The late 90s were the most magical years that I experienced as a gamer. The 3-D era was fresh and exciting. The Nintendo 64 kept churning out ground breaking games, and it seemed that every Nintendo and Rare game of the era broke and set some new standard in gaming. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (today’s game of focus) wasn’t a standard setter only because of the existence of its predecessor.
Perhaps, it is unfair to say that, as MM was destined to follow up the most glaring example of standards being set, as Nintendo pretty much created the modern 3-D open, action adventure genre with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Ocarina of Time, wasn’t just a game for the then, 13 year-old me. The first 3-D Zelda was my most beloved possession ( I still keep my golden cart in a plastic wrap), the one game that could transport me into a ‘real’ magical world where there were no limits (again, this was 13 year-old little me).
I was not alone in my adulation for the game. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time arrived to a sea of perfect scores from different game magazines including Electronic Gaming Monthly (my favorite at the time) were four different reviewers awarded the game 10 out of 10 scores.
Thus, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask had an impossible act to follow when it finally arrived 20 years ago, on this very month of October, after a miraculously quick development cycle consisting of two short years.
My earliest memories of Majora’s Mask come from a magazine preview which showcased Link in his Goron form, though at the time of the preview the game’s story was kept tightly under wraps by Nintendo. Still, the screen shots showed a magical title, with some, but minimal visual improvements over Ocarina of Time which at the time (99-2000) remained a stunning looking game itself.
Nintendo’s magic remained present in the title, even in the game’s early screenshots, I just knew Majora’s Mask would be a special one. It wasn’t as mind-blowing as seeing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time screens for the first time. Ocarina had already opened my eyes as to what was possible in video games, thus, every other game that I had played since Ocarina – except for Skies of Arcadia – had been a bit of a disappointment to me.
The magic feeling of a game coming out, and showing me something that I hadn’t seen and experienced before was over at that point. To be fair to other games, said ‘magic feel’ remains missing in me to this day. Even magnificent modern games, such as The Witcher 3, and Red Dead Redemption 2 are not doing anything that Ocarina hadn’t already done. Games today are bigger, and prettier (better hardware), but they still play by many of the rules that Ocarina of Time set in stone nearly two decades earlier.
So, all of this said, I wasn’t expecting Majora’s Mask to blow me away. I was content with playing an extension of what I felt (and still feel) was the greatest game of all time. Majora’s Mask satisfied that need, and went a bit further beyond.
When I bought the game at launch, I was in the early part of my High School Junior year. The PS2 loomed in the near horizon, and I had been playing the Dreamcast for the greater part of the year. The DC for all of its horsepower, never had an ‘Ocarina of Time like’ experience. Skies of Arcadia was the closest that it came to it in my opinion, but Skies was a turn-based RPG, devoid of a day and night cycle, and the over all freedom that the N64 Zelda’s had provided.
Shenmue tried too hard to emulate real life in order to be ‘magical’ to me. Thus, Majora’s Mask, more than any other game of that generation consumed me in ways that I hadn’t been enthralled since its predecessor. Nintendo cleverly used the RAM pack to make it a bit more colorful than the previous Zelda game, and it even managed to improve Link’s character model.
Termina was a fresh new world, and even then, it felt eerily familiar at the same time. The characters that populated the city, and its outskirts were, for the most part, counterparts of their Hylian versions.
Majora’s Mask had a quick turn-around for a Zelda game, because Nintendo recycled many of the same assets, but I felt this was one of the game’s strengths. Helping Cremia and Romani felt amazing for example, as in a way it felt like I was helping Malon from Ocarina of Time.
Nintendo also turned one of Ocarina of Time’s funnest side-quests (the Mask selling sidequest), into a vital component of the game. Link’s acquired different abilities depending on the mask worn. Major masks such as the Goron, Zora, and Deku, allowed for true transformations and new sets of skills that were necessary in order to complete the game. Collecting masks was a joy, and the ultimate reward, ‘The Fierce Deity Mask’, turned Link into cool looking wrecking machine.
Termina, though a new world, was rich in lore, and history. The world was dark, and the themes darker. MM might the darkest Zelda game ever, and I loved it for it. Link’s race against a never ending 3 day cycle, always kept me on edge. Many complained about the cumbersome save system, and the game being harder than Ocarina, but in my opinion, this was for the best.
I had already mastered Ocarina, I wanted a challenge within the same system and Majora’s Mask provided just that. Others complained about the game having ‘only’ four dungeons, and yet, the game’s main story line took me longer to complete than Ocarina’s did.
Perhaps what still makes Majora’s Mask, in my opinion, an amazing Zelda to play even today, is that it features the liveliest NPC’s in the entire saga. The 3-Day Cycle allowed to Nintendo to script routines for NPCs, which changed with every game day. Some of the more elaborate quests had NPCs that actually performed different tasks within the same day depending on the hour.
With a Metacritc rating of 95, Majora’s Mask is one of the greatest games of all time according to the general critical consensus. I rated the game as the 5th best Zelda of all time, but I was being open minded in that particular article to other people’s tastes. Personally, it is probably my third best Zelda game of all time, only behind Ocarina, and Twilight Princess.
The game can be enjoyed today in the excellent 3DS Remake, which made the game more accessible by offering a more forgiving save system. All in all, Majora’s Mask more than lived up to the task of following Ocarina of Time’s flawless act.