Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

A lot of really stupid people thought that the world was going to end last year.  Luckily it didn't, because that means I get to play "Majora's Mask", thus finally meaning that I have played every single-player non-Phillips Zelda game, and have beaten all but two of them*.  Mayan Apocalypse or not, "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask" is one of the best games in the series and that means a great deal when this series features such classics as "Link to the Past", "Ocarina of Time", "Twilight Princess", "Link's Awakening", and my all-time favorite video game, indeed the greatest thing ever made by humans, "Wind Waker".  "Majora's Mask" is a classic belonging right in that pantheon of glory.

Of course... "Majora's Mask" came out about thirteen years ago, so I guess I'm pretty late to the party.  By now this game has already transformed into a fountain of memes, references, and fond memories in the minds of gamers all around the world.  The game is so beloved that the intellectually-bankrupt Square Enix Co. Ltd. have decided to parrot its main design features for "Final Fantasy XIII-3"**... but that's sad news, this is a happy post!  The game we're talking about came in the year 2000 just after lots of really stupid people thought the world was going to end because the computers would take over because of a date glitch.  "Majora's Mask" was built off roughly 90% "Ocarina of Time" assets and engines, which meant that it could get made relatively quickly.  But rather than copy-pasting the graphics to make a game just like "Ocarina of Time", Nintendo had a very different kind of game in mind.

We all know the gimmick of "Majora's Mask", its a three-day long groundhog's day loop where Link is trapped in an alternate dimension trying to stop an screaming moon from crashing into country he's currently standing in.  So everything you do during the course of a single run is merely useful to collect items, because the physical things you accomplish do not carry over.  This is the kind of innovative game ideas, brilliant groundbreaking stuff, that used to be the main reason why Zelda games were made.  Now with "Skyward Sword" they're mostly about controls, which is why that game is and will continue to be inferior to the previous entries in the series.  But "Majora's Mask" is not merely an interesting twist on the Zelda formula, it also features a dark but very funny storyline.  You got aliens kidnapping cows, monkeys getting kidnapped by Deku Shrubs, Gorons freezing to death in the snow, and a kaiju battle in the middle of desert city.  All of this circulating around one of the most evil villains in series history.  "Majora's Mask" has striking imagery, perhaps the most memorable in the entire series, such as that grimacing moon ready to blow the entire world into dust.  Everything about it is pure classic.

Dawn of the First Day -72 Hours Remain-

I actually first bought "Majora's Mask" all the way back in 2006 or so, ordering an original Nintendo 64 cart online.  This was during the excruciating six months of misery that came when Nintendo decided to delay "Twilight Princess" half a year in order to make that game absolutely perfect.  Basically I had to dust off my old N64, plug it into the only TV it would work with, and try to play a game that was already six years old.  If I recall correctly, I actually only managed to make it as far as the first dungeon before giving up on the game, mainly do to laziness and partially because it was just a bit too unusual for me.  Also, after playing games like "Wind Waker" and waiting for "Twilight Princess", "Majora's Mask" seemed terribly quaint.  Perhaps it was the terribly long time it took me just to figure out how to get out of Clock Town and become human again.  Whatever happened, something soured by first "Majora's Mask" taste.  And by the time I decided that I actually wanted to beat that game, it was 2010, and my cartridge had decided to die on me.  Now it worked totally fine... up until Zelda tries to teach you the Song of Time, when she would get caught in an endless loop, never load up the song, and the game was unbeatable.

Thank God for the Wii Virtual Console, is all I'm saying.  Even then, I actually bought this game on the Virtual Console some million years ago, and I haven't gotten around to beating it.  If you're wondering why there are so few video game reviews on this site, its because these days it takes me like six months to beat a full RPG, and most of the time I lose interest halfway through***.  However, if I really sit down and focus and give a concerted effort, like I did with "Majora's Mask" this week, I was actually able to finish it pretty quickly.  Maybe one of these days I can finish "Radiant Historia".

Anyway, on task:

"Majora's Mask" opens with Young Link riding Epona through a dark misty wood.  A strange little boy wearing a sinister wide-eyed mask comes out of the woods, steals your horse, and wanders through a portal to another world.  Link follows, and through magical misfortune, gets transformed into a tiny Deku Shrub.  Now you're stuck in a town called Clock Town, where in three days there is a festival coming.  Unfortunately, in three days a moon hovering overhead, one with a look of screaming anger on its face, will crash into the Town, killing you and everybody else.  You can't leave because you're a little Shrub boy.  You can't climb up the Clock Tower to confront the Skull Kid, the one who holds the mask.  But you do have a little fairy companion named Tatl who is willing to help you out with targeting and advise.  Tatl is looking for her brother Tael, a purple fairy who is hanging out with the Skull Kid.  Now in just 72 hours (real-world minutes) you have to solve a series of puzzles, win a game of hide and seek, collect a magic item, and go up to face the villain.  Where you are promptly completely outmatched, the Moon crashes down, and the world ends.

Dawn of the Second Day -48 Hours Remain-

At least now though you have your Ocarina of Time back.  Now you can travel back and forth across the three day cycle and complete quests.  Your goal for the rest of the game is to go to four dungeons and defeat their Masked Guardians.  This will free four Giants, these strange deities that have been sealed away by Majora.  These guys are so big that once you free all of them, they can helpfully catch the Moon for you, letting you have your proper final battle with the villain.

The flow of the main quest is a bit usual compared to other Zelda games.  In those you can take your time solving the puzzles and opening up areas to continue your adventure.  In "Majora's Mask", you have that 72 hour time limit (which luckily can be doubled if you play the Song of Time backwards).  This means that the main quest can be completed at best, with eight time cycles.  Usually it took me one or two cycles just to get to the dungeon, and then I'd restart to have a full compliment of time to beat it.  During the course of adventuring, you collect items, masks, and songs, which help you travel through the world quickly.  So for the first dungeon, before you get there, you must first:  rescue a witch in the forest, ride a boat to the Deku Kingdom, navigate the inner court and avoid detection, learn a song, then ride a long series of platforming to get to the dungeon.  And this is just the easiest portion.  When you reach the dungeon, there's an Owl Statue you can use for teleportation, so when you restart the cycle, you can appear right back here.

Beyond merely the time gimmick, "Majora's Mask" also features the gimmick of masks.  Link during the course of the game collects not only his traditional items of Arrows, Bombs, and Hookshot, but also a series of masks, of many different effects.  Some are only useful in one instance, where a Pig Mask can find a mushroom, and others are incredibly useful, such as the Bunny Hood which makes Link run faster and jump further.  The most important masks though are the transformation masks, which turn Link into a Deku, a Goron, or a Zora.  You collect these as you travel to new parts of the game, and they're one of the central parts of the game's puzzle solving.  So you actually become a member of one of the Zelda series' traditional races.


Deku Link can hop on water and jump into flowers where he can be launched and parachute across chasms.  He's pretty small but quick enough with his spin move that he's actually not too bad in battle.  Goron Link can lift heavy objects, break things, and do a spinning Goron Roll for speedy travels.  Zora Link can swim underwater really well, and walk around under the sea.  He also has a long-range attack for tricky enemies.  Generally though, when I wasn't puzzle solving, I almost always used regular Link for combat.  He's a fierce little guy this time, since he's become a pure badass after his adventures in "Ocarina of Time".  "Majora's Mask" also features a massively awesome backflip jump that Link does, which sadly has never come back in the series.

Dawn of the Final Day -24 Hours Remain-

Just about 75% of "Majora's Mask" is sidequesting.  Unlike more linear and focused games like "Twilight Princess" and "Skyward Sword", this is a game where you can take your time running around talking with the people of Clock Town and solving problems.  There are tons of minigames, tons of sidequests, and almost thirty masks for you to collect.  Since there are only four dungeons, that's only four Heart Containers that the game simply gives you, there are dozens more Pieces of Heart floating around in the world for you to collect.  There are even no less than seven Bottles, as compared to the usual four.  You could spend weeks just wandering the world, looking for people to help and quests to uncover.

What's important about "Majora's Mask" is its sense of mood.  This is something of a very dark game, with an interstellar object ready to blow the world into oblivion.  The Skull Kid is this epitome of sad loneliness, being manipulated by the Mask to turn the entire world into a disaster zone.  The ocean is rotting, the swamp is poisoned, the Goron mountain is freezing, and Ikana Valley is filled with the undead.  Impending bleak doom is more or less the main theme of this game,  But its also easily the silliest Zelda game ever made.  This is the installment that introduced us to - or punished us with - Tingle, the middle-aged weirdo obsessed with Fairies that makes maps.  There are redeads all over the place in Ikana Castle, but if you wear the right mask they dance for you.  And in another location, they ask for random items such as Fish, Spring Water, and Bugs.  Garudo Pirates kidnapped Zora Eggs from a poor mother, but they also run screaming out of a room if you shoot a beehive.

Clearly then, "Majora's Mask" is a true Zelda game.  In fact, I'd rank it as being one of my all-time favorites, perhaps even better than "Ocarina of Time".  Nintendo made this game on the cheap, shamelessly reusing every asset they could from the original N64 Zelda.  But even then, they made something special out of it, something entirely unlike "Ocarina of Time" and entirely unlike any other Zelda game.  "Majora's Mask" has an untouchable majesty that can never be equaled, equal parts depressing and humorous.  Often confusing and frustrating, but still greatly rewarding.  Some parts a bit mixed.  The boss of the Ocean Temple is easily the most goddamn awful Zelda boss ever, but then the boss of the Snowhead Temple is one of the most fun.  Its a lovely experience that should not be missed by any Zelda fan.

Also, since Nintendo does not seem to be in a hurry to make the next Zelda game, there's plenty of time to play it.

* The exception being "Zelda II: The Adventure of Link" for being... impossibly hard.  I know old NES games are classics, but with only a few exceptions (like "Super Mario Bros" or the first "Legend of Zelda"), the controls are usually ridiculously awful and the games are crushingly hard.  I played about thirty seconds of the first "Castlevania" before I wanted to open my wrists before playing another second, the controls were so stiff.  What the hell!  "Zelda II" was just as bad, I couldn't get past the first boss.  So screw that noise!

The other exception is "Skyward Sword" because that game pissed me off.

** Uch... do I have to play that?  Seriously, I think I'd have more fun with NES Castlevania.  "Final Fantasy XIII:  Lightning Returns" is all the proof you need that Final Fantasy is dead, and nobody is going to feed it a Phoenix's Down for awhile.

*** This was the case with "Xenoblade" which turned to be fantastically wonderful for the first twenty hours.  Then I realized that the game had nothing new to offer for the remaining thirty or so hours and burned out.  I never finished "Resonance of Fate" either because it was skull-raping hard.


  1. >Nothing new to offer.

    Dude, did you even finish Xenoblade? Like, honest question, because I have no idea what you're talking about.

    1. I said I didn't finish it. I burned out. The combat wasn't getting any more complex than just picking out attacks as they pop up. The game just kept throwing me into huge environments, and it felt exhausting to continue playing it, since I had already played so much of the same thing. There wasn't anything different, I was tired of it.

      I made it up to the point where the ancient god creature gets awoken, I beat the boss, and then had a whole new location the size of New Jersey to explore. And I figured, I could speed run this game, but I was just sick of it.

    2. Think you'll ever get back to it someday?

    3. I don't really understand then, if a RPG is to linear like FFXIII it's a bad thing, but when it does the exact opposite it's still a bad thing?

    4. I think the problem I had with Xenoblade wasn't so much linearity, I liked the openness of the exploration. Its just the game had turned into a very regular pattern. I'd come to a new location and suddenly BOOM, here's another 500 quests, all usually the same as all the other quests I've gotten, and another seven miles of territory to explore. And it was exhausting. I had already done enough questing and enough exploring for a full game.

      And more disappointingly, the combat wasn't opening up at all. There weren't any new spells to learn, no new weapons to find that would let me, say, hookshot up a mountain I couldn't reach before, and really not any new strategies. Ultimately every battle had me do the same things again and again. And it was stale. Terribly stale.

  2. I had this game on a disc I got with my Gamecube when I was a kid (it was a collector's edition disc with the NES Zelda's, OoT, this game, and a Wind Waker demo), but I was so terrified by Happy Mask Salesman that I made my parents give/throw the disc away. I regret that now.

    Mostly because I had to buy a physical N64 OoT cartridge to play it and my sister won't stop bitching at me about it.

  3. Sweet, Majora's Mask! My favourite Zelda game by far, and easily in my Top 5 of games overall as well. :)

    I see Ni no Kuni under your "Someday" category. Definitely looking forward to reading that for sure.