The hardest reviews are for something you love…it’s taken me the better part of a year to finally finish this. In some ways I love Majora’s Mask more than Ocarina of Time. Its dark tale of loss & redemption is something that really struck a chord with me. It’s not about destroying an evil & more about having & giving second chances, something that the gameplay uses to great effect.
Released in the year 2000 the game came as something of a shock for Zelda fans. Only the 2nd to use 3D graphics those expecting another exciting jaunt through Hyrule were quickly surprised by the opening scene. In it we see Link (as a child) on a long journey to find his departed fairy friend, Navi. While travelling through a forest he is ambushed by ‘Skull Kid’ & his two fairies Tatl & Tael, they steal his horse (Epona) & the ocarina of time.
Link gives chase into a cave & confronts Skull Kid who wields incredible power. He turns Link into a Deku scrub & leaves him to die. Tatl is separated from Tael as they make their escape & insists on teaming up with Link until they can be reunited.
This intro is amazingly done…the use of well-known Zelda themes but slowed down to make it seem so much more sombre. It’s one of my favourite pieces of Legend of Zelda music.
Initially Skull Kid doesn’t seem much of a foe but pay attention to the mask he wears…that is the power…Majora’s Mask. Once you make your way through the cave (serving as a tutorial for the playing as a Deku Scrub) you’ll meet the Happy Mask Salesman who makes a deal with Link.
Get back Majora’s Mask & the ocarina of time from Skull Kid & he will lift the curse that has turned Link into a Deku scrub. Majora’s Mask has imbued Skull Kid with a massive amount of power that he can’t control & it is has turned him into an evil being causing chaos where ever he goes. The land of Termina, a mirror world (in a way) of Hyrule is where Link needs to go but his time is short there.
You see one of the events Skull Kid has set in motion is the end of Termina…dark enough, huh?
In 3 days’ time, the moon is going to crash into the land destroying everything. Link has 3 in-game days to stop the Skull Kid & save Termina…something that just isn’t possible.
The cave leads to the clock-tower & out into the world of Termina…specifically Clock Town. The first view of the vibrant & alive world that you instantly want to save. Take a moment here to look up, look up & see the moon. It’s quite something….
So let’s talk about the 3 day cycle…the biggest chance from Ocarina of Time. The very first cycle that involves your only task being to get to Skull Kid & get the ocarina back lasts just over 30 minutes real time. Not long at all but more than enough to do what you need to do. Link as a Deku scrub just isn’t powerful enough to defeat Skull Kid at this point but with the ocarina of time back time can be now be reversed.
Reversing time is the only way to play Majora’s Mask but it comes with a serious down-side. Reverse time back to the start of the first day (your only option) and everything resets. Didn’t finish a dungeon before you need to go back…you’ll have to do that dungeon again. That might seem like a frustrating experience but it’s not, in fact it’s incredibly rewarding. Your time management is super-important & eventually you can learn an ocarina song that slows time down allowing you to do more in the 3 days.
Returning back in time saves the game as well as keeping major accomplishments such as songs learnt, weapons found & masks acquired. It sounds punishing but thanks to the bomber notebook (something you can acquire early on) your quests can be recorded as you progress giving you an idea of just what you need to do next.
The main quest line sees Link having to navigate the four major areas of Termina to awaken 4 giants in 4 temples, the Southern Swamp, the Snowhead Mountain, the Great Bay & Ikana Canyon. These giants have the power to stop the moon & help Link defeat Skull Kid.
Once Link recovers the Ocarina, the Happy Mask Salesman removes the curse & puts the power into a mask. The Deku scrub mask is the very first mask you will receive & can transform Link into one at will. This is really important as each area requires a transformation mask to navigate & allows Link new combat styles & increased skills (such as a Zora mask allowing him to swim deep & at great speeds).
Only a few masks are actually central to the story even though there are 24 in total to collect. This is where Majora’s Masks side quests come into play. The NPC’s (non-playable characters) of the world, most of them are more important than we’ve ever seen in a Zelda game. Their stories are deeper than ever before & it is heart-breaking at times as your efforts are wiped out by the restarting of the 3 days.
Never is this more significant than the reuniting of 2 characters who love each other. The quest line is spread across the 3 days & you’ll feel such happiness for them but watch in despair as you are forced to rewind time back to the start. Lovers that get the briefest time together, even if you don’t rewind their time is brief as the moon is about to crash into the world.
It’s deepness I’ve never experienced in a Zelda game before & it helps Majora’s Mask stand out from its predecessor.
It’s worth hunting down every optional mask, as well as adding many more hours to the gameplay most masks actually benefit in some way. The bunny ears for example allow Link to run faster & the stone mask will see Link ignored by guards & most enemies.
Even without all that I encourage you to make the effort as it just makes almost every character in the game so much more important. Seeing those who chose to remain on the final night, who you’ve talked to, maybe helped in some way, seeing them realise their doom is imminent & knowing you can save them by rewinding time but it will mean they’ve never met you. It just makes them more than just NPCs.
There are very few differences control-wise in Majora’s Mask; if you’re familiar with Ocarina of Time you’ll feel right at home here. The biggest differences come when controlling a transformed Link as even when playing the Ocarina the instrument changes depending upon who you are (Goran mask will play drums).
Majora’s Mask continues the Zelda trend of dungeon crawling & solving puzzles with a boss to defeat at the end. This is sadly where Majora’s Mask takes a misstep as almost all the dungeon bosses are forgettable affairs with stupid names. The worst being Gyorg who is basically a fish & very easy considering the point in the game you meet it.
Musically you’ve heard a lot of what Majora’s Mask has to offer before in Ocarina of Time but a lot of it is reworked here. It’s done so well in fact that I prefer most of Majora’s Mask’s music…as I said at the start it is often reworked into a more sorrowful, darker feel & it just adds an edge to moments that will stay with you for a long time. I have to single out a particular point that still blows my mind 15 years later.
I urge you to wait until for the final countdown to start that signifies the moon about to crash into Termina. You’ll have a few minutes to admire what is happening around you while a piece of heart-breaking music plays out. Its incredible stuff & one of the best pieces of gaming music ever.
Thankfully you can save the land of Termina & in doing so learn the truth about Skull Kid. I talked about the lack of a real evil entity at the start because his story is actually really sad. A lonely, bullied kid who had spent his life shunned until he meets Tatl & Tael. They accept him & the trio become firm friends…than he finds Majora’s Mask.
It’s a story about Tatl, Tael & Skull Kids redemption as much as it is about the characters of Termina as well. So many have made mistakes that they now get a chance to undo with your help even if it’s not going to be a permanent fix. Everyone deserves a second chance…
Almost 10/10 but the lack of memorable bosses lets it down just a little bit. There is more to love here than Ocarina of Time especially the darker, more sombre edge but it just falls a little short of Ocarina of Times excellence.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask