I first played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D when I was twelve years old. At the time, the only game I’d played from start to finish was Pokémon Pearl. As my first Zelda game, Ocarina of Time was unlike anything I’d ever played before. Naturally, after finishing the main story, I wanted more, and that brought me to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. I picked up the original Nintendo 64 version and began playing; given my age at the time, though, it wasn’t long before I backed out.
Despite sharing nearly all of its assets with Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask is nothing like it. The game has its own unique atmosphere: one that was actually a tad too frightening for me back in the day. In 2015, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D was released for Nintendo 3DS, and I recently decided to play the whole game all the way through. There are a lot of changes from the original Nintendo 64 version – both good and bad – but do they enhance the overall experience, and most of all, does the game still hold up twenty years after its initial release?
Up until the release of Majora’s Mask, storylines in The Legend of Zelda games were generally a variation of Link saving Princess Zelda from the evil Ganondorf. Majora’s Mask figuratively tosses this cliche out the window and introduces what I think is the most unique plot in the entire franchise. After saving Hyrule from Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, Link sets out on his horse Epona to try and find an old friend. He winds up deep in the Lost Woods, where a troublesome imp (Skull Kid) and two fairies ambush him and make off with Epona and the Ocarina of Time. From the very beginning, players feel a sense of urgency that simply wasn’t present in Ocarina of Time: Link has lost his prized possessions and knows nothing about his opponent, and it’s the player’s responsibility to step in.
Link falls down a long, hollow tree and meets Skull Kid, who informs Link that he “got rid of” his horse. He then uses a magical power to transform Link into a Deku Scrub; on his way out, Skull Kid accidentally leaves behind one of his fairies, who reluctantly teams up with the young hero. The two emerge at a Clock Tower, where they meet the Happy Mask Salesman; he tells Link he can change him back into his original form if he recovers the Ocarina of Time and the mysterious mask Skull Kid was wearing. Link agrees and exits the tower, noticing a gigantic moon looming above. Skull Kid, with the help of his mask, has beckoned the moon to fall and crash into the land of Termina in just three days.
Majora’s Mask runs on a three-day cycle; at the end of this cycle, the moon will fall and destroy Termina in its entirety. Unlike Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask puts pressure on its player to “hurry up”, though not to a point where exploration is discouraged. Once Link recovers the Ocarina of Time, he can play the Song of Time to return to the first day; this essentially gives the player all the time they need to collect key items and traverse the land. In terms of story progression, Link is tasked with visiting four major areas of Termina: the swamp, the mountains, the ocean, and the canyon. Skull Kid has cast hexes on each of these locations, and Link must defeat a powerful boss to lift each curse. Unfortunately, they must be completed in a defined order, though the game does provide numerous hints as to where to go next.
As mentioned before, Majora’s Mask forges an unforgettable atmosphere. It isn’t downright scary, per se; instead, it creates a feeling that something is just wrong. Ignoring the gigantic moon hanging in the sky at all times, Termina’s residents are all trying to come to terms with their inevitable doom. Some deny it, some try to bargain with it, and some even embrace it. Majora’s Mask deals with dark themes and handles them in a noticeable way, but not one that is overwhelming. At one point, Link must help a girl at a ranch defend the barn from aliens; should he fail, they will abduct her and she will return the next day without memories. High-stakes scenarios like these are scattered throughout the game and help the player feel like what they are doing is important.
Each character follows a schedule throughout the three-day cycle that they rarely (if ever) deviate from; not only does this make completing certain quests easier, but it helps Termina feel more alive than Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule ever did. Majora’s Mask includes a hefty load of side quests, but most of them are engaging; they don’t feel like padding and integrate themselves into the main story quite nicely. Overall, Majora’s Mask’s story absolutely exceeds Ocarina of Time’s, and all of the characters and locations have been perfectly retained for the Nintendo 3DS remake. It took me about 35 hours to fully complete all of the content the game had to offer.
Visuals & Audio
If you’ve played Ocarina of Time or its Nintendo 3DS remaster, then you know what to expect, as Majora’s Mask reuses a significant number of its visual assets. Characters from Ocarina of Time appear in Termina, though many of them have different names and all of them (bar a few) are considered entirely separate entities from their Hylian counterparts.
Majora’s Mask 3D updates the graphics from the Nintendo 64 version quite finely; however, I’d argue that the simple polygonal graphics of the original game actually enhance its atmosphere. As shown above, characters like Deku Link are notably different. It’s difficult to describe, but the more polygonal model better captures that sense of urgency and dread, whereas the refined model is a bit more generic. Majora’s Mask 3D retains its mood just about as well as the original in terms of mechanics, but the original is a tad more atmospheric thanks to its more “stylized” character models.
As is the case with most Zelda games, Majora’s Mask boasts a great soundtrack. A good number of pieces are ripped directly from Ocarina of Time, but the majority of tracks are new and perfectly suit the game’s mood. Several pieces are flat-out unsettling, and this helps drive home Majora’s Mask’s distinct setting.
Majora’s Mask has a great presentation – both in the visual and audio departments – but its gameplay is where the game begins to show its age a bit. While not always a bad thing, Majora’s Mask does involve a lot of backtracking, especially if you’re looking to 100% complete the game. If you don’t use a walkthrough, you’re likely going to miss a fair bit of content, and this entails defeating bosses over again to access certain events. This would be passable if not for two particular boss fights, specifically the third and fourth ones, which are difficult to navigate and overly long, respectively.
Another issue is the game’s camera. If you’re playing on a New Nintendo 3DS (or New Nintendo 3DS XL), you can use the nub to control the camera; however, this control is very limited and you often have to repeatedly tilt the button a certain direction multiple times to get the camera to cooperate. In particular, two of Link’s forms – accessed via the Goron and Zora Masks – are rather bothersome to control at times. In the game’s second boss battle, Goron Link must roll to chase the boss, but the camera controls while doing so are limited. I often found myself stopping dead in my tracks to reposition the camera since it didn’t work while rolling. Majora’s Mask 3D has also changed Zora Link’s swimming mechanics, and I believe these changes are in poor taste; his overall speed has been decreased and you can only increase your speed if you have Magic Power available. It runs out quickly and often leaves you swimming quite slowly.
On the subject of masks, there are 24 to collect, but many of them are only used once or twice and are useless for the rest of the game. Though there are four active item slots available, certain locations require more than four items to progress, so players will find themselves entering their inventory numerous times to switch their equipment. It’s not hard to do, but it can be a hassle. Another note is the Bomber’s Notebook, which has been newly upgraded for the Nintendo 3DS version of the game. It’s now much easier to keep track of the side quests you’ve finished, which is a huge bonus for completionists. However, the Bomber’s Notebook interface pops up far too often and adds unnecessary time to otherwise short tasks.
Despite its age, Majora’s Mask features excellent level design. Although it only has four dungeons (much less than in other Zelda games), they were clearly designed with “quality over quantity” in mind. Each dungeon features a multitude of mind-bending puzzles and challenges that require the player to remember where they’ve been, what items they currently have, and which ones they still need to obtain. The final major dungeon is particularly impressive, as it can be flipped upside-down for an entirely unique perspective.
If you’re playing Majora’s Mask for the first time, you’ll need to decide whether to play the original game or the remastered version. In a nutshell, the Nintendo 3DS release is more convenient, as time management and saving have both been made easier. That being said, I don’t think it’s a direct upgrade, as the original still has some strengths of its own. Aside from the aforementioned graphical differences, the Nintendo 64 game is overall easier to control – especially during segments that involve Zora Link – and its bosses are (in my opinion) less repetitive, particularly the third one. Keep in mind, though, that players can’t use the Song of Double Time to jump to a particular time of day or night, so there’s a lot more waiting around in the initial release.
Overall, I really enjoyed Majora’s Mask. Its atmosphere is endearing, and it was one of the only games I actually felt conflicted to play. On one hand, the game is fun, and it feels satisfying to obtain items and clear dungeons; on the other, the world of Termina is so fleshed out that it actually feels like the stakes are high. It’s definitely a stressful title, but the result is a fantastic entry in the Nintendo 3DS’ library that is more than worth your time (and your money, as the game is only $20 – almost a steal!). Majora’s Mask does suffer from a fair share of flaws, but these can be overlooked in favor of its many resounding strengths.
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