|Console||Nintendo 64, Nintendo Gamecube, Nintendo 3DS|
|Developer||Nintendo EAD, Grezzo (Majora’s Mask 3D)|
|Release Year||2000, 2003 – 2004, 2015|
|Purchase (3DS)||Click here to purchase from Amazon.|
|Purchase (N64)||Click here to purchase from eBay.|
Ah, The Legend of Zelda. One of the most beloved Nintendo franchises of all time. A simple tale of a young elf boy going on a fantasy quest to defeat an evil dark lord and save a beautiful princess. Simple, but effective.
That is, until you go deeper into the lore and discover one of the most convoluted and insane timelines for a video game series ever. And it involves multiple incarnations of Link, Zelda and Ganon. Nintendo and the fanbase took god-knows-how-long to assemble a timeline. And even then, it’s still confusing.
But along comes an entry in the series that defies our expectations. A creepy little bastard that shook the series with the force of the moon crashing into the planet.
That game is The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, the DARKEST Zelda entry, bar none. Also one of the series’s black sheep, because of its dark themes. For the purpose of this review, I will post screenshots of the 3DS remake of the game and will also go over some differences.
The End of Termina
Majora’s Mask is a direct sequel to the N64 classic, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, inheriting the same gameplay style and even recycling old assets. More specifically, Majora’s Mask took place after Link’s trek through Hyrule in the last game, where he returned to his childhood timeline.
But things are a bit… different, this time around. While you don’t have to play Ocarina of Time to understand what’s going on in Majora’s Mask, it is highly recommended in order to gain some context on what’s going on.
After Link’s battle against Ganondorf across time, he departed Hyrule along with his steed Epona—a gift from Malon—and the Ocarina of Time—a gift from Princess Zelda. The prologue only mentioned that Link went on a personal journey in search of a dear friend—heavily implied to be his fairy companion Navi.
However, Link was attacked by the Skull Kid (wearing the evil Majora’s Mask) and his two fairy companions, Tatl and Tael. The Skull Kid stole both Epona and the Ocarina, transforming Link into a Deku Scrub in the process. Tatl got left behind and she teamed up with Link in search of the Skull Kid and Tael.
But things got crazy. REAL. FUCKING. CRAZY.
What in Satan’s ballsack is that fuckness!?
Link ended up in a realm called Termina, where the moon had one hell of a creepy doom face and will destroy the land in three days. Link only has this amount of time to save Termina and its residents, or suffer a horrifying death at the hands of a psychotic imp who tortures and kills people just for fun.
DAMN. What can you say about this? While Zelda games do have plenty of dark moments with death and devastation, the premise of Majora’s Mask alone tops all of them. It’s like The Legend of Zelda turned into a Grimm fairy tale—which the game actually referenced with the Bremen Mask. We went from wondrous fantasy adventures to hopeless doomsday scenarios. But this is just the beginning of the fucked up concepts that occur here.
With some help of the enigmatic (but creepy as fuck) Happy Mask Salesman…
HELP! I NEED AN ADULT! SOMEBODY!
…And… the Goddess of Time, Link was able to revert to his original form and use the Ocarina of Time to reset his days. Link can use the power of magical masks for different abilities and even shapeshift into different races: the Deku, the Goron and the Zora. He needs the help of these races to conquer the corrupted temples of Termina and put a stop to the Skull Kid and Majora’s Mask.
If you can’t tell already, Majora’s Mask is a game with a deeply involved story and deep game mechanics. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes and it keeps on getting better.
I find it absolutely hilarious that this game was rated E by the ESRB at the time the original Nintendo 64 game came out. A game that features death, loss, loneliness, nihilism and abandonment issues. Of course, that got changed to E10+ with the 3DS version of the game. I’m surprised the American censorship-happy soccer moms aren’t all over that like flies puking over a pile of shit!
But hey, what a great thing!
Three Days Until You Die
As mentioned earlier, Majora’s Mask’s gameplay is identical to that of Ocarina of Time’s. You play as Link in a 3D action-adventure setting, fighting enemies with different attack patterns and solving puzzles. Link himself plays exactly the same as his Ocarina of Time child counterpart: he can slash with his sword, block enemy attacks with his shield, dodge and use whatever tool he has at his disposal.
The graphics are similar to that of Ocarina of Time. However, Majora’s Mask is one of the few Nintendo 64 games that requires the Expansion Pak in order to play properly.
You know, one of these little pieces of plastic and silicon.
But some of the recycled character models have been refined and have extra animations, which were definitely a nice novelty at the time. There was a time when 3D models have very few animations, so you could say that Majora’s Mask pushed the system to its limits. Combined with the unique setting of Termina and the unique monster designs, it was a very good-looking game for its time. Of course, in today’s generations, the textures would look muddy and the character models would look blocky.
The soundtrack was unlike anything you would hear from The Legend of Zelda at the time. Sometimes, it’s like a mad carnival. In other times, a dark and depressing purgatory.
And of course, the legendary theme of the final moments of your life…
Your main objective is to visit four temples across the land of Termina and defeat the evil enchanted masked demons. Because of the Skull Kid’s actions, the areas of Termina have been corrupted. Southern Swamp is full of poisoned water, Snowhead to the north is trapped in an endless blizzard, the waters of Great Bay to the west are unusually warm and murky, and the cursed undead wander around Ikana Canyon to the east. More and more bizarre incidents occur, directly affecting the people of Termina.
And that’s one thing I should comment about. Even though you don’t see the Skull Kid and Majora’s Mask that often, you can see the aftermath of their mischief and destruction. They cursed and killed people, and threw their homes into endless torment. And as a cherry on top of this insanity, they’re going to smash Termina with the moon itself… just for the fun of causing pain and misery. That’s just DEMENTED.
But the hell of it? You only have three days to defeat the Skull Kid and retrieve Majora’s Mask for the Happy Mask Salesman. THREE DAYS. Failure means the literal apocalypse. Everyone perishes in a fiery explosion.
Time waits for no one, or so you’d think.
This is the ONLY time Princess Zelda appears in this game.
Prior to the events of the game, Zelda granted Link the Ocarina of Time. By playing the Song of Time, Link can return back to the first day during when he arrived at Termina. Doing so will erase your expendable items, like ammunition and Rupees (currency). But you get to keep all of your key items, which you will need for the tougher challenges ahead.
You can also use variations of the Song of Time to slow down the flow of time or fast-forward to a certain point. With these tools at your disposal, time WILL wait for you. Just be aware that going back in time will undo your previous deeds, and you may need to complete them again.
The Power of Masks
One of the central mechanics of Majora’s Mask is, of course, masks. The masks in Ocarina of Time were mainly used to complete sidequests, and later to get some interesting dialogue from certain NPCs. Mostly for the cosmetic and entertainment value.
In Majora’s Mask, they’re a big part of completing the sidequests and also grant you some useful abilities. The mask I found myself using the most is the Bunny Hood, which increases Hylian Link’s running speed.
Admittedly, most of these masks serve one specific purpose, only to never be used again. Some like the Bremen Mask, Kamaro’s Mask, Keaton Mask, Postman’s Hat, Don Gero’s Mask… they’re all used for specific sidequests just once. And once you complete them, the masks are pretty much just nice little badges of honor that sit around in your inventory.
Hell, you can only use the Giant’s Mask for one specific boss battle, but never anywhere else!
It’s a shame that only a few of these masks will see repeated use, while the others are more like collector’s items. Still, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just a little disappointing that we went for quantity over quality for this mask system.
But we’re not done discussing masks just yet. There’s more.
The Power of the Four Races
During your travels, you will later obtain the ability to shapeshift into three other races. Of course, you start off as Link in his Hylian appearance. But with the appropriate masks, he can also transform into a Deku Scrub, a Goron and a Zora.
Each form possesses different abilities that are necessary to complete certain challenges. Deku Link can hop across water and glide through the air using giant flowers. Goron Link can crush rocks and move at very fast speeds. Zora Link has superior swimming abilities, even allowing him to fight underwater.
While I consider Goron Link to be the best and most fun form, the game balances their abilities out so that all of them have various strengths and weaknesses. Hylian Link can use all of his tools and masks at his disposal, but is quite middle-of-the-road. Deku Link can stun certain enemies, but generally doesn’t inflict much damage—also, he’s highly vulnerable to fire. Goron Link can do heavy damage and resists lava, but can easily get hurt due to his large size—plus he can be difficult to steer when moving at top speed. Zora Link performs well underwater, but is the slowest on land.
Each temple will emphasize the strengths of a certain race, with the exception of Stone Tower. That temple needs the help of ALL races to conquer it.
Another interesting facet of the races is how certain NPCs react to them, further expanding the worldbuilding and backstory of the setting. Link may receive different treatment depending on his appearance, which makes for some real fascinating reactions. And yes, some of these reactions are blatant racism. In fact, there’s one shop that outright refuses to sell to anyone who isn’t human.
People treat Deku Link like a little kid. They also treat Goron Link and Zora Link as fully grown adults, but sometimes as unusual guests. I found these little things to be a real nice touch to the full story at hand. It’s not that these different races dislike each other, but rather they can’t help but notice the differences between themselves. Furthermore, they all live in separate communities, which further explains why they treat each other differently sometimes.
For example, no one other than Deku Scrubs is allowed to enter the Deku Palace at the Southern Swamp. The main reason is to protect the Deku King from outsiders, since the majority of Deku Scrubs live at the Southern Swamp. Otherwise, they don’t harbor ill will against the other races.
Subtle things like these make the land of Termina real interesting for me.
Three Days of Running Errands
And this brings us to another new mechanic. After meeting a small gang of Terminan children called the Bombers Secret Society of Justice, you receive a Bombers’ Notebook. Using this notebook, you can find people in need of help and keep track of their problems and schedules. By completing these people’s requests, you can earn Heart Pieces for your health meter and other neat little goodies.
Aside from visiting the four temples, Majora’s Mask has a big emphasis on sidequests. Some of these sidequests are required in order to progress to a new area, though finding out which ones isn’t a particularly hard task as long as you keep exploring new avenues.
These sidequests do a fantastic job in the worldbuilding aspect of Majora’s Mask. You can learn about the Terminan people, their culture, and some local legends. And of course, sympathize with their problems.
And they’re all just normal people: public servants, performers, warriors, business owners and even children. Some struggle with the lack of accomplishment, knowing certain doom is approaching and they will die without seeing their dreams realized. Some are dedicated to their jobs, even when the apocalypse is about to happen. And some tried to fight back against the disasters caused by the Skull Kid, only to die in vain.
These are some real adult dilemmas that Zelda games normally don’t explore in depth. Even though Majora’s Mask does retain some of the campiness from Ocarina of Time, OoT didn’t go that deep into detail about its more disturbing moments. Ganondorf may have taken over Hyrule, but he left many of its residents and locations alive and standing for seven years. Strangely merciful of a dark lord.
The evil spirit dwelling within Majora’s Mask basically went, “You know what? Fuck you all. I’ll curse and murder you all just for shits and giggles, then destroy your homes. And I’ll do it all in three days. Live with it. See you in Hell when you get there. MOON POWER!”
Before I get into another tangent, I thoroughly enjoyed the sidequests of Majora’s Mask. For me personally, they make the land of Termina have more character than Hyrule in Ocarina of Time.
Yes, I said something in Majora’s Mask is better than how Ocarina of Time executed it. Deal with it, OoT fanboys.
I especially liked the amount of depth into the lovers sidequest, one of the longest and most involved sidequests in the series—by the way, did you know that sidequest was based on the Taepodong Crisis in North Korea? This article covers neat trivia like that. There are many backstories and Easter egg scenes surrounding Anju and Kafei—for a long time, I never knew there was a hidden conversation between Anju and her mother at the Stock Pot Inn. You would have to restart each playing session just to get every piece of subtext of these characters and their relationships with other people across Clock Town.
Termina is quite a lively place, even when it’s days away from destruction. You really come to like all these side characters, which gives you a much stronger resolve to save them from impending doom. Stronger than the Hylians of OoT…
Oh, and also, Termina is more tolerable to explore than Hyrule. Hyrule is a big, green field of nothing with too much walking distance. In Termina, the overworld is more densely populated with enemies and items.
There, I said more things are better! Fight me, OoT fanboys!
But the sad part? Time is still very short, even with the Goddess of Time on your side. Once you play the Song of Time to restart from scratch, all of your good deeds will be erased and the people you helped will be back in turmoil. Even with all that great power, you can’t help everyone in one timeline. It’s literally impossible, since some people’s schedules conflict with one another. The only thing you can do is tackle the root of the problem: defeat the Skull Kid and recover Majora’s Mask.
From the Swamp into the Heavens
After all this, I still have yet to bring up the actual temples of Majora’s Mask. Well, let’s discuss that now. It’s easy to forget that this game has dungeons where you must collect key items, solve puzzles and defeat the boss at the end. With all these new game mechanics and the fact that Majora’s Mask has the least number of dungeons in the series, I don’t blame anyone for overlooking the temples—hell, I’m guilty of it. I brought up the three-day cycle, the masks and the transformations before this point. They simply overshadow the main goal to move the story forward.
This is not to say that the temples are bad. I still enjoyed them. Yes, even the Great Bay Temple—come on, guys, it’s not that bad. I still enjoyed it more than the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time. But overall, I will say I liked the dungeons of Ocarina of Time better.
There. You happy, OoT fanboys?
Most of the dungeons in OoT are certainly more straightforward, but are very challenging in the Master Quest version of the game. But Majora’s Mask dungeons have considerably more unorthodox and open-ended designs. As a result, you’re going to be running around these dungeons from one side to another, just to look for a way to make progress. And yes, it can get pretty annoying and tedious.
This goes especially true when you’re searching for a new collectible in the temples: the Stray Fairies. And there are 15 of them in each temple. Why do you need them? Because they’re the only way you can meet the Great Fairy in each area, who will grant you a new power or item that will help you a lot in the long run.
I actually remember being stuck at Snowhead Temple during my first playthrough of the N64 version of Majora’s Mask, because I couldn’t find out how to get to the damn boss. There are moments like these that make you go, “Oh, come on! How was I supposed to know I can do that!?”
However, Stone Tower remains one of my favorite dungeons in the series. It’s a true test of knowing how to utilize the abilities of every race to clear the puzzles—as well as many tricky light puzzles. Furthermore, it comes to one of the most surreal moments in the game: switching places between the sky and the earth. This simple aesthetic change gives Stone Tower the look of a temple in the sky. But the reality is that everything is simply flipped upside down. I wonder… were the residents of Termina somehow affected by this change as well? Or did Link have an opposite reaction to gravity? Or does Stone Tower exist in its own pocket dimension?
Well, whatever the case, this temple certainly defies physics. And it looks so cool in doing so.
The bosses are pretty standard, though you would have to rely on your other forms to gain the advantage. Odolwa is straightforward. Goht was a lot of fun because of its fast pace and intense racing sequence. Gyorg can be a real pain in the ass if you don’t know how to approach him. And Twinmold… is a complete joke if you have the Giant’s Mask.
But easily the most memorable fight is Majora’s Mask, one of the craziest final bosses I’ve come across in gaming. It’s bizarre enough traveling to a random green field (on the moon, of all places) that may be a hallucination created by the mask. But then an avatar representing the mask transports you to a remote location, which appears to be some alien-like shrine. The mask battles you, taking on odd shapes and exhibiting insane behavior. It’s truly a sight to behold and it makes you feel genuine dread in fighting that thing.
A Tale of a Lonely Imp and the Four Giants
Majora’s Mask has one of the deepest lores in The Legend of Zelda series. Because your actions can change a person’s fate, there are multiple hidden dialogue options that you will most likely miss on your first couple of playthroughs.
This is the kind of game where you get the most enjoyment by exploring multiple avenues, instead of trying to rush through the main story. It’s to the point where the sidequests may even outshine the temple challenges…
Not only did Majora’s Mask take a risk with its dark story, but it’s also one of the very few Zelda games that doesn’t really feature Zelda. She gets one cameo in this game, and that is it. Not even recurring antagonist Ganon/Ganondorf gets a mere mention.
At the time, it was a refreshing change of pace. The previous game to do this was Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy, where Zelda also got a cameo.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is that it took place in a parallel world. How Link actually entered the land of Termina from Hyrule is unclear, but it definitely looked and felt like a weird dream.
As a result, many familiar faces appear in Termina, in different roles. Some examples:
- Kaepora Gaebora – a wise and jolly owl who gives Link advice in OoT; same thing in MM, except that he acted like he never met Link before
- Anju – previously the Cucco Lady in OoT; a kindly innkeeper in MM
- The Running Man – a man who loves running in OoT; a dedicated postman in MM
- Koume & Kotake – Ganondorf’s caretakers and sinister witches in OoT; harmless shopkeepers in MM
- Romani & Cremia – a farmer’s daughter in OoT who works at Lon Lon Ranch; two different girls as sisters who own the Romani Ranch
- Lulu – the arrogant Princess Ruto in OoT; a docile songstress in MM
- Dampé the Gravekeeper – an old man who owns the Kakariko Graveyard in OoT; owns the Ikana Graveyard in MM
You’ll be finding many characters like these across Termina. Of course, the in-game reason is “parallel world.” The behind-the-scenes reason?
Majora’s Mask took about a year to develop, while Ocarina of Time took three. Plus it had a smaller development team, so the original idea was to create a side story to OoT. In order to meet this strict deadline, director Eiji Aonuma recycled OoT’s engine and multiple character models to save time. The old character models received some improvements (new animations and facial expressions). This short development cycle also explains why Majora’s Mask is loaded with sidequests and has very few dungeons.
Some fans theorize that Majora’s Mask is a journey describing the five stages of grief. Clock Town represents denial, Woodfall represents anger, Snowhead represents bargaining, Great Bay represents depression and Ikana Valley represents acceptance. The evidence is how the residents in each area behave and the kind of challenges that Link faces. VortexxyGaming had a video on this topic, as well as many other sites describing a similar theory. It even goes as far as saying that Link died during his search for Navi, and that Termina was some sort of limbo that Link must cross to finally pass on. Considering the mysterious, unexplained phenomena of Termina, anything is possible.
There were moments in the story where I was visibly moved and shocked. Who else teared up at the flashbacks of Darmani and Mikau? Who else felt happy for Anju and Kafei when they finally reunited, moments away from the apocalypse? Who else felt helpless when Romani got kidnapped, only for her to appear the next day after going through a mindfuck powerful enough to put her into a catatonic state? Who else felt sorry for Gorman when his dreams for fame and success have been crushed? Who else pitied the Skull Kid, after his friends left him alone?
Majora’s Mask is a game about helping troubled people, showing genuine acts of kindness to allow them to overcome their problems. And that’s what I love about it. You’re not just doing these people small favors. You’re the help that these people need. And even though it’s temporary, you feel great about helping them in the end.
This is a trope called Videogame Caring Potential, where you actually care about these otherwise minor NPCs. And well, it’s pretty strong with this game.
There’s a little more to talk about, though.
Majora’s Mask 3D
Much like Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask got an enhanced remake for the 3DS. For similarities, most of the original game is intact. The graphics has been updated to have higher quality textures and smoother character models. The music is exactly the same. You can now use a touch screen to help manage your inventory. The frame rate is much higher.
Since this remake was released around the same time as the New Nintendo 3DS XL, you can take advantage of the C-stick to control the camera, which is a nice feature.
One of the common criticisms of Majora’s Mask on the N64 is how you save the game. The original Japanese game had no quick save feature, so you would have to play the Song of Time to save. The international versions added a quick save feature, but still require you to play the Song of Time to permanently save your progress. But in the 3DS remake, you can use owl statues to save.
Smaller things like the bank and some items were moved into different locations. The bank is now in the southern district of Clock Town. The Stone Mask and the Giant’s Mask are now in different locations, but in areas that make more sense instead of being placed in random spots.
And to make the game easier, you can go inside the Clock Tower and consult the Sheikah Stone for hints on what you can do next. You can also ask the Bombers around Clock Town for more hints regarding sidequests and other hidden events. Speaking of which, there is a new sidequest to get an extra bottle from Gorman.
The Fishing Hole from Ocarina of Time makes a return to this remake. Now there are two Fishing Holes; one in the Southern Swamp and one at Great Bay. Unfortunately, there are no new collectibles at these places. They are there solely for just the fishing mini-game, where you can now catch many different kinds of fish using different masks and songs to lure them in. It’s a shame that there is no real incentive to complete these challenges, so it’s entirely optional for 100% completion of the game.
But the most controversial change for me personally is the redone bosses. You can’t just directly attack them anymore. Instead, you had to find a way to stun them, revealing a giant grotesque eyeball resembling the eyes on Majora’s Mask.
When I fought against Odolwa and Goht in this remake, I didn’t like the changes that much. Eventually, I warmed up to the Odolwa fight after realizing it made the boss more fair and challenging. As for Goht… it just forces you to change forms just so you can damage the damn boss. It’s unnecessary.
But the Gyorg and Twinmold fights are considerably improved, since they’re both two-phase battles that require more skill to defeat. But in my opinion, the Gyorg battle is more annoying than before and the controls for Link during the Twinmold battle are clunky.
The Majora’s Mask battles are largely unchanged, but now it has higher damage output, making the fights more hectic and dangerous if you’re not careful enough.
Overall, I’m mixed on the changes on the boss battles. Still, they’re not a big dealbreaker. I’m sure many players don’t mind the changes. I’m just personally acclimated to the boss fights of the original Majora’s Mask, so I found the changes distracting at worst.
And that’s about it for this long review. While Ocarina of Time is a great game and it remains one of the most important titles in gaming history, I feel that Majora’s Mask perfected what OoT established. It told a more adult and moving story with characters you’ve come to care about, while retaining what made the dungeons and exploration enjoyable. It is my personal favorite Zelda title to this day and I would continue coming back to it as long as I live.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask$39.99
- The gameplay had improved greatly from OoT, now giving you the option to play as different characters with different strengths and weaknesses.
- The story is one of the most compelling in the Zelda franchise, trying something different and succeeding at it. A lot of subtext hidden in the dialogue and environments.
- The graphics were quite advanced for the time, implementing character expressions and animations that OoT didn't have.
- The soundtrack has a dark and unique edge to it compared to other LoZ soundtracks.
- The sidequests are engaging and a lot of fun.
- The 3DS version improved numerous things like the graphics, the save feature, in-game hints, etc.
- While the mask mechanics are interesting, most masks are only useful for a single sidequest.
- This game has the least number of dungeons of any Zelda game, focusing mostly on sidequests instead.
- In the original N64 version, you can only save when you restart the days.
- For the 3DS version, the bosses in my opinion neither improved or detracted from the addition of a new weak point.