Review by Kimari
"Though it divided the Nintendo fanbase, 'Majora's Mask' should not be ignored"
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Legend of Zelda series, one of the most successful and popular video game series of all time. In fact, less than a week ago at the time of this writing, Skyward Sword was released. I'll get my hands on it at Christmas, and I'll review it a few weeks later, I'm sure.
In preparation for Skyward Sword, I've gone back and played the old 3D Zelda games over the course of the past year or so. Recently, I finished Majora's Mask, completing my second total playthrough of the game (my first being when it originally released in 2000). Back in the day, Majora's Mask was a bit of a black sheep in the Zelda franchise. It was so radically different from Ocarina of Time, the game that boosted Zelda's popularity twofold, that far too many gamers dismissed it. Majora's Mask ended up selling less than half the amount of copies that Ocarina did. To me, that's just silly. I know the game came towards the end of Nintendo 64's life span, but it was also one of its best and most creative games. Sure, it may not be as legendary or quite as epic as Ocarina, but I'm glad Nintendo went in this direction. They opted not to copy the exact same formula. Instead, they took some risks, and I couldn't be more appreciative of that.
Time means something in Majora's Mask, which, 11 years after its release, I'm sure you know by now. The whole story of the game revolves around a gigantic, scary-faced moon heading towards the planet. It'll hit ground and wipe out everything in existence in exactly three days. Link has much to do in the world of Termina, and he definitely needs more than three days to do it. So, what's a long lost Hyrulian to do? Why, go back in time, of course! It's a Groundhog Day effect, where you relive the same three days over and over and over. This unique and special formula lends itself to some incredibly compelling sidequests, some of the best I've encountered in the Legend of Zelda series.
Speaking of which, I need to point this out right now - if you aren't a fan of sidequests, you aren't going to get everything out of Majora's Mask. The narrative of the game, which takes you through four temples and a few mini-dungeons, doesn't last nearly as long as Ocarina of Time's. Quite simply, if you ignore all the sidequests and just focus on the main adventure, you are robbing yourself of the best treats this game has to offer.
You see, early on you receive an item called the Bomber's Notebook. In this book, 20 of the various characters you meet will be listed, and you'll be able to see their schedules as well as who you've helped, and who you haven't. Yes, you heard that right - many NPCs in this game have their own schedules that transpire over the three days. If you want a great example of dynamic schedules, hang around the inn, located in West Clock Town, for awhile. A bunch of characters will come in and out and converse with one another, giving that feeling of being in a world come to life. I spent countless real time hours exploring Clock Town, the literal center of Termina, to make sure I saw it all.
The one negative point to this Bomber's Notebook is that it is a bit padded. Some sidequests are very fun, especially the one involving the inn caretaker, Anju. However, a few characters listed in the book really shouldn't be in there as they are a one-task wonder. You can find them at any time, quickly solve their problem, and that's it. I don't exactly understand why they are listed in the notebook except for the fact that Nintendo probably wanted to have a solid 20 characters in there, making it seem like you are doing more than what is actually being accomplished. I just wish you had to do a lengthy sidequest to help each individual character. As it is, the imbalance is noticeable.
Besides the time element, the other big facet to this game is the masks. It's called Majora's Mask for a reason, after all.
Early on in the game you'll meet the Happy Mask Salesman, who gives you the main quest of the game - retrieve Majora's Mask from the misguided Skull Kid. But the mask element goes far, far deeper than just that - you'll be able to obtain a whole bunch of them as you play. In fact, an entire screen in the menu is dedicated only to masks.
Three very important, plot-related masks allow you to transform into a Deku scrub, a Goron, and a Zora, granting you different abilities with each character. The Deku scrub can hover for a short period of time using flowers, as well as shoot bubbles from its mouth. The Goron has a fun ability that allows it to roll around at a quick pace, making the collection of items in Termina Field fun and easy. Finally, the Zora obviously allows you to become agile in the water, hastening the speed that you can swim. Though there is a lack of offensive weapons in this game for Link to use, the abilities of these different transformations make up for it.
But there are more than just these three masks, of course. Through completion of sidequests, as well as during the main quest of the game, you'll receive masks that grant you single, sometimes fun, abilities. I can't thank Nintendo enough for throwing in the bunny ears, which allow Link to run faster. There's also a mask that allows Link to self-detonate like a bomb (you'll take damage for doing so, of course), one that gives you the power to do a mesmerizing dance, and another that lets you talk to certain enemies who would otherwise try to kill you on sight. Also, keep your eye out for a mask late in the game that causes particular foes to dance. It is quite unexpected, but a memorable and funny event nonetheless.
The Traditional Zelda Adventure
Of course, much of the game is a classic Zelda adventure. Once you get past the opening, which limits you to Clock Town, you'll be able to enter Termina Field, this game's version of Hyrule Field, which is a bit smaller and much more condensed. Like most people, I love my Hyrule Field. Termina Field was a bit wackier for sure, and I didn't spend a whole lot of time in it.
Outside the field, the game is split into four distinct regions - the swamp, the mountains, the ocean, and the canyon. There's also a smaller area that has a ranch, which is much larger than Ocarina's Lon Lon Ranch.
I love Zelda dungeons. Unfortunately, Majora's Mask only has four of them, one in each of the major regions of the game. The good news is that they are, for the most part, fairly difficult, and definitely a lot of fun. When I played this game back in 2000, I remember being quite stumped by the last two dungeons. Playing it earlier this year, however, I made my way though them pretty efficiently, though they were still a bit of a challenge.
The items that you get, both in the dungeons and outside of them, are standard Zelda fare. Some of them are taken directly from Ocarina (which I don't blame them for) like the Lens of Truth. The one problem I had with the items, at least in respect to acquiring them, was the items you get from dungeons are all too strongly related to each other, leading to a few fairly predictable dungeon puzzles. Without giving too much away, I'll give you a hint: in the first dungeon, you get the Hero's Bow. What items can you receive that branch off of that? Think about it and I'm sure you'll understand.
The bosses are somewhat remarkable, as they will all challenge you to some degree. None of them are too easy, and none of them are too hard, though you may get through the first two with little trouble. The second boss in particular is a blast to fight against. Thanks to the continuous three-day cycles, you can fight these bosses over and over, and I found myself heading to the second temple to fight its boss just for fun on occasion.
You won't be able to enter the dungeons quite as easily or as quickly as you did in Ocarina; there is much to do and accomplish before you set foot in them. Don't worry, they aren't annoying fetch quests or anything like that. Instead, you'll help the people of the region you're in and tackle mini-dungeons along the way. I do have to admit that some of the later pre-temple tasks aren't quite as fun as the earlier ones, for whatever reason. Maybe that's just personal preference.
This Is An Excellent Black Sheep
Like I said at the beginning of this review, I'm glad Nintendo didn't try to simply copy Ocarina of Time's exact formula in order to make money. I'm glad they have some creative integrity. They took a risk, and unfortunately, it didn't exactly pay off in strictly financial terms. However, I think they did the right thing, creatively, and that's what matters most to me. Besides, it's not like one game could absolutely destroy Zelda's reputation.
It is a little different, and it will take some getting used to, even if it's your first Zelda game. They throw a lot at you in the first couple hours of the game. It all comes together nicely though. It's not as epic as Ocarina of Time, sure, but Majora's Mask is such a strong title in its own right. This is one of the best installments of the Zelda franchise, and one of the best games on the Nintendo 64.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/29/11
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (Collector's Edition) (US, 10/25/00)
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