Review by me frog

"Dark, moody, and twisted. A terrific new direction for the Zelda series."

Dark, moody, and twisted. A terrific new direction.

Some time after the wildly successful transition to the three-dimensional world, Nintendo announced what would be a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time. This game, Zelda Gaiden, featured pictures such as a completely new overworld, a mysterious clock tower, a freaky looking kid, an ominous moon. Many wondered exactly what Nintendo had in mind when it was designing this new Zelda.

As more and more information about the game was released, it was clear that this wasn't your typical Zelda. At the core stood all the basic elements of the Zelda series – long dungeons, a wide variety of items, sprawling side quests – but with the traditions came many new elements. Where was freaking Zelda? Why is Link a Deku Scrub? Triforce? Master Sword? Ganon? They weren't popping up. The game was definitely a step away from the classic Zelda gameplay. But, when it all comes down to it, the game was released, and what was the result? Dark, moody, and twisted. A terrific new direction for the Zelda series.

When Zelda: Majora's Mask begins, Link is wandering through the depths of Hyrule, looking for a lost friend. Within the first two minutes of the game, however, Link has his Ocarina stolen, his horse taken, and his ass kicked by a couple of lousy fairies. This is the only time we ever get to see Hyrule, and a few may recognize the environment, it isn't anywhere we've been before. Link soon falls into a parallel universe, one in which everyone from Hyrule exists, but are different people. And he's been transformed into a Deku Scrub. And the moon is going to crash into the world in three days. Thus, Link's adventure begins.

Most Zelda games typically feature some kind of “prologue” to the game; a dungeon which sets the basis for the plot. Majora's Mask throws you right into the action, immediately. Hell, you don't even reach the first dungeon into a few hours into the game – something I'll talk about in a bit – and the situation is explained to you when Link takes his first steps into the alternate world, where characters such as the Happy Mask Salesman, the Hyrule running man, and the Bombchu Bowling Alley owner – all from Ocarina of Time - all play massive parts in the game.

The gameplay of Majora's Mask has been dramatically twisted due to several new additions in the series: a three-day timer, the massive collection of masks, and the emphasis of side quests outweighing the emphasis of dungeons. Old Zelda fans will immediately notice something different, while new gamers will find themselves immersed in the complexity of the game. As you move through the game, a clock in constant motion slowly counts down to the apocalypse, when the moon will crash into the world. Each hour represents about a minute, giving the total three-day cycle about 72 minutes.

72 minutes? Yeah, it's stressful. However, the twist to the game is your Ocarina, which makes a triumphant return (and also includes the only reference to Zelda in the game). The Song of Time returns as your personal savior, a tool that is used to warp back to the beginning of the three-day cycle. Like a time-warp should do, warping will reset almost everything – character changes, item counts, boss fights (a handy warp is given to you so you don't have to progress through the whole dungeon again). However, major items – boss remains (a key collectable), heart pieces, and dungeon items will stand the test of time, literally. A new bank allows for the deposit of rupees, and is the only way to save your rupees when you go back in time.

The masks are the second big element in Ocarina of Time, and add another massive element of strategy. There are a total of twenty-four masks in the game. Their powers range from increasing your sense of smell to becoming a dance master to having a resistance to sleep. The three key masks – the Deku, the Goron, and the Zora masks – allow you to transform into a Deku, Goron, and Zora respectably. The transformations are used for boss fights, solving puzzles, or communicating with characters, adding yet another element of strategy to the game. It is with the masks that you'll complete the game.

Zelda has always been about heavy dungeon exploration – enter a dungeon, find the key item, defeat the boss with it, lather, rinse, repeat. Majora's Mask keeps that formula, but to a much lesser extent. There are only four dungeons in the game (though the four dungeons are massive, even bigger than Ocarina's massive Fire Temple or Spirit Temple), and you won't even reach the first dungeon until a few hours into the game. Why? Side-quests. Majora's Mask is an exploration game. There are literally hundreds of different side quests you can complete, some that are necessary to progress with the game, others to grab a heart piece of a mask. Side-quests may take five minutes to complete, others are sprawled out over the three-day period, and require all your attention to be focused on the quest.

The game's Expansion Pak allows Majora's Mask to keep track of a massive amount of characters – you won't find the innkeeper in the same place at 2 PM on Day Three than if you went and visited her at 10 AM on Day One. If you miss an event on the First Day, you may not be able to complete the sidequest until you reset time once more.

The save-game feature has also been reworked. No longer can you simply bring up the pause screen and save your game. No, the game automatically saves every time you travel through time. This means that your three day cycle must be completed, your objectives done, before you can take a break. Now hold on there, there's still a way to take a break and turn off the system! Scattered throughout the world are owl statues, similar to the owl in Ocarina of Time. You can “temporarily” save your file here, allowing you to return to the very same point when you fire up the system. Re-opening the file, however, wipes the file from the cartridge, so you must either find another owl statue or save your game through time warp. This adds another element of difficulty to the game, but not in a frustrating way.

Majora's Mask requires the addition of the Nintendo 64's expansion pak (not bundled with the game, unfortunately). Aside from having to keep track of the massive amounts of characters, the game incorporates breathtaking cut-scenes (just let the three-day cycle run through once and you'll see what I mean), along with sharpened resolution and improved polygons. The best comparison I can give is with the empty bottles; look at a bottle from Ocarina of Time, and then compare it to a bottle in Majora's Mask. I guarantee you'll notice the difference.

As is with all Zelda games, Majora's Mask uses vibrant colors to produce rich and detailed environments. This time around, however, the colors are used to present a feeling of darkness, an ominous, eerie feel that gamers will sense as the days countdown, or as situations and events unfold. Because the game deals with many things not known to a Zelda game – complete destruction, death, loneliness – it is important that the atmosphere around the situations match watch is going on. I'm happy to say that Majora's Mask accomplishes that.

The lagging, however, may be another problem. In the first place, the game runs at only about 23 FPS, as opposed to maybe 29 or 30. Gamers who have played next-gen games may have spoiled by the smooth 60 FPS, so you'll notice something here. However, the framerate, acceptable for its time, is not the problem. With the Expansion Pak, I was hoping that Nintendo would be able to avoid slowdown. However, it is common – one battle requires you to zip around a track, smashing pots, and making massive jumps (best fight in the game, by the way), but the slowdown to 15 or 16 FPS can been seen at times. Another incident involves to you swim through hoops, diving out of the water, and making consistent twists and turns. The framerate took a dive.

If you can forgive the problem of the framerate, and instead focus on the extraordinary polygon count, astounding colors, and breathtaking cinematics, then you'll easily find the addition of the Nintendo 64 expansion pak worth the purchase. The game uses the graphics to set its tone, and it gets the job done incredibly well.

Another tone-setting device used is the music. Composed by Koji Kondo (the mastermind behind Mario and Zelda games), the game uses its synthesizers to create an experience that fits it perfectly with the environments. A brilliant example is in Clock Town. On day one, the music is well-paced, appropriate. On day two, the music has picked up the pace ever so slightly, as to give gamers the sense of “hurry up!” On day three, the pace change occurs once more, and this time gamers really get the point that whatever needs to be done should be done now. And it's only on midnight of the final day that the creepy, unsettling music kicks in and the player says, “Oh, ****.”

And yes, the overworld theme is back, and it's as good as ever. The game's overworld theme is a mix between Ocarina of Time's Hyrule field and the classic theme, and the result is a good one indeed. And yes, Majora's Mask does use synthesizers, but they are hardly noticeable in a game that is simply full of them. At some points, it really feels like an orchestrated score. Of course, it would be better if it WAS, but Nintendo 64's capabilities can only go so far. Oh well.

The sound in the game is charming. Each character is given a distinct voice, and when you speak to them, they'll grunt or utter some kind of sound. It's pretty neat, and it actually gives you some idea of what they're like. Of course, all the classic Zelda chimes remain, mostly all carried over from Ocarina of Time. The new additions all fit in nicely with the game, as well they should. Majora's Mask didn't really go wrong in any portion of the sound department.

Since the jump to 3-D has already been made for Zelda, and the camera system was pretty much perfect when they came out, it was quite unsurprising when Majora's Mask came with absolutely no revisions to the camera system. Z-targeting is back, as well as the ability to center the camera behind Link. The camera system is incredibly smart, and definitely puts other 3-D games (I'm looking at you, Sonic) to shame.

Majora's Mask took everything that made Ocarina of Time great, and made it better. The dungeons are longer, the side-quests are more in-depth, the story is better, the epic sense has been improved on a wider scale. The game is massive, with tons of its own little secrets. Majora's Mask did something to Zelda that no other game in the series before it had done: it took a step into the dark, more adult-themed world. Of course, that doesn't mean your sword slashes will result in blood or that Link will scream out explicatives when he encounters the giant mechanical horse (hands down the best Zelda boss fight ever). It simply means that the story, as well as the gameplay, has increased its range to appeal to just about anyone. Whether it's an RPG, an action-adventure game, a well-developed plot, or an eerie feel you want, Majora's Mask has it. Hell, there's even aliens and UFOs (no kidding).

The game may be difficult to locate now, but if you can get your hands on a copy, by all means, pick it up. You will not be disappointed. Some people may be turned off by the fact that the traditional Zelda elements take a back seat in favor of the new innovations, but I guarantee you that the combination of the two is superb. While not perfect, Majora's Mask definitely gives off that scent; something that has just been done right. Over and out.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/24/06

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