Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gamer Reviews: Majora's Mask

In the year 2000, following the success of the big hit, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Nintendo pushed out a title called The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, a direct sequel to the story of the Hero of Time. The game used the same engine as Ocarina of Time, retaining the concept of dungeon and over world exploration, but added in a whole lot of character development, massive amounts of side quests, and a time system. Because the developers used the same game engine and graphics of Ocarina, Majora’s Mask took only 18 months to complete, which is pretty good for a Zelda title, which can take 3-6 years to complete on average.

What is staggering about this game is the sheer amount of gameplay. While Ocarina of Time was decidedly linear, Majora’s Mask has the ability to let you skip around a bit. Now, it’s not anything like Morrowind, but coming from the somewhat linear storyline of Ocarina, it’s a nice change of pace.

Majora’s Mask was first named Zelda Gaiden, which, in rough translation, is Zelda Sidestory. Interestingly enough, in the year 1999, Famitsu released a statement saying that the long-planned Zelda expansion for the 64DD was underway in Japan. This is what was originally planned for Ocarina of Time, but never came to fruition. This was called Ura Zelda, and was supposed to expand Ocarina’s levels and designs. However, since the 64DD never took off, this would later be released as Ocarina of Time: Master Quest, which was bundled with the original Ocarina for the Nintendo GameCube and could be gotten with a preorder of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.

Screenshots were finally released, and you could see the familiar elements that Majora’s Mask still has in it. Finally, Nintendo released the finished product in March of 2000. Majora’s Mask requires the use of the 4MB Expansion Pack, which enabled greater draw distances (the amount of land you see on the screen at one time), more accurate and dynamic lighting, detailed textures, and complex frame buffer effects, such as motion blur, plus allowing more characters on the screen. Building interiors are also rendered in real-time, unlike the fixed 3D feature in Ocarina, which some critics called “blurry”.

Now that we have the technical side, let’s talk about the storyline.

This is the first Zelda to really have a rather dark tone in it, which many fans didn’t like. They were used to the neutral tones of the stories, not really having a dark or a light side to it (not counting the obvious dark/light tones of A Link to the Past). This Zelda title became the black sheep of the series.

The game is set in Termina, a parallel universe to Hyrule. There are tons of speculations on what exactly Termina is when compared to Hyrule, which can encompass a whole article on it’s own. I have plans to make that article too, and it will be a series concentrating on the philosophy side of the Zelda series. But for the sake of brevity here, we can just refer to Termina as an alternate Hyrule.

Termina, according to legend, was split into five areas by four magical Guardians that live in the compass points of the land. At the center of all this lies Clock Town, which boasts a large Clock Tower that counts down the days until the Carnival of Time, a major festival each year in the land.

The game starts out with Link riding through a forest, presumed to be the Lost Woods (once again, speculation--it is never actually revealed). He is searching for an unnamed friend (Navi, the fairy helper from the first game, some like to think), when a character named Skull Kid and his partner fairies, Tatl and Tael, steal Epona (Link’s horse), and the Ocarina of Time from Link. Naturally, this makes Link a bit cheesed off with Skull Kid, and proceeds to chase the thief through the forest. One transformation later, and you and Link are thrust into a strange world filled with familiar people.

Oh, and you have a time limit.

Three days to be exact, which takes up 54 minutes in real-time. There is an on-screen clock where you can track your progress, and once you get the Ocarina of Time back from Skull Kid, you can turn time back to the first day, thus forcing you into the three-day cycle until you can save the world from it’s impending doom.
What is this doom? Just look up. Yep, the moon is about to crash into the land.

You can’t have a good story without good gameplay, right? Some might argue that, but Majora’s Mask has both, so it’s a moot point. There are four main temples to beat in this game, which might sound a bit lax in the game play department, but never fear! The temples aren’t the point of this game anyway. Masks and side quests are the name of the game this time. Masks are obtained in side quests, which are usually integral to the game, as well as outlining major character development.

There are three main masks you can get which changes your appearance and abilities: Deku Scrub, Goron, and Zora. In later temples of the game, you can use these masks to combine your powers to finish an area. Songs also play an important part in Majora’s Mask. You can use songs you play on your ocarina to alter time, warp, awaken, heal, and change the weather. The ocarina usage is pretty much exact from it’s predecessor, Ocarina of Time.

So what’s bad about the game? Now, the good far outweighs the bad, but what is bad is annoying. Saving the game isn’t like the good ‘ol days of Ocarina of Time, where you could save anywhere you wanted. In Majora’s Mask, you have two choices. You can either save and return to the first day, or you can find checkpoints marked by a statue of an owl. When you save and return to the first day, you lose all collectable items like bombs, arrows, and everything you’ve done in a temple so far is reset.

If you don’t want to do that, you can save at an owl statue, and when you turn the game back on, it’ll start you right back where you left off. The trick is you have to turn back time again once you’ve completed your objectives for that cycle, or else you’ll have to save at the owl statue.

Sound complicated? It is. It’s a glaring flaw in an otherwise great game, but we have it better than the Japanese version of the game, which doesn’t even have the owl statues.

The other thing that might cause people to shy away from this game are the side quests. Some people just aren’t side quest people, they like the main dungeons and overworld exploration. The world of Majora’s Mask is large, but when compared to Ocarina of Time it feels a bit cluttered and shoved into a too-small bag. Granted, there are lots more things to do, and the land doesn’t feel barren and empty, but it doesn’t have that grand, sweeping scale to it.

However, I can put this up to being part of the design. The very essence of Majora’s Mask makes you uncomfortable, and you never really feel at home in this strange world. This works brilliantly when combined with the claustrophobic feeling of the land design. If Majora’s Mask’s story was in Ocarina of Time’s over world, it would fall flat.


Solid gameplay
Developed storyline
Impressive graphics for N64
Odd save system

You can obtain Majora’s Mask for the Nintendo 64, the GameCube Collectors Edition Disc, and Virtual Console on the Wii console in the Shop Channel.


alex-ness said...

Welcome back my friend!

Brynna said...

Good to be here :)