A Terrible Fate, An Incredible Experience.
When The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time first launched on the Nintendo 64 back in 1998, it was an instant masterpiece. Critics and fans alike christened it as one of the most important and beloved games of all time (a title it continues to hold). Imagine everybody’s surprise when The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was revealed in the ensuing year. It looked like Ocarina, played like it, but was wholly different in every conceivable way. By the time the credits rolled fans were left with yet another timeless masterpiece that transcended expectations. Majora’s Mask made known it had something much more intriguing and compelling to convey.
Majora’s Mask tells a much different tale than Ocarina, with a stylishly zany art style and color palette that draws closer comparisons to a Tim Burton film than a Zelda game. By using a melancholic story atmosphere, sad and somber music, and an overall eerie tone, it provided a truly unique experience I feel has still not been matched. The story picks up where Ocarina left off. Link, the hero of Hyrule, has succeeded in his quest to defeat Ganondorf and has been returned to his childhood in hopes that he might live a normal life. Without purpose and missing friend and companion Navi, Link sets out to find his missing fairy and meaning in the world. From there, Majora’s Mask is an evocative and emotional journey.
Although the aesthetic and presentation are some of the most intriguing elements, Majora’s Mask shines brightest in world and character building. The world of Termina is about to end thanks to the terrifying moon descending from the sky to obliterate the hub city of Clock Town. The player has three in-game days to stop the moon from falling and killing everyone in its wake. This creates a scenario where the player must travel back in time and repeat the same three-day cycle over and over until you have saved the town from its imminent destruction. It is a smart and well-implemented mechanic that feels more thought out and novel than the standard Zelda premise.
Majora’s Mask trumps its predecessor with its numerous side quests as well. In many games, side quests feel tacked on to pad the length, but here they connect you directly with the residents of Termina. These quests vary from saving a farm from aliens to bringing together two star-crossed lovers. These types of characterizations are often attempted in video games but not often successful, and Majora’s Mask succeeds here in providing a real human touch to the adventure. This makes the weight of saving everyone in Clock Town feel more pressing and personal, while providing the player with a sense of duty and responsibility.
Viewing Majora’s Mask through the lens of humanity, friendship, and responsibility allows it to stand out more so than almost any other video game, Zelda or otherwise. Of course, Majora’s Mask still has staples of the franchise like dungeons, fun puzzles, and engaging combat. While these aspects remain similar in concept, they are implemented in different ways that show off some rather impressive use of time manipulation and smart creative design. The game is a fun, charming, intelligent, and impressive feat. What used to be considered a cult classic has found its way into the hearts of many as an outstanding experience.
Although Majora shows its age in menu design, placement of items, and processes of completing tasks, it remains consistent and never feels dull. Some of the tasks and waiting for events to occur could feel a bit arduous by today’s standards (a problem the recent Grezzo remaster (LINK) addressed), but it never feels so frustrating as to make the experience feel bogged down. By the adventure’s end, Termina feels like a place I want to revisit for years to come. The musical score is also phenomenal with recurring composer Koji Kondo leading the helm. It strikes the perfect mix between lighthearted and sorrowful, creating the perfect mood given the melancholic tone.
Everything about Majora’s Mask culminates in a timeless masterpiece that is buoyed by an emotional, heartwarming, and evocative tale of a boy seeking purpose. To think that it came out in 2000 and it still holds up as much as it did back then is nothing short of amazing. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is still to this day one of the greatest games of all time.