The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Many good things can be said for the Zelda series. In the past, the famous dungeon traversing, princess saving shut-in from Kokiri was hailed as the hero whose games would set the standard for action-adventure titles to come, and Link now stands alongside Mario as one of the faces to launch 1,000 Nintendo ships. The Legend of Zelda series is immensely popular for a hefty number of reasons: the fulfilling storylines, the enjoyable dungeon puzzles, the classic sword on monster fighting, the unforgettable cast, the often far-fetched obstacles/side quests, and above all, the fairytale motif that often involves saving a loved one, travelling through time to act as your older self, or being able to manipulate the seasons. Sadly, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask possessed few of these qualities when it was released in 2000, and has not since bettered itself in its re-release on Nintendo’s Virtual Console. Although Majora’s Mask maintains some of the features that made Link a star in his past adventures, the journey is often marred by repetition and frustration in lieu of excitement and vibrancy.
The adventure begins as a near immediate continuation from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as we are given a scene showing Link and Zelda saying their farewells (or perhaps implying his farewell, the silent hero that Link is) and Zelda suggesting that perhaps Link needs to go on a “personal quest, in search of a lost friend”. From here time skips for an uncertain duration, and we are shown Link riding though the woods when he is ambushed by an imp-like child and his two “sidekick fairies”. Link regains consciousness soon enough to stop the strange looking boy from robbing him, and as the child retreats, we are given control of the hero and urged to pursue.
Change is Good
You will immediately recognise the control scheme that has been imported from Ocarina of Time, which has successfully migrated to the Wii’s classic controller with little difficulty, making navigation and combat seem on-par with the series’ history. For 1000 Wii Points, the lack of rumble support is easy to overlook.
After pursuing the thief-child further into the woods it is revealed that Epona (Link’s trusty steed) was “gotten rid of” by the nasty little fiend, giving birth to the seed that will sprout into Majora’s Mask’s dark, lonely, and more mature story theme. As you engage in combat with our little friend, who is revealed to be “Skull Kid”, the mask affixed to his face begins to emit strange magic, and Link is sent through an interestingly animated scene of confusion and pain as he is cursed and transformed into a Deku Kid. The darker story starts to come to fruition as Deku-Link (who is the embodiment of sadness and depression by the looks of his facial expressions) scrawls through the sewers of an unknown town. There he encounters a mask salesman who promises to turn him back to normal if Link can retrieve the malicious and powerful item that the imp-child stole, known as Majora’s Mask. And so begins Link’s only journey that is driven solely on the premise of revenge and personal vendetta, a theme that grants the story a boost to its darker nature and also plagues it with an unsatisfying sense of “personal agenda” that seems unbefitting of Link’s past reputation.
Entering Clock Town is an interesting experience in and of itself. As you leave the sewers and emerge into broad daylight you will instantly become aware of two things: one, there is an enormous, malicious looking moon facing Clock Town with what is arguably the most evil grin (yes, it smiles) to impose itself on videogame history; two, your adventure is on a timer. As it turns out, our friend Skull Kid has cast a curse on Clock Town, and after the 3-day timer has expired, the ever-approaching moon will destroy the innocent little town and all of its inhabitants. Did I mention the darker storyline? As Link comes to terms with the town’s predicament, he learns that he must ascend the town’s central clock tower on the eve of the fourth day and do combat with Skull Kid once more. During this battle, Skull Kid drops the stolen Ocarina of Time – granting Link the ability to travel back in time three days and attempt to take a swing at Skull Kid in a more successful fashion.
What we’re given here is a number of frustrating factors that play into Link’s new adventure: Not only is there absolutely no sign of interest on Link’s behalf concerning the townspeople who are all going to die at the end of the third day (again, the story is driven by vendetta and the pursuit of Skull Kid), but we are also presented with the non-refundable gift of the ever-present “doom timer” that will follow us like a wet dog throughout the remainder of the quest. For each dungeon you attempt and each puzzle you contend with, you will also be under the steady gaze of a timer (that counts down at an alarming rate) forcing you to travel back in time three days should you take too long to conceive the solution to a puzzle or traverse the finicky outer world environments. Sure, this doesn’t sound too bad, right? Wrong. Travelling back in time has its perks, and not only are you teleported back to Clock Town to start your three days over (which could very well be miles from where you were), but all of the people you aided and dungeons you only partially completed are rewound as well. Long story short, you’re going to get very used to helping out the same denizens in need over and over again.
Re-entering the sewers with the Ocarina of Time will impress the mask-collector enough to have him teach you a melody to return you to your normal human form, and from here, one of Majora’s Mask’s most interesting features comes to light: masks, of course. As you return to Link’s human form, the mask of a Deku Child becomes available for use, transforming Link into said creature. Further collection of masks grants Link the ability to shape-shift on the spot, granting him new abilities and appearances as well as different reactions from townspeople and creatures. And so, Link ventures out into four unique dungeons to employ the aid of - who better to halt the progression of a giant evil moon? - Giants. The story itself is rich and interestingly thought out, but again the absence of multiple dungeons begs the question “why wasn’t more time spent here?”, and the answer arrives in the form of the the three day time limit that you have come to love by this point. It is a lazy attempt to extend the storyline by forcing the player to re-live obstacles and events that they would have otherwise been done with.
It’s not to say that Majora’s Mask is un-enjoyable at all times, as it features many of the classic Zelda perks that we have all come to appreciate. The characters are particularly animated in Majora’s Mask and it goes without saying that the frenzied, lunatic of a mask salesman is very legitimately in the run for my favourite videogame character of all time. The classic weapons are all to be obtained within the four dungeons, and the mask transformations and collection side quest(s) make Link feel somewhat at home in Clock Town. The closest thing to a redeeming quality that Majora’s Mask possesses is its outrageously macabre themes and storyline. It’s clear that this is a title aimed more at the mature crowd than their younger, sunnier counterparts.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask possesses a shadowy story that is wrapped in cruelty and darkness, but its horrible sense of repetition - that is blatantly used as an instrument in stretching a few more hours out of the gameplay - sadly takes away from the well-written story and enormously entertaining characters. Many of Link’s central motifs are absent here, and Ocarina of Time‘s enormous gust of success that Majora’s Mask sailed in on in its 2000 release is now absent with its Virtual Console re-release. This makes the frustratingly out of place adventure and its daunting repetition even less suggestible for anybody but the most dedicated of Zelda fans, or those who are in dire need of a somewhat shadowy representation of what is otherwise a pleasant “save the day” series.
Six out of ten
- Darker, more mature theme
- Outrageously memorable characters
- Cool mask transformations
- Frustrating, repetitive gameplay
- Only four dungeons to traverse
- Unforgiving countdown timer
- Lacking in any kind of heroic inspiration on Link's behalf