While the 16 bit era came and went with only one Zelda title, the legendary A Link to the Past, the 32-64 bit era was a bit kinder to Zelda fans as it featured two great Zelda titles. One of them was of course (Arguably) the greatest game of all time Ocarina of Time in 1998 and the other, the subject of this review; Zelda Majora’s Mask.
Majora’s Mask or MM as I will refer to the game in the review for convenience’s sake. Was released in October 2000, at this stage while the game was a critical success, it didn’t set off the fire works that Ocarina of Time has produced two years earlier. The reason for that probably lied on the fact that the N64 was beginning to look graphically primitive thanks to the arrival of the Dreamcast and the PS2.
But even then at the time I thought Majora’s Mask was a revolutionary game and I think the same today. MM three day system was ground breaking at the time, and since then no one has even tried to emulate it. Majora’s Mask plays exactly the same as Ocarina of Time as they share the same engine. Young Link moves the same way he did in the previous game only that he has now learned a few new acrobatic moves and can ride the horse as a kid. The truth is that Link has new animations and slightly improved texturing.
All of this was possible with 4MB RAM pack, that did not only allowed for MM to feature a more colorful world than Ocarina it also helped the game to make such worlds bigger. In my opinion it was this game the title really pushed forward the N64s RAM Pack’s capabilities. However a bigger and better looking game doesn’t necessarily make it a better game. (if game ranking were done like that Wind Waker would be the greatest Zelda of them all) So the prevailing question in this review is a simple one: Is The Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask a better game than Ocarina of Time (which is arguably the greatest game of all time)?
Graphically as I stated before this game is an advancement over Ocarina, and yet OoT took half a decade to make, and it makes a difference in the art work and over all world design. The Art Work in here is awfully similar to that in Ocarina featuring a cast of NPC’s composing of mostly recycled Ocarina characters. While Termina (the game’s world) here is bigger and actually has a longer more expansive draw in distance, it just isn’t as fun to traverse as Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule. The world also doesn’t feel like a place where I would want to live in like Hyrule, perhaps I was spoiled by the Dreamcast (which had been out for a year before MM released), after all since part of Ocarina of Time’s graphical magic was the fact that in 1998 it was quite possibly the greatest looking game out there bar none. But I tend to lean towards the fact that the world in MM wasn’t as cleverly and as beautifully designed as the world in its predecessor.
That’s not to say that the design is bad, in fact is damn near flawless, much better than the one in Wind Waker and perhaps any other action RPG not named OoT. Really it would be incredibly unfair on my part to expect that this game (or any game for that matter) would surpass OoT. After all OoT is, I described on this very site the only game in History that I dared to call flawless in every single aspect.
The characters and textures in MM however are as smooth as you will ever see textures in the N64. MM is graphically impressive enough to in some ways surpass some DC titles. So in the technical aspects the game looks better than OoT, but nothing will ever beat the great magical feeling I felt as I walked around Kokiri Forest for the very first time in OoT.
However as far as N64 games and as far as any game during the 32-64 bit era is concerned you will be hard pressed to find one that looks as impressively as MM.
Aurally the game is on par with OoT though it features so new Ocarina songs, however the biggest addition to Zelda fanatics in this category, is the return of the traditional Zelda over world theme, which was missed in OoT. That being said, what I am about to state here will probably set off a bunch of Zelda maniacs after me, and that is that I actually liked the OoT over world song more than Zelda’s traditional theme. The music here is MIDI quality, in other words far below the quality of the orchestrations that were produced for PS1 RPG is the era, but the compositions themselves are as good anything in the market.
The sound effects again return in impressive fashion every thing in the environment that moves makes a sound, the N64 Zeldas were unrivaled in their day in what Ambient sounds were concerned. Even if you play the collectors version in the GC collectible Zelda disc you will find plenty to like here.
Storywise I am happy to report that this might be one of the best Zelda tales around, and this is thanks to the 3 day feature of the game, in other words it is impossible to talk about the story without actually referencing the innovative gameplay feature. The game starts simple enough, Link is wandering around a forest in Hyrule, when unexpectedly he is attacked (more or less) by a skull kid wearing a strange mask. The School kid is accompanied by two fairies, who help him steal Link’s Ocarina of Time and his horse. Link of course being one to never back down from a challenge, chases after the skull kid and falls through a warp that leads him in to the world of Termina.
Termina, is eerily similar to Hyrule infact much of the same people that live in Hyrule live in this parallel dimension leading more or less similar lives. The problem is here is that the Skull Kid disappears with both his Ocarina and possibly his horse, and leaves link more or less in a crippled state as he is turned into a Deku. Link will not only have to find a way to get his Ocarina and his horse back but he will also have to find a way to save Termina from the giant Moon that is about to crash into the land.
Obviously it will take much more than three days to save the land, it is because of that fact that Link will not only need to recover his original form but also to recover he precious Ocarina of Time in order to keep repapering the three days over and over until he can collect all four Guardian Masks. Once this task is completed Link will be ready to take on the Majora’s Mask, and as the story always goes save the world.
I know what experienced Zelda or Action RPG players might be thinking at this point, Majora’s Mask main plot doesn’t deviate any from the already successful, established and yes, aging formula, but that doesn’t keep it from having one of the best stories ever told in an Action RPG, and the reason for this is that the game keeps track of at least fifty NPC’s lives for the three “game” days that the game lasts. This is a very impressive feat from an N64 title, when you consider that some of the NPCs have a different routine to follow in each game day.
More importantly along his quest, Link will have to interact with most if not all of them at certain times during the game as it is the only way to get all the masks (which yields the opportunity to complete four fun challenging mini dungeons, in order to get the all powerful Diety Mask which makes Link look like a Elfin version of Sephiroth.)
This means that not only will you experience the main quest but also a dozen of other interesting mini quests (or side stories) too. Seldom has any game provided as much replay value, perhaps the only other game I can think of is Ocarina of Time. While newer games like Fable and Morrowind, have a ton of side quests and side stories of the sort, they are never as fun or as graceful as the N64 Zeldas are at these features.
The dialog as it has been a Nintendo tradition is excellent while keeping it “E” rated, however I cannot stress enough how important it is for the Zelda series to follow the rest of the RPG world in to the “T” rated zone. The series needs to mature and I hope the upcoming Twilight Princess for GC and Wii pulls this off, as I think Nintendo has stretched the series as far as it could go with the “E” rating here.
On a weird note about the plot, while Termina features the same cast of characters of Hyrule, under different names it was weird not to see any Kokiri around, Zelda, Ganondorf, or even a Link alter ego in this parallel dimension to Hyrule. The story while fairly predictable as all Zeldas are, manages to stay wildly entertaining thanks to the supporting cast of characters and their three day ordeal.
The Gameplay here is identical to Ocarina’s, in fact if you mastered that game you should not bother to even read the tutorials here, except for the masks! Each mask (even those which are lesser masks) give Link different abilities that he will need to make the game easier or to complete side quests, the more important masks however like the Zora, Goron and Deku masks, do not only completely alter Link’s outer appearance but also all of his abilities.
If you ever wanted to swim like a Zora, you will have the great opportunity to do so here at will, with challenging racing minigames, a brilliantly designed water dungeon, and really you will have all of the massive Great bay (bigger than Lake Hylia) at your disposal to swim to your heart’s content. Link’s Zora form to me is perhaps the coolest form in all of the game. You can swim super fast like fish under water, and have unlimited under water breath, among other skills.
Turning into a Goron will allow Link to smash rocks, carry heavy things (including the very useful Goron Powder keg), and will allow you to roll around the land at super sonic speed ala Sonic the Hedgehog. Lastly turning into a Deku will allow Link to launch himself from Deku Flowers to fly for a limited amount of time and reach high places.
The masks add a whole new dimension to puzzles, both in the outer world and in the dungeons, so cleverly using each mask is a must. Learning how to move Link in his different forms is easy and fun specially if you have played any of the other 3-D Zeldas.
Gameplay wise the game while as good as OoT in most aspects as I said before when talking about the graphics, seems to lack the special touch that OoT had in the design department, the dungeons here in Majora’s perhaps the best seen in any action RPG not named Ocarina of Time, but the problem in the game is that there isn’t enough of them, in fact there is only 4 major dungeons. This will likely be burdensome for seasoned Zelda vets that expect more from a fully fledge Zelda title.
I must say that I don’t have any complaints about the three day system in fact I think the system is pure genius and it is smoothly done, the sense of urgency is always there to finish the quest even if you know that you can easily turn back time at will. The problem for some with this system will be that some quests can take up all three days to complete and if by some chance the proverbial “oh crap I screwed up” were to happen you would have to start the entire segment again, this could become cumbersome, but I wasn’t bothered by it.
The dungeons can all be finished with in the three day period, providing that you slow down the time with an Ocarina Song, and once a dungeon is finished and you received your guardian mask, the progress will be saved so even when you reset time, the dungeon will be completed, so Link wont have to go through it all again.
That being said some items and mini quests in particular areas can only be finished once a boss is defeated (because that area is freed from it‘s curse), and when you reset time the boss returns (and so does the curse), so you will have to enter the dungeons multiple times to fight the bosses, the good thing is that once the dungeon is completed once, you can always take the short cut to the boss fight, in order to avoid the pesky puzzles.
The one aspect where the game sorely falls short of Ocarina is in its minigames…don’t get me wrong there are probably more of them here than there were in OoT, but the single most important and most addictive game in Ocarina of Time is gone…yes the FISHING GAME!!!! What happened to the fishing game!? The Fishing game is gone, and this is a painful sad fact.
Other than that this game has the standard Zelda fare of Minigames, meaning that the game can be fairly manageable as in it will only take 20 hours to finish maybe if you just play the main quest from start to finish, but real die hards who must collect every mask, every item and every heart will have their work cut out for them for at least 60 hours.
All in all this has to be my second favorite Zelda game of all time, even better than the recent Wind Waker, the game didn’t manage to capture the magic of Ocarina of Time, but neither has any game before or since, but is it’s the closest to it that any N64 game ever got, in fact dare I say that any game in the 32-bit to present time has gotten. 3-D Action RPGs are getting more common these days than they were in the PS1-N64 Era, with games like Fable and Jade Empire, but I would take Majora’s Mask over either of them any day of the week.
Gameplay: 9.9- Follows the same design blue print of Ocarina of Time as they share the same engine, this is as good as 3-D gaming gets in the genre. However a full 1 tenth of a point was taken for the fact that there are only 4 DUNGEONS!? Other than that as Flawless as Ocarina.
Graphics: 9.8-(Keep in mind this is a retro score today it would probably be deemed a 8.0 as I still would take into account the fact that this is an N64 game) Technically prettier than Ocarina, but the game is somewhat lacking in the design department. The over world itself feels somewhat disconnected, and segmented, Termina unfortunately is not as believable as OoT’s Hyrule.
Music: 10.0-As Good as Ocarina, but gets a few nostalgic points here because the game has the traditional Zelda over world tune.
Story: 9.0-Is an action RPG after all I don’t expect much from the story department, and the story is fairly predictable as always, but the story gets a full two points here because of the fact that every NPC lives a convincing daily routine during the three days. However the game feels like a step back from OoT in terms of maturity, Zelda deserves a T rating, so that we can finally see some new issues pop up in its story.
Addictiveness: 9.8-Completists will be in heaven with all of the things there are to complete in this game. Zelda titles always deliver the proverbial bang for the buck with their mini-quests and games. The only downer in this game is that there is no FISHING GAME, god why!?
Overall: 9.8- The second best Zelda game of all time. A great buy if you can find it, which will be very hard to do because Game Stop and EB stopped taking N64 and Ps1 games. So go out on ebay if you must. Your best bet is to find the Zelda Collectible Disc for GC that includes the very first Zelda, Zelda II, Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask.