October 16, 2018
The N64 released an era of video games that changed the gaming industry as a whole. Some titles that may come to mind are Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Paper Mario, and many more. These games bring nostalgia and good memories rushing back, but examining their elements and judging them critically as adults can be rewarding. Let’s dive into Majora’s Mask, and why in my opinion it is better than its predecessor Ocarina of Time.
Majora’s Mask was our second adventure into the world of 3D Zelda and admittedly it looked quite familiar. This was because Majora’s Mask was created using the same engine as Ocarina of Time and several assets were reused. Some fans have stated that it makes it feel like more of a rehash, but Majora’s Mask actually uses the assets for different purposes. Examples are different characters including plot arches and different areas that include our familiar races of Deku, Goron, Zora, and Hylian. Our young hero has become seasoned after his first adventure and a cute nod to this are the flips and jumps he makes near the opening of the game. Showing a small amount of growth and experience that Link has retained from his previous adventures.
Besides the aesthetics, let’s dig into the plots of these games. In Ocarina of Time we are halting Ganon’s destruction and takeover of Hyrule. While Majora’s Mask features the world of Termina and the Moon crashing directly into it. Both signal the end all be all in their own right, but our hero Link has always stood up to the task. What’s interesting is that the villains are completely different as well as their motives. Majora’s Mask showcases Skull Kid a lonely, sad kid who wants the attention and friends he once possessed. One day he robs the Happy Masked Salesman and upon dawning Majora’s Mask, the puppet is born. The true enemy of this game is Majora, but he preys on Skull Kid’s childish emotions and desperation to do his bidding. Even if his instructions lead to ending his life and those who reside in Termina. It’s terrifying when you put this into prospective. Imagine seeing our Moon come closer and closer to Earth, but feeling useless as there is no way to extend the time you have left. While this may seem like Ganon’s destructive vision, I would argue that the Moon constantly lingering overheard in the world of Termina is a more potent and present fear. Ganondorf’s eyes may chill you to the bone, but our encounters with him in Ocarina of Time are far more limited than the Moon’s appearance in Majora’s Mask. So how do we keep the world from exploding in a fiery ball of death? Link is told to go to four different locations and awaken the four who reside there. It’s a little bit cryptic, but it translates to defeating four different dungeons and releasing the evil spirits of the bosses. This keeps the formula of a typical quest including dungeons you must conquer and items to add to your growing arsenal. You are kept underneath a time limit of three days, but this can be managed through playing your Ocarina and changing the flow of time.
What makes this journey worthwhile? What makes us go through these dungeons and even attempt to save the world? The music and excellent design. A well crafted dungeon can feature puzzles, music that you’ll be humming later, and a cool item to help you on your journey. If you’re lucky maybe even a rewarding boss fight. Majora’s Mask has a few of these things littered throughout its experience. The first temple for example is for the Deku Scrubs in Woodfall. Take one step inside and it’s dark, haunting, and wraps you up in music that sounds like the chanting of a tribe. This oozes personality and is quite memorable as you fly from flower to flower as a Deku Scrub. The dungeon itself is relatively easy to ease you into the game and help make some core mechanics understandable. Without a doubt the music is memorable and displays characteristics of the Deku Scrub race. They are abundant, powerful, and are organized through the royal blood line. As far as first impressions go, this game pulls you in with Woodfall Temple and shows that puzzles, spooky music, and mechanical flowers can save your life from drowning.
Overall the feeling most fans seem to sense from this game is melancholy, perhaps this is because it is our second time being young Link. Or these feelings could come from the dark symbolism displayed in Majora’s Mask. Link often talks with dead people to learn what troubles them. He visits areas that are suffering from a curse placed by Skull Kid and frees them so they may find happiness again. Be it the cold, poison, or a drought Link helps many characters throughout this game. The lesson that may be present is acceptance. As aforementioned Link speaks with the dead and often attempts to heal or answer their dying wish. This can be connected to helping someone accept their death and understand that while they may not have been able to do what they wanted in their lifetime, things can still change for the better.
Another example of fantastic design is the boss fight for Snowhead Temple. This temple is for the Gorons and features Goht, a huge mechanical goat that you must first unfreeze and then defeat. It’s appearance is interesting, but the key components of the fight are well designed. The game designers end up using the Goron Mask’s mechanic of rolling around in many different ways. In order for you to practice and become better at it, they decided to center the fight around the Goron Mask entirely. The room where you discover Goht is laid out like a race track. To defeat him you must roll around, ram yourself into him, and hit his weak spot. You perform this routine about four times until he finally rams himself into a wall. This boss fight is fun, action packed, and doesn’t even involve your sword. You take advantage of one of the three transformation masks in the game and it even helps prepare you for using it in the future. This boss fight is rewarding and is unlike anything featured in Ocarina of Time or any other Legend of Zelda game to date.
Consider the dreaded Water Temple, I’m pretty sure everyone fell into the habit of dropping into water and equipping and unequipping your Iron Boots. In the Nintendo 64 version this could not be done without transitioning to your menu each time. In Majora’s Mask we are met with the need to traverse water again, but the Zora’s Mask allows you to freely swim through the water, swim to the surface, or sink to the bottom. It doesn’t require you to switch items or open a menu at all, unless you need to equip the mask. Upon playing through both of these games I personally saw this as a major improvement. I don’t believe the main gimmick of changing the water level in the temple as being difficult to grasp, but rather traversing or getting lost in the temple being the more common issue. In Majora’s Mask they take out this annoying process of needing to fall or rise to the surface of water and I’m grateful for this change. There are a few other differences between these temples such as the inclusion of Princess Ruto and puzzles, but this was a major mechanic in the dungeon that I felt Nintendo fixed.
Next, let’s face it, we couldn’t be talking about Majora’s Mask without discussing the masks. There are several masks in this game and just about all of them serve a purpose. You have the transformations, some that aid you in side quests, the Bunny Hood that allows you to move faster, and even a Bomb Mask that lets Link blow himself up. I loved the emphasis of masks in this game because it has never been included or copied in any other Legend of Zelda title. Something I would like to define is the masks do not make this game completely brand new, but rather serve as a well integrated mechanic. Keep in mind that the Link we play as is from Ocarina of Time, but he doesn’t have the Master Sword anymore. He doesn’t have to save Hyrule or defeat Ganon, instead he is forced to defend himself by other means and use masks to accomplish different tasks. He uses masks to complete dungeons, collect stray fairies, and even have different interactions with the NPC’s littered throughout Termina. I understand this isn’t present in another game in the series, but I want to acknowledge how well this game was built around the many different functions of the masks. It helps makes Majora’s Mask memorable and throws a lot of the original Zelda formula mechanics out the window despite this being a sequel to Ocarina of Time. We’ve played through his previous adventure, but now he is going to embark on a new one for completely different reasons.
Finally I’d like to close with the side quests featured in the game and what you earn for completing these two titles. For Ocarina of Time our main narrative is compelling and doesn’t feature any side quests because the adventure itself is the focus. In Majora’s Mask the focus is prominent, but you are also allowed to learn about the NPC’s through side quests. You talk to them and get a gauge on their personalities as well as aid them in simple tasks. What other game can you say you’ve defended cows? The characters experience things based off of the three day cycle and what you as the player decide to do. I personally loved the side quests and garnering reactions on the final day from characters. Anju and Kafei, two popular lovers in the game, decide to spend their last few moments together. Other characters like the Sword Master shelter and cower in their homes from the fear of death and the impact with the Moon. This is realistic and relatable, Majora’s Mask incorporates the truth that life for everyone will one day come to an end, but how you choose to spend your time is up to you. I found several of these small pieces memorable and heartwarming at times; adding a little more charm to the game overall. In terms of completing these games, Ocarina of Time will give you lots of rupees for being the best exterminator and killing all of the Skulltula’s. While Majora’s Mask, on the other hand, will provide you with the Fierce Deity’s Mask upon collecting every other Mask in the game. Not only does it look cool and transform Link into a fierce warrior, it has a practical use of making the final boss fight much easier. It’s sort of like Majora’s Mask giving a small kudos or pat on the back for completing all of the side quests.
In conclusion, Majora’s Mask is well designed, memorable, and more rewarding to me than Ocarina of Time. It fell behind in terms of chronological order, but expanded upon Link, darker themes, and hand crafted mechanics that paired nicely with integrated game design. I understand that Ocarina of Time was a groundbreaking game for the industry as a whole. It established the Legend of Zelda format and many would argue has been copied in more games than we can count, but Majora’s Mask brings heart felt moments, unique gameplay points of view from the different races we loved, interesting side quests, and bundled them into one full experience. I can appreciate what both of these games brought to the table, but if you asked me which one made a stronger impact on me back in the day, it would be Majora. We only scratched the surface on some of the comparisons between these two notable entries in the series, but hopefully the impact these two games forged in the industry can help shape the future of Zelda.