(Please be warned there are minor spoilers in the review:)
The journey and eventual success of narration, can award fortunate individuals and teams, with the adulation of becoming a franchise. This means a defining moment, in a long standing relationship of respect and admiration, between the creators’ fiction, the creators themselves and their fans. It determines the certainty of financial success, through the expansion of the lore, detailed in the original story. It’s imperative that these elements are maintained, in order to sustain the longevity of a franchise, but it’s also important to break new ground, with new forms of innovation that enhance what has been traditionally established and keep the franchise relevant. Enter game company Nintendo and their illustrious franchise The Legend of Zelda, with its latest installment, Majora’s Mask.
Majora’s mask, is a fantasy action/adventure game, released in the year 2000 for the Nintendo 64 game console. It has long been withstanding, as one of the gaming industry’s most respected franchises, ever since it was first conceived by the imaginative designer Shigeru Miyamoto in 1986.
According to the official Hyrule Historia book, for the Legend of Zelda and the timeline of the franchise that it thoroughly explains; Majora’s Mask is a sequel to the much beloved and critically acclaimed, The Ocarina of Time and continues the adventures of the young protagonist Link: The Hero of Time. For the uninitiated, what this title implies is that Link transcends time and exists as many different incarnations from different periods, each possessing the Spirit of the Hero. Some of which are also blood related. He is also granted the power to travel through time, so that he may awaken the Sages – omniscient guardians of the realm Hylia, which he resides in. The reason for this is so that he may seek guidance and support from them, whenever evil permeates. This is due to his sacred birth mark, bestowed to him by the golden goddesses, which signifies the power harnessed from one of three sections that form the golden relic, the Triforce and its section offered to Link, the Triforce of Courage.
Typically, the plot of the legend of zelda games, involves Link undertaking the quest to restore the realm of Hylia, from the clutches of his nemesis and main antagonist, Ganon or Ganondorf (In this case). A being of immense, sorcerous power and consumed with the tyrannical desire, to conquer and threaten the lives of Hylia’s denizens, with unthinkable evil. Strangely, he posses a similar bond with Link, in that he also exists throughout time, as many different forms. However, his gift was not bestowed to him by the goddesses and instead he forcefully obtained it, by attempting to invade their sacred realm, for claims of retribution, as a result of a horrible life. Thankfully not entirely. Due to the combined efforts of the Knights of Hyrule, the Sages and his unbalanced wretched heart, he was sealed there and the Triforce separated upon being touched by him. Thusly, he acquired a section of it too, the Triforce of Power and consequently his meddlesomeness gave reason for the goddesses to bestow the other sections of the Triforce, to two other individuals. The sole purpose of this was to grant them the responsibility of protecting the realm and defend it from Ganon. One is of course Link and the other a prominent member of the realm’s royal family that resides in the land of Hylia, called Hyrule.
This character and final bearer of the last piece of the Triforce is Princess Zelda. She posses the section called the Triforce of Wisdom and whose name is referenced in the franchise’s title. In the Ocarina of Time, she served an important role as the catalyst to providing Link with the knowledge and ability to harness the power of the Triforce that was dormant inside of him.
This established lore between the three of them, will forever undermine Ganon’s ambition. For he can only fulfil his vengeance, if he can defeat the two other bearers of the Triforce and absorb from them, the remaining parts of the golden relic.
However, as previously stated this has been the traditional bedrock for the The Legend of Zelda games, but what Majora’s Mask introduces players to, is the proceedings after Link has defeated Ganondorf. Unfortunately, this leads to the uprising of another antagonist, the psychotic Skull Kid.
Proceeding the literally worded and cryptic explanation that hints at the narrative about to unfold, the player is immediately confronted by the villain, who appears to be a mere thief at first. What transpires is the descent of a maniacal and twisted individual, who finds enjoyment by bringing pain to others. This begins with him cursing Link, by transforming him into another creature and decides to destroy the world, particularly shrouding the settlement called Clock Town, located in a land parallel to Hyrule, called Termina; by colliding a cursed moon into it.
The immediacy of these events initially confused and shocked me, as I had difficulty in comprehending the psyche of the antagonist. What has motivated Skull Kid to become said persona and compelled him to enact such behaviour and actions. Thankfully, this exposition is explained as the narrative develops, so this sequence of events must have been deliberately created in this manner, by the game’s developers. This was possibly done, to help further reciprocate the emotions felt by Link during this phase, which if so, evoked these feelings finely for me.
It is quite difficult not to cite and reveal this early sequence in the game, as it ties into the parameters constructed for this game. To elaborate, the impending doom of the cursed moon that is supernaturally orchestrated by Skull Kid, is structured around a 3 day cycle, in other words three days for the moon to collide with the world and the game is over. However, this timeframe can be altered to suit the player, as is the case in the Ocarina of Time, Link also posses in this game the immaculate Ocarina (hence it’s title), a wind instrument, which grants him the might to manipulate time. This is made possible by a musical composition that he acquires and learns in the game that after being played creates this celestial effect, of accelerating and decelerating time. Over time, the player will compile more mystic songs, which will aid Link’s journey.
The concept of having the player be threatened by a three day life cycle, personally created the sensation of slight haste and anxiousness, forcing me to solve puzzles, perform actions and follow objectives, as quickly as possible. Having played this game at an earlier age, I can recall the added difficulty that this conjured. As for the first time in a Zelda game, you are not given the leisure to play the game at your own pace and this can contribute to added stress when you’re younger. This is because your mind isn’t as astute to surroundings and what you should be paying attention to, in order to advance the plot. As an adult playing this now, stress to complete objectives quickly is not as high, but having this rule set dictate the way you play, can feel a bit obtrusive.
Majora’s mask’s set of objectives, are divided between the main plot and side quests. The side quests are ancillary to the main plot, in providing assistance to the player through gameplay, but initially they are deceptively unimportant, in regard to the narrative. Apart from stabilising and returning the peace to the people. However, this is not to suggest that they should be dismissed, as most of the stories contained in each quest, can be quite poignant; which from experience, feels more prevalent in this game, compared to other titles in the franchise.
Upon completion, most of the side quests seem to only exist, to award the player with the second key gameplay factor that makes majora’s mask so unique and is hinted in the title; the acquisition of godly powers that come from discovering and obtaining masks.
Without going into too many specifics, essentially after the incident involving Link’s transformation, a miraculous scenario happens, which allows him and the player to freely transform back and forth from this form. How this works, is that after the curse he originally embodied is lifted from him, it later manifests into the form of a mask that resembles the creature he once became. Wearing the mask will allow Link to become the creature again and vice versa to return to his normal self, with no obstruction. This is one of the eternal transformation masks that the player amasses throughout the course of the main plot and it’s one of the game’s most memorable qualities. The transformation sequence alone, is quite confronting.
It’s through this concept as well that the game achieves another fundamental that is rather unique for this game too. In that it celebrates the denizens and supporting characters (or creatures) that make the zelda franchise, so richly fascinating. By allowing players to experience the special qualities of these characters and how they behave, in and out of their respective environments.
From this moment on, the player is tasked to collect every mask that exists in the game, each possessing different skill enhancements that add variety and improvements to the gameplay. In terms of gameplay, these are also important, as most of the time the abilities harnessed by wearing masks, can lead to unlocking pathways. They may also reveal “heart containers” for the player to obtain, which after finding four of them, will combine to form a singular heart that will extend Link’s life force. In addition, particular masks are used to advance sections of the main plot and complete side quests.
Unfortunately, some side quests, have the tendency to fall into the trappings of a specific method to advance their self-contained plots. This can be infuriating when you have already solved the outcome, as you are forced to follow a scripted path created by the developers.
In general, sometimes obstacles aren’t clear enough in how to proceed or some objectives don’t give a clear enough direction in how to solve them. Having said that, in both of these circumstances, these issues are quite minor in contrast to the overall fantastic experience I had.
Aside from these quests, there are many other tasks with incentives, for the player to complete. Resulting in gifts such as, increases to Link’s magic and heart metres and weapons.
Besides, the points already discussed that make majora’s mask so unique, there is still a recurring formula that remains and that is also a staple for the franchise. This is the procedural completion of navigating dungeons, with the motivation of reclaiming omnipotent objects that gradually build Link to a power level, capable of defeating the greatest threat in the game.In Majora’s Mask, it also seems Skull Kid’s influence has infected Termina with evil beings too. As these individual dungeons or caverns, once home to protecting a relic revered in their areas, have now been claimed by enemies, each with definable boss characters. They respectively present varied difficulty, ambiguity and obstacles that encourage different forms of gameplay, engagement and generally provide a tough enough challenge to defeat.
Sadly, there are two particular bosses that I feel, represent issues. The first boss is quite a nuisance to beat, due to the slightly unclear visual cues it presents itself, after being struck, in how to defeat it. But it’s never a bore to engage, as it unleashes a bevy of attacks that impact the player and environment and the second boss was also quite laborious, as it personally provided little effort to defeat. These are the same bosses that I felt lacked the charisma and design to be remembered, long after completing the game. Thankfully in a strange turn of events, I actually appreciated the second one’s lack of difficulty, as a repeat play through of it was necessary, in order for me to obtain an element that would consequently upgrade Link’s sword.
This back tracking leads to the causality forced onto the player, by the rule set and restriction that is narratively shackled to the game’s gameplay mechanic, in the game’s three day life cycle. This can become more tiresome here, compared to most other games that have this habit and is an aspect I disapprove of, to advance the plot. Typically, back tracking only requires the player to revisit an area, to unlock a path that was previously unable to access, in order to advance the game’s plot. Then after obtaining an important tool or item, it can affect gameplay by revealing new forms of interaction and award passage.
However, in Majora’s Mask, back tracking will also consist of re-defeating a boss. As when done so, the evil presence that it once emitted will be extinguished and consequently will return the location and area of the map that it once cursed, to its original setting and atmosphere. What this does, is unveil new areas to explore and characters to interact with that may have also been affected by the curse too. Then once this is done, the aforementioned usual procedure of back tracking can be enacted.
Thankfully though, this isn’t required to advance the plot, but only to uncover and obtain non-compulsory upgrade incentives, to assist Link in battle. From defence to attack advancements. Depending on your skill as a gamer, this is either essential to obtain, or just a luxury you may desire, to simplify your play through.
As a final note to the plot, there is a character integral to it, who I feel leaves a few questions unanswered that I would have liked to have been given slightly more clarity on. However, it is because of this inconclusiveness that also makes him memorable and another factor that enforces the mystic intrigue of this tale. It encourages thought provocation, as to what has actually transpired.
In regard to it’s presentation, graphically at the time, Majora’s Mask mostly superseded what the competition could deliver across all platforms and definitely against it’s console rivals. What is most astounding is that Nintendo had already achieved this feet, only two years before with the Ocarina of Time (1998), but improved upon its graphics with the release of the peripheral the “Expansion Pak”, which can allow for a higher polygon count. It is important to note that this is a requirement if you decide to play majora’s mask, or else the game will not function.
Obviously by today’s standards, the game’s graphics is inferior, but it’s important to remember what it accomplished, and personally, as you begin playing it, you will immediately fall under the game’s majestic spell. As apart from it’s stellar gameplay, the quality of its art direction and designs of its key components, will still manage to captivate you. For it still withholds and emits that same special ability, of transporting you into its world.
What is further intrinsic to this and compelling, is the game’s soundtrack. The ambience of Termina, instantly transports you to its mystical world. The music is rich and finely composed, evoking feelings that ought to be expressed, during certain sequences. There is an eclectic ensemble of melodies that will encourage you to feel cheery and other times feel disheartened and anxious.
Some of the compositions have been lifted or retooled from the game’s predecessor, but there are plenty of new arrangements in this title that will pull at your heart strings. Thanks again to the talented direction of Koji Kondo. Some particularly worth noting are the “Clock Town” melodies and “Last End” piece.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is a game with a finely woven story, rich in mystery, intrigue and coupled with exhilarating and entertaining gameplay variety. This is a title that deserves applause, not only for its creativity and originality, but the risks venture. For these reasons, it is a testament to what a game company can achieve and a reminder of why we revere The Legend of Zelda and Nintendo.