Review by Tarrun

"Now I know how Bill Murray felt in Groundhog's Day. Majora's Mask is just as tedious and repetitive."

It seems that sometimes a series will elevate itself above criticism. Regardless of the content, as long as the game looks and feels like the rest of the series, fans will hail it as the second coming of Christ. The Legend of Zelda series has apparently reached this point, and perhaps for the first time, Majora's Mask has made this evident. While previous games in the series have been worthy of the praise it's received, Majora's Mask is a Zelda game in appearance only.

Majora's Mask begins immediately where Ocarina of Time leaves off. After returning the Master Sword to its resting place in the Temple of Time, Link and Epona leave Hyrule in search of your fairy partner from Ocarina, Navi. Thankfully, Link doesn't find her. Instead, he runs into a pair of sibling fairies, Tatl and Tael, and the Skull Kid, who's been possessed by an ancient, evil mask known as Majora's Mask. After ambushing Link and stealing his ocarina, the Skull Kid turns Link into a Deku Scrub and escapes, leaving Tatl behind. With the common goal of tracking down the Skull Kid between them, Link and Tatl create a temporary truce and set out to find him, eventually making their way to Clock Town, in the land of Termina. Here Link meets the Happy Mask Salesman from the previous title, who asks our hero if he would help him retrieve Majora's Mask, which the Skull Kid stole from him, before he has to leave Clock Town in three days.

What he doesn't tell Link is reason he's leaving. Funny thing, the evil power from the mask has driven the Skull Kid to pull the moon from its orbit and crash it into Clock Town, a catastrophe that will occur in three days. Luckily, time travel isn't new to our hero. Using the power of the Ocarina of Time, Link has to free the four deities protecting Termina and stop the Skull Kid before time runs out.

The first thing you're bound to notice about Majora's Mask is that it looks remarkably similar to Ocarina of Time, which has both positive and negative drawbacks. On one hand, the upgraded game engine allows for better lighting and effects, more detail, and the ability to see farther distances, rather than obscuring anything more than twenty feet ahead of you with fog. At the same time, the familiar graphics will ease the player into the game, and most of the areas have their own, diverse, colorful appearance.

On the other hand, some of this familiarity becomes annoying, and comes across as laziness. Besides Link, Epona, and the Happy Mask Salesman, none of the characters from Ocarina appear in Majora's Mask, yet just about every character design from the previous game is reused. It would be understandable to borrow designs for general characters like the Zora and Goron species, but using specific characters is distracting and seems cheap.

The sound effects and music, however, are all fantastic. Each area has its own unique theme to go with it and, despite being somewhat corny at times, fits the environment perfectly. Likewise, as the story can create a dark and foreboding mood at times, several of the themes are equally as gloomy and ominous.

Unfortunately, the gameplay is nowhere near as befitting of the Zelda series. Anyone who's played Ocarina of Time will immediately be able to pick up the controller and feel comfortable with the controls, as Majora's Mask uses the same combat system, including the Z-targeting controls and C-item configuration. Tatl replaces Navi as your fairy buddy, and, thankfully, is infinitely less irritating. However, there are quite a few new ideas implemented, though many of them unsuccessfully.

In particular, one of the two major features in Majora's Mask is the use of masks beyond talking to the Gossip Stones and trading with townsfolk for extra Rupees – or at least that was the original concept. In practice, however, the masks provide little, if any, real use throughout the game. The masks can be divided into two categories – transformation masks that are a part of the main story and masks that are used to accomplish side-quests or find heart pieces. Transformation masks allow the player to take the form of another species from the Zelda universe, and include a Deku Scrub, a Goron, and a Zora. Wearing these masks gives Link new abilities, such as being able to swim better and use your fins as a boomerang as a Zora, which are mainly used to complete puzzles in one of the four main dungeons. And that is the inherent problem with Majora's Mask - the masks are only good for very specific reasons designed into the game. Otherwise, playing as regular meat-and-potatoes human Link is, by far, easier and more effective to control.

The same problem arises with the non-transformation masks – they just don't serve any purpose beyond an extremely specific reason. Of the twenty miscellaneous masks, there's one that allows you to run faster and another that makes you invisible to some enemies. The remaining masks are either completely pointless or are used once to earn a heart piece. A much better system would be one where masks improve some of your overall stats, such as increasing your defense, magic, or attack power, but the one mask that actually does this a special transformation mask that can only be earned immediately before the final boss and can only be used in boss fights. The end result is that a major part of the gameplay turns out to be a novelty that quickly wears off.

The three-day system, on the other hand, is more actively annoying. I imagine that the idea could work, but the way it is now accomplishes nothing beyond making the game more tedious. One hour of game-time is roughly one minute of real-time, and there's a song that will slow time to three real minutes to a game hour. This means that you have, at most, just over three and a half hours to complete a given goal before having to play the Song of Time and reverting back to the first day, which conveniently also saves your progress. This is more than enough time, however, as about ninety percent of the puzzles are fairly simple, occasionally requiring the player to run around and find a random person that can help them. What makes the non-dungeon puzzles frustrating is the fact that many of them require you to be in a specific place at a specific time, often forcing the player to find this through trial and error.

Even more aggravating is the fact that some of these puzzles can only be completed after defeating a certain boss. This isn't a new concept, but saving your game and returning to the first day erases any effects from the previous three-day cycle. There are warp points you can use to quickly travel to a temple, and you can skip straight to the boss, but it still seems just as an excuse to force the player to perform busy-work rather than accomplish something worthwhile. In the same way, the puzzles that require you to be somewhere at a specific time are unbelievably boring. There is a song that will fast-forward time by twelve hours, but few of the puzzles actually take place near that time. Instead, the game forces you to stand around swatting at flies while time slowly drudges forward.

As for the other aspects of the gameplay, everything seems extremely rushed and reused. All of the main items from Ocarina of Time are reused in Majora's Mask, and as a result most of the puzzles are reminiscent of the previous title. But even without comparing Majora's Mask to any other games, all of the puzzles are repeating continuously, and by the second dungeon it becomes so tiresome that it's difficult to continue playing. There may be different maps, but beyond the pretty colors is “enter a room, kill enemies and/or hit switch, exit, repeat”. And that's really it. In order to complete the game, that's the same pattern the player is forced to go through several hundred times.

In some cases, Majora's Mask doesn't even bother to hide this. You fight the same uninspiring enemies repeatedly – including about three mini-bosses that you'll fight in all of the dungeons – and the main bosses have up to two attacks they'll use. Occasionally, halfway through the battle they add a new one to their arsenal, but this too is expected and doesn't add anything to the game.

Luckily, Majora's Mask isn't terribly difficult, so you won't have to worry about ever replaying anything due to dying. None of the enemies do very much damage to you, and the game throws heart pieces at you like they were going out style. In the off chance that you begin getting worried when two of your fifteen hearts are lost, fairies and bottles are plentiful, so, as far as I can tell, the only imaginable way of being killed is by unplugging your controller and falling asleep while something attacks you. Even the final boss, which has a whopping three forms, puts up a minimal fight that consists of running around in circles and occasionally throwing in an attack that can be blocked by your shield.

Aside from the main game, much of the Zelda series' appeal comes from the side quests: finding heart pieces, collecting items, playing mini-games, going through trading sequences, and things like that. Fans of these extra missions will be salivating at first glance, because Majora's Mask has hundreds of items, games, and secrets to find, including over fifty heart pieces, sixty Skulltulas (though they're found into two specific areas), and one extremely long trading sequence, among others. While this can be entertaining for some time, anyone accustomed to finding every single item will quickly abandon that mentality after playing Majora's Mask for more than a few hours. Far too many of the puzzles are so overly complicated and drawn out that it simply isn't worth the extra heart container to find it. Even the trading sequence, which requires about hour of your time to complete, results in just four masks (which combine for two heart pieces) and an empty bottle.

At first glance, Majora's Mask looks a lot like a Zelda game, and if running around as Link is all you're looking for, Majora's Mask is right up your alley. Unfortunately, for the rest of us who want a game that contains more than the same repeated puzzles and mindless busy-work, you'll quickly realize what a mistake you've made spending money on this game. This is a shame, because there are a few good ideas – the masks being the most prominent one – that are mishandled so badly that it doesn't matter. Many Zelda fans claim that Majora's Mask lost popularity due to it being released near the end of the Nintendo 64's life, but in reality, it's most likely because of its subpar and uninspiring gameplay that contains minimal variety and room for exploration. Don't be fooled, it may say “The Legend of Zelda” on the box, but this is not a Zelda game.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Originally Posted: 01/28/08

Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (Collector's Edition) (US, 10/25/00)

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