Despite being a huge fan of the Zelda series in general and even owning two copies of the game already (the original Nintendo 64 release and the version on the collectors disc that was given away for preorders of Wind Waker back in 2002) I’d somehow never got around to properly playing Majora’s Mask until the 3DS remake was released earlier this year.
Originally released only two years after the groundbreaking Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask quickly gained a reputation as a very weird entry in the series. One of few major releases that take place outside of Hyrule (or areas that will become or once were Hyrule anyway), Majora’s Mask is set in a new area called Termina. When Link arrives, it is three days before the annual Carnival of Time held in the area which happens to coincide with the amount of time left before the moon will fall and destroy everything.
Link begins his journey in Termina’s main settlement, Clock Town, which acts as the primary hub for the game, and is initially not even himself as he’s been trapped in the form of a Deku Scrub by the mysterious Skull Kid. He’s given a few tasks before confronting the Skull Kid on top of the Clock Tower in the centre of Clock Town and manages to reclaim the Ocarina of Time which he plays to turn back into himself as well as reversing time just before the moon hits, taking him back to three days earlier when he first arrived in the town.
This time travel gimmick makes up the primary structure of the game – Link has three days to save Termina from destruction. The clock ticks down constantly and is prominently displayed at the bottom of the screen throughout so that you’re always aware of how long is left. At any point Link can play the Ocarina to go back to the beginning and will keep most of the items that he’s collected, however any progress made in uncompleted quests or dungeons will be reset.
That’s not as bad as it sounds though, as each of the dungeons has a fast travel point in front of it so you can very easily go back to the beginning of the first day once you’ve made your way to the entrance of the dungeon and then travel back and usually have enough time to work out the dungeon’s puzzles to get to the boss. Each boss also has a shortcut to jump back to the boss fight so even if you run out of time to beat the boss, starting again doesn’t take a lot of time.
Majora’s Mask is so far the only Zelda game to feature a comprehensive quest log, in the form of the Bombers’ Notebook. Each quest that Link has found is listed, either as ongoing, rumoured or complete. A detailed schedule also shows each of the NPCs that Link has talked to along with times of each day that you need to talk to them to complete their quests. This along with a helpful Shiekah Stone added into the 3D remake mean that it’s rather straightforward to keep track of all of the quests and heart pieces to collect everything.
Having originally come out only a couple of years after Ocarina of Time and also on the same platform, Majora’s Mask runs on the same engine and shares a lot of art resources with its predecessor. Most of the characters in Clock Town are just the various villagers from Ocarina reused, Link himself is mostly the same as are most of the returning enemies. The environments make up for this however, as they’re largely much more colourful and in a lot of cases just odd compared to the fairly realistic settings of Ocarina.
Expanding on the mask selling side quest from Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask has a total of twenty four masks to collect. A number of these will be picked up during the course of the game but most are either used for or the reward from one of the many side quests. The main three masks that you’ll rely on through the game are the transformation masks that turn Link into a Deku, Goron or Zora, while most of the remaining masks have Link remain as himself and simply wearing the mask. I would have liked some of the masks to have more use (or for there to be less of them, with a few uses for each) as there were a few that are simply used to complete a single quest and then have no further use. I also (spoiler for a 15 year old game!) thought it was kind of a shame that you never actually get to use Majora’s Mask itself – yes, it’s evil but with it being the title of the game I’d always kind of assumed that it was a wearable mask.
With one of the transformation masks on, Link turns into a stylised version of whatever species the mask represents, with his signature green hat still in place. The Deku mask lets Link fly from Deku flowers, shoot bubble and skip across the surface of water, the Goron mask gives him some powerful fighting moves and the ability to roll into a ball and move at great speeds and finally the Zora mask lets him swim, stay underwater indefinitely and fire a homing attack from the spikes on his arms. All three feel quite distinctive in play, but at the same time don’t stray so far from the normal that it seems like a different game.
As a whole Majora’s Mask is certainly a departure from usual Zelda formula, but it’s one that I think pays off. The memorable setting and overall oddness make it stand out from the rest of a series that can have a tendency to repeat a lot of the same themes and scenarios while still keeping enough of what makes a Zelda game to feel somehow both familiar and completely different at the same time.