Three months after his epic journey in Ocarina of Time, Link is riding through the Hyrulian forest with Epona. Out of nowhere, Skull Kid appears! Wearing a strange mask and with two fairies in tow, he uncharacteristically attacks Link, stealing Epona in the process. One hot pursuit later and Link loses the escapees, and finds himself in a part of the forest he’d never before seen. Investigating, he falls into a portal of some kind - emerging in an alien world that is on the brink of destruction. Somehow, he has to save the world from Skull Kid and the Moon in just three days. Or so it would initially seem… 10
While Majora’s Mask was the first Zelda game since The Adventure of Link where Miyamoto took a back seat, leaving directional duties to Ocarina veteran Eiji Aonuma, it was also the first Zelda to really break free of the series mould that had been slowly shaped over time.
The controls are identical to those found in Ocarina of Time, as the game reuses its engine. For returning players, the game starts off harder than OoT, but overall, it is the easier and shorter game. The combat has been slightly improved; the new long-range Z-Targeting lends itself to the more epic bosses on display.
The bosses are a real treat, with the spastic tribality of Odolwa sending shivers down your spine, to the exhausting slog of Gyorg, to the easy but exhilarating race against Goht. There’s a great variety and, thanks to transformation masks, a lot of originality.
These bosses can be replayed thanks to the revolutionary time-travel system. The world really does end in three in-game days, so the developers have given you a few weapons at your disposal, coming by way of manipulation of time through the Song of Time.
You can use it normally to save your game and go back to the start of the first day, or play each note twice to skip forward 12 hours. You can also play it backwards to slow time, and this is useful when trying to complete the tricky dungeons. Going back to the first day will remove replenishable items like Deku Nuts from your inventory, but you’ll keep main weapons like the Hookshot.
Also, all dungeons and events will reset, meaning if you’re trying to complete an entry in the Bomber’s Notebook, you’ll have to do it all in one three-day period.
The Bomber’s Notebook is one of the best things about the three-day cycle. It is your method of recording the lives of the Termina residents, as they each have pre-set activities and routes which you can alter in a Groundhog Day fashion to gain items.
The amount of different lives and their interconnectivity weaves a truly rich experience as you involve yourself within them.
As each day passes, residents get more worried about the impending threat of the moon; some retreat, some stubbornly stay, but without you, they will all die.
Seeing the different ways residents have of coping, and then warping back to the safety of Day 1, where the carpenters are still preparing for the carnival, strange children in Keaton Masks are casually collecting the mail, and the general naivety to the sombre sobriety of Day 3, is a truly emotional experience.
The last real innovation of Majora’s Mask is the mask system. There’s a whole sub-screen devoted to your collection, and as you make progress through the game and through the lives of its residents, you’ll fill that collection. Some have useful abilities, some are used during quests, but some actually transform you.
The dungeons are based around the unique abilities of these masks, as they enable you to become a Deku Scrub, a Zora, or a Goron, and these grant you abilities such as swimming acrobatically through water, being able to thunder across the landscape, or glide from platform to platform. It opens up new puzzles and new possibilities in ways that would have simply been impossible had they restricted you to the moveset of Link and Epona. 10
Aonuma’s fresh vision for the series saw the game take a darker, more twisted tone than any of the five games before it. It fits into the apocalyptical theme of the game, but it also creates a worthy mirror to Hyrule.
That so many of the characters look the same, but act differently, and that the enemies act the same, but look differently, reinforces feelings of alienation - this could be your home, but it isn’t. Link is forever on another level, apart from the residents who’s lives he can never fully be a part of, like an invisible angel who puts right so many wrongs, and then silently returns to his heaven of Hyrule.
Technically, there are many shortcomings, such as the cardboard forests that border Termina, but there are also some triumphs, like the deformation of Anju’s flowing skirt as she walks, or the intricate detail of Stone Tower’s face. 8
The music in Majora’s Mask is fantastic, beautifully composed. It’s silent when it needs to be, unnerving, powerful, though it can also be upbeat, dangerous or inspiring. It seems to always reflect the mood perfectly.
Also, the overworld theme is a remix of the classic Legend of Zelda theme tune, which makes a welcome return. 9
Thanks to the three-day system, stylised graphics, and moody sound, Majora’s Mask is the most atmospheric and immersive Zelda experience to date. Little touches, like the way waves lap onto the shore, how the sunset bathes the land in a golden glow, or the nuances of controlling a Zora, make this game as special as it is.
These are packed around a strong story, solid play mechanics and endearing characters to create an incredibly lucid experience. 10
While many aspects of the game were “merely” evolutionary, as opposed to the revolution of Ocarina of Time, this game just gives so much of itself to the series in ways that The Wind Waker does not, that its hard to give it any less than perfect marks.
The masks, the three-day system, and other elements like search-quests within dungeons, all create mechanics that need to be expanded in a sequel one day.
The one thing stopping this game from getting perfect marks is its length and ease. In all other respects it is a AAA title, but not one that has you scratching your head too often.
By Link 2K
One word: Genius. Even though Miyamoto was fairly hands-off, the developers did a fantastic job here.
There were several key introductions in this game: the near-perfectly balanced mask system (I doubt OoA and OoS would feature a ring system if it weren’t for this), the brilliant 3-day rotational process (that alone upped replayability ten-fold), the integral character interaction (something that may modern RPGs unfortunately lack), the perfected version of OoT’s terrific menu interfaces… the list goes on and on.
The combat only improves (but only slightly) over OoT’s with more strategic bosses. The combat is even better, with Link’s four other forms (Deku, Zora, Goron and… secret…), making combat a joy when you first get these masks, and, even better, they add to the mass variety of ways to kill that damn Octorok. There are other masks that also affect combat, as well as regular skills and several other things, making the game that much more playable, and adding a superior depth OoT tried for but failed at.
These masks also work into retrieving Heart Pieces, more masks, and many other things. The possibilities are nearly endless. And when it comes to the 3-day rotational process… wow.
It realizes everyone’s dream of being able to redo something in a game, but at a cost, so that it’s not used frivolously. It also factors into puzzles, much like LttP’s Dark World did, to an extreme not yet seen on 64-bit consoles.
Fantastic, easily the best I’ve seen on the N64. Plus, Link has a shoulder belt for his sword. He longer uses some sort of invisible Velcro to hold his sword’s sheath on his back. There’s not much to say here, though. It’s not a huge leap over OoT, but still better. That’s about it.
This category can be integral to a game working, but MM does it better than any other Zelda game yet released, so no worries. Yet another advantage to having used the Expansion Pack to make this game, the music works perfectly every place you go, and just makes you feel like you’re there, which is what it should do. You’ll find yourself humming the background songs consistently after playing this game.
Everything sounds like it should, and it sounds good, too. Plus, the bosses all sound fantastic. From Odolwa’s eerie musings to Goht’s furious raging, these bosses are pissed, and they make sure you know it.
Unlike OoT’s more light-hearted (at first) atmosphere, this thing’s dark and brooding from the beginning, and it shows a more vengeful side of Link that really shows how his life’s events have affected him.
Plus, the haunting feeling of taking the boss’s face with you is just downright creepy. Again, the music comes into play here and it works damn well. For an Action-RPG based on the primary story of “rescue the princess,” it’s come a long way, and it’s finally giving up the goods you always wanted.
Like I said in Gameplay, the list goes on and on. The mask system, the ultimate replayability of the 3-day rotation, the puzzles that require firm knowledge of both, the integral character interaction, and let’s not forget that brooding atmosphere. Tons of contribution here.
This is Zelda at its absolute finest, no “if"s, “and"s, “but"s, or “maybe"s. It is the properly evolved form of OoT, succeeding to do what OoT didn’t and adding to the Legend that much more. To this, I give a 10. 10