This expansion-feeling tangent of Ocarina of Time takes the Zelda formula and shrinks it down. Everything from NPC interactions to the game-world itself is more intimate and microbial when compared to Link's previous time-travelling adventure, and it's with this shift in focus that Majora's Mask both wins and loses.
If you love the big Zelda games with big Zelda experiences, but want something a bit different, this should work for you, just don't come in expecting the same level of 'Epic' you get out of other Legend of Zelda games.
Here’s a bit of interesting personal history where The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is concerned: It was my first cover on the first issue of N64 Gamer I officially edited. I’d been writing for fansites for a few years prior, and was also contributing as a writer to N64 Gamer a bit before then, but the Majora’s Mask cover issue marked my professional
foray into this industry. Unfortunately due to time constraints with moving from Melbourne to Sydney, I didn’t actually get to review the game -- a missed opportunity that has haunted me all my days.
Like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
though, the Nintendo 3DS and the company’s love-affair with nostalgia means a Majora’s Mask review, penned by me, is now a thing and I couldn’t be happier.
In a first for the Zelda series, and a tangent that hasn’t happened since, Majora’s Mask is not a grand adventure the size of A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword. This isn’t to say it’s purpose is without a grandiose finale. After all, successful completion of Link’s Groundhog Day adventure stops a creepy moon from crushing the land of Termina, saving the lives of everyone you meet, but it’s the point of those personalities that gives this game its momentum. The hapless and helpless denizens of Termina are each a milestone in your progressive gameplay, they’re like individual levels you gain through a masterful understanding of their movements and desires. And sometimes their torments.
Like clockwork, they each move through the doomed city -- working to strict schedules you need to follow and understand so that you might tinker with their days and alter their lives, mostly for the better. Each one has a knock-on, too, so progression forms in deeding the good stuff. It’s what Link does, yo -- he helps, and he helps hard.
With this in mind, the game’s exploration factor is formed around voyeurism and not by running across its vast expanse of grass just outside of town. That’s there too, and you’ll definitely run across it -- it’s another thing Link does pretty well, but it’s not the game’s point and exists only as (seemingly) a means of familiarity. The same can also be said of the game’s complex and challenging dungeons, brilliantly designed, even by today’s standards, but not really the point. We love and live this stuff in Zelda games because they’re part of its DNA, and rewards abound but in Majora’s Mask they almost feel like bonuses added for the sake
of the game’s namesake
-- this is
a Zelda game after all.
Except it’s not. This is Link’s
game, his first true game. The Legend of Link: Majora’s Mask
. You can argue that every other Legend of Zelda game is Link’s game too -- he comes of age, he travels across time, he sails across seas, he becomes a wolf, he hovers with chickens… yet in all of these experiences, in all of ‘his’ progression and growth, it’s fate playing the poor child’s hand. And it’s doing so to protect Hyrule’s high princess. In Majora’s Mask, in the topsy-turvy Zeldaless
land of Termina, fate is cruel and unkind, but not for the sake of a young princess being tormented by a Man-Bear-Pig, but because it’s been hijacked by a masked and petuous child -- a boy no less than Link’s age and size, yet one clearly not capable of brandishing such unimaginable power.
Skull Kid -- Majora’s Mask’s antagonist -- is a reminder to us all that our fate-guiding hands are usually used to empower a child and send him on veritable suicide missions because, you know, ‘fate of the land, princesses, songs and all that’. He’s not Ganon, by any measure, rather he’s Link’s yin, or yang, and further proof that we’re in a game centred around the series’ hero proper -- he’s Shadow Link personified, but with a sick sense of humour. Link isn’t sent a vision of an impending doom, he’s not ‘gifted’ a fairy with a secret about the the fate of the world, he’s rolled by a kid in a mask who steals his horse and worse, transforms him into one of the very enemies we’ve helped him kill countless times in the past.
He’s robbed of his previous triumph, of his stature and humanity, and is made to bear the literal crown of the life of one of the series’ most common slashables. If this were a Mario game, you’d be turned into a Goomba.
So what's different on 3DS?
Obviously as mentioned it's now presented in stereoscopic 3D, and on the smaller DS screen, the game really pops because of it. It also supports the Circle Pad Pro for those of us with bigger hands, while the touch-pad offers quicker access to items than the N64 outing did. Like OoT, some love has been thrown into the game visually with updated animations, particle effects and more, but it's largely unchanged as far as content is concerned. The system's gryo allows you to move the DS when in free-look mode, but this sort of thing feels a bit gimmicky and awkward.So the updated version doesn't offer huge additions, but if it ain't really broke in the first place...
So you have three days. Three whole (in-game) days to work out the importance of everyone’s schedules and how they can help you. But you can also reset all of this, reliving every day as if you were Bill “muthaflippin’ Link” Murry, but the sooner you permanently set a thing right -- an instance or outcome that remains even after you reset the day -- the more quickly everyone’s plights diminish as personal woes. And that’s how the game gets you. It strips you of your basics and replaces them with Deku basics, and you invest, because that's your
woe. You invest in becoming a young boy again and when you do, you gain a mask to become that Deku whenever you like, but masks are a drug and we need to live like all the races of the series we’ve so loved for so long, and that need for power -- for more masks -- it overshadows the emotion of the day-to-day you so eagerly need to become intimate with. And then we’re quickly transformed into ourselves, as Link becomes us -- a collector, a doer of good for reward with no more thought for what that good is.
It’s a selfish game in this way, but there’s a light at its cheeky end. That horrible moon stops, and your three day cycle has a fourth, fifth and sixth day, with even more in sight and no need to ever play that song and go back and live it again. There’s no need for notebooks and schedules, for passwords and masks -- just the wind in your hair while you ride on the back of success. Link’s success, with nary a princess in sight. (She makes an appearance, but it’s not needed.)
Majora’s Mask is a bold game from a series known for its tight gameplay and expected occurrences. It’s a tangential slice of adventuring life. Like an episode of the Link show. And it’s now in the palm of our hands and in stereoscopic 3D. It’s a gorgeous game, if you like old things, that holds its own across myriad fronts.
It’ll test your patience and memory mettle, but it’s worth it for the end. For giving those
Terminusly stuck characters an unfated future, for pulling them out of a recurring nightmare and letting the hands of time move ever-forward. And for stopping the moon with the harlequin grin.