So…Majora’s Mask is one of my favourite games of all time. That said, there were all kinds of things I didn’t like. Unlike the pretty much flawless Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask had a lot of things wrong with it. It was always a diamond in the rough. This is the best kind of remake, one which fixes almost all of those niggling flaws to mean that Majora’s Mask can now confidently stand as not just one of the best Zelda games, but as one of the best games ever made.
Majora’s Mask is a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time and picks up with Link searching for a lost friend, strongly implied to be Navi. While riding dejected through the woods, Link is knocked from his horse by an imp known as The Skull Kid in a mysterious mask who steals Epona and the Ocarina of Time. Link pursues through a strange environment before being transformed into a Deku Scrub and emerging into the strange parallel world of Termina, where things are similar to Hyrule in some ways and utterly alien in others. The Skull Kid has summoned Termina’s moon to crash into the central city of Clock Town in three days and it’s up to Link to manipulate time and save this strange new world.
Majora’s Mask has essentially identical core mechanics to Ocarina of Time, but wraps them up in surprising and interesting ways. The most obvious gimmick are the masks; most are simple and used gathered in the impressive number of side missions, but it’s the masks which turn Link into a Deku Scrub, a Goron and a Zora which are the most interesting, with all three offering interesting new traversal mechanics. Switching between masks feels like a natural addition to the Zelda puzzle tool box; I wouldn’t mind them returning to the concept some day. The real star of Majora’s Mask will always be the 72 hour time system, which seems Termina living the same three final days of their lives over and over again. At the end of the 72 hours, you can play the Song of Time and return to the beginning, losing any of your non-core items in the process (including Rupees which must be put in the bank). It may sound high pressure but it’s really not; you can slow down time by playing the Song of Time backwards and there’s more than enough time to complete every dungeon in the time given. The 72 hours isn’t a time limit, it’s essentially giving the player a fourth dimension to work in. You no longer just have to navigate the 3D space, but also time, with each character keeping a schedule which changes throughout the three days. Catching them at the right moment is key to many of the side quests. This Groundhog Day-esque use of time as a mechanic is fascinating to me and not something I’ve ever seen elsewhere.
Since this has always been a more rough around the edges experience than it’s more illustrious predecessor, Majora’s Mask has been tweaked much more than Ocarina of Time 3D was. The boss fights have all been significantly altered, with the addition of a big red eye making the weak spots better. The changes for the first two bosses feel a bit pointless but the second two are massively improved. The Great Bay Temple is still a pain, but like the Water Temple the whole thing has been made a bit clearer. There are a couple of new fishing ponds, which is a neat little addition and gyroscopic aiming makes archery challenges much easier. The Bomber’s Notebook has been tidied up too and it’s now much easier to keep track of side quests, which is pretty much a must in a game like this.
There’s been some online controversy about certain changes ‘dumbing down’ the game. Saving now doesn’t bring you back to the first day which makes this a game much more able to pick up and play and the Song of Double Time can now bring you to any hour rather than just speeding up time. The long waits of the original game are no more. Sure, some will moan and claim that all of these things were what made Majora’s Mask great but…well, they’re just wrong. Those annoying challenges weren’t good, they were annoying and if it did make the game more challenging it’s that irritating kind of challenge that just wasted time. That much waiting was fine if you were a kid or unemployed and I was the former when I first played Majora’s Mask so I wasn’t bothered. As an adult with a job Majora’s Mask would have been borderline unplayable without these changes and they were right to do it.
I’m pretty much as big a Zelda fan boy as you can get, but there aren’t many Zelda games with genuinely good plots. They can be enjoyable in their own way, but I’m not about to claim that Zelda is about to give Dragon Age a run for its money any time soon. Well…apart from Majora’s Mask. This is a truly dark game. I’d wondered before playing the remake if Majora’s Mask is as sad and weird as I remembered and it really is. One particular scene in a house shaped like a music box genuinely terrified me as a kid and gave me a strong case of the jibblies now, although I now find that whole scene rather moving. Majora’s Mask is a game about helping people, but it’s all wrapped up in the sick knowledge that all the good you do is undone whenever you play the Song of Time and return to the Dawn of the First Day. There’s an edge of hysteria to the world of Termina, with the gradually arriving Moon being a textbook perfect method of using the environment to immerse you in the story. Majora’s Mask is a sad but tender experience, one that is fundamentally about emotion. Zelda is usually about arch conflicts between icons of good and evil and that’s ok, but Majora’s Mask was the time Nintendo made a Zelda game about people.
As with Ocarina of Time, Grezzo have done a fantastic job at making Majora’s Mask look beautiful all over again. The character models are very much improved, although admittedly most of them are recycled from Ocarina of Time with the general art direction being left intact with the smoothing over of the rough edges. The music is still fantastic, with the shift of the Clock Town theme from a cheerful ditty on the first day to a madness tinged carnival nightmare on the final still being brilliantly unsettling. Grezzo really are good at this remake stuff; these could be the guys for future Nintendo remakes. Mario 64 3D please!
Nintendo and Grezzo have smoothed off some of the rough edges to Majora’s Mask to leave us with the definitive version of this strange, divisive game. It was a fantastic game before, but now it’s a masterpiece.