Up to this point, Zelda games have been very simple and uplifting. They’ve had some dark elements here and there, but at their hearts, the Zelda games before this one have been meant to make you feel good. To create a sense of wonder and adventure.
Then Majora’s Mask came around and said “Get in bitch, we’re heading to Sadville!”
After riding off into the sunset at the end of Ocarina of Time, Link’s adventures continue as he searches for a friend, assumedly Navi (for some reason). While traveling through a dark forest, he’s sprung by two fairies and their mischievous friend, the Skull Kid, who is wearing an odd mask. The Skull Kid steals the Ocarina of Time, so Link pursues. Partway through the chase, one of the fairies gets separated from her brother. In order to be reunited with him, she joins up with Link to aide him on his adventure. Together, they make their way to the town of Termina, where they meet a creepy mask salesman. Turns out, Termina is going to be crushed by the moon in three days! Now, Link must use the power of the Ocarina to repeat the same three days over and over until he gathers the help of four giants to stop the moon and confront the possessed Skull Kid!
Phew! That was a lot for a Zelda game! Thankfully, in terms of narrative, that’s about it. At least for the main narrative.
This game is jam-packed with side quests. More so than most other Zelda games (it was all, but then Breath of the Wild happened and I’m not sure where it sits anymore). Each one takes you on an emotional journey starring one of the town’s many denizens. Once complete, you’ll get a new mask to add to your collection. More on that in a bit.
Which is a nice reward, considering how miserable these are! Not to play, mind you! But the stories are often dark and depressing! Which makes sense, considering the whole end of the world thing. But that doesn’t make it any less depressing. Legit, this game is a super downer, especially for a Zelda game.
This shift in tone makes the story of Majora’s Mask one of the most memorable, as well as divisive, in the whole Zelda franchise. It’s such a huge departure from the series’ formula that it’s hard to really connect this one to the others. This game often ends up at either the top or bottom of people’s favorite Zelda games list because of this divide.
Although the hate is mostly gone at this point. But I’ll never forget. I’ll never let it go. This game didn’t deserve it.
Presentation wise, it’s very much like Ocarina of Time. It’s running in the exact same engine, after all. This does make this game sort of blend in with its older brother. The environments are new, yes. But practically every single character in this game is copy-pasted from OoT. Still, the graphics have that old N64 charm.
Unless you’re playing on the 3DS. In which case, it has that 3DS charm. Not as charming as the old, but it’s still aesthetically pleasing.
It is worth noting how much darker this game is though. No, I’m not bringing the tone back again. I’m talking about the color pallet. This game leans much heavier into darker greens and purples. While this game does run in the same engine, sometimes to its detriment, the unique use of color gives it a visual style that helps it stand out.
Even the music is gloomier. It doesn’t have that sweeping orchestral soundtrack that gets you excited to take an adventure. At its most bombastic, the OST sounds horrifying! It sounds like the composer is leaning in and whispering “We ain’t in Hyrule no more” in your ear while they drive a dagger into your leg.
Maybe that’s not a very good metaphor, cause this soundtrack is awesome.
Alright, now let’s talk about the gameplay. At its core, it’s exactly the same as Ocarina of Time. Lock on, open menu to grab items, explore world, do side quests, kill monsters, play magic music, save world. However, there are two major mechanics that help this game stand out when compared to its peers.
Difference one: time. The whole game runs on a three-day time limit. When those three days are up, the world ends and you get a game over. During those three days, each NPC is on a set schedule. If you want to do every side quest, you’ll need to repeat the loop many times, memorizing each pattern and figuring out where you need to be at the right times.
There are ways to make it easier for you. With the Ocarina, you can manipulate the flow of time. Need to slow it down? Speed it up? Reset the cycle entirely? It’s sort of like a Zelda-flavored Groundhog Day, if Bill Murray could somewhat control the loop.
Well, I guess he could. But that required… you know… drastic measures.
The second big mechanic are the masks. There are a large collection of these, all of which have different gameplay benefits. Some of them are minor, only really useful in certain situations. Others are incredibly useful, making them a must-have for any given playthrough.
Then there are the four Transformation masks. These allow Link to take on different forms. These include a Deku Scrub, a Zora, and a Goron. Each flavor of Link plays differently, giving him unique abilities to help him in his travels. These are the only masks that you cannot miss, as they’re directly tied into the main story.
My thoughts on those are mixed. On one hand, it’s fun to see Link take on new forms. On the other, I don’t find playing as Deku Link, Goron Link, or Zora Link to be very fun. I often find myself struggling against the controls (I might just be dumb and bad so take that with a grain of salt) and their combat abilities are lackluster at best. They’re never completely infuriating, but I never look forward to playing as any of them.
Zora Link least of all. Mostly because of that stupid fish boss fight.
This game is an interesting little creature. It’s simultaneously very much a Zelda game and not a Zelda game at all. It follows the formula yet strikes out enough to defy it. It very much is a black sheep. It’s still a sheep! But it’s so vastly different in so many ways.
In a good way, mind you. I love how daring this game is! Majora’s Mask is easily one of the most unique and interesting games Nintendo has ever released. It’s great for both Zelda fans and people who dislike the typical Zelda formula! Yes, it’s unique mechanics and dark tone might be a turn-off for many players. But if you haven’t, I’d highly encourage that you give it a chance.
If you’ve still got a 3DS around, that is. Or if you’re willing to go cartridge hunting.