No video game is perfect, and that goes double for The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. It takes a while to get going (three days to be exact – no, really), and it can be repetitious. That’s probably what you’d expect from a game about time travel, but there are instances wherein Majora’s Mask 3D can be streamlined, yet remain cumbersome.
But for its flaws, Majora’s Mask is amongst the best of Zelda games’ vast pantheon. That’s not small praise for a series that’s (ahem) legendary. In fact, with the mysterious and highly anticipated Wii U installment of Zelda somewhere far off on the horizon, it’s worth hoping Nintendo is harvesting some of the bolder ideas brought back to the fore of everyone’s minds with the release of Majora’s Mask 3D.
There are five things in particular I’d like to see in the Wii U Zelda that are done super-nicely in Majora’s Mask:
Intense atmosphere – Though Majora’s Mask has less cultural impact than Ocarina of Time, the game has a way of sticking to the hearts of the people that play it. Part of the reason is because we’re re-introduced to the same folks we met in Ocarina’s Hyrule, but at the same time, everyone is altered just enough in a way that makes you uneasy.
“Uneasy” is a good word for Majora’s Mask, actually. The impending moonfall is enough to make you restless, but there’s more going on under the surface of Termina.
For instance, I find the alien invasion of Romani Ranch insanely creepy. The extraterrestrial beings are simply-built because that’s how the N64 rolls, but they’re no less frightening for their slow, methodical movements, their glowing eyes, and the light they project to screw up your shots when you try to take them down.
Now let’s acknowledge the elephant – er, moon – in the room. After I played Majora’s Mask 3D for a bit and did a few things, I hung around Clocktown on the night before the apocalypse and watched the moon draw closer and closer while they sky got darker and redder. The song that plays during Termina’s last hours shoots a brutal reality through your heart: Everybody is going to die. Doesn’t matter if they’re in Clock Town or at the Ranch or at the Great Bay. Dat moon goan squish ‘em all.
It was during these last hours that I walked around Clock Town and talked to the few stragglers left. The crook running the Curiosity Shop. The Bomb Shop owners who advised me to watch the fireworks “for the last time.” The Bomber kids (WHERE ARE YOUR PARENTS). The gate guard that regretted not being allowed to order people to evacuate. The postmaster, who’s too wrapped up in his schedule to let himself run. And the stoic swordmaster who breaks down at the very last minute and whimpers about how he doesn’t want to die.
Then I played the Song of Time and warped back to day one because I just got the Gilded Sword and no way I’m going through that Goron Race shit again.
Relatable Grown-Up drama / issues / stuff – One million years ago precisely, I wrote an essay for 1UP.com about how deeply the Anju / Kafei mission affected me. The first time I played it, I was getting ready to get married and leave home (literally everything else in my room was packed up besides my TV, N64, and Majora’s Mask), so watching those two scrabble to meet again for a mere few minutes before they died kind of got me in the gut.
1UP’s archives are mostly gone, and so is the essay. I never saved it, and I can’t find the original .doc file. See, I’m a dumb person. But I remember enough of my writing to say this much: Anju and Kafei’s story is powerful enough to break me down even though I’m a cynical adult-creature. But any one of any age should be able to appreciate what’s going on between the two.
I’ve outgrown spunky 15-year-old JRPG protagonists, but I don’t think they were ever necessary in the first place to “get the kids interested” in Japanese-made games. My earliest travelling partners in Square-Enix’s games were the conflicted and haunted Cecil Harvey, and the likewise conflicted and haunted Locke Cole. They and their friends dealt with identity issues, unrequited love, and dead everything. But they also get to celebrate life and friendship without screaming “FRIENDSHIP IS THE ABSOLUTE BEST!! TAKE THAT, BAD GUY!!” in my face. I appreciate that, because I am 34 and experiencing second-hand embarrassment physically hurts now.
Kids today – yes, I just put those two words together, but it’s for a good reason, I promise – have a wide selection of cartoons and shows that don’t insult their intelligence. I’ve talked about this before. When I was young, cartoons wouldn’t dream of tackling issues like teenage boners and having an utterly abusive (yet cunningly manipulative) prick for a father, but Adventure Time alone tackles both. In the ’80s, cartoons just wanted to sell us shit. Sure, cartoons still want to sell kids shit, but at least they try and say something sane and human in the meantime.
What I’m saying is, players of all ages would appreciate watching Link interact in a complex world full of issues that aren’t recycled from some no-name shonen anime out of the Wal-Mart dollar bin. I’d especially appreciate it. Because I am old.
Non-linearity – There are four dungeons in Majora’s Mask, and the manner in which you grab your masks means you have to take them on in a certain order. But outside of the main quest, there are a number of activities you can take on when you just want to wander around Termina and see what’s going on with the news of the world.
The game’s three-day cycle offers a lot of incentive to explore every corner you can slither into. People’s demeanors and desires change according to how close the moon is to squashing their face. You might be surprised at what you learn.
Sidequests that matter – In the same vein, there are tons of sidequests to work through in Majora’s Mask, and nearly every one matters. The Bombers’ notebook is technically your Guide to Termina, and you must fill it out if you want to grab every mask in the game and see its real ending.
Incidentally, the Bombers’ notebook received an overhaul in Majora’s Mask 3D. It is now about one skillion times easier to know where you need to go and whom you need to talk to in order to get things done.
Much as I love Skyrim, I quickly became bored with the game’s infinite queue of busywork, most of which involves burrowing into yet another cave and slaying yet another helping of Draugr warriors for a cash reward you don’t need. Sometimes the motive is dressed up – save a kitten, save a village, reunite some estranged family members – but it all comes down to kicking out zombies’ legs from under them. Sometimes there’s a necromancer, too.
Majora’s Mask has far fewer sidequests than an average Western RPG, but each one impacts the game in a meaningful way. Miyamoto and Aonuma have already promised Wii U Zelda will have sidequests galore, and while I’m excited about that, I hope those sidequests mean something.
Multiple fun ways to travel – This is going to sound dumb, but it matters to me, dammit. One of the things I love most about Majora’s Mask is that you have so many ways to get around its world. The game’s time limit makes it necessary to use the Song of Soaring in most cases, but when you just want to putz around, you’re covered.
You can travel via Epona (once you free her), patter across the landscape with the aid of the bunny hood, cut through the water as a Zora, or just streamroll everything in your path as a Goron with an unchanging facial expression that looks like this:
We already know for a fact Epona is coming back in Wii U Zelda, and that’s enough for me. I like horsies, I like Epona. But you can never have too many fantasy-grade planes, trains, and automobiles.