The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is the second 3D Zelda game to hit the Nintendo 64 just two years after its predecessor, Ocarina of Time. Most of the base gameplay and ideas are fairly recognizable from the previous title, but things get more interesting here. Majora’s Mask starts off with Link traveling through the woods when all of the sudden he is tricked by fairies and a character we’ve come to know as Skull Kid. Skull Kid then proceeds to steal Link’s ocarina, kidnap and get rid of his horse, and transform him into a Deku scrub. This sets up the motivation for the player to want revenge as well as the desire to become human again. One of the fairies that was part of Skull Kid’s schemes is busy pestering you when a door closes behind the escaping pranksters, leaving her stuck behind with you. You two are then reluctantly paired to help one another. The fairy, Tatl, needs you to safely bring her back to Skull Kid, and you need Tatl to direct you to him. You then wander ahead into a strange clock tower. Before leaving, a strange character known as the Happy Mask Salesman appears and asks for your help retrieving a very important mask that he has lost. In return, he agrees to teach you a song to transform you back into your human self. You make the agreement and exit the tower into Clock Town, the main hub world of the game. At this point the guards find you too small and weak to leave the safety of the town, so you are forced to stay within the confines of Clock Town for the time being. You must find a Great Fairy that has been split into many minor fairies. She asks you to find the stray fairy floating around town and bring it back to restore her power. You do so. Then she gives you magic and the ability to shoot bubbles. You then go to where a boy is trying to pop a balloon with a blowgun. Charge up a bubble and pop the balloon. Talk to the impressed child and he will challenge you to a game of hide and seek. Five boys are hiding throughout the town that you must find and catch. After you catch them all they will give you the secret code. You can then go to the boy blocking the alleyway in town and give him the code to pass. Beyond this area is the observatory that has a large telescope on it. You use the telescope and zoom in on the top of the clock tower to see Skull Kid and trigger a small cutscene depicting something falling down from the moon. If you haven’t noticed by now, the moon is a large, ever-present rock the appears to be getting closer and closer to the ground… and also has a terrifying face for whatever reason. You then go outside the observatory and grab the item that fell to the ground which is called a moon’s tear. You take the tear to the center of town near the flower. A business scrub will fly down and sit in it. Offer him the moon’s tear and in exchange he’ll give you the deed to his patch of land. You can then use this flower to shoot yourself up to the ledge of the upper clock tower door. Then, on midnight of the final night, the door will open. Enter the top of the tower to find Skull Kid and the other fairy, Tael, as Skull Kid reveals the he is behind the moon falling. The newfound powers of Skull Kid have driven him to this destructive action. Tael then tells you to bring help from the four corners of the land. Skull Kid makes one final attempt to pull the moon down and destroy everything. Shoot him with a bubble to make him drop the ocarina and grab it to trigger one more cutscene revealing a flashback to when you learned the Song of Time. You play the song and now you can save the game and reset to the first day.
After this lengthy sequence of tasks, you finally talk to the Happy Mask Salesman again, and he teaches you a song that gives you the ability to become human again, capturing the magic of the transformation into a mask. This is when you learn the main new mechanic of the game. Masks. Over the course of the game you will obtain many of these magical masks. Some may transform you. Others may give you interesting new abilities. And some are simply used to complete quests. This is another major feature. Early on you will get a quest book that will keep track of the people you have promised to help along your journey. Talking to people at certain times on certain days will allow you to figure out what they need help with and how to potentially help them. This is yet another important feature, the day and night cycle. There are three days until the Carnival of Time, until the Happy Mask Salesman needs to leave town, and until the world will end. These days consist of a twenty-four hour day and night cycle, with hours and minutes having meaning in the beginnings and endings of quest and events. You’ll have to talk to many people at different times to experience their day-to-day activities and possible unique reactions to time-sensitive events or previous questline activities. Often times helping these people will reward you with new masks as well. This means that masks, the quests, and the time cycle are all important to one another. There are also four dungeons in the game that will require both items and masks to complete. Defeating the boss of a dungeon will revive the land in that area as well, usually resulting in some more opportunities for side quests and secrets. After completing all the temples, you will have one final showdown with Skull Kid for all of the marbles. You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?
The amount of content in this game is crazy. The game isn’t huge, but you’ll be making good use of the space. Many mini games will yield multiple prizes. Many characters will be integral to multiple quests. The different times as well as interactions with other questlines will influence what characters have to tell you and quests have to offer. You’ll be spending lots of time just getting acquainted with the townspeople. In fact, I’ve never been so attached to NPCs before. You follow these characters through their lives in the moments before their certain demise. Some of them are afraid. Some are angry. Some are sad. Some even refuse to believe the inevitable. Yet some seem to be able to accept their fate. You get to observe these people through their thoughts and emotions as death draws ever closer. You get to hear about their backstories. You really get a feeling for who these people are. They might be nice, weird, annoying, or just plain assholes. Regardless of how you might feel about them, one thing is certain. None of these people deserve to die. It’s up to YOU to fight through this hopeless scenario and save them all. Even Skull Kid turns out to just be a victim. He’s a kid that has been abandoned by all of his friends. He’s lonely and hurt. So when he obtains the power of Majora’s Mask, he abuses it without knowing any better. You end up feeling pity for the main villain of the game! It’s up to you to save everyone… and you WANT to. This isn’t just some destiny thrust upon you. This is a journey you choose to accept because you get attached. You really care about all of these people and their struggles. You even get to decide what order you want to complete your quests. You help who you want to help and when. You have so much control over how this journey plays out that it feels all the more personal.
The dungeons can be rough, especially for those trying to get all of the stray fairies inside AND defeat the boss within the time limit. You can learn songs to slow down time or skip ahead to the next day or night, but you’ll still need to figure out the dungeons well enough to complete them before the clock ticks down. These dungeons have some interesting puzzles, some well-hidden secrets, and some tough combat. If you run out of time and have to restart them then you’re bound to be better the next time through. You’ll learn the puzzles, the correct route, and how to handle the baddies with each attempt. This means that you ‘ll always be making some kind of progress, even if you have to reset the cycle. You’ll also need to reset for many of the quests because requirements for some questlines are contradictory to others. You’ll also need to experiment a lot to find out what actions are correct and what actions are incorrect in regards to these logic puzzles. Plus, many of the mini games will put your reflexes to the test and challenge just how tough you really are. That’s the key thing about the game. It’s challenging. The more you play, the better you’ll become. And overcoming these challenges, be them of your reflexes or your wit, will be incredibly rewarding. On top of the satisfaction of clearing a tough obstacle, you’ll usually get some kind of in-game reward like a mask or a piece of heart.
Speaking of heart pieces, there are fifty-two in the entire game. These, along with the twenty-four masks, multiple items, upgrades, and quests to complete, all add up to such a dense amount of content that you’ll be playing this game for years to come. I urge you not to look anything up online. It’s better to find out more and more of the game as you play it over and over throughout the years. It’s so much more rewarding when you figure it out on your own. Looking these things up is simply not doing the experience justice. I looked up a few things to get 100% completion, and all I can say is that you’re better off doing a genuine, unaided playthrough. However, as much as I love about this wonderful game, there are a few things that I can see for flaws in it as well.
One of these flaws is in the exploration element. Termina Field is of decent size with a number of things in it, but it still largely feels like a vestigial part of the Zelda formula. Many of its contents could’ve been implemented into better-designed, more interesting areas instead. The time limit also discourages exploration a bit. You can still explore, but you probably won’t want to tackle any potentially lengthy or significant quests in the game until resetting the days again. Since Zelda games are built largely on exploration traditionally, it’s hard to overlook this. And speaking of the day and night cycle, this can be annoying as well. Sometimes slowing down time still doesn’t necessarily give you as much time as you’d like. Sometimes you’ll move time ahead but still need to sit around waiting for a specific hour. And of course, resetting the days to redo things over and over while not being able to get around some these timing issues is only more annoying when compounded with needing to figure out what to even do in quests in the first place. You’ll constantly lose all of your ammo and rupees if you don’t put them in the bank. This means if you’re in a dungeon with no time left then you can just kiss those goods goodbye. I do like that this makes these more valuable. Being able to withdraw rupees from the bank and buy up ammo in the start of a new set of days can be useful, but you can still get refills in other places if you need to. So it often ends up being more annoying than anything else. Not to mention that resetting to the beginning is the only way to permanently save your gave. You have temporary saves at owl statues, but they are stuck to those locations and erase once you come back anyways. Not to mention that going through all of the events just to be able to finally save for the first time is asking a lot for first-time players. The difficulty of the game is definitely the biggest detractor. If you haven’t played other Zelda games, most notably Ocarina of Time, then maybe hold off on this one. It’s challenging yet rewarding, but it’s bound to make you very frustrated if you’re a younger audience or inexperienced in the ways of Zelda games. The last main flaw is the barrier to entry. You need an expansion pak to play this game on Nintendo 64. Not many games require it, and it’s not a well-supported accessory. It’s worth getting for this game alone, not to mention some of the others that need it, but it’s still an annoying requirement.
All of these flaws can be easily overlooked when you realize what a wonderful experience there is to be had here. I love this game. I was rather depressed when I first played this, and starting off in this sad and hopeless environment sucked me right in because misery loves company. The dark, sad, morbid scenes and stories appealed to me greatly. But I slowly started caring. I started caring about these people. I wanted to help them. I wanted to save them. And I was able to fight through this hopeless atmosphere and overcome the odds. I saved everyone from certain death. I was able to beat the impossible. And ya know what? It felt amazing. Some of these quests actually brought me to tears. It wasn’t just about me or some dumb prophecy. This was about these innocent people in the town. It was about innocent people that didn’t deserve to die. It was about a misunderstood boy that just needed friendship and understanding. It was personal. I’ve never been so moved by a video game before in my life. So I guess it’s incredibly important to me for these reasons. It’s certainly my second favorite game of all time for good reason. It’s an experience, and I’m so glad I got to have it.
So there it is. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is designed beautifully. It strays a bit from the typical Zelda formula in some interesting ways. It’s new, it’s challenging, and it’s personal. I highly recommend it to every Zelda fan. Don’t start with it, but definitely do not let this one pass you by. The dense amount of content, the rewarding challenges, the brilliant atmosphere, the wonderful directing… everything about this game is just spectacular. You could even find it on virtual console or 3DS. I’ve not played the remake so I can’t comment on it, but from what I’ve heard and read it sounds like it’s still very much worth it. Please, get Majora’s Mask and do it the justice it deserves. It’s an experience everyone should have at least once in their life. Thank you for reading.