The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was a 2000 action-adventure game by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64 (N64). When this game came out, I was a big follower of Gamespot, a video game news site. I checked the website daily for news and reviews about all the recent games. When Majora’s Mask came out, they gave it a pretty low score compared to the previous Zelda game, Ocarina of Time. The previous came scored a perfect ten, but Majora’s Mask only got 8.3 out of 10. Back then, Gamespot was my one source. When they said the game was good but not amazing, I decided to skip it. As a kid my allowance was only enough for a few games a year. I only wanted to play the best of the best. I am blessed that these games are still available these days and for very low prices. Because of that, I was able to play it today on the Wii U’s Virtual Console.
Unlike Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask did not have the typical Zelda story. In fact, the character of Zelda only appeared in one very short cutscene towards the beginning of the game. This game wasn’t really about Zelda at all. It was technically a sequel to Ocarina of Time, starring the same hero (Link) in a new adventure. Link somehow ended up in another dimension or alternate reality. He was now in the world of Termina instead of Hyrule.
The premise of the story was that Link was searching for his old friend, Navi the fairy, from his first adventure when he ran into Skull Kid. After Skull Kid stole Link’s Ocarina of Time item, he ran after him and fell into a deep hole, eventually ending up in Termina. Link got his Ocarina of Time back but then found new problem. The Skull Kid had got his hands on Majora’s Mask, a source of great evil in Termina. With its power, the Skull Kid was somehow magically pulling the moon down to one day crash into Termina. If Link didn’t help, Termina and all its inhabitants would be destroyed. Link could have just gone back to Hyrule, but being the hero he was, he couldn’t stand by idly or run away. He accepted the mantle of hero once again.
Death was a big theme in Majora’s Mask, so it tended to be much darker than most other Zelda games. Link encountered all manner of ghosts and people dying. In one poignant scene, Link witnessed a person die right in front of him and was tasked with burying him. Also, the entire world was going to die if Link didn’t help. Sadness was another big theme. Most of the people Link encountered were very sad about something. Someone had left them or hurt them in some way. This gave Link’s actions more impact. I could just feel the joy after helping solve a character’s problems. Sadness was also the main motivation behind the villain’s actions.
Ocarina of Time was much more epic than Majora’s Mask, but what this game lacked in epicness it gained in personality. The characters in this game just had a lot more to say. Most of them had quests Link could complete. This was important because there were only 4 dungeons. That meant Link only got 4 additional heart containers (health) from playing the story. The remaining heart containers required Link to collect a very large 52 heart pieces, one of the largest numbers in series history. Most of the characters had big problems, so the heart piece reward was just the icing on the cake. The joy of making someone happy was more than enough reward.
On the technical side of things, Majora’s Mask borrowed quite a bit from Ocarina of Time. With only a year of development, there was no time to create lots of new graphics. Almost all of the characters were just reused graphics from Ocarina of Time. This was okay because it reinforced the alternate reality theme. There were several new textures in this game though, and they were usually better than those in Ocarina of Time. Sometimes it was a little jarring seeing the older, lower quality textures next to the newer, more detailed textures, but most scenes looked pretty good. The sound effects were almost exactly the same as the previous game, but most of the music was new. Most of the music was subdued in the background, but a few tracks were really interesting. Because so much of the look and feel of the game was the same, Majora’s Mask felt like an expansion pack more than a sequel. It was more of the same for those that enjoyed Ocarina of Time. I think that was the intent because Majora’s Mask was a much harder game. Nintendo assumed the player already had practice from the first game, so they could make this one more difficult.
It was always pretty clear what Link had to do next to advance the story, but sometimes the details of how to accomplish that goal could be hard to figure out. Usually, it required a lot of trial error. For example, in the snowy part of the game, a critical character was hidden in a large snowball, but there were several of these in the game. I had destroyed a few of them and found them to just have extra supplies I didn’t need. When I couldn’t find the critical character I didn’t even think to try breaking all the snowballs. The game taught me not to do that by showing all the snowballs earlier to just have extra supplies and not characters to talk to. I don’t like trial and error stuff like this. I never like just wandering around randomly trying stuff until I figure out what to do. Fortunately, this only happened a few times in the game.
Another difficult part of the game were the dungeon puzzles. I found the first dungeon to be a cinch, but the last three definitely took some time to figure out. They really took advantage of the third dimension, so much that the two dimensional maps were just not good enough to really understand how various rooms connected together. Link couldn’t fly around to inspect a large room from all angles, so I had to make decisions based on incomplete information. In other words, later dungeons required more trial and error. In this case, I liked it because the dungeons in Ocarina of Time were usually too easy. Majora’s Mask had the right amount of difficulty. The sidequests were a different story though.
To really complete every sidequest was a daunting task without a guide. There were just so many sidequests in obscure places or activated in obscure ways it would take significant trial and error to find them all, let alone finish them all. I went through the whole story and beat the game without a guide. I then used the full set of equipment to go back through all the areas, searching for secrets and sidequests. I ended up being able to do about 80% of the game this way. For the remaining 20%, I used a guide. Because I don’t play games as much as in the past, I am okay using a guide to finish the last few things. I figure it’s not much different than the guidance I got from friends when I played N64 games as a kid. I never finished a game all on my own. We always played games collectively, finding new things and reporting them to the group.
Because I didn’t play Majora’s Mask until recently, it didn’t have the huge impact that Ocarina of Time did. I think it did several things better than Ocarina of Time, but the dated graphics and old technology prevented me from really loving this game. When I look at it objectively, Majora’s Mask was better than Ocarina of Time in almost every way. The only big exception was the story. Some people just didn’t like the darker themes in Majora’s Mask. I normally don’t like dark games, but the old graphics prevented the game from really absorbing it, so I wasn’t affected by it. For the low price I paid, Majora’s Mask was more than worth it. I will always have more fond memories of Ocarina of Time, but now I have a few to add from Majora’s Mask.