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CONSOLE: Nintendo 64 DEVELOPER: Nintendo PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): October 26, 2000 GENRE: Action/Adventure
// review by SoyBomb

You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you? (It's not playing this game.)

It's often very difficult to write a review after a game has received such critical acclaim because sometimes I may disagree with the critics and the masses and declare a game that is supposedly "super-mega-awesome" and believe it to be awful. I've definitely done so in the past here at Random.access, and it's extremely likely I'll be doing it again in the future, not to go against the grain and tread my own path but because this is truly how I feel about a game. Luckily, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask isn't such a game. It is indeed a highly rated game — Majora's Mask has earned a score of 95 on Metacritic, which basically means everyone will fall to their knees and praise this as though it's the Second Coming — and one I feel has actually earned those high ratings. In short, Majora's Mask is one heck of a game.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is considered to be one of the darkest entries in the series, and rightfully so. Link is first seen wandering into a mysterious forest in Termina, a land similar to Hyrule, in search of his lost fairy, Navi. Link (in child form, as this takes place after Ocarina of Time, after Link returns to his original, youthful form) is soon ambushed by the Skull Kid wearing the baneful Majora's Mask, who steals his horse and ocarina. To make matters even worse, after chasing him down a bit, the Skull Kid transforms Link into a Deku Scrub! Not knocking the Deku race, but being a fairy boy really helped Link get things accomplished in better time. Link then encounters the Happy Mask Salesman; he promises to help Link if he can return to him the precious item stolen from him, Majora's Mask. So Link's first quest is to chase down that Skull Kid.

As if Link didn't have enough troubles, that Skull Kid is causing even more mischief outside of his poor treatment of others. Under the power of Majora's Mask, the Skull Kid has summoned a rather ugly moon to crash into Clock Town, the central hub of Termina, in three days. Link obviously has to use his time wisely, or the world will suffer a terrible fate (and if you don't deal with things promptly, you will indeed see the cutscene of the moon destroying everything and everyone — an eerie moment, indeed). He manages to get back his ocarina and recalls a song taught to him by Princess Zelda that can turn back time to the beginning of those three days. When the cycle restarts, the Happy Mask Salesman teaches Link the Song of Healing, and Link returns to human form, not to mention gaining a mask that can transform him into a Deku Scrub at will. Annoyed that Link didn't fulfill the deal, he pleads that Majora's Mask be found. And so, Link's real journey begins, and the fate of Termina rests on his shoulders. Link will need to visit the four major regions of Termina — inhabited by races also seen in Hyrule: Dekus, Gorons, Zora, and the Gerudo — to find the solutions needed to deal with such a menace of society.

The first thing you'll notice about Majora's Mask is how much it resembles aspects of Ocarina of Time. With a development period of only one year, many, MANY assets from Ocarina of Time were reused. The majority of the characters were recycled, not necessarily with the same names but with the same character models. The menu system remained intact, as did the general control scheme. Even many of the items are brought back, including Deku Nuts/Sticks, the Hookshot, Bombs, and Arrows. It was the only way that such a game could be made in a short amount of time; otherwise, we may have had to wait a few more years for a console Zelda to appear.

But our focus here isn't on why Majora's Mask is a reflection of Ocarina of Time. Instead, let's look at what makes this game unique. Perhaps the most daring of inclusions to the system is the Three-Day Cycle. As indicated by the plot summary above, the moon is set to crash into Clock Town after three days. Therefore, it's up to Link to make sure he gets as much done in three days as possible before he has to play the Song of Time and rewind back to the beginning. The most notable use of this feature is in Clock Town itself, as the town citizens are always doing different things at different times. Everyone seems to have their own problems, and by performing tasks at different points in time, you can solve them to earn very valuable rewards. There are 20 different people in the town you can help, and you certainly won't be dealing with them all in one cycle. Figuring out what to do and when on which day is part of the game's charm. The same events occur during each cycle, regardless of what you've done before, so if you miss encountering someone the first time, you can always revisit that point in time and try again.

The Three-Day Cycle also gives you a time limit as to how long you can spend taking care of business before you have to potentially lose progress. This loss of time is most notable in the dungeons, a staple of Zelda games. Though there are only four of them, the dungeons are sure to keep you busy. Speaking of dungeons, although they are still coated with the level of genius that Zelda dungeons past all shared, it's a shame that the main treasures in each one are so lackluster this time around. I always looked forward to finding new and useful items and tools in each dungeon; in Majora's Mask, three of the four dungeons have magical arrows. And that's it. I'm sorry, but I can't get enthused about finding yet another type of arrow when there are so many more interesting items that could possibly be placed about. Anyway, you have very little time to lollygag about in dungeons, giving an added sense of urgency. Luckily, once you finish one and defeat the final boss, you get their remains, which stay with you even after you travel back in time as proof of your feats.

All in all, it's a pretty ingenious system that not only cut down on development time, but it keeps you on your toes and potentially gives you a new experience with each cycle, even if it's the same surroundings.

You never know what zaniness Link's going to get himself into!

Based on the game's title, there must be something mask-related going on as well. Though the concept of wearing masks to elicit results was first introduced in Ocarina of Time, where Link could visit the Happy Mask Salesman in Hyrule Castle Town, buy masks, and try to sell them to those in need, the use of masks now becomes a necessity and a significant goal in Majora's Mask. As the game progresses, you'll get three masks that represent three of the major races: the Deku mask, the Goron mask, and the Zora mask, all of which will Let link transform into the physical embodiment of a lost spirit from that race. Each form possesses a power needed to complete the game, especially in dungeons. The Goron mask, for example, transforms Link into Darmani the Third, a fallen hero of his people. Darmani can curl up and roll indefinitely, protruding spikes from his body once he reaches a certain velocity. One of the bosses cannot be defeated without this ability (nor could you realistically arrive at the boss' lair without being a Goron). Darmani's ground pound skill also comes in handy, as does his brute strength for punching objects. The same usefulness extends to Link's other new forms: as a Deku scrub, Link can float through the air with Deku Flowers to travel across chasms; as the Zora guitarist Mikau, Link's swimming skills significantly improve (and on the Nintendo 64, any improvement in swimming is welcomed). I'm a personal fan of the Goron transformation above all others; the others are nice when needed, but to be able to roll long distances in a short amount of time, that's gold.

But beyond the necessary transformation masks, Link has a plethora of other masks he can collect. By engaging in various tasks, including helping out people in need or performing an incredible feat, someone will give you a new mask. Each mask has its own special function and either helps you in the field or assists in getting other masks. For example, by donning the Mask of Truth, you can read the thoughts of gossip stones for game advice or of animals for... well, enjoyment. The Bunny Hood (which is debatably a mask) quickens you up, while the Blast Mask is like a bomb, just for your face! Even though the trek to collect every single mask can be rather difficult, it indeed pays off in the end as you're provided with the most powerful mask in the game just in time for the final boss, reducing the challenge to "laughable". Considering the game has only four dungeons, these side-quests more than make up for it.

As in Ocarina of Time, your precious ocarina certainly comes in handy. Though a few songs are reused (primarily the Song of Time, which you'll use repeatedly to turn back time), there are quite a variety of new ones to learn. As well, by playing the Song of Time backwards, you can slow down time so there is less of a rush to complete tasks. Dungeon crawling also benefits immensely from this so you don't feel the weight of time passing on your shoulders. Playing each note in the Song of Time twice skips ahead to the next evening or dawn, advantageous if you don't feel like standing around picking your nose while waiting for something to happen.

But as much as fiddling with masks and helping people regain their bearings is fun, I would argue that most players purchased this Legend of Zelda game because they like the overall gameplay style of running around, swiping your Kokiri sword, equipping items, and just exploring what Termina has to offer. And with little in common with Hyrule — aside from the striking resemblance of many citizens to characters seen before — it's like visiting an entirely new land. The controls are the same as Ocarina of Time, so those who have already got a grip on the first game will have no trouble adapting here. My only quarrel really comes with the camera, an issue in countless 3D games. The camera gets a little wonky sometimes in close quarters, slipping behind a wall and blocking your view, but it's usually easy to see what you're doing.

Majora's Mask makes use of the Nintendo 64's Expansion Pak, as it was originally planned for release on the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive, a Japan-only add-on with increased memory and magnetic disks as the medium of choice. As the regular Nintendo 64 lacks enough memory, and with the game using dynamic lighting and improved texturing and draw distance among other improvements, the Expansion Pak is necessary. Majora's Mask is only one of a small handful of games that actually require it. Unfortunately, the Expansion Pak was actually sold separately, so unless the purchaser actually read the small print on the back, players would have tried to boot up the game unsuccessfully and sorrowfully until they could get their hands on that sweet, sweet Pak.

The soundtrack for Majora's Mask was once again provided by Nintendo maestro Koji Kondo, assisted by Toru Minegishi, who would later go on to compose for a variety of games in the Zelda and Super Mario franchises. Much of the music featured in Majora's Mask is actually copied over from Ocarina of Time, though brand new compositions, including the theme in Clock Town and the dungeon music, fit very well with the already-known hits, although they do provide a more Eastern feel for the game as a whole.

After the legendary entry that was Ocarina of Time, Nintendo would have known they could hardly top themselves. Majora's Mask doesn't try to overtake its big brother; instead, it takes the franchise in a different direction. With a stronger focus on helping others and the ability to transform, it's like a whole new ball game. Termina definitely doesn't feel like Hyrule, and I believe that was purposely done. The game is more than just Ocarina of Time 2. In injecting these new elements while retaining what made its predecessor great, Majora's Mask has become another universally acclaimed classic in Nintendo's repertoire. If you can acquire this masterpiece, do so without delay. Finding the cartridge shouldn't be overly difficult, but as it's also available on the Wii's Virtual Console. The game has also been remade as The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D for the Nintendo 3DS. So now, there's really no excuse, is there? Take off that Mask of Timidity...

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