The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask review
Nintendo have begun to expand the Zelda series beyond direct sequels, as seen in Oracle of Ages/Seasons but initially here in Majora's Mask. The Ocarina of Time backlot has been brought out of storage to create an entirely new story, and the result is both familiar and very original.
The young hero Link is lured down an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole by an imp in a magical mask, and finds himself in a parallel world to Hyrule aptly named Termina. The imp, Skull Kid, is drawing an evil moon toward the central city, and in 72 hours (about one hour of real time) the moon will crash and destroy the world. Nothing can be done to stop it in that time, partly since Link has been temporarily turned into a walking coconut. All he can do is recover his Ocarina from Skull Kid and play the Song of Time to turn the clock back to the moment he arrived, over and over again.
After the first three-day cycle a deja vu effect sets in, and you must learn to anticipate the events leading up to impact and find ways to intervene. All ammunition and rupees not saved by a fortunate banking system are lost when you reset the timer, since you didn't have them to begin with, but major items are magically imbued and therefore know to stay with you.
Your first job is always to stock up on money and perishables. After that you must use your convenient scheduling notebook to be in the right place at the right time to save an old lady from being mugged, prove a monkey's innocence or witness an important confession. It is sometimes annoying that people you've helped get all their problems back at the beginning of the cycle, but unless you stop the moon from falling any domestic problems are moot points.
The permanent time limit is an excellent device for creating atmosphere and tension. Most games have a single cataclysmic event to avoid towards the end, but here death by Armageddon is constantly on your heels. At some point every player will deliberately wait for the impact set piece, a surreal experience and a spectacular way to die. Dungeons and other tasks must be completed from start to finish within the time limit, which can be frustrating but ultimately makes sense when you have to keep resetting the world to keep it intact.
Gameplay itself is typical Zelda fare, adjusted to provide slightly tougher battles and slightly easier puzzles than Ocarina. It's still nowhere near arcade action, but most of the brain power goes into the time-related dilemmas. There are 24 masks to collect, each with its own abilities, and three of them allow Link to transform into a Deku Scrub kid, a Goron king and a Zora musician (plant-boy, rock-man and water-dude respectively). Certain abilities of Link's other forms replace some of Ocarina's items like the hammer and boomerang, and create countless strategies for defeating enemies.
The graphics have the advantage of the Expansion Pak, employed in frequent blur effects, swarms of enemies, larger environments and the near-absence of fog. Nevertheless it mostly looks just like Ocarina, and the parallel-world concept justifies the re-use of many of Ocarina's characters. The biggest difference is that Termina doesn't share Hyrule's mythology so there are no Triforce or Ganon symbols.
The sound has changed least of all with many old sound effects and melodies returning. There are more speech effects for different characters, but little actual speech. The new music fits the new situation perfectly, particularly during the last twelve hours before impact. For those who were wondering the classic Overworld theme (you know it when you hear it) IS present this time around and it's a decent version too.
There are only four dungeons in Majora not counting the final battle, as opposed to about eight in Ocarina. The long-term appeal lies in getting to know Termina inside and out, solving everyone's problems and becoming almost omniscient in your quest for every item in the game. The dawn of the fourth day can come as soon or as late as you want it to, but it is more satisfying when it does if you really know the places and the people you've saved.
Majora's Mask would need more original graphics and sound and a few more dungeons to qualify as a proper sequel. As it stands it's a worthy addition to the series with a brilliant twist pulling together Sliders, Deep Impact and Groundhog Day that makes it memorable. Rent only if you can handle all-day sessions, buy for one of the last and most novel adventures on the N64.
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