Review by Anclation
"I'll need a lot more than three days to list all the reasons this game is so awesome."
Ah, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, truly one of the most underrated games there are. Now, it may sound weird to whine about how underappreciated a multi-million selling, critically acclaimed game like Majora's Mask is, but that doesn't mean it isn't well-warranted. See, Majora's Mask is quite simply one of the greatest games ever made, a near-perfect piece of art that should rank right up with its predecessor Ocarina of Time, which in the late 90s pretty much could have trademarked the phrase best game ever. Instead, it's one of the less successful games in the Zelda series going by sales, and not even close to gamerankings top 10, which Ocarina of Time still tops. Coming out near the end of the N64's lifespan did it no favors, but perversely, it was its bold, fresh take on the Zelda universe that really alienated many OoT fans. Fortunately Majora's Mask is now out on the Wii Virtual Console, giving gamers another chance to experience this masterpiece, and considering how many fans are now clamoring for the Zelda series to try out new things, it just might find a more receptive audience
Majora's Mask is an action/adventure game, featuring the typical Zelda mix of exploration, fighting, puzzle-solving, mini-games and helping out NPCs (non-playable characters). However, it doesn't feature Ganondorf at all, despite being the main villain of the series, and princess Zelda herself only appears in a brief flashback. It also takes place in the parallel world of Termina, where the moon has an angry face and is about to come crashing down, killing everyone. Oh, and you only have 72 hours to stop this from happening....oh, and an imp with a freaky mask is to blame for all of this. Things getting weird yet?
Story-wise it is a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, somewhat unusual for a Zelda game, most of them being only loosely connected in terms of story. After defeating Ganondorf, Link, the Hero of Time, sets out on a journey to find Navi, his dear fairy friend who left him at the end of OoT. However, things take an unexpected turn when Link gets ambushed by the Skull Kid, a masked imp, and his two fairy friends (the siblings Tatl and Tael). They take off with Link's horse Epona and his Ocarina (THE Ocarina of Time), and Link gives chase, but instead of catching them he ends up doing an reenactment of Alice in Wonderland, falling down a rabbit hole and into another world. There he meets Skull Kid again, and we find out that he (or rather his mask) has some pretty amazing powers, as he easily transforms Link into a Deku Scrub (a lowly plant-thingy that made its first appearance in Ocarina of Time). Skull Kid then leaves, abandoning Tatl in the process, and realizing she needs Link's help if she is to ever see her brother again, she teams up with him, giving him useful advice along the way.
With the help of Tatl, Link manages to get to Clock Town (running into a creepy mask salesman along the way) and finds out that the city (along with the rest of Termina) will be destroyed in three days. After having learned a number of Deku-skills during those three days, Link and Tatl finally confront Skull Kid again, but with only hours remaining before the moon hits Clock Town. Fortunately Link manages to knock the Ocarina out of Skull Kid's hand and promptly plays the Song of Time, which transports him back to the dawn of the first day, resetting the three-day cycle. With the musical instrument back in the hands of its rightful owner, the mask salesman teaches Link the Song of Healing, which changes him back into a human. While this solves one of Link's problems, he's no closer to stopping the moon from crashing into Termina. The only way to do that is to rescue the four guardians of Termina, but that task will take abilities far beyond what a mere human possesses. And what is the deal with the strange mask that is giving Skull Kid this incredible power? The real adventure is just about to begin...
In some ways Majora's Mask is quite similar to Ocarina of Time. It got the same superb controls, the same camera and the same system of assigning three different items to a set of buttons (or the 2nd analog stick in the case of the Virtual Console version) so anyone who has ever played OoT will immediately feel right at home. Your Ocarina is still absolutely crucial, capable of everything from time travel to the healing of lost souls, puzzle-solving and warping. Most of the items you remember from OoT also return, and as usual the more items you acquire, the more places you gain access to. Finally, you still have to reach and beat various temples in order to advance in the game. However, a lot of things are different from what you'd come to expect in a Zelda game.
The Three-Day Cycle
Ocarina of Time certainly featured time travel, but in Majora's Mask you actually relive the same three days over and over again, using the Song of Time to travel back to the dawn of the first day whenever necessary. As you travel back in time you get to keep all the important items you've obtained, but every puzzle solved in a temple is reset, every key collected is lost, and any minor items vanish. You also always return to Clock Town, no matter where you actually played the song. What's more, no person you've come in contact with throughout the three days will remember you once you go back in time. The in-game three days amount to less than an hour in real time, so the time limit is nothing to sneeze at.
Going back to the first day is the only way to make a permanent save, meaning you'll probably be doing it a lot. Doesn't it get annoying frequently going back in time, losing progress made? Isn't it stressful being under a time limit? Actually, the answer is no and no, seeing how well the time-system is handled in the game. By playing the Song of Time backwards you radically slow down time, giving you more than enough time to do whatever you want to do, be it completing a temple or exploring Termina. As for the progress supposedly lost, you always get to keep the fruits of your labor, the items, the upgrades etc. The world of Termina also features owl statues at different locations, to which you can warp by playing a specific song once they've been activated (they also act as quick saves if you need a breather), so if you've toiled long and hard to reach a certain place, it won't matter if you have to travel back in time to Clock Town, if the owl statue at that spot has been activated you can simply travel back there with a song, simple as that. Frustration averted.
So what is gained by having such a time-system to deal with? For starters, certain events take place at specific hours, meaning the time passing does more than just result in the moon looming ever larger in the sky, but actually reveals Termina to be a living, breathing world. Different days aren't just marked by a day becoming night, followed by a new day, the weather actually changes, previously blocked paths get opened and on the third day (when the moon is about to crash into Termina) the world will even be rocked by frequent earthquakes. However, to really appreciate the genius of the three-day cycle time-system you have to look to Clock Town.
Clock Town is the main city in Majora's Mask, placed in the middle of Termina and is probably the biggest city ever seen in a Zelda game, having to be divided into multiple smaller sections. You can spend hours and hours simply exploring the city, visiting interesting places, playing mini-games, spending rupees at various shops and searching for secrets. However, the main draw of Clock Town is the dozens of characters populating it.
Thanks to the three-day cycle, most of Clock Town's inhabitants aren't like ordinary NPCs, standing in the same place, saying the same thing 24/7. In fact, they have real lives of their own, going to different places, talking to other characters, making dinner, getting drunk in a bar, being mugged, getting into arguments, experiencing disappointments, worrying about the ever bigger moon looming in the sky. As the hours pass, the Clock Town inhabitants are busy living their lives, and just following a particular character around during a specific day can be very interesting.
As you relive the same three days over and over again, you gradually become familiar with the routines of various characters, and find out that there are times when you can actually help them out, by doing something for them at a particular point in time. How do you know exactly when you can help out? Well, quite early on in the game you get the chance to obtain a notebook, which shows you the schedule of 20 of the more important characters, and what hours are of special importance to them. As you help out characters you get to see different sides of them, you see the different routes their lives can take depending on what you do and don't do, and you get to know more about them, about their relationships, dreams, hopes and fears. There are many different outcomes, and thanks to the three-day cycle and the Song of Time, you can experience every single one. Compared to any other Zelda game, there's just so much more depth to the characters in Majora's Mask.
The End of the World
On the third day, many people will have fled Clock Town, fearing the imminent fall of the moon. This brings me to one of the greatest aspects of Majora's Mask, namely the ability to experience the end of the world firsthand. The last 6 in-game hours in particular are incredibly emotional, with superb, disturbing music, the ground shaking and the moon filling the sky. You talk to characters you've grown to care about and learn how they are coping with the world ending, you see some people cowering in fear and some defiantly challenging the moon to do its worst, you see the soldiers bravely standing by their post, guarding the Clock Town entrances despite fully understanding its futility and you realize you are witnessing one of the great, tragic moments in video gaming
Master of Time
Obviously the three-day cycle in Majora's Mask adds a lot of soul to the game that it would otherwise not have had. But what about the negative consequences, like frequently having to sit around like a chump waiting for certain events to be triggered, or a new day to dawn? Fortunately, these potential problems are brilliantly dealt with. Not only is there a song you can play to make 12 hours at a time pass in a heartbeat, there are also several characters in Clock Town that can speed time up to different degrees. You can talk to an old woman for example, and have her tell you some boring stories that make Link fall asleep, thus having several hours pass by quickly. Or you can dance all night/day with a music-loving scarecrow. There are plenty of clever solutions to the problem of time in Majora's Mask, enabling the game to reap the full benefits of the incredibly ambitious time-system without any of the downsides, a true testament to how fantastic its design is.
Another big addition to the gameplay in Majora's Mask is how Link can now transform himself into a number of different creatures. After turning back into a human, he gains the ability to go back to the Deku Scrub form whenever you'd like, using a Deku Mask. He later gains the ability to transform into a big, powerful Goron, and also a Zora, which has the ability to swim and dive underwater like no human can. These transformations are no mere gimmicks, they are vital in the game, and each creature has lots of unique abilities that will be used to solve tons of puzzles. Crucially, Link can as a Deku Scrub use Deku Flowers to launch himself into the air and fly short distances. As a Goron he can crush big rocks and roll around at high speeds. And as a Zora, he can swim underwater as long as he'd like.
All these different forms of Link feel great to control, while at the same time being completely unique. The only issue that arises is that the camera sometimes acts erratically when you're flying around as a Deku Scrub, but otherwise there are no problems. The transformations make the game all the more enjoyable, and you're not likely to forget the first time you rolled around Termina Field at full speed as a Goron, or the first time you dived deep into the water at Great Bay Coast as a Zora. Switching between the different forms is quick and painless, using the transformational masks in your possession.
As I said before, most of the items from Ocarina of Time return in this game (and the abilities gained through transforming more than make up for the ones missing), but there's also another category of items available this time around, namely masks. Including the transformation masks, there are a whopping total of 24 masks to collect in this game, each with different uses. There is a mask that can make you move at twice the usual speed, a mask that enables you to read the thoughts of animals, a mask which you can use to talk to skeletons, a mask for becoming invisible to other people and on it goes. The masks are neatly integrated into the classic Zelda game mechanics, and very fun to use. And if you manage to collect all the standard masks you get the chance to obtain the most powerful mask of them all, probably the best reward in any Zelda game. Sweet!
Temples & Bosses
There are not that many temples in Majora's Mask by Zelda standards, only four in fact. However, these temples is quite lengthy, very clever and well designed. The transformations also add a lot more variety to the puzzles, and old items get some cool new uses. The last temple in particular is absolutely superb. There's also an extra challenge in each temple, namely saving 15 hidden stray fairies, which require you to explore the temples like never before. Save all 15 fairies in a temple and you get a very nice reward. There are also plenty of cool mini-bosses and bosses to fight in the four temples, even some which require you to transform in order to go toe-to-toe with them.
Everything you have done in a temple is reset once you go back in time, which could be a huge issue, seeing how beating a temple can transform whole areas of Termina, enabling you to do things there you couldn't do before. Thankfully, if you've already beaten a temple you won't have to beat the whole thing again once time is reset, you can just warp right to the boss battle, and once the boss is beaten the area is once again healed. Nice.
Sidequests & Mini-Games
While there are a lot fewer temples in Majora's Mask than in Ocarina of Time, it does feature a whole lot more optional sidequests. They range from the incredibly simple (listen to a guy confessing to a bad thing he did) to the truly epic (reunite two lost lovers over the course of the most complicated sidequest in Zelda history). Just to give you a small taste of what to expect, I can reveal you'll be playing guitar with a Zora rockband, taking pictures of Gerudo Pirates, fighting off aliens trying to steal cows, helping a gravedigger search for treasure and teaching some dancers how to get their groove back. Now, you don't have to do any of this stuff in order to finish the game, but you will get some rewards for doing it that make it all worthwhile. And it's quite simply a lot of fun.
There are also dozens of mini-games in Majora's Mask, and I don't mean the kind of junk you see in shovelware. These mini-games are really enjoyable, including everything from target shooting to racing, rupee collecting, maze navigation, bomb basketball and swordplay. Again, you don't have to do any of this, but the rewards are cool, and why would you want to pass up hours of entertainment?
Termina is definitely my favorite Zelda world so far. Not only is it full of memorable places, but it also features more different races than any other Zelda, ranging from Dekus, Gorons and Zoras to Gerudos, Monkeys and Beavers. Furthermore, it's jam-packed with secrets and hidden places. You can also interact with the environment in so many different ways, putting everything from fresh water to bugs in a bottle, getting handy tips from dozens of Gossip Stones, playing your Ocarina in the right places for fun and profit, and jumping over ramps for extra rupees when rolling around as a Goron. It's simply a fabulous place to explore and have fun in.
The Virtual Console Version
Does the Virtual Console port have any particular issues compared to the N64 original? Well, I'm happy to report that this version is free from most of the problems that plagued the Zelda: Collector's Edition port, most notably there's no freezing problem this time around, so don't you worry about that. Controls aren't as good as in the N64 original, simply because the lack of buttons (compared to the N64 controller) of the Classic Controller and the GameCube controller forces it to make do with some less than optimal solutions, like assigning items to the second analog stick /somewhat more akwardly placed buttons. It's to be expected with games tailor-made for the unique N64 controller, but it's still annoying. However, the game does control very well for the most part, and the Virtual Console version is overall very solid.
In the end, what makes Majora's Mask so exceptional even as a Zelda game is its variety. One minute you'll be Zora, diving thousands of feet to fight gigantic sea snakes. The next minute you'll be in human form, participating in a horse race. Then you may decide to fight a massive, mechanical bull as a Goron. And after that, maybe you'll stalk the Clock Town postman as he delivers his letters and hones his mad skillz in between deliveries. It's all in here, and it all works perfectly, no aspect of the game serving as a weak spot. This is pretty much as good as gaming gets.
There's no denying that Majora's Mask is one of the best looking N64 games ever made. On a purely technical level it's a noticeable step up from Ocarina of Time, and offers (by N64 standards) stunning draw distance, tons of details, fluid animation and great looking characters, enemies and bosses. The visuals are also sharper in the Virtual Console version, having shed the N64 blurriness, and the game seems to run more smoothly (certainly, some situations that I remember caused slowdown in the N64 original now flow perfectly fine). Some other things are also worth mentioning, one being how Majora's Mask is capable of offering up a lot more enemies on-screen simultaneously than OoT ever did, making for some very interesting sights and showdowns. The faces of the various characters are also impressively expressive, being able to convey a wide range of emotions. Some neat visual effects, like motion blur, are also used in the game.
However, what really makes Majora's Mask even today such a pretty game is its colors and art design. The game is just full of very strong, vibrant colors, being far more colorful than Ocarina of Time while at the same time maintaining the realistic visual style. All the colors don't make the game look tacky or over-the-top at all, because they are used so cleverly, breathing life into every location while not going overboard. In terms of art design, Majora's Mask is simply much more creative than OoT, which tended to be pretty traditional, with generic-looking fields, deserts, mountains etc. Certainly, you wouldn't have ever seen gorgeous locations like the Southern Swamp or the Zora Hall in OoT. The fact that every day and night in Majora's Mask lasts so much longer than in OoT also gives you the chance to enjoy the locations under so many different kinds of lighting, further showcasing the richness and nuances of the game's visual experience. Unless something shocking happens (like Dreamcast games becoming available on the Virtual Console), this will forever remain the prettiest Virtual Console game around.
Music & Sound
Majora's Mask is full of great music. For starters, most of the best themes from Ocarina of Time return, though by no means do they make up the backbone of the soundtrack. The classic Zelda overworld theme also returns, after having been absent from OoT, and the big, new music tracks (like the Song of Healing, the Clock Town music, the Majora's Mask theme) are all very good. There's a great number of different music tracks in the game, and most impressive is how even plenty of individual buildings in Clock Town feature completely original music exclusively composed for them, giving them so much more unique character and atmosphere. The only problem is that the music in the Virtual Console version often skips a bit when you're leaving one area for another, but it's not a big issue.
There's no voice acting in Majora's Mask, but the characters make various noises (laughs, grunts, sighs etc) that kinda give you a sense of their personality, just as in Ocarina of Time, and it still works very well. Sound effects are excellent, just like you would expect in a game of this quality.
Majora's Mask is by no means short even if you don't do the sidequests, though there are only four temples getting to them takes a lot of work, and the main adventure should at least last you some 15-20 hours. However, that would only be scratching the surface of this massive game, as there is just so much stuff to do. For starters, there are 52 heart pieces to collect, as well as stray fairies to rescue in the temples, empty bottles to obtain, masks to find, a sword to upgrade and on it goes. You could well spend 40-60 hours getting everything in the game, and there would still be lots of secrets, conversations and events you'd have missed. To top it all off, the fact that you can replay pretty much any part of the game thanks to the reversible three-day cycle gives it replay value well beyond what most Zelda games can offer. I mean, in what other Zelda can you fight bosses already defeated as often as you'd like, with new items and transformations?
For the price of just 1000 Wii Points, you can download a true masterpiece that has stood the test of time like few games have. Majora's Mask succeeds on so many different levels, and has so much to offer every kind of gamer that there's no excuse not to buy this game if you haven't played it yet. Don't deny yourself the experience of a lifetime.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 04/20/09
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (EU, 04/03/09)
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