Following the immense success and high consumer sales of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, it was a relative no-brainer for Nintendo when it came to creating a sequel. Ocarina of Time was one of the top-selling games of its time and still holds a place in the top five titles of all time. The game received top awards across numerous categories, such as Console Game of the Year, Best Visual Engineering, and Best Game Design (The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences – AIAS – 1999). The list of honors from various sources went on and on. In 2000, the question at hand was this: Would Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask follow in Ocarina’s footsteps, or would it emerge as yet another disappointing Zelda sequel (see Zelda II: The Adventures of Link NES), where the original – and successful – formula was abandoned in favor of something entirely different? Thankfully, though, Nintendo learned its lesson and the Zelda franchise maintained its greatness.
Majora’s Mask takes place many months after the close of events in Ocarina of Time and catches up with Link as he’s getting harassed by the Skull Kid. Originally a minor character in Ocarina of Time pesky Skull Kid is now being controlled by ?the mask’ he wears. With Skull Kid causing even more mischief this time around, it’s up to Link to stop him before the moon crashes into the Earth. With this task in hand Link must relive the same three days over and over again with the help of his trusty Ocarina.
Unlike most games, or even movies, that make you play or watch the same day over and over Majora’s Mask never becomes repetitive, old, or redundant. The 72-hour cycle is present merely to add pressure to an already challenging game. Very rarely would gamers find themselves doing the same thing over, unless, of course, they failed to accomplish a given task or died in the trying.
The Zelda series has always received praised for its intriguing storylines, gameplay, and graphics, but what helps it withstand the test of time is its innovation – and in this regard, Majora’s Mask is no exception. The innovation for this game lay in the fact that Link could transformed into the creatures or races that aided him in his previous quest. Due to the mischievous acts of the Skull Kid, Link is transformed into a Deku, a Zora, and a Goron. By completing necessary tasks while in creature form, Link is then transformed back to himself and his last creature form is given to him in the form of a mask. These attained masks give him the ability to change between gathered creature races at any time and also aid in his task accomplishment. The trusty Ocarina of Time also plays a multi-faceted role in Majora’s Mask, seeing as each of Link’s creature transformations means that his musical instrument changes, too.
Gameplay for the franchise had never been better, and even with the newly added mask innovation, the controls worked perfectly, allowing Link to change or put a mask on with the mere touch of a button. Nintendo really struck gold through Ocarina of Time and its amazing gameplay features, and Majora’s Mask follows suit and even exceeds it in some ways. Those who’d played Ocarina were pleasantly surprised by the easy-to-grasp controls and were so spoiled by them that they wanted every game’s controls to be an emulation. Majora’s Mask largely had the same controls as Ocarina but added new purpose to them through Link’s transformations; each one of his masks allowing him to perform new tricks. A Deku scrub has the ability to shoot a Deku nut from its mouth and drill itself into an exploding flower giving ?Deku Link’ the power to float or hover for a limited time. This was used to find those hard to reach places that a mere ?regular’ Link just couldn’t achieve with a simple jump. When changing into a Zora, Link possesses the power to swim extremely fast underwater and can also throw a deadly boomerang weapon. Changing into a Goron sees Link with the ability to roll into a massive spiked boulder and smash through rocks and speed ahead of things. With each creature change, the action controls remain effortlessly simplistic and easy to execute; either by simply pressing one or two buttons in order to perform a myriad of new functions. Playing the Ocarina of Time, or any variation of it through the race changes, is also very simplistic, it’s seldom more than learning by listening and then playing back the right tunes through timed button presses – this way Link can master almost any instrument. Improving on Ocarina of Time’s controls was a feat all of its own, and very few gamers ever believed it could happen. Majora’s Mask proved them wrong.
Using the same extraordinary graphics engine as Ocarina of Time there’s no room for complaints here. Majora’s Mask may, in fact, have been even better seeing as the N64’s expansion pack was needed for the game, meaning that unsightly rough edges were no longer visible, colors were brighter and more varied, and animations were done perfectly. For its time this game looked down its nose at all other, lesser, competitors. Each level boss comes through with an overwhelming sense, provided mostly by the awesome graphics and ?monster-sized’ challenge. Epona (Link’s faithful steed) looks even better than previous incarnations, and you can almost taste the dust that billows behind her galloping hooves. Swimming through the ocean as a Zora truly shows you the detail poured into this game, and each passing creature, wave or water reflection is enough to pluck a gamer from the real world, and make them forget it entirely. The only graphical complaint about Majora’s Mask lies in the fact that Ocarina of Time had already used the graphics engine – but then why would you want to alter perfection?
The Zelda series has always been top notch in the audio department, and even if another variation of a previous tune sounds off, it is always music to gamers’ ears. Since Link has no voiceover the game concentrates on the sound effects and melodies that have entertained Zelda fans time and time again. There probably isn’t a gamer alive who can say that they’ve played the game and experienced problems with the audio. Though strangely some levels of the game have very little sound, and the sound of a Deku nut smashing isn’t quite enough aural pleasure for the ears. However, the game’s audio is always passable but just not as great as fans would perhaps expect from a Zelda title. Some tunes become redundant by the mere fact that you have to replay the same tune over and over again on your Ocarina in order to complete tasks. The Mario tune was also loveable but hearing it numerous times was enough to drive a gamer mad.
Unless you forgot to cover a particular mini quest, or side task, or wanted to repeat a part of the story that really appealed, then the game didn’t have much in the way of replay value. After all, it was playing through the same few days over and over. The game itself may have felt like a replay all by itself. For a one-time play through Majora’s Mask was great, and to replay it again and again just to finish was also great – the story was excellent, the controls intuitive, and the graphics polished, but when finished there was little else left to see.
The appeal of the Zelda franchise has rarely missed a beat with its fans, and just because a re-hashed story or situation is presented to the gamer, it by no means grows tiring. Nintendo is a master in the storytelling department, whether it’s conquering the same world again as a kid, adult, Deku, Goron, or Zora, there’s always room for the variations of the stories told here in Hyrule. Though it’s quite confusing and somewhat of a mystery as to why ?Zelda’ is still in the gaming title. The legendary princess never shows up in the game but, that aside, this game conquers all other RPGs – except its direct predecessor, Ocarina of Time. Upon its release Majora’s Mask was met warmly by fans and duly found a place in their hearts. And though, for a Zelda title, the game may fall a little short with the absolute purists, as a single RPG Majora’s Mask stands tall.