The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was originally released in 2000 for the Nintendo 64. It’s the odd one out of the Zelda games, having a unique premise. Link is ambushed by the Skull Kid, who is wearing a mysterious mask. He ends up in Clock Town in the center of the land of Termina, three days before the Festival of the Moon. Unfortunately, the moon in question — which has a creepy, sinister looking moon face — turns out to be colliding with the world, and hits at dawn on the day of the festival.

Link, however, still has access to the magical ocarina of time he gained in the previous game in the series. When the apocalypse happens, he travels back in time three days and starts back in Clock Town. The focus of the game, then, is finding out what’s going on and working out how you can stop it.

The game was, in typical Nintendo fashion, an ingenious design to make the best game possible given hardware limits. Because the N64 had limited cartridge size, it couldn’t hope to compete with PlayStation games for sheer size of world. So instead, a compact game world was created which didn’t need many textures — and that game world was then packed with incidental details and sidequests.

The game was universally praised. I had a copy of the emulated version on the Zelda collector’s disc for the Wii. However, I didn’t play it, partly because I heard that the frame rate was problematic, but mostly because I have a pathological aversion to arbitrary time limits. In the Bartle Test, I’m an Explorer — I like to explore slowly and methodically, admiring the details and taking in the scenery. Arbitrary time limits ruin my enjoyment, so I tend to skip quests — or entire games — which involve them. For example, when I played Borderlands 2, I skipped all the “Do X within N minutes” sidequests.

However, when Majora’s Mask was remade for the 3DS, I decided I had to play it, simply because it’s one of those games that so often gets mentioned on “Best Video Games of All Time” lists.

It is good. And yes, you learn a magical song that makes the time limit somewhat less onerous. But sadly, the time limit is still there, and every time you tackle a particular dungeon, temple or tower, you’re best advised to first reset the clock, then go around re-fetching all the items you need — because of course, you lose your arrows, potions, bombs and other sundry supplies every time you reset the clock and go back to the start of the first day.

So each complicated and interesting area needs to be rushed, and needs to be preceded by a dull grind to get ammo. It made completing the game feel like a chore rather than a pleasure. I admire the design, I admire the writing, but the result just isn’t a game I enjoyed all that much.

But the atmosphere is amazing. Unlike pretty much every other Zelda game, it manages to be creepy and surreal and disturbing at times. It makes me wish they could take the world of Majora’s Mask and use it as the setting for a game as enjoyable as (say) Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess.

One thought on “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

  1. I love Majora’s Mask and have played the whole game through several times, first on the N64 and then again on the Wii (though not the 3DS version), so obviously I have a different take on the whole time limit thing. But I think the main difference is that it simply never occurred to me to “go around re-fetching all the items you need”. What items? Each dungeon supplies all the items you need, and as far as I remember, the game never imposes any constraint based on inventory levels.

    The other thing to note is that on your first run-through of a dungeon you only have to get as far as the mini-boss. Defeating the mini-boss lets you acquire a tool (the bow in Woodfall, the fire arrows in Snowhead, etc.) that opens up a fast path through the temple to the boss. You keep these tools across time resets, so after defeating the mini-boss, if you are low on time you can reset and finish the dungeon via the fast path.

    So many amazing things in the game — deku scrub flight, cow-stealing aliens, the dog race, the pirate fortress, Anju & Kafei, the frog chorus, the four giants, …

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