By Samuel Guzman
December 1, 2018

 

“Time Is a Valuable Thing…”

In the words of the legendary band Linkin Park time is truly a valuable thing perhaps the most valuable gift of all. Time is always cruel, it never stops “ticking life away” (another LP reference), which makes both N64 Zelda entries special, and dark titles in comparison (Twilight Princess possibly being the exception) with the rest of the series.

Both titles involve time travel of some sort, both reminding us as we play that the passage of time is cruel and inevitable. The 3DS remakes offer an even more sobering reminder of the powerful effect of time’s passing.

Nintendo took a modest minimalist approach with these remakes as the games feel and play almost exactly the same as they did 18 and 20 years ago respectively (OoT 1998, MM 2000) which is both their biggest strength and their strongest flaw.

The subject of the current review is Majora’s Mask. And this review has a truly nostalgic feel for me for a single reason; I haven’t played MM again since finishing the game 16-17 years ago with a near 100 percent completion rate (All Masks, Heart Containers, Fairies, etc.)

When I first played MM back in 2000 I was a 15 year old right in the middle of High School. My mother was alive then and I had none of the worries and responsibilities that pursue me currently in my adult age. Playing MM 3D on my New 3DS XL was a trip down memory lane. It was at times eerie, and sad just like Termina (MM’s game world) is for the most part. Seventeen years went by in a flash, and Majora’s Mask was constantly reminding me of it.

“The Clock Ticks Life Away….”

The original MM was a beautiful game considering that the N64 was on its last legs. The Dreamcast had been out for a year and the then ultra powerful PS2 had just entered the scene. Majora’s made use of the N64’s 4MB Ram Pack (which boosted the system’s total RAM to 8MB) to great effect. Unlike some of the other N64 titles at the time instead of using the RAM pack for a hi resolution mode (compromising frame rate) it was cleverly used to provide colorful textures, larger areas, etc. Link’s character model and the overall color richness of the game improved upon the already stellar looking Ocarina of Time by a small margin.

The 3DS iteration doesn’t quite pull the same trick. It looks nearly identical to OoT 3DS. That being said Grezzo does a great job in preserving the original title’s feel even if the color palette (as in Ocarina 3D) is a tad brighter. Termina looks and feels different from Hyrule. This was quite the accomplishment on the N64 since it ran on the same engine. It is still an accomplishment on the 3DS even if it could have looked better. OoT 3D to me looked more spectacular in 2011 than MM looked in 2015. But that shouldn’t count against the game. MM is still one of the better looking 3DS games out there.

Termina is teeming with distinct colors and each region feels entirely different. The remake is based on the Zelda featuring the shortest development cycle in history, and the fact that almost every NPC and asset was recycled from Ocarina helped. All that said, MM feels eerily different. Nintendo played with the color palette a bit and the end result was an outstanding one.

The greatest trick Grezzo (the developer in charge of the remasters) pulls here is fooling your eyes and mind into thinking this is how Majora’s Mask always looked filling old time players with an indescribable nostalgic wave of memories of what perhaps were simpler times.

On the downside the bosses don’t look much better than they did in the original. Unlike OoT 3D I am not entirely sure that the bosses models were improved in polygon count. The game world itself doesn’t feel as grand as Hyrule and yet…

“In the End It Doesn’t Even Matter…”

A common debate online over MM and OoT is the actual scope and size of the games. OoT fanboys claim that MM is just a side game and not a full fledged Zelda. MM fans say that the lively characters more than make up for the lack of dungeons. Both camps are wrong. MM is just as long and as ambitious as Ocarina of Time, and the characters while fully fleshed out across three days are not exactly deeper even though they are more meaningful to the story than Ocarina’s.

I played both games back to back on the 3DS and MM clocked at 27 hours while the “larger” OoT clocked at 19 hours. Now this shouldn’t be taken as an official measurement as I have played Ocarina for years finishing the game more times than I can count, so I already knew what to do before hand with exact precision. MM is the more difficult game and I didn’t really have a lot of know how as it had been 17 years since I had finished the original title. The main take away from those measurements should be that MM is indeed a fully realized triple A Zelda game.

Majora’s Mask shook up the Zelda formula more than any other game since the Adventure of Link and at the same time it didn’t. MM still played by Ocarina’s rules. You still need a key item in order to proceed to new areas (temples/dungeons) and to move the plot forward. What threw a wrench into the entire procedure was the fact that you were running against a 3 day (36 minutes) clock.

The Ocarina of Time once a vital item in Link’s inventory, now in MM takes an indispensable role in the advancement of the adventure. Quite simply put; the world goes into literal oblivion if Link can’t play the Song of Time over, and over, and OVER again. Eventually different variations of the song will speed or slow time but the clock will always remain ticking towards doomsday.

The giant Moon that looms over Termina moves ever closer towards its final destination with each passing second, and truth be told, back in 2000 the gigantic Moon was an impressive anxiety inducing sight. Today though for what ever reason the Moon no longer left me in awe…perhaps because I am older or maybe because I have seen more impressive sights in the 18 years since I first played MM.

MM still delivers a sense of urgency that no other game in the series matches. I can’t relax while playing. Even 18 years later I am always keeping track of time, always moving, and always trying to get done as much as I can get done before resetting time.

The constant 3 day recycle mechanic is the one thing that will cause a rift between players. Some will find the game a brilliant masterpiece while others will find the game a brilliant impenetrable mess.

While I was never frustrated by the original iteration of the game, others didn’t fare as well. Time is of the essence, and as a High School Junior in 2000, I had an endless amount of time to play games. I could play MM in 8-10 hour binge sittings. It was on those weekends in which I got most of the work done in the original version. The tedious save system and the near unforgivable time mechanic (missing an event on a quest forced the player to reset time and start all over again) was harsh on players that couldn’t afford as much play time in a day.

The 3DS version eases some of these pains. By playing the Song of Double Time you can now fast forward to exact times of the remaining days instead of six hours at a time. A small but necessary touch which facilitates the accomplishment of missions mainly by cutting short long waiting times between game events.

The save system has been over hauled. No longer saving at owl statues means you have to quit the game, and there are more of them in the form of quills in different spots across the overworld. The 3DS also by design provides an easy way to take rests by just closing the device and going into sleep mode. As long as the battery doesn’t run out you will always be able to pick up from where you left off with practical ease; something that was impossible to do on the N64.

A big issue present in the original game was the fact that keeping track of every NPC and their daily routine could be in some instances a frustrating task. After all without prior knowledge a lot of success relied on monk like patience with a lot of trial and error involved.

MM is still a daunting undertaking in that department, as a deviation from that formula would have changed the game in fundamental fashion. Nintendo again eases the pain by improving the Bombers Note Book.

Even minor NPCs are now listed in it and a map shows you were to go in order to start a particular mission. The game carries out like it always did, it just facilitates the procedures by offering a competent journal system that for the most part eliminates the need of a real life notebook as a companion during your play through.

These issues addressed, MM remains a complicated game mainly because it was designed as such. It was a game for those of us that had completed Ocarina and were looking for a different and ultimately more difficult challenge.

For the most part when the three day cycle is taken out of the equation the game plays just like Ocarina did. You go through dungeons by order. Each dungeon has puzzles and a boss (now with visible weak spots) to conquer. All of this builds into a final confrontation with an end boss, which upon completion reveals the ending scenes and credits.

There are only four dungeons. Apart from the Swamp one which was too easy for my liking the remaining 3 are properly sized Zelda dungeons.

The quality of their design and puzzles varies, with two of them being amongst the weakest in the series and the Stone Tower Temple being one of the very best.

This (the small number of dungeons) has been a point of contention amongst many Zelda fans. Considering the small development cycle and the fact that for the most part these are some of the weakest dungeons in the series perhaps it was for the best that the number was reduced.

Before reaching each dungeon you have to solve a myriad of tasks and puzzles in the surrounding regions anyways. Basically the amount of time and effort required for reaching a dungeon is the equivalent of an extra dungeon. I didn’t have a problem back in 2000 with this nor do I have one now 18 years later.

The bosses are actually some of the most difficult in the series especially because the pressure of ending the fight before running out of time is ever present.

Each dungeon and boss brings a challenge that can be solved by using your collection of main masks. The masks, once a fun diversion of little consequence in Ocarina of Time, now take center stage as vital key items on your quest.

Apart from the awesome cosmetic transformations they provide Link with, they also endow our hero with different abilities innate to each particular race. Deku Link can fly short distances when shot up from Deku flower launch pads. Goron Link has massive strength and a super Sonic roll ability which allows for fast roaming of the land making Epona almost a useless side diversion in the game. Zora Link, perhaps coolest of all, has the capacity for infinite underwater exploration massively improving Link’s swimming abilities.

The combination of the previously stated abilities are necessary for the completion of the game’s later dungeons and it is in those instances were MM truly shines gameplay wise.

Nintendo did a wonderful job in the controls of the original title considering the gamut of abilities Link acquired with each main mask. In the transition to the 3DS some of the precision of the original N64 joystick seems to have been lost. Controlling Goron Link while rolling at full speed has become a difficult and slightly imprecise task. This was evident in the Goron Race, which took me a surprising amount of tries in order to get 1st place (and the golden dust) in the mini-game.

The last section of optional mini dungeons on the Moon accentuated this fact, as near total mastery of the ability was required in order to succeed.

That said everything else feels like it felt back in the original with the all important addition of free camera control with the C stick (a feature exclusive to the “New” 3DS/2DS models). This small addition brings MM to the modern era of 3rd person action games allowing for a better appreciation of the environments. I wish this functionality could be patched into Ocarina of Time 3D but I won’t hold my breath.

Termina is gigantic though having Clock Town right in the middle of Termina Field some what diminishes the epic illusion OoT created when walking in the mostly unobstructed Hyrule Field.

A quick Google search shows that no one has taken up the task of measuring MM in square miles, so for the sake of accuracy I can’t say that it is larger or smaller than Ocarina.

Yet a comparison must be made…Clock Town is larger than any city present in Ocarina. Larger and bustling with activity in every nook and cranny. Merchants, a Bank (make deposits in every cycle other wise you will lose all of your rupees every time you reset time), a hotel, and even a Milk bar operate in the town.

The field is expansive and the adjacent areas are deep and full of stuff to do and discover. The Swamp area felt larger than the Forest area in Ocarina, as did Great Bay in comparison to Lake Hylia. Romani Ranch is a field in itself dwarfing Lon Lon Ranch. Twist my arm today and the more I think about it the more I convince myself that indeed MM is the larger game.

As usual MM has a collection of side things to do and uncover when wanting to step away from the main quest. Heart Pieces and even a few Skulltula hunting places are available.

Perhaps the most notable additions to the myriad of side quests and mini-games available in MM are the two fishing ponds (the original missed the iconic mini-game) and the new side quest that earns you a 7th empty bottle.

Aside from the usual Zelda collectible items, the main goal in MM is to collect 24 masks by performing a variety of quests involving NPCs and in a particular case even a 3 day spanning quest that actually takes Link to the very brink of Doomsday.

These quests for mask hunting are the true meat of the game. As Nintendo did a flawless job writing each single NPC quest.

Masks, even the regular non-vital ones, grant special abilities that facilitate other side quests. In short, full completion of the game, including hearts, will require a full collection of masks. Collecting all the masks grants you a shot at the Fierce Deity Mask which turns Link into a supped up super version of his adult self.

That particular mask will come in handy when re-fighting bosses in order to clear areas and save time for side questing.

“I Had to Fall to Lose It All…”

MM’s story deals in the immediate aftermath of Link’s return to his childhood after Ocarina of Time ends.

Link is roaming Lost Woods or somewhere beyond presumably in search of Navi with Epona when the Skull Kid wearing Majora’s Mask steals his Ocarina of Time after a weird sequence of events.

Link gives chase and ends up falling down a rabbit hole of sorts. After the fall and some Skull Kid mischief he finds himself without a horse, the Ocarina, and even his own humanity (or should I say Hylianity) as he was turned into a Deku Scrub by the mischievous villain.

To make a long story short Link loses everything except for the company of Tatl, a fairy friend of the Skull Kid no less that will replace Navi for the remainder of the adventure.

The early stages of the story are a drag. The Deku Scrub is the most hindering form Link can take and he is trapped on this form for the remainder of the three days. At the end of the three day cycle the giant clock in Clock Town opens (with only six minutes to spare before the Moon falls ending everything and everyone in Termina) giving Link the opportunity to go up the Clock Tower in order to retrieve the Ocarina from Skull Kid.

After that nothing of consequence happens between Link and Skull Kid (though the Skull Kid has caused havoc across some regions of Termina) before you are ready to take on him again after gaining the help from the 4 Giants (the completion of the four dungeons).

The story by itself while weird, and truth be told original, is nothing to write home about. Yet MM isn’t so much about Link saving the land from the falling Moon, while giving the Skull Kid a proper smackdown, but rather about the daily trials and tribulations of the NPCs living in Termina 3 days before their annual Carnival or more grimly put; 3 days before they all die in an apocalyptic event of epic proportions.

Every NPC in Termina has a 3 day story to tell, and reliving the 3 days for an uncountable amount of times gives you the opportunity to learn each and every one of them. The fact that character models have been reused lends a certain familiarity to the NPCs that is difficult to ignore.

Romani and Cremia (Malon child/adult) are probably the most resounding example of this familiarity effect.

Romani and Cremia are carbon copies of Malon both in look and personality. Link must have felt awkward dealing with them in such a strange land. But the fact that you as the player immediately care about their predicament can in part be a residual effect of her (Malon) importance in Ocarina of Time.

Their ranch falls victim of a ghost alien siege every year before the Carnival of Time. This particular year Romani plots to stop them and asks for Link’s assistance. Accepting and defeating the aliens in a truly haunting and eerie scene sets up further missions necessary for the advancement of mask collection. Failing to do so or worse ignoring Romani’s plight changes the course of history and gets Romani abducted…and returned in a broken mental state.

Link’s failure to act leads to obscure and tragic fates for more than one NPC. MM is often referred to as the darkest title in the series. Creepy imagery along with explicit references to wandering spirits (The Garo), the embodiment of spirits in masks (Link’s masks contain the spirits of a dead Deku Scrub, a Goron, and a Zora), and an enemy resembling death itself among many other dark themes have helped to bolster such claims. But perhaps darker than all is the impossibility for Link to help everyone and the weight of that reality in the player’s mind.

Romani and Cremia can be helped, but that in all probability means that the girl in Ikana Canyon will always keep her father chained as a zombie creature in their basement because Link can’t solve everyone’s issues in a single time line.

All Link has is three days, perhaps most distressing of all, is that even when he helps somebody the eventual time reset means that it was all for naught.

MM might in fact be the most mature Zelda of all when all of the NPC scripts, sub plots, imagery, and suggestive themes are taken into account. It is miraculous that a game that constantly reminds you that death, not just in the game, but in actual life, is inevitably coming somehow got an E rating. So what was Nintendo’s greatest trick besides creating a scripted world that gave the impression that its citizens were alive? Fooling everyone and their mother into thinking that Zelda MM is a kid’s game.

Linkin Past…

Grezzo succeeded in recreating MM in a way that is both pleasing in 2017-18 and a faithful reminder of what it was to play the N64 classic 18 years ago. MM is still after all of these years unique in its approach and its repetitive 3 day cycle. As such, it probably aged even better than its untouchable predecessor.

There has been numerous references to Linkin Park in the review mainly because like playing the game, listening to Hybrid Theory which was ironically released two days before MM did in October 2000, brought me back in time to those simpler days.

Days in which I thought I would live forever, my mother was alive, and Chester Bennington began a career of hits. Playing MM today is a nostalgic ride full of depressing moments at the realization that my mother no longer walks with me and even the immortal Chester no longer walks the earth.

“In the End” is a song about time, its cruel inevitable passage, and the futility of the struggle in our lives. It perfectly embodies MM; a game about time and the futility of Link’s struggle to save a doomed world. Link saves Termina in the end, but he couldn’t really save everyone and those that he did save including himself still had a personal moon hovering ever closer to them, a ticking clock, just like us.

Gameplay: 9.5 – I find the 3 day cycle as a game play mechanic to be a fascinating idea that was executed to perfection by Nintendo. The amount of care that went into crafting such an obscene number of quests is nothing short of impressive. Two weak dungeons in a game that only has four damages the score a bit. However many of the inconveniences of the original have been improved for ease of play.

Graphics: 9.0 – The New 3DS/2DS hardware could do better, but in keeping with the original’s visual style Grezzo delivers GC quality graphics on a game possessing an ageless art direction. The frame rate is a rock steady 30fps. Textures, models, and everything in the world has been revamped.

Sound: 9.0 – The sound effects are of the same quality as those found in Ocarina. The music, however, like the rest of the game for the most part is darker and somber. Names like the “Elegy of Emptiness” convey the mood of the soundtrack for the majority of time. On a positive note there is also a “Song of Healing” and the Zelda traditional overworld music makes a return. Some familiar tunes like the “Song of Time” and “Epona’s Song” also make a welcome comeback. The 3DS offers them in stereo glory but orchestrated versions of the 18 year old soundtrack would have been a nice touch.

Story: 9.5 – Ironically, the one game that doesn’t really interfere much with the larger Zelda, Ganon, and Link saga is probably the game with the better plot. Even though a lot of it has to be inferred and analyzed by the player MM delivers a rich world with important NPCs and underlying dark themes. The Skull Kid driven (or maybe in agreement?) by the Mask of Majora is just as if not more malicious than Ganondorf. He destroys people’s lives individually and his ultimate goal is to destroy everything. Link’s personal journey in this bizarre world also happens to be the most thought provoking one.

Replay: 10 – Hey it’s Zelda! Plenty of things to collect and a deep and rewarding mask quest system ensures at least 50 hours of gameplay. You literally have to replay the game hundreds of times as it is the only way to complete it. This version adds a new quest and two fishing ponds to what already was a large game.

Overall: 9.5 – MM has aged better than any previous Zelda in my view. The reason is simple, the rinse and repeat 3 day cycle is unique in gaming and has surprisingly remained so for almost 2 decades. Slight issues with controls, the fidelity towards keeping the N64 feel in the visual package that keeps it from pushing the 3DS hardware, and a lack of orchestrated music make it a less than perfect game but still a must own for any one even remotely interested in action adventure or action RPG games.