Upon the release of the game The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, my all time favorite video game magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly gave it three perfect tens from three different reviewers. This is the exact same score that EGM gave one of my all time favorite games, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Ocarina is the predecessor in the series to Majora, released roughly two years prior. While not quite as iconic as Ocarina, Majora’s Mask is a fun, albeit difficult adventure from a different part of the Zelda Universe.
The story involves our hero Link wandering through the Lost Woods to find the Skull Kid wearing a strange mask. You soon discover it’s “Majora’s Mask”, and it’s causing the moon to come crashing into the earth. Parting ways with the Skull Kid, who ends up a nemesis, the woods lead you to the entrance of a town, where the so-called Happy Mask Salesman tells Link he must collect a number of missing masks to prevent the moon from causing the apocalypse.
People who played Ocarina of Time beware: there are a lot of reused art and music assets from Ocarina to Majora. In an interview, Shigeru Miyamoto said the game took about a year to make because they borrowed so much from Ocarina of Time. The short production cycle shows, seeing that there are only four dungeons, and one central town. Perhaps to make up for less content, the game is way harder than Ocarina. The game takes place on a 72 hour clock, and dungeons have to be completed on a time limit.
The clock, however, is the game’s hook. One hour of game time is less than an actual hour. Also, you can play games with game time playing songs on your ocarina. In addition to slowing time to half speed (which is of little consequence to the player), you can fast forward time in twelve hour intervals, or simply reset time to the “Dawn of the First Day”, with all 72 hours left to go. The way to play a dungeon is reset time and then slow it to half speed, giving you maximum time to complete the dungeon in one sitting, as intended.
It’s strange that I can’t think of other games that have tried something like this. I’d be all in favor of Majora’s Mask-clones, but most games that allow time manipulation don’t work on a three day schedule. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (released three years later) plays with time manipulation in the short term, as does Braid (released eight years later). There’s one fatal-flaw with time in Majora: occasionally you’re running in circles waiting for 6am to turn into 10am, so a scripted sequence will start. A similar game could easily remedy this, however.
There’s actually a lot of side content in Majora’s Mask, and Clock Town (the only town) has a lot of it. Meeting new people occasionally adds them to a notebook, and from there, you can follow a character’s story. Aside from the moon crashing into the earth, each non-playable character is walking around with problems of their own. Solving these problems results in a reward of some sort. My biggest regret is not doing more side content, although it’s reason to play the game a second time.
On that note, I mostly just B-lined the four dungeons and non-dungeon required quests to see the game to the end. I also kept procrastinating finishing Majora’s Mask. In addition to being older and having more adult responsibilities, the game really is hard. Even so, it’s still Zelda, my favorite game series. The fourth dungeon in particular is a real joy, the game’s ending is creative, and I applaud Nintendo for it’s fresh take on time manipulation. Not the first Zelda I would recommend, though I still recommend it.