This past week was a rather exciting one for me in terms of video games. Via a Nintendo Direct presentation on the 14th, Nintendo released information on their New Nintendo 3DS console, specifically with a special Majora’s Mask edition to be released. Having pre-ordered one for myself and the fast-approaching release of the revamped Majora’s Mask 3D next month, I decided I’d make a post discussing why The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is one of my favourite video games.
As my last “Favourites” post covered, Ocarina of Time is my absolute favourite video game. That being said, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the Zelda series always has a special place in my heart among video games, including Majora’s Mask. Unlike other entries in the series, however, Majora’s Mask has continued to remain my second favourite of the series. Many view it as the black sheep of the franchise, and in many ways this is true, but I feel it was done so in a way that makes in wonderfully unique.
On the surface, a lot of what the game had going for it came from Ocarina of Time. Character designs/models, control scheme, and other game mechanics all came from its immediate predecessor. Some may call it lazy, but considering it was on the same platform I think they did a good job of refining the existing gameplay. Where the game departed is where I find it most compelling.
Despite my love for Ocarina of Time, there is no denying that it very closely followed a formula that already existed in A Link to the Past: gather three items, retrieve the Master Sword, clear five more temples, and then fight Ganon. Later entries of the series have followed this structure very closely, and although not exactly the same, it was still done closely enough each time that it feels very well-worn.
Majora’s Mask — especially in hindsight — offered a very different adventure from what you’d normally expect from a Zelda game. Ignoring the above mentioned structure with a seemingly simpler four-dungeon long quest, what it offered instead was a more robust world than Hyrule in Ocarina of Time, brimming with side-quests to discover.
The entire game takes place on a three day cycle due to the impending impact of the moon, which is slowly falling closer to the land of Termina as the days progress. As the Hero of Time, with the ocarina of time on hand, Link can continually travel back to the beginning of the first day to avoid calamity and gather up the power to save Termina.
This continual three day structure allows for a more complex world despite the technical limitations of the time. This small timeline is exploited to great effect by creating intricately timed events. It’s restrictive, but allows for things to adhere to a strict schedule subject to change by Link’s influence. Certain characters won’t always be in the same place, different actions effect where they may end up, and if you’re too late they can meet with very unfortunate fates.
This can lead to having to restart certain quests more often than you’d like, and some amount of waiting to make sure you don’t miss something, but I found it to be more than worth it for the level of intimacy it allowed with the world and its people.
Another reason I love the game and found it so effective — especially related to the three day cycle — is that it is easily the creepiest and darkest a Zelda game has ever gotten. The game’s clock continuously running down creates a constant sense of urgency for the player as death literally hangs overhead at all times.
The world around you is surrounded by death as well. In their cursed states, the different regions of the world are all dying: a swamp is poisoned, a mountain community buried in snow, the sea tainted, and a wasteland surrounded by the undead. All of these factors create a sense of desperation in their inhabitants as they see their world falling apart around them.
The game also plays heavily on the idea of masks, creating a world where they occur as a more common cultural relic than in Hyrule. Not only are masks inherently creepy items, the world being full of different masks for you to find, but there are also transformation masks that allow Link to appear like different beings. Instead of being general magic however, these masks are specifically created using the souls of individuals who have died, and the transformation — as the animation suggests — is a painful process for Link every time.
Outside the primary quest there is a lot of unique and fun things to do that could otherwise be left untouched if the player does not explore. With only four heart containers in total the world is left open for a lot more heart pieces to find, as well as the many different masks and items that can be collected.
Overall, the game is the creepiest in the series, but the world feels alive and charming despite this lingering presence of death and destruction, creating something wholly unique. It is a departure from a lot of what has become the standard Zelda template, but in a way that I feel stands out as a great example of doing something new and different with the series and having it work. The world is different, the story is different, but it is still a Legend of Zelda game, and easily one of my favourites.