Majora’s Mask Through the Lens of Truth

 
Majora’s Mask is a bit of an oddity in the Zelda series. Opinions about it range from utter hatred to praising it as the best in the franchise. Between these varying opinions, there are very few to be found in the middle of the spectrum; it is a rather divisive title and debate quickly turns into flame wars between naysayers and cult followers. Surprisingly, I find myself on the fence regarding this title. I suppose there has to be one guy to prove the rule, and as the chosen one (apparently) I shall not let you down. As usual, I will be rating this game based on graphics, sound, gameplay, and story. Prepare for as neutral a review as this game ever shall receive. Surprisingly, it is still a fairly positive piece.

Graphics

Originally the project began when the Big N sent word to the Zelda team that they needed to have a new title ready, compatible with the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak, and the deadline was the year two thousand, giving them a two-year timeframe. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto, being pleased with the final product of Ocarina of Time, saw this time crunch as a problem, but one that could be dealt with by creating an upgraded version of the game instead of building something from the ground up. In the end, this laid the groundwork for the Master Quest version later to come. Ocarina’s director, EIji Aonuma, had a new idea, though. He envisioned a new, somewhat smaller game which could be created more quickly by reusing assets from the previous. Miyamoto agreed and the project was handed over to him along with another director from Ocarina, Yoshiaki Koizumi.

What does this mean for the graphics? It means that almost every texture and character within Majora’s Mask was just copied and pasted from one game to another. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The timeframe in mind, there was really nothing to be done about it. What I might ordinarily pass off as laziness, in this case I applaud the creativity in reusing elements to meet the end goal by the deadline.

In addition to using the same textures and character models, the game did improve the graphics to run with the new technology. The difference was slight, in my opinion, but in a few areas and designs, you could see a little more detail that did enhance the game. Plus many things had to be created from the ground up, such as new enemies and of course, all those masks. My primary concern with this is that the only original designs that I found interesting whatsoever were the four bosses. I thought the new enemies, such as Bombchus and Chuchus, were strange at best, and downright ugly at worst.

As for the 3DS remake, they made wonderful use of the new technology as they had with Ocarina of Time 3D. My one complaint here would be the inexplicable addition of giant eyeballs in random places on the four bosses. I believe the bosses were astounding as-is, and the eyeballs really threw off the look of each one, as well as adding additional problems I will cover in the Gameplay section.

Overall, I liked the game graphically, since at the time it boasted a better version of visuals many consider the console’s best. My favorite part was the original artwork, since it clearly kept that distinct style Yusuke Nakano had created for the original, with a slightly darker tone to match the otherworldly feel of the game. Still, a handful of awkward amendments (varying between versions) irk me enough to scratch a few points off from its predecessor. Eight out of ten.

Sound

The sound for this game is difficult to rank, as the sound effects were literally identical to those of Ocarina. I do not intend to repeat myself, so feel free to check out my previous Lens of Truth if you do so desire.

The score itself is a little easier to undertake. Koji Kondo returned, so we know it should be good, and he does not disappoint. Dungeon themes were among the series’ best, and who can forget the themes eerily echoing through Clock Town and the Southern Swamp? The only tune I did not have much passion for was the new overworld theme. It worked for the game, but just never sat well with me as a tune to sit and listen to. I attribute this partially to the fact that the game had to follow Ocarina of Time, and I do not think any overworld theme could really compete under that circumstance, much less a theme that was so similar. Whatever the case, it was a well crafted tune, but not my cup of tea.

Kondo’s most difficult challenge for Ocarina was delivering interesting tunes that were playable with only five notes to input, and I can assume that was not much easier for Majora’s Mask. Despite the difficulty of following up what he had initially created, he managed to outdo himself with the Song of Healing. The simple tune was not only interesting as the basic form primarily played, but also took the form of a longer number featured in various scenes.

When Link plays the Song of Healing for a character who has departed, the spirit of that person is able to find relief from the troubles it left behind in the world and able to move on to the next. This tune is tied into the story better than any other from Ocarina or Majora’s Mask, and possibly better than any part of any game’s music. In addition, the setting of the lengthened version is beautiful, bittersweet, and memorable beyond words. It is proof that concepts which words cannot convey can be communicated through music.

With my only complaint being a boring overworld theme, I can safely say the music is just as astounding as I expect out of the series. The sound effects were fine, but not really improved over Ocarina. Overall the quality was still there for the time, and this game earns a nine out of ten for sound.

Gameplay

The game had the colossal challenge of convincing players they were not playing Ocarina of Time while reusing… well, everything, as I keep saying. On this note, however, gameplay was changed significantly with the addition of a new mechanic which we have not seen since; the power to transform into different races with totally different combat abilities. The transformation masks were key to set this game apart, since without them it literally would have felt like a DLC pack rather than a standalone title.

That said, the most fun combat in the game was experienced while wearing the Zora and Goron Masks. The new abilities were such a change from series norms, and really added a unique element not often seen outside of RPGs with heavy customization. Playing as a different race in Zelda is an aspect whose return is widely requested throughout the community, yet it seems in recent years that we will not likely find it outside of Hyrule Warriors anytime soon.

Other than the key transformation masks, I am somewhat on the fence over the entire concept. Several masks granted great abilities, while the vast majority (or should I say “Majora-ty) were superfluous collectibles that served no purpose beyond finally obtaining the Fierce Deity Mask.

Masks aside, this title brought to the table a few other unique quirks that set it apart, and these are possibly the true reason why the Zelda fanbase is so torn on this game. For example, the infamous three-day cycle was a clever inclusion which was implemented to artificially increase gameplay time by forcing players to repeat some tasks or farm more arrows before returning to their quest.

This would almost have been acceptable had you been able to save at any point, as most previous games, but you could not. The only way to save restarted the cycle, unless you wanted to quick-save at an owl statue. That is pretty absurd. In a series like Zelda, the ability to put down the game in the middle of a dungeon is almost a necessity, and this goes doubly for Majora’s Mask. The dungeons were the most difficult to date in a 3D world, and that was by no small margin. Do not get me wrong, I love the dungeons, and I will get to them in a second, but with how immense they were combined with the complexity of the puzzles within, I have a hard time imagining how the average gamer could complete it within the three day time limit their first go-round.

Personally I like to take my time with Zelda games and explore every little bit of the dungeon, and I distract myself so much with this that I often do not even notice the puzzle in front of me until I have passed it a few times. If I could have saved in the middle of a dungeon after completing each puzzle and then gone back to that save after solving the next one to do it more quickly, absolutely I could have beaten any dungeon in a single sitting. That would have been tedious, but I would have had more patience for it than I did when I had to start over from the beginning of the dungeon every time I saved. It was like if the Temple of the Ocean King in Phantom Hourglass was the entire game. Your argument now may be “but the 3DS version fixed all that!” I have news for you. If it was so crappy that they had to fix it to make the game playable, it was a major error that should never have been included in the first place.

Awkwardly segueing to the aforementioned dungeons, I was floored by the phenomenal design. This is the only 3D Zelda game to approach the level of non-linearity in my favorite 2D titles, and in fact put just about every 3D game ever made to shame. Add to that some perplexing puzzles that are really off the wall and you have what I am proud to call the most difficult dungeons in the series. Well okay, four of the top five because nothing can compete with Ganon’s Tower from Link to the Past.

The only gripe I have about the dungeons is kind of a big one, since the original version was fine, and in this case they fixed something that nobody had a problem with. I am speaking of the bosses. As I stated previously, each boss was inexplicably given a gigantic eyeball that became their weak point. Upon playing the remake, I did not even think this would be the kind of change that would ever be made, so I went in and attempted to fight Odolwa the same way I always had, and of course that did not work. Frustrated and confused, I turned to a guide (a rare occurrence from me) and was flabbergasted at why such a nonsensical change could be made to an already satisfying boss fight.

Overall, the gameplay additions from Ocarina of Time that worked worked wonderfully, but those that did not made this the most tedious game in the series. The same can be said about the remake. I almost considered doing two Lens of Truth entries for this particular game and its remake because of the massive differences, however I decided that those differences were good and bad a roughly equal amount of the time, so it evens out and I can save you the trouble of reading the same article twice. This game gets a six out of ten pretty much all thanks to the godawful three-day mechanic.

Story

The main storyline is completely irrelevant. Seriously, it is not bad, has its twists and turns and makes for a reason to finish the game almost compelling enough to deal with going back in time every time you want to save, but it pales in comparison to the side-quests.

Side-quests make up a game world. Without them, every random NPC would have no good reason to exist within that world, and it would feel flat and uninteresting. This world is full of characters with stories that Link can explore through these quests. Almost every character in the world interacts with the rest of the world on some level or another, and in an ironic twist, this is thanks to the three-day system I loathe so much.

Despite absolutely ruining my experience and making the game feel downright unplayable at points, the three-day system offered the most lushly detailed world that the series has ever seen. Breath of the Wild stands a chance because of… different things I will explain when I get to that review… but the cold truth of the matter is that the inhabitants of Termina are aware of their imminent demise, and are living out the last three days of their lives repeatedly. It is like Groundhog Day only with Bill Murray replaced by a Skull Kid to keep you company, it is more depressing than hilarious. Each character followed the path they chose to live their last moments, and Link got to help almost every one find peace or make peace with the world with which they had shared their life. Where the primary story is a sentence, the side-quests comprise a novel written better than almost any in gaming history. Perfect ten.

Overall

Majora’s Mask was impressive for what it was. It was a game that developers were given a much shorter amount of time than was ordinarily necessary to complete such a work, and through creative use of what they had, they actually made something much better than one might expect. That said, I really have no strong feelings about it. I enjoy a dark story now and again, but it was about a quarter as dark as Link’s Awakening, so I do not find much redemption in that regard. The gameplay was good, but it stole most of that from Ocarina of Time.

In the end, I cannot get over the incredible fluke in design that the three-day system presented mechanically, even if they later repaired it. It was as annoying as a person telling you Zelda II has a redeeming quality, and so I have no special place in my heart for Majora’s Mask. It was not bad, and I am glad they made something as good as this in the time allotted, but Ocarina of Time it is not. Final verdict: thirty-three out of a possible forty.

Current Rankings

Ocarina of Time: 40/40
Link’s Awakening: 40/40
A Link to the Past: 39/40
Majora’s Mask: 33/40
The Legend of Zelda: 30/40
The Adventure of Link: 19/40