The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is quite simply a masterpiece. Originally released for the N64 in 2000, it is a twisted and unique adventure about a menacing moon set to crush the land of Termina three days from the game’s opening.
As in the original, this remake, timed to coincide with the new 3DS, sees the hero, Link, able to travel in time and so when the three days are up, he warps back and begins again. The game’s four main dungeons remain completed, but the generous helping of side-quests don’t, and Link will become intimately involved with Termina’s inhabitants as he changes their fates, reunites lost loves and tries to prevent the apocalypse over and over again. There’s plenty of variety in the side-quests, too, as Link must transform into different creatures in order to overcome obstacles. These creatures include a leaping shrubbery (the Deku Scrub), an amphibious rock star (Zora) and a member of a race of rock people (the Gorons). Link can metamorphose into these characters by simply donning the right masks, and each transformation allows him to obtain special abilities, including the capacity to glide short distances, swim underwater or roll around the landscape at high speed.
These multiple characters, plus the fact the titular Princess Zelda only makes a fleeting appearance in a flashback, makes for a stimulating and unexpected Zelda adventure.
It’s a dark and melancholic title, too, not just in its storyline but in how it looks. Almost all the character and scenery models have been taken directly from Majora’s Mask’s predecessor (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time), but the developers have included some surreal effects and extra colour – primarily dark blues and purples – which gives the world of Termina a very real sense of strangeness.
Then there’s the music, which increases in tempo as that moon – with its malicious grin and crazed stare – gets closer to destroying the world. And as those final moments draw near, the game’s wonderful soundtrack conjures a feeling of dread, with regular earthquakes shaking the screen and sending the town folk fleeing to the hills. Majora’s Mask really isn’t the typical fairy-tale adventure game. Thoroughly deserving another outing, the remake is visually impressive, with added gameplay tweaks and new fishing games. Those tweaks include improving the boss fights (somewhat lacklustre in the original), moving some of the items and re-landscaping a handful of confusing areas. But there have been some more substantial changes, too.
The bottom screen now features a more detailed notebook, which is invaluable for managing the game’s various side-quests. Meanwhile, the touch screen makes selecting items significantly easier than in the N64 original.
Another significant addition is the ability to warp to specific hours during the three-day cycle. This makes for a much better game, repeating side-quests is no longer as tedious and players are not forced to mindlessly stare at the in-game clock, waiting for the right time to save that old woman from the mugger.
Indeed, the save system has also been changed. Whereas in the original Majora’s Mask gamers could only save permanently by warping back to the first day, now they can do it at any one of the various Owl Statues dotted around Termina. It’s an essential adjustment to compensate for the fact that this is now a portable title, and players need to be able to save and put down their console whenever they have to. However, it does take away some of the tension and risk from the game, because failure no longer means having to restart that three-day cycle over again.
Nevertheless, this is unquestionably a better game than that bizarre, wonderful adventure Nintendo crafted in 2000. Back then, Majora’s Mask arrived at the end of the N64’s life and had the impossible task of living up to its predecessor, the widely lauded “greatest game ever”, Ocarina of Time. As a result, it did not get the recognition it deserved.
But now it has that second chance. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is a mysterious, haunting game that shows that even within a series as established and traditional as Zelda, there’s room for invention. It’s nothing short of being the definitive version of one of Nintendo’s greatest games.
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