The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask review
A Legendary Sequel
Note: Please be aware that this review is of the Wii Virtual Console release of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.
When people talk about milestones in the Legend of Zelda series, a name that crops up more often than not is Ocarina of Time; it saw the transition into 3D gaming and introduction of such iconic features as Z-targeting. So what could follow it on the same console, with the same mechanics and a lot of the same features in the form of a sequel, yet still manage to present an awesome game that stands on its own legs? Building nicely upon pre-existing features and introducing a number of its own, Majora’s Mask is a much darker game than its predecessor that develops upon such notions as the manipulation of time and physical transformations to create a title that sets in stone The Legend of Zelda’s success on the Nintendo 64. Some players will find obstacles in the way of its accessibility, but what lies at its core is a strong narrative backed by proven and improved mechanics and an engrossing atmosphere.
Set in an alternate realm called Termina, Link arrives onto the scene upon Epona as he searches for his lost friend (obviously Navi) and is accosted by a Skull Kid and – wait, a Skull Kid wearing a mask and accompanied by two fairies? Losing Epona during the ensuing struggle, Link is transformed into a Deku Scrub by the Skull Kid’s magic and left to his own devices in the forest. Eventually making it out to safety, he stumbles upon the strangely sectioned out hub of game called Clock Town and an old friend who helps him with his plight by returning him to his original form. The eccentric character then proceeds to tell Link that he needs his help in stopping the aforementioned Skull Kid in his plans and regaining a special mask. Later on during this undertaking, finding himself above the town about to be crushed by the very moon itself, Link calls upon the power of the Ocarina to send himself hurtling back through time, back into the role of the hero.
Masks become the flavour of the day in Majora’s Mask, with Link matching fire-with-fire by collecting various masks with different uses and abilities during his travels. He unravels the history behind the Skull Kid as he attempts to help liberate the races of Termina from the tightening grip of evil that envelopes it. Reunited with his horse Epona, he sets about undoing the Skull Kid’s misdeeds while finding a way to stop him and the impending doom of Termina. There are just a mere three days before the end of the world, and during each day at different times there are a number of tasks Link will have to complete. The story becomes as much about the events themselves as it does about the importance of time – of which Link once again must master if there is to be any hope of a future.
In typical Legend of Zelda fashion, the story progresses from something as small as trying to find a lost friend, to something as large as four gods that must be freed in order to stop the moon crashing down from the sky and obliterating all before it. Unlike its predecessor Ocarina of Time and its cheerful mood of hope as Link discovers his true origins and underlying strengths, Majora’s Mask sees Link devoid of any company apart from the short and insulting Tatl – even Princess Zelda is absent from the proceedings – and eerie and scary events are a consistent presence in an atmosphere of melancholy. While some characters and items have returned from Ocarina of Time, other staples like the Master Sword lack a presence (though the Gilded Sword is still pretty cool!). The dark story is a distinct departure from its predecessor, allowing Majora’s Mask to present a plot with a very different style yet still highly enjoyable to experience. The plot remains engrossing as ever – in fact, arguably even more given the constant threat of time giving a greater sense of urgency than Ocarina of Time has – and the characters are superior in number and development.
While Ocarina of Time introduced large 3D environments to the series that helped shape it into what it is today, Majora’s Mask takes it one step further with every location registering on the grand scale. From the moment you reach Clock Town – which is separated into no less than four separate sections – you can’t help but marvel at the expansive locations on offer. There’s no wasted space either, with the developers ensuring every area has something on offer with plenty of secrets abounding. There is, however, a downside to the environments: Majora’s Mask has less major dungeons than Ocarina of Time. It’s not a game-breaker, but it is a letdown after being enticed into the idea of a game bigger than Ocarina of Time to realise that the concept only extends so far. Still, utilising various masks, Epona, and the Ocarina of Time to travel across Termina is a lot of fun and what dungeons do exist are fantastic to explore. The latter method of travel makes exploring these vast landscapes particularly simple, the Ocarina of Time allowing you to teleport to any owl statue (these are also great for saving and reloading in the same spot) you’ve previously encountered during your travels. There is also a nice variety of locations, including my personal favourite of snow – and with Gorons to boot, does it get any better (the answer is no)? Branching off nicely from the central hub of Termina, these detailed locations make the adventure part of the game a real pleasure to experience.
The controls are what you’ve come to expect – assuming you’ve played Ocarina of Time. Mashing the A button will form the majority of your actions through text walls and combat alike. Also carried over into the sequel is the issue of switching items, the expenditure of time switching set items compounded by the inclusion of the large selection of masks in this title. You’ll be switching them around a lot, and you still have all the other items to deal with too. On the topic of masks, many will change the actions you are able to perform, keeping the controls in the game fresh and exciting throughout; whether it’s rolling around as a mighty Goron, or the much improved swimming mechanics as a graceful Zora, there is something different for everyone to enjoy. The much beloved automatic jump and Z-targeting mechanics also return, making life that little bit smoother for Link. There’s nothing substantially new in this title, but the controls follow the winning formula of its predecessor well.
This idea of don’t fix what isn’t broken is also evident in the structure of the combat system. Putting button-mashing aside, the Z-targeting allows for fluid fights involving multiple enemies, and a greater arsenal of weapons to employ gives Majora’s Mask its edge. Link’s capacity to gain various abilities and employ the powers of different species expands both the possibilities of how to win a fight and how it may play out. The combat system is an element that can become stagnant swiftly, but fighting through each area in a different way manages to maintain the same sense of originality evidenced by the controls. Whether it’s rolling through your enemies, or shooting blades from your arms, Majora’s Mask manages to include enough additions to set it apart. Another noteworthy point is that battling underwater is a much more pleasant experience than in Ocarina of Time. Link also seems just that little bit more agile than he did in Ocarina of Time, and having a big shield always helps!
I always praise the Legend of Zelda series for having a fantastic spread of enemies, and Majora’s Mask is no exception; many great enemies make their return, as well as some new ones popping up across Termina to challenge your mettle. Their various weaknesses will see you developing your own style of play and strategies, and their more populous spread than was evident in Ocarina of Time keeps you on your toes at all times. The bosses continue to embody the archetypal structure of being weak to a particular item(s) that make boss battles just as much about dealing the damage as it is a process of trial and error through testing what works. Majora’s Mask isn’t shy about throwing you into the fire either, with even the first boss Odolwa offering a decent level of difficulty – perhaps higher than one would expect. There is some great inspiration used in the boss battles too, such as the particularly flavoursome battle with Goht where you chase it around a circular arena dotted with bumps and obstacles by rolling around in the Goron form. It is a shame there isn’t more bosses present in the game, but what is there is of a high quality that makes for some memorable clashes.
There are also some fantastic puzzles, many of them appearing outside of dungeons – let’s just forget the ones that involve pushing a block/crate/something for the sake of our analytical sanity. The puzzles make great use of all the items at Link’s disposal, encouraging the player to use everything they come to collect. The spread of some puzzles across Termina also healthily encourages backtracking. Although some puzzles might leave you scratching your head a bit (what is it with these developers and making water dungeons harder to navigate?), they never become too frustrating or difficult. From the simple to the elaborate, there’s a well balanced mixture of puzzles to enjoy, with many encountered during your travels to keep things exciting.
Let’s face it: the masks are the most prominent feature of this title, with a grand total of twenty-four to collect in the game. It’s not necessary to collect the entire set, but it is a fun goal to strive for nevertheless. Most of the masks entail an interesting ability or two, and are a lot of fun to play around with and discover your favourite(s). Whether it’s the ability to run really fast, turn invisible, or become a living bomb, there’s a fantastic variety of effects to experiment with. They also provide a great way of tying together the various parts of the plot, with the overarching story of the Skull Kid and Majora’s Mask culminating in a fantastic climax which is directly affected by how many masks you have collected during the game – a good enough reason to collect them all if you didn’t have one already. As aforementioned, switching in and out masks can be a bit of a pain, but this slight loss of time can be forgiven in favour of the potential fun on offer. Not to mention the cut scenes involved with putting on some of the masks certainly contribute to the creepy vibe of the title.
If dressing up isn’t your thing, however, then perhaps you’ll like the three-day time limit – or hate it, as there seems to be no real in-between. With the plot of Majora’s Mask revolving around the concept of having three days to save Termina, many events are time-specific and the game will see you doing a lot – and I mean a lot – of time travel. On the one hand you can argue this in itself brings some strategy to the title, while on the other hand you can say that it’s a waste of time (terrible joke) and simply serves to disrupt the flow of the title. Yet considering you can slow the progress of time by half its original speed, the time mechanic isn’t a huge issue in the game as long as you can remember/keep track of what happens and when. The retainment of the day-to-night system gives the game a nice sense of realism. As time progresses, the moon will slowly draw closer and closer toward Clock Town, creating a nice sense of urgency and action to proceedings. The only niggle – which most people will agree on – is that to travel back in time, you will lose all of your basic items like bombs and arrows (don’t worry, all your necessary and special items are safe). This means that, each time you go back in time, you will need to spend a few minutes doing some item grinding which... well, it becomes jaded quickly. Fortunately this doesn’t take long, and the amount of necessary grinding depends on what you’re doing, so it’s up to you as the player to judge when the best time (another poor joke) is to go back to the first day.
So if there aren’t as many major dungeons and bosses in this title, where does Majora’s Mask find its long life? Well, unlike its predecessor, Majora’s Mask is a big fan of side quests. Reversing the role of main and side quests, Majora’s Mask attributes much of its longevity to actions outside of the main plot. While it does answer the want for more side quests generated by Ocarina of Time, it is a shame that this comes at the neglect of continuing to provide a lot of main quest content too – more giant areas full of puzzles, enemies and obstacles are always fun. A natural expectation with video games is a progression through a series to become bigger and better and, while Majora’s Mask certainly delivers a quality experience, it is a shame that there weren’t more fantastic dungeons and bosses to encounter, for example. Having said this, there is a lot of interesting side quests to be discovered, which will certainly reward the more curious of players. Whether it’s protecting a farm from an alien invasion, or lifting a curse structured around an all too familiar outbreak of spiders, the plethora of side quests on offer means there’s always something to do that won’t take up too much of your time.
Think back to Ocarina of Time, picture it a little bit more polished, and you have yourself Majora’s Mask’s graphics – well, almost; complimenting its well developed dark story, Majora’s Mask is often a lot darker and, well, creepy in its appearance. Notable examples of this include the seemingly horrifically painful depiction of changing form via masks and the Happy Mask Salesman shaking Link vigorously after finding out his most special mask is lost. To get back to the quality: Link’s appearance, for example, is just that little more detailed than before. Like the previous title, it makes good use of the capabilities of the Nintendo 64. In fact, it tests them further with huge and highly detailed locations, making exploring the world of Termina a feast for the eyes. Like its antecedent, however, Majora’s Mask does suffer from a slight issue of lag, but it is easy to adjust to. The cut scenes look great too, framing the story nicely without becoming tedious.
Like other Legend of Zelda titles, Majora’s Mask has a distinct absence of voice acting beyond grunts and other emotionally-based sounds. Where the game truly shines, is in its music: a fantastic soundtrack of beautiful melodies, though a lot of darker songs than the usual affair to soundly complete the sinister atmosphere of the title. This extends to the use of the Ocarina itself, such as the droning sound of the Inverted Song of Time that will haunt you long after Link has finished the last note. The sound effects are largely what fans have come to know from Ocarina of Time, from the satisfying ringing of steel to the whinny of Epona. Overall, the audio contributes well to the general tone of Termina, entailing a little more influence than existed in Ocarina of Time.
Despite being comparable to Ocarina of Time in a number of ways and following in its wake, Majora’s Mask manages to present itself as a distinctive and pleasing package that should please all fans of the series. With a healthy longevity and a high replay value that is a staple of Legend of Zelda titles, Majora’s Mask is one of those games that need to be experienced. Despite having fewer dungeons than may have been expected by some and a focus on time that may have bothered others, it’s a solid title with a strong atmosphere and engrossing nature. While Ocarina of Time introduced the Legend of Zelda series to 3D, Majora’s Mask has surely helped to reinforce its place there for years to come.
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