Review by Tricoteur

"In a break from epics, the Zelda series is touched by absolute beauty."

Released directly after the enormous success Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask certainly had big shoes to fill. In a gutsy move, new producer Eiji Aonouma decided against an epic in the style of Ocarina of Time. Instead, he chose to create one of the most intimate and beautiful games the world has seen.

We find at the beginning our hero, Link, searching for a lost friend. Two fairies attack Link, knocking him from his horse; a curious character whose face is covered by an elaborate mask comes forward. He hesitates for a moment, seeming to recognise our hero, but decides to continue stealing Link's prized ocarina and taking off on the horse just in time for Link to awake. Link, now under control of the player, must give chase. Upon finally encountering the masked stranger again, we learn the power of this mask. Link is transformed into a small plant-like creature called a Deku Scrub, familiar to fans of the series. Tatl, one of the stranger's companions is left behind with Link. They agree to help one another, as neither is adequately prepared to survive alone.

Remaining in Deku-scrub form, Link next meets the Happy Mask Salesman, in a recurring role from Ocarina of Time. The salesman tells Link of a way to regain his original form -- only if he can retrieve his precious ocarina. He will do that favour for Link if in return Link also returns what we now learn to be Majora's Mask, a dangerous and powerful mask, stolen from the mask salesman.

The user can now control Link's first steps out of the clock tower in to Termina, where the remainder of the game is set. Tatl warns that you have only 3 days to complete your task. So begins the ever important, less than popular three-day cycle which dominates Majora's Mask.
After three days of time (at approximately one minute per hour of game time, so 72 minutes), the player is obliged to save and return to day one -- or the moon crashes into Termina and those three days are nullified.

Not everything remains upon saving, though. Usable items return to zero. Rupees not stored in the bank return to zero. Any changes made to areas are returned to the original state -- including temples. For slow players this can cause many problems. Even for the below-average, three day cycle with time slowed down -- this technique is learned early -- is usually enough time to complete a temple and gain the reward. For some, however, that isn't enough time. Key items like maps and compasses are kept, but the state of each temple is, for the most part, returned to the original state. Time management becomes important to finish a temple before resetting time is required.

It is thanks to the three-day cycle, though, that so much depth can be found. Each character has a specific schedule to follow within the three days. By diverging from the main quest for a cycle and observing a few characters instead, there are many back stories unlike any minor character has had before within the Zelda series, and many sidequests, some as deep and enthralling as the main quest. Some of these minor characters become prominent for specific objectives in the main quests, while others are completely optional, yet the developers put an immense level of detail into every single character. The three days have even more details beyond the characters. The weather changes. The music changes each day as the moon comes close and the mood grows tense. Clock town becomes less populated each day as inhabitants leave out of fear. It is thanks to the three day cycle that these touches can be done; any extra difficulty in gameplay is more than worth risking for a game this rich; this deep; this complex.

With the same engine found in Ocarina of Time developers were not content leaving gameplay exactly the same as before. How did they make things different? Transformation masks. Three transformation masks are earned throughout the game, allowing Link to change between his natural form, that of a Deku Scrub, that of a Goron, and that of a Zora. Each form has different abilities -- Zora link is incredible under the water, while Goron and Deku Link cannot swim at all; Goron Link can use his extra weight for certain switches and extra strength at certain points; Deku Link is able to fly through the air. Many puzzles throughout the game capitalise on all of these possibilities, creating new situations impossible in Ocarina.

That's not all there is to the masks, though -- not even close. In addition to the three transformation masks, there are 21 others -- earned mainly through sidequests -- each of them giving Link an added ability. Many of these masks are only useful at one moment throughout the game, though, begging for more of the brilliance seen in, for instance, the Bunny hood and the Stone mask, each incredibly useful throughout the game -- if found soon enough. Many of the masks are left to be found by the player with few hints of their location. That adds to the overall challenge of the game, for those who wish to complete 100%, and also makes the reward at the end for having all masks much more impressive to receive.

There are four main areas of Termina -- swamp, snow/ice, water, and desert -- each with a temple to complete. Yes, that's right; there are only four temples in the game. Each temple is challenging and complex, despite it all. The fourth temple, particularly, is enough of a challenge that completing it within the three day cycle is a significant worry. Full of unique puzzles and very lengthy, there is little to complain about. Beyond that, there is an extra challenge in each temple. There are 15 fairies to capture for an extra bonus from each temple. If you thought there wasn't enough challenge yet, combine that with the three day time limit; then you have for yourself a worthy task.

The atmosphere inside each temple, and in the entire game, is spectacular. The music and graphics are in a league of their own compared with other games of the same generation. Making full use of the Expansion Pak -- which is mandatory to play the game -- Majora's Mask features perhaps the very best visuals of any N64 game. The textures are beautiful, the models have high polygon counts, and the areas are beautifully designed, giving the game an otherworldly feel the entire time. Many songs return from Ocarina of Time in all their glory, as well as the classic Legend of Zelda Overworld theme, remixed for use in Termina Field. New compositions for the game are among Koji Kondo's best work, as well. The Song of Healing, a main theme throughout the game, is so simple, yet filled with so much emotion that it may be even as powerful as Aeris' Theme of the famed Final Fantasy VII.

As if there was not yet enough, there is a myriad of mini games found throughout, all of the highest quality. From two different shooting games, to the Deku playground, to a game in which you must protect the cows from an Alien abduction, the sheer number of mini games available is mind-bending. Beyond that, almost every single game can capture your attention for hours at a time as you seek that perfect score -- and the heart piece which comes with it. There are more heart pieces to be found in this than in any other Zelda game; some of them are so challenging to earn that a full life meter is more than worth bragging about.

This deep, challenging game promises to capture your imagination and attention for hours at a time. Easily the most beautiful game I have ever known, the complex story behind every character enthralls, the challenge of a 100% game captivates, and the main quest astounds with its near perfection. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is a must play if there ever was one.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 01/07/05

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