Wednesday, July 13, 2011
N64 review: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
I played Majora's Mask way back when it was first released for the Nintendo 64, though I never owned a copy and instead played it on a friend's console. I became familiar with the story and setting, but I never tackled the dungeons in the proper order. Then, about a year ago, I found a Majora's Mask cartridge at a local game store, and figured that my appreciation for Zelda would be incomplete without having played all of the games in the series (there are currently still four other Zelda titles I have yet to finish, but that's a story for another day).
If I could sum up Majora's Mask in a few words, they would have to be 'surprisingly dark' and 'rather bizarre'. Following the conclusion of Ocarina of Time, Link takes off to find his fairy friend Navi. While travelling through a forest, Link's horse Epona is stolen by Skull Kid. Link gives chase, but is cursed by Skull Kid to bear the form of a Deku Scrub. Eventually making his way to Clock Town, Link discovers he is now in a land known as Termina, a sort of alternate-dimension take on Hyrule. Link finds that the Happy Mask salesman has also fallen victim to Skull Kid's antics, as a very powerful mask - Majora's Mask - was stolen from him. He promises to help Link return to his original state, so long as Link can retrieve his Ocarina from Skull Kid and see to the safe return of Majora's Mask.
The world of Termina is set up in a wheel-and-spokes layout, with Clock Town situated at the center and each subsequent region and temple branching off in a different direction (North, East, South, and West). This provides a convenient starting point each time players save the game. Clock Town is also where players will spend time tackling the majority of the sidequests, and plays host to some of the minigames. Each of the temples must be tackled in a specific order, though players are free to explore the separate regions of Termina at their leisure, assuming they have the necessary items to gain access. Players can also activate owl statues that serve a dual purpose. They can be used to save the game - though players must quit playing in order to do so - or they can be used as warp points for fast travel.
The most notable difference from other Zelda titles is the three day cycle/time limit. Players have only 72 hours in game time (which translates to about twenty minutes per day in real time) to complete the necessary tasks of collecting items, masks, and tackling dungeons. More often than not, players can complete the tasks preceding a temple, return to dawn of the first day, and then continue on to complete the temple itself. Afterwards, they can return to dawn of the first day again, repeating the cycle for each subsequent area and temple. Because of this, players will need to determine their plan of attack before they trek through Termina's various locales. For those who would prefer more time to complete things - say, events prior to a temple, the temple itself, and a side quest or two thereafter - the Inverted Song of Time can prove an invaluable asset. On the flipside, players will have to set aside more time to complete all this, and may prove a drawback for more casual gamers.
While designed with many of the basic gameplay elements introduced in Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask does well to set itself apart from its predecessor. The intuitive item management system is retained, though the use of transformation masks offers a small variety of combat and travel abilities on top of those already offered through Link's arsenal. Players will have to find new bombs and arrows each time they play the Song of Time, but can be deposit Rupees into Clock Town's bank without running the risk of losing any of Link's hard-earned cash. While Majora's Mask has relatively few temples when compared to other installments in the franchise, the pre-temple and post-temple events add on more than enough to flesh out the experience. The game also presents a solid number of mini-boss fights - in some cases, two or three in a single temple, while the five major boss fights are overall more challenging than those present in Ocarina of Time.
This game will be a real treat for completionists, with far more sidequests than in Ocarina of Time - some of which will prove very challenging, while others are simply time-consuming. Those who choose to pursue the sidequests will encounter many familiar faces - Termina's counterparts of Hyrule's citizens. Most of these characters feel more fleshed out than in the previous title, even if their involvement is still rather minor in the grand scheme of things.
When it all boils down to it, there are far fewer major characters in Majora's Mask - Link and Skull Kid are the primary protagonist and antagonist respectively. But with no one filling the shoes of Zelda, Shiek, or the Sages this time around, the only other character with a major stake in the mask is the Happy Mask Salesman. For those who played through Ocarina of Time and met all of the various minor characters, this should feel like the obvious next step in developing them. For those jumping into Majora's Mask without having played Ocarina of Time, this likely won't resonate in a particularly strong manner.
The graphics aren't a huge step up from Ocarina of Time, though some of the textures and minor environmental details are improved upon. Most of the different areas of Termina stand out as being more colorful than the locales in Hyrule were. The soundtrack presents plenty of variety in style, but does an excellent job of maintaining the eerie, almost haunting, mood of the game. As stated above, most of the characters in Termina are intended to be some alternate universe counterpart to the cast of Ocarina of Time, and this is primarily due to the reuse of character models. That said, the new characters that are introduced in Majora's Mask - and there are quite a few of them - are welcome additions to the Zelda universe.
It's a dark game, no doubt. Some might even go far as to call it 'a bit twisted'. But there's no denying how artistically driven Majora's Mask is. It has some of the best storytelling in the series. Though it may not be as wildly revolutionary as its prequel, it's a brilliant follow-up to Ocarina of Time, which - in all honesty - is a very hard act to follow. It's also one of the most challenging Zelda titles to date, and while I would usually encourage players to figure things out on their own, a guide will probably come in handy for your first playthrough.
My rating: 10 (out of 10)