The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
An encore is always hard. Especially when the original book, album, film or act was just so damn good to start with. Suede’s self-titled debut album, for example, was so brilliant it won the Mercury Prize in 1993. When approached the right way, however, an encore can not only match the original but exceed it in leaps and bounds. Case in point: Suede’s second album, Dog Man Star, is by and large the band’s master work, and will likely remain the bands highest point in terms of creative output. So, what chance does the follow-up to what is universally regarded as the best game of all time have in achieving such success?
I’ll admit from the outset that I’m kind of breaking my own rules with this next post, by going outside of the 80’s and 90’s in choosing things to write about. But I get the feeling that the topic of this week’s post is quite possibly the best, most underrated N64 game out there. As already alluded to, the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OOT) is one of the most highly regarded video games of history. It’s got everything: great story, stunning landscapes, a fantastic soundtrack and utterly memorable foes to slash your way through. The next entry to the Zelda franchise was released in 2000, 2 years after OOT, to similar, if not somewhat muted, critical praise. Yet in certain respects, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask by far exceeds OOT both in terms of story, content and gameplay.
The game is a direct sequel of OOT, seeing players take the helm of (surprise, surprise!) the Hero of Time, Link. Following the defeat of Ganondorf, Link leaves Hyrule on a personal quest with his horse, Epona, ‘in search of a beloved and invaluable friend’ (presumably Navi, Link’s fairy sidekick from OOT). On his journey, he encounters a mischievous Skull Kid, who is wearing a mysterious mask. Luring Link away by taking his horse, the Skull Kid leaves Link stranded in the body of Deku Scrub in the land of Termina, a place that is eerily familiar to Hyrule, but cursed with a terrible fate; after three days, the moon will collapse into Termina, obliterating the entire world. By utilising the power of masks, and the time-travelling capabilities of the Ocarina of Time (entrusted to him by Zelda), Link must set out to stop this fate from coming to pass…and to uncover the evil behind the Skull Kid’s mask.
What sets this Zelda game out from all of the others is that, despite the fact you only have three days (an in-game day equating to roughly 54 minutes real time) in which to save Termina, Link can always revert back to the very first day and ‘start again’, as it were. Key items, such as dungeon prizes and Link’ weaponry, are always preserved when this happens, negating the need to replay through large chunks of the game. Time also plays an important part in certain character’s schedules, with potential conversation opportunities only have a short window during each day. The game is also by far and large the darkest iteration of the series, with the story reflecting this. Themes such as lost friendship, love and depression helps to mark the game out as the most mature Zelda game to date.
One of the great new additions is a number of side-quests that Link can undertake. A handy booklet keeps track of all the available quests, and also indicates the time(s) in which important parts of their resolution can be attempted. What’s even better is that nothing is missable; simply play the ‘Song of Time’ to return to Day 1 an you can reattempt any and all side-quest at your pleasure. There is also a very long side-quest which sees Link attempting to bring back together two separated lovers. I won’t spoil the details, but can say with certainty that its one of the best side-quests to have ever graced a Zelda game, if not any game ever. It’s just the same that the reward is really shit. Still, for those aiming for 100% – and to get their hands on one of the game’s best masks – playing through the entire quest line is essential.
On the dungeon side of things, Majora only offers a grand total of four completable dungeons. A paltry amount by Zelda standards, it has to be admitted, but the game more than makes up in this in the quests building up to each dungeon. This is also probably the only Zelda game where replay-ability of each dungeon is possible, as in each one Link has to collect fragments of a Great Fairy which are scattered across the dungeons various rooms. All-in-all, there is a sufficient amount of adventuring and exploring that players can embark on.
Is Majora’s Mask the most polished and ‘fresh’ Zelda game there has ever been? Far from; the feeling of similarity (in terms of characters, certainty) from OOT is comforting, but does give off the feeling of a very much recycled experience. But is Majora’s Mask the boldest, mature and possibly most expansive Zelda game? Almost certainly, and it is in these key areas that the game sets itself out as a worthy and, ultimately, impressive encore to OOT. History is ultimately written by the winners, and OOT has certainly proved itself the victor in this instance; but to forget and discard Majora’s Mask from the history books would be to put aside one of the most unique Zelda games that has ever been conceived.
(Image courtesy of zs.ffshrine.org)