Review by TheWindWarrior
"The Thinking Manís Legend of Zelda"
Ok, so it's the end of the year 2000. It's nearing the end of the N64's lifespan; already gamers and gaming publications are abuzz with anticipation regarding Nintendo next big console release, codenamed Dolphin. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is selling out faster than anyone could ever imagine and has been honored by game publication after game publication. It even won the 1999 Game of the Year Interactive Achievement Award (the last Nintendo game to do so) from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences.
That's the environment into which The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask was released. Many had very high expectations of it, as it followed in the footsteps of a giant among video games. Did it meet my expectations? Read on to find out everything one needs to know.
You are Link, a young Hylian boy who, after the events of Ocarina of Time, returns to the Lost Woods in search of a friend. Suddenly, Link's horse Epona is frightened by an unseen threat and he is knocked off. By the time he regains consciousness, a strange creature has mounted Epona, followed by two fairies, Tatl and Tael. It is the Skull Kid, an inhabitant of the Lost Woods and an accomplished trickster. The Skull Kid, wearing a strange mask, tries to flee, but Link gives chase. He follows the Skull Kid through a portal and they end up in a distant land called Termina. To throw Link off his scent, Skull Kid uses some unknown power to turn Link into a plant-like Deku Scrub, and steals the treasured Ocarina of Time. Desperate for help, Link is aided by the mysterious Happy Mask Salesman of Hyrule, who is traveling through Termina. The Salesman explains that the Skull Kid is controlled by Majora's Mask, an object of unspeakable, cataclysmic evil that was stolen from him. The Skull Kid, under the mask's dark influence, has made it so the moon will crash into Termina in three days time. The Happy Mask Salesman offers to heal Link, and in return, Link must return Majora's Mask to him, and by extension, save Termina.
The story in this game is unlike any other. It is distinctly non-linear; much of it depends upon the usage of the Ocarina of Time. Its role is much expanded, and in this game, it is used primarily for time-travel. Link has only three days to accomplish his mission. The only way for him to do so would be to travel back in time. And this begs the question: if you had only three days to live, what would you do? Would you continue the quest that the Happy Mask Salesman laid before you? Would you reunite the ill-fated lovers Kafei and Anju, would you apprehend the thief, Sakon? This game is based very heavily on side-quests. I've always maintained that a game can never be completed unless the side-quests are finished too, and here you actually have an incentive to do so. What that is, I won't say. You'll have to play. But there are about 24 masks that you can collect in this game. Some of them help Link on his main quest, some are just fun little Easter eggs, but they are all important in the end.
The thing that really struck me about Majora's Mask was the sheer darkness of the story. The characters are living the same three days over again as they move inexorably towards their doom. The interpretation of the moon is a startling one. It is not a pristine surface, but rather, it has a deranged looking face that echoes the insanity of the mask itself. Speaking of Majora's Mask, the main villain does not have the scheming, power-hungry personality that Ganondorf had. It is not seeking to take over the world, but rather, seeking to destroy it. Majora's Mask is essentially a bringer of chaos.
This is also the first Legend of Zelda game that is a direct sequel to a previous Zelda game. In this case, it is the direct chronological successor of Ocarina of Time, taking place a couple months after. Princess Zelda does make a cameo, but it is very brief. Because of the lack of an epic storyline akin to Ocarina, Majora's Mask has often been derided by a small, but vocal group of gamers as the Poor Man's Ocarina of Time. It is not. It is a much different story from Ocarina of Time. It is much more nuanced and is much darker. It takes a lot of effort to complete this game fully, but once you do, you won't be disappointed. The story gets a 10/10 from me.
The sound quality has improved in Majora's Mask. It is clearer and crisper than in Ocarina of Time and there's a lot more ambient sound from areas such as mountains, the bay, and even the main urban area, Clock Town. This is in part due to the use of the Expansion Pak, which allows for more data processing. Ocarina of Time pushed the vanilla N64 to its limits. With Majora's Mask, it was necessary for the Expansion Pak to be used so that more data could be processed. Otherwise, I don't have much more to say about the sound effects. They built upon the successes of Ocarina of Time and it maintained a high quality.
Once again, music plays a big part in a Zelda game. Link is again equipped with the famed Ocarina of Time, and he learns a whole new set of songs, some of which are more melodic than the previous set from Ocarina of Time. The only song that returns is the Song of Time, which actually does allow you to go back in time. Moreover, two variations are introduced to this song, which allow you to move forward in time and to slow the flow of time. The music quality is excellent as always, but brings something new as well. Also, because Link can change his form to that of a Deku Scrub, a Goron, or a Zora, he is also given a set of ornate looking bagpipes, a set of bongos, and a guitar to play songs with. The prevailing theme in the music is sadness, as shown with songs like the Oath to Order and the Elegy of Emptiness. As a side-note, Termina Field features a remix of the traditional Zelda overworld theme.
Overall, I really liked the audio work in Majora's Mask, so it gets a 10/10 from me.
Ok, overall, the gameplay mechanics in this game are the same as in Ocarina of Time, which makes it pretty easy to get into. But there are some innovations added (it wouldn't be a Miyamoto game if there was no changes made to it.) Anyway, you start off with a sword and shield, yes, but there are also many masks that can give you different attack options. For example, the Zora Mask lets you attack using Zora Link's blade-like fins.
Like I said earlier in my review of the story, this game a lot of side-quests and for one to fully enjoy the game, I would recommend doing them. That, under no circumstances means that the main story is too small. There are four temples in all: Woodfall, Snowhead, Great Bay, and Stone Tower. Their names correspond to the regions that lie south, east, west, and north of Clock Town. These dungeons must be completed in three in-game days (72 minutes) or the game ends. That puts pressure on the gamer that did not exist in Ocarina. You could spend hours on the Water Temple, agonizing about where to go, trying to remember some obscure detail that you missed, but you can't do that on the Great Bay Temple, which is just as hard, but with time constraints. This adds an unprecedented level of difficulty that is somewhat refreshing. Even though there are only four main dungeons compared to the nine of Ocarina of Time, the added difficulty more than compensates. It gets a 10/10.
The graphics have been noticeably improved from Ocarina of Time. It's not a huge jump, but they look better than Ocarina's, and that game had phenomenally good graphics for an N64 game of that era. Not too many games had sharper graphics from Nintendo at this time. Therefore, 10/10.
Are there plenty of reasons to pop this cartridge back in your N64? Definitely! As I said, there are a lot of masks to collect. If you didn't get all of them before finishing the main story, you can always get them afterward. Also, like always, there are other items to collect, as well as Heart Pieces. You'll get plenty of hours of gameplay out of Majora's Mask. I guarantee it. 10/10.
Buy or Rent? If you can still find the cartridge, go get it! Otherwise, you'd better hope it comes on Wii's Virtual Console soon.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 08/07/08
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