Equipment screen has been removed, so there's no more Water Temple-esque switching between normal and Iron Boots over and over again (actually, there's no Iron Boots at all in Majora's Mask.) Lastly, this game is significantly more difficult than Ocarina of Time, thanks to harder bosses, more complex puzzles, and the aforementioned constant time limit. I don't have any complaints here.
What little combat there is in Majora's Mask (compared to its predecessors, anyway) is excellent. As normal Link, the battle system is basically identical to Ocarina's. However, this sequel brings a whole new fighting element to the table: the ability to transform into a Deku Scrub, Goron, or Zora (there's a fourth alternate form as well, but I won't spoil it.) While a Goron, Link can roll around as a spiked ball and deliver massive punches to his enemies. As a Zora, you can sink to the bottom of the ocean and use your fins as boomerangs. When you're a Deku Scrub, though...well, being a Deku Scrub just plain sucks. All you can do is shoot out of flowers and fire bubbles at enemies, and I always feel so dreadfully weak whenever I'm in the form of one of the little buggers. It doesn't help that you have to be Deku Link for the rather boring first three days of the game.
In addition to the four transformation masks, there are 25 other masks to collect in the game. More often than not, these masks are entirely optional and have very limited use; most of them feel like they're just glorified keys. Nonetheless, I enjoyed wearing various different masks and seeing all the different reactions I could get from the game's characters.
To Majora's Mask's credit, it controls excellently. The button layout is basically identical to Ocarina's virtually perfect control scheme, and makes full use of that game's innovative Z-Targeting, automatic jumping, and context-sensitive button features. As regular Link, you use your sword with B and raise your shield with R. You can assign three different items to C-Right, C-Left, and C-Down. You can receive tips from Tatl with C-Up. You can lock onto enemies and other objects with Z. The four different transformations all control differently, though their movesets are smaller and simpler than regular Link's.
Majora's Mask also features some of, if not the absolute best graphics on the N64. The game makes full use of the Expansion Pak required to play the game, and it shows, as the game features more-detailed textures, a further drawing distance, less fog when you're in large areas, and can display a fair few more enemies and objects onscreen than Ocarina of Time ever could. Animation in the game is basically seamless; I didn't spot any notable issues with it.
The music in the game is also great. In fact, its soundtrack is arguably better than Ocarina's. Everything fits the mood very well, though the Deku Palace tune got on my nerves after I kept falling from the platforms in the area. The miniboss and boss themes are especially sweet.
The sound effects are similarly awesome. Just about everything sounds as it should, and Link even has a few new voice samples for this game. The only thing that bothered me were the high-pitched screeches that the final boss makes; it doesn't really fit him, but it's not a big deal anyway.
Overall, I think any new players should be a bit apprehensive before they plunk down any hard-earned money for Majora's Mask. While it tries some new and fresh ideas, they're not going to be enjoyed everybody. All in all, a solid sequel that will never be anywhere near as popular or well-liked as Ocarina of Time, and is definitely a try-before-you-buy title.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 02/14/05
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