Majora’s Mask: Dark, Yet Gratifying
Well, don’t expect this to be a super long article. But I wanted to talk about the game that some have viewed as the best Zelda game of all time: Majora’s Mask. Along with Twilight Princess, it’s certainly one of the scariest, most creepy game in the series. In fact, one person – whose name I can’t recall off the top of my head – mentioned that Twilight Princess tries to be scary, while Majora’s Mask is scary. I agree with that sentiment.
Despite the dark lore surrounding the N64 title, it has spawned countless – and I mean countless – creepypastas, fanfics, and YouTubers dedicated to just theorizing the lore behind some of the characters, dungeons, and every other nook and cranny behind the game. I’m sure you’re aware of the infamous Ben Drowned creepypasta. Or the “Terrible Fate” animation. Majora’s Mask has generated what is probably the biggest cult following behind any Zelda game. Maybe behind any video game.
I’m not here to offer any theories behind the lore. I would have to make an entirely separate article for that. It’s not my favorite game of all time, but I’d argue it’s in my top 5.
Imagine being tasked with developing a game in just one year and a few months. Now, fortunately Eiji Aonuma could largely borrow many of the existing assets from the previous game in the series, Ocarina of Time, with the engine probably being the most outstanding example. That, along with many of the same character designs. Still, I just can’t picture myself with that crunch, which probably lasted the entire development cycle. By the time the game released in October 2000 in North America, the Nintendo 64 was already on its last leg as far as maintaining any sort of relevance to the gaming community, which would be succeeded by the GameCube just a year later.
With that sort of crunch, it’s no wonder why the game has such a dark premise. I’ve seen and read in countless interviews with the developers that a lot of the character interactions in the game – what they say largely reflects on the pressure the team felt as they were trying to meet their deadline. And yet, the game, to this day, has become a massive hit. It was the fourth best-selling game in the US in 2000; they sold just a little north of one million copies. It was also met with rave reviews. IGN scored it 9.9 out of 10. Metacritic score is 95.
What I Liked⌗
I welcomed the game’s darker tone. I also like the fact they bumped the difficulty up from Ocarina of Time. And they managed to make better use of the game’s graphical potential with the use of the N64 expansion pack – this would allow the team to use slightly better graphics, render more characters on screen at a time, and increase the drawing distance.
I remember playing Majora’s Mask as a kid with the bonus collector’s disc that came with the GameCube. I don’t ever recall playing it on the original N64 hardware. I have to admit, being eight or nine at the time, there were some moments in the game where I was genuinely creeped out. I certainly noticed the darker tone the game offered in contrast to its predecessors. I also noticed the fairy – Tatl – being quite blunt with Link, telling him, “Don’t just stand there! Get your ocarina out!” At least, the fairy wasn’t anywhere near as obnoxious as Navi. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’m starting to appreciate the darker story. In effect, it sheds some light on what the atmosphere is like when you’re working on a game, and the struggles that you have trying to stay within schedule. And trying to resist the urge of strangling your co-workers because you’re tired and there’s a heated dispute about what should get added to the game and what shouldn’t.
24 masks, four dungeons. Permanent upgrades to sword, shield, etc. Yup, masks obviously played a huge role in this game. Even though the team had to recycle Gorons, Dekus, and Zoras, I found it quite fascinating being able to assume the role of one of these creatures. Punch like a badass as the Goron, roll around at blistering speeds, become immune to lava. Almost didn’t even need Epona for that. Being able to easily traverse underwater as a Zora, and use his fins like a boomerang. Reach higher places that Link otherwise couldn’t. Deku scrub – yeah, it was largely disadvantageous using him. But each role is crucial in order to proceed in the game.
What I like about Majora’s Mask is it takes a twist on the typical Zelda game. Instead of collecting three pieces of the Triforce, getting the Master sword, then defeating Ganondorf, this game takes a whole different spin. There’s no Triforce. No Master sword. No Ganondorf. Your enemy is the Imp, and the moon that’s going to crash the world of Termina in just three days. Zelda herself doesn’t even play that big of a role in the game – you see her for a brief few minutes towards the beginning of the game, and it’s just a flashback. She teaches Link the Song of Time, and that’s pretty much it. Even though it was made to be the direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, I feel like Majora’s Mask is a spinoff. Almost as if the game were a complete side quest. But I see that as a good thing – it’s nice to take a break from the traditional formula.
The music. Oh, my freaking Lord. That soundtrack man. Koji Kondo at his best. I’m literally listening to the Clock Tower music as I type this. Song of Healing. That song literally made me learn the piano – I can play it with one hand. It’s one of the most emotionally-driven songs I’ve ever heard. Sadly, because of the N64’s hardware limitations, the track is fairly short at just a minute-and-a-half. But countless fan covers have extended this. The Stone Tower temple music is also very noteworthy. This too is another segment that I could dedicate an entire article to.
Did you know the game was originally going to be a seven-day cycle? The Obsessive Gamer goes over an hour’s worth of cut content. Additionally, you might like the “Every Copy of Majora’s Mask is Personalized” video by Did You Know Gaming.
What I Didn’t⌗
Four dungeons, to me, is a bit barebones. Ocarina of Time had nine. I get crunch was a huge factor though. And oddly enough, the game still feels like it has the same length as the latter, with the huge amount of side quests. I also ponder why each dungeon had the magic arrow effects as the prize. I don’t think anyone has made a theory on that so far. My guess is it keeps’ the three transformation masks theme in congruence? I’m not sure.
Admittedly, I did not like the three-day cycle. Not only does the in-game clock move way too fast, but most items are removed when the clock resets – all your rupees are gone, your arrows are gone, if you got the Razor sword, that’s gone. You still have that crazy guard that prevents you from entering Termina, unless you talk to him as human link, showing him that you have a sword. If you didn’t have time to defeat the boss from a particular dungeon, you’ll basically have to go through most of the dungeon again if you don’t finish it within the three-day period. A rinse and repeat cycle that I did not enjoy. Although, I guess the benefit of having three days is, most of the NPCs will act differently depending on what day it is. The closer the moon gets, the more hurried they are. So it does add a little variety. Slowing time down is possible by playing the appropriate song, but this is a repetitive process.
I played a bit of the 3DS remake and, well, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed in it. Sure, the upgrade to 30 FPS was nice. But all the sounds and music are recycled – maybe that’s a good thing, especially with the music. But the sounds? I felt like they could have been improved somehow. Some mechanics, like Deku Link using his attack to quickly hop across floating leaves in the water, were just kind of ruined in a way that’s hard to explain. Nerrel does a much better job explaining it in their video “Was Majora’s Mask 3D a Bad Remake?” Aonuma did admit that “remakes kind of hurt,” so, one can only speculate what that meant as he was working on the remake. Fortunately, there is a mod available that restores some of the original game mechanics, and adds QoL improvements. I haven’t tried it out though.
Greatest Zelda Game of All Time?⌗
I told you this article wasn’t going to be too long, so I think I’ll wrap up here. There’s just so much other stuff I could go on and on about this game – including the tragic lore behind the death of the legends who offer up their life for Link so he can assume their incarnations – but, if you’re a Majora’s Mask fan yourself, chances are I’m just regurgitating facts that you’ve heard plenty of times before.
Overall, Majora’s Mask is a fantastic game, with its dark story, challenging gameplay, and unique puzzles depending on what incarnation Link plays as. Aside from the three-day cycle, I really enjoyed everything about this game. The fact the game is still going strong over twenty years later, means this will always be one of the Zelda games to be remembered. It’s no wonder where games like Kena: Bridge of Spirits got their inspiration from.
- deep lore, dark theme, rich colors
- challenging gameplay
- tons of side quests
- huge cult following
- only four dungeons
- three-day cycle that moves too quickly, and a lot of your items are gone
- 3DS remake wasn’t very good, mechanics-wise
What did you think of Majora’s Mask? Did you like it?