I’m going to begin by saying this review is written from the perspective of someone who played the Nintendo 64 original in its time but did not complete it. I always regretted not seeing it through to the end… to this day there really has been nothing like it. Unlike its predecessor Ocarina of Time (which has been regurgitated to death both within the franchise and outside). I suppose that was the reason I didn’t persevere in a way. Like many at the time I was new to the Zelda franchise (and, indeed, RPGs in general). After playing Ocarina of Time I was yearning for what I eventually got in Twilight Princess ; a game similar in structure to Ocarina which would teach me more about this awesome new land of Hyrule I’d recently been introduced to. Majora’s Mask wasn’t that at all. Luckily the passage of time (and increased familiarity with RPGs) has now let me appreciate Majora’s Mask in its own right. And love it for its uniqueness!
This article will examine the game’s story, gameplay, graphics, sound and longevity.
The biggest aspect that sets this game apart from other RPGs is, ofcourse, its story. The events of the game take place across just 3 days, with the final day being Doomsday. Let the game’s timer run out and you can watch Termina (the land in which Majora’s Mask is set) being engulfed by its own moon. However if the player wants to make progress they must travel back to the beginning of the 3 day cycle before this happens. Ofcourse Link doesn’t have to travel back empty handed. He takes with him any acquired masks, key items and notebook notes, among other things. The player is also more knowledgeable on the intricacies of Termina each time they travel back, making the experience not dissimilar to time travel movies such as ‘Back To The Future’.
Our hero surrounded by the eclectic inhabitants of Termina
As expected the 3 day time period has many implications for the game. For a start the characters all have their own little set routines. For some this is quite simple, others have complex schedules that make full use of the 3 days (looking at you Anju and Kafei). The fun part is disrupting those routines to bring about reactions and new chains of cause and effect. To facilitate this this game has a scope for character interactivity on a level I have not seen in other RPGs.
Then you have the chilling atmosphere on Day 3 when the moon is so close the screen shakes with tremors. This is later accompanied by creepy music and the sounds of Termina’s clock tower chimes going crazy.
The controls are a noticeable step-up from the Nintendo 64 days. Mainly because the 3DS doesn’t need to be held at a funny angle that contradicts its analogue stick (sorry Mr N64 controller, but it is true). Movements are as quick and fluid as you would expect from a release of this calibre, and the controls even offer some nifty little oddities. Circle Pad Pro inclusion is supported (or the C stick, for you New 3DS owners out there). I really appreciated being able to use my right analogue stick to sweep the camera around Link.
We’d never have been able to get through this without a little Link-to-the-past…
Next is something I discovered by mistake near the end ; you can move the items Link uses from a first-person view (such as you bow and arrow) using the 3DS’ gyroscope if you wish. A nice addition to mix things up.
Majora’s Mask always had great visuals (which went some way to justify the need for that expensive Nintendo 64 Expansion Pack that was a pre-requisite for playing. I suppose…). As you can guess everything’s been spruced up even further this time. Models now consist of more polygons, textures are a lot more detailed, and the framerate has been ramped up from 20 frames per second to 30. It’s easy to get lost in how pretty Majora’s Mask 3D is… from awing at sights like the exotic Stone Tower (with its myriad of cultural inspirations) to admiring the endlessly enchanting foliage of the periphery forests. I would nearly go as far as to say this game now looks as good as my beloved Twilight Princess. Nearly.
Quick point on audio. Its abundance of melodious Koji Kondo orchestral pieces easily put it up among the Zelda franchise’s best musical scores. On a personal note ; I felt that Ocarina’s best songs were the ocarina ditties themselves. Majora’s Mask’s were great too, but I feel the musical peaks instead lay in the plot’s scene-setting moments. Particularly the music and sounds accompanying the moon’s final approach. It really contributes towards the feeling of tragedy in what is often a very sad game.
Stone Temple is just one of Majora’s Mask’s stunning landscapes
Finally some words on longevity. MM3D features a mechanism called Sheikah Stone, where you can go when you’re stuck and watch a brief video showing you what to do. I cannot make up my mind what my opinion of this is ; on one hand I feel it cheapens the experience ; when I played Majora’s Mask 64 I worked everything out for myself. Uncovering the mysteries was part of the game’s magic, so it’s sad to see it now infused with the kind of hand-holding component that have previously been the sole preserve of games aimed at a much younger audience.
On the other hand I do recognise that Majora’s Mask is a hard game. It drops players in the deep end straight away (its first temple was about equivalent in difficulty to Ocarina’s 4th. And subsequent dungeons don’t stop turning up the heat!). On a personal level it enabled me to finally beat that pesky Stone Tower Temple! Anyway, in its defence, it won’t reveal quite all of Termina’s secrets to you. Want all the masks? Or to reunine Anju and Kafei? Then you’re on your own…
My playtime has clocked in at just over 60 hours so far. And I still don’t have everything. MM3D certainly provides good bang for your buck.
In conclusion I am ever so grateful to have got to revisit Termina and finally take care of business. That the game now looks, sounds and handles slicker are just layers of delicious icing on top of an already loaded cake.
For those who haven’t played this yet, as I said, don’t expect this game to follow the usual Zelda suit in terms of story or pacing. In its uniqueness and its tragic majesty it is actually far more special than that. You have never played an RPG like this, and may never play another like I again. It was ahead of its time the first time round and, 15 years later, remarkably still is!