Review by Centurion

"Legendary... again..."

I cannot seem to understand the logic beyond the popular term known as “realistic”, mentioned countless amounts of times in today’s gaming world. What is meant when a gamer describes a specific game as “realistic”, especially a Zelda game? Most of the time, this term would apply to a game’s visuals, which would dictate that they are absolutely vivacious, energetic, and lifelike; similar to our small world’s beautiful scenery we enjoy observing everyday. I, however, find it completely asinine to judge a game as “realistic” just by its graphics. Instead, I look on a much wider spectrum. Under my perspective, in addition to graphics, I also judge a game’s realism by its story and most importantly - gameplay. What if a certain video game features spectacular lifelike graphics, but an outrageous storyline or completely off-the-wall gameplay? As the definition implies, would you call it “realistic”? Most certainly not, but then again, with a few exceptions such as sports titles, every other game created wouldn’t be called as well, would it? Conversely, if there was such a thing as a “realistic” RPG or a Zelda game in this case, I bet it would fail, since any gamer would probably get bored very quickly playing something that contains many similarities to our small, boring world. As a major Zelda fan, I’d be completely disgraced if the concept of “realism” was applied to any future title. That was until I discovered The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, which, I admit it isn’t as “realistic” as my definition implies, just like any other Zelda game, but it is the closest you can get.

Majora’s Mask opens up in a beautiful, mystique forest, where Link, riding on his horse Epona decides to take a well-deserved break after his dangerous adventures in Ocarina of Time. My jaws immediately dropped to the ground after seeing the beautiful, clear visuals of this serene forest. Anyway, continuing his travels under the large canopy of green, Link eventually meets a skull kid, accompanied by two fairies. On closer inspection, it seems that Skull Kid is wearing a strange, mysterious mask, known as “Majora’s Mask.” Apparently, Skull Kid is quite a tough cookie, who decides to knock Link off his horse with ease, and eventually, stealing his precious Ocarina of Time. With all his might, Link quickly runs after Skull Kid, galloping on Epona. However, it seems Link is struck by the “Bad luck spell” once more, as Skull Kid uses his mysterious powers to transform him to a weak Deku Scrub. Then, all of a sudden, while chasing after his Ocarina, Link eventually falls into an abyss where an alternate, confusing dimension is waiting for him on the other side. After entering this “new world” known as Termina, Link soon discovers the Moon will come crashing down to the world below in three days if nothing is done about it. In order to overcome the heavy odds, Link must now transform back to his regular self again, save the land of Termina from the falling moon, and acquire Majora’s Mask from Skull Kid, in order to stop his tyranny.

While I admit this story is pretty bizarre, at least it’s very original, especially when compared to the rest of the Zelda series. For once, I’m actually glad to see a departure from Ganon, whose presence is not seen in Majora’s Mask at all. Time travel is another major addition to this game. In order to save the land of Termina from the falling moon, Link must have time on his side. In other words, he must successfully complete all his quests before the three-day limit is up. But completing all his numerous and difficult tasks is impossible, even for Link. Therefore, he must effectively travel back in time to Day 1 with the use of his handy Ocarina, which must re-acquired back from Skull Kid.

While the time concept in Majora’s Mask is completely original to the Zelda series, the ability to travel back is not my favorite aspect of this feature. Instead, the fact that the entire world of Termina is based on an actual timeline is completely spectacular, in my opinion. This is where the concept of “realism” truly shines in this game, rather than its graphics. Unlike in Ocarina of Time, where every character would pretty much stand in one place depending on your overall progression, almost every character here performs specific tasks according to the time of day. For example, the local postman picks up mail during the morning hours, delivers in the afternoon, and finally mediates on his own during the evening. Furthermore, instead of completing a certain quest anytime he wants, Link must now accomplish his tasks during a specific time. Therefore, if a particular quest or minigame is only available for Link to complete during the second day, he will not be able to perform it on the first or third days; however, if Link manages to miss it completely, he’ll have to warp back to the dawn of the first day! The time system has never been featured in previous Zelda games, and I absolutely love how it’s interpreted in Majora’s Mask. This, my friend, is the type of “realistic” a game should really be.

Even though the time system is completely amazing in my opinion, there are still some flaws to be considered. How many times you have completely forgot about your main quest and decided to take some time off, mainly by playing the game’s numerous minigames? I know I did countless amounts of times. However, with the implementation of the time system in Majora’s Mask, the ability to relax and enjoy the wondrous countryside is simply not available to an extent. Sure, there are numerous side-quests that are completely unnecessary to the main quest itself, but every time Link is involved in one, he must carefully watch the time, or else the falling moon will pay a visit to the sorry Hylian. I enjoyed having to do whatever I want, especially in Ocarina of Time, but in Majora’s Mask, complete freedom is limited, as a result of the time limit.

But wait, couldn’t you simply warp back to the first day? Well, yes, it is possible; however, it seems that too much “realism” is situated in this game. Whenever Link warps back through time, all events restart, including the ones he successfully accomplished. This can really become a pain, especially when completing the dungeons. In previous games, I could take all the time I want to successfully complete any dungeon. However, in Majora’s Mask, due to the time limit, I have to “rush” myself, or else it will be game over. I could warp back to avoid this fate, but like mentioned above, all events restart, including dungeon puzzles and whatnot. I hate having to complete the same puzzles over and over again, as a result of the time limit. In addition to all events restarting, Link losses his current inventory as well, including bombs, arrows, and rupees. It’s a good thing all main items are not lost, such as the Ocarina or Hookshot, or I’d consider this game a failure. However, all in all, this flaw is not THAT terrible, since it is fairly easy to regain the items mentioned above. Also, Link has the ability to deposit his rupees at the local town bank, which will never be lost no matter what.

Other than the time system, the other major feature that plays an important role in this game is the mask system. While the mask system was first introduced in Ocarina of Time, it never played a key role in the overall progression of the game. In Majora’s Mask however, the use of masks is necessary in order the complete your main quest. There are 24 masks in total, and all of them are needed to complete a specific portion of the game, most primarily the side-quests. There are some masks that grant Link unique and interesting powers, such as the ability to run faster whenever he equips the Bunny Hood, or the ability to search inside every mailbox whenever the Postman’s Hat is donned. While most masks play a minor role in the progression of Link’s adventure, there are three transformation masks that play a massive role: the Deku, Goron, and Zora masks. These enable Link to transform to the respective major races of Termina, and all grant special abilities, which are necessary to complete all dungeons. I never knew how much fun rolling as Goron Link could be, or swimming like a dolphin in the vast expanses of water as Zora Link. This is definitely my overall favorite feature in this game, and what makes Majora’s Mask, along with the time system, completely unique from every other game in the Zelda series.

Even with the implementation of these two, unique features, any Zelda game wouldn’t be complete without a fair share of side-quests, which Majora’s Mask has numerous amounts of. What interests me the most about the majority of these side-quests is that a specific character is often involved, asking you for assistance. This is referred as the “notebook sequence”, which hasn’t been introduced in any previous Zelda title as well. Here, Link is given a handy, organized notebook, where he must record the entries of 20 specific people throughout Termina, who have a major problem; you must help them during a specific time in order to complete that specific side-quest. The most interesting side-quest featured in this notebook is the Anju-Kafei quest. Here, Link must help reunite Anju, the keeper of the inn, with her lover Kafei. This, along with many other side-quests is incredibly frustrating and challenging that you’ll probably need to perform them several times in order to successfully accomplish. Then there’s another flaw in the time system. Many side-quests can only be achieved in a specific amount of time, and sometimes, you’ll have absolutely no clue what to do next or where to go; if this is the case, these “trial and error” quests will make you waste valuable time, by warping back again and again, until you’ll finally succeed them.

Majora’s Mask contains four main dungeons and several mini-dungeons, which are diminutive in amount compared to its predecessors. However, all of them are fairly challenging and unique, especially the last two dungeons - the Great Bay and Stone Tower Temples. In the Great Bay Temple, Zora Link must successfully manage the rushing waters, or else he’ll be flushed to a giant pile of confusion. The Stone Tower Temple, probably the best dungeon to ever grace a Zelda game, must be turned upside-down and right-side up in order for Link to successfully complete it. While it wouldn’t hurt to add a couple more dungeons in this game, most of the time, you’ll have enough excitement trying to complete all the fascinating and exigent side-quests.

Graphically, the visuals of Majora’s Mask take Ocarina of Time’s to a blender, and completely shreds them up like we hardly knew them. Simply, the graphics of Majora’s Mask are seriously the best the Nintendo 64 has to offer. Furthermore, many improvements have been made to these “realistic” visuals. For one, there are no longer blurry backgrounds that were a hindrance to see in Ocarina of Time.. Also, there’s hardly any slowdown whenever multiple enemies are on the screen at once. This gives our hero a much easier opportunity to bash these foes down to the ground. I also like the water visuals presented in this game. For example, the murky swamp water of Woodfall really looks like a rotten filth of liquid, compared to the beautiful, crystal waters of Great Bay. There is one minor problem about the game’s visuals, and that is the fact that many of the character models are simply reused from <.i>Ocarina of Time. While there are some nice new additions, like Kafei, the majority of them are reused, such as the chicken lady from Kakariko Village as Anju, and young Malon from Lon Lon Ranch as Romani.

Aside from graphics, the atmospheric music is probably the best the Nintendo 64 has to offer as well. The thing that impresses me the most about the music in Majora’s Mask is that different music is played in Clock Town - the main settlement in Termina - depending on the day. For instance, on Day 1, happy-go-lucky music is played, which symbolizes the current atmosphere of the town, completely carefree about the moon planning to crash right down. On Day 2, the same tune is played, but a more “depressing” version, since the citizens are starting to become really concerned of the current situation, under a miserable downpour raining down on them. Finally, on the third day, the same music is played as well, but now it is played faster and is more serious, which highlights the fact that the moon will destroy the town anytime soon.

With all the great additions, such as the time and mask systems, the controls are pretty much the same as in Ocarina of Time. The innovative “Z-targeting” feature is present, as well as the ability to ride Epona throughout the beautiful, lush landscape. As a result, experienced Ocarina of Time gamers should have no problems getting acquainted with the controls, while beginners should have only minor difficulties. Despite the new, awesome additions to Majora’s Mask mentioned above, I still believe Ocarina of Time remains superior, but by the very shallow margin. Overall, the concept of “realism” has finally enlightened a Zelda game, with lifelike graphics and a time system similar to our world’s. Even though the time system may have been “too realistic”, there are still many strengths that outshine some of its frustrating flaws, most notably the wonderful, innovative mask system. It’s a shame this game is neglected by many gamers, whether they are Zelda fans or not...

Final Score – 9/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/21/03, Updated 11/09/03

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