Originally published in 2015, for The Australia Times Games Magazine
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D
Developer: Nintendo EAD/Grezzo
Now, dear readers, I’m going to ask you a question.
When I say ‘The Legend of Zelda’, what pops in your head?
Vast landscapes ripe for exploring at your leisure? An epic narrative? That fiendish King of Thieves, Ganondorf?
Okay, so what if I told you that there was a Zelda game that had none of those things? That those lush backdrops were replaced with grim levels that must be combed under a stressful time limit? That the storyline is in fact one of melancholy and personal demons? That the mighty Gerudo leader is nowhere to be found?
“Balls and poppycock!” I hear you shout in disbelief, as you watch Eiji Aonuma play through Zelda Wii U for the umpteenth time, “Such a Zelda game would be a blasphemous affront to the three goddesses themselves!”
Well, guess what? Such a game does exist! And it has done so for 15 years!
Infamously developed in under a year, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was the N64 sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and was released in 2000 to critical acclaim. Since then, the game has garnered a cult following, thanks to its radical (and some would even say postmodern) take on the Zelda formula. Now, in 2015, we have finally been blessed with the remake of perhaps one of the greatest games of all time.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is Grezzo’s second remastering after its sterling work on Ocarina of Time 3D in 2011, and as expected, it pulls it off with aplomb.
Set directly after the events of its predecessor, Majora’s Mask begins with Link and his trusty steed Epona as they wander through the spooky Lost Woods in search of a ‘friend’ (who this is, is never explicitly stated, though most theories suggest Navi). After a bit, they are accosted by a mask-wearing Skull Kid and his two fairy friends, who steal Epona and the Ocarina of Time. Giving chase, Link is eventually transformed into a Deku Scrub, and is forced to join forces with the fairy Tatl, who is separated from her mischievous pals.
Eventually, they meet the creepy Happy Mask Salesman, who promptly informs them that Skull Kid is in possession of Majora’s Mask – a world-destroying artefact that is wreaking havoc on the world of Termina. Chief among these troubles is a gurning moon that is hurtling toward the planet – and that it will hit in three days.
However, Mr. Salesman reveals that he can turn Link back to normal and set things right; all he has to do is retrieve the Ocarina from Skull Kid.
What follows is essentially an extended tutorial, and it does a superb job of teaching the player the mechanics of the game. Most notable of these is the 72-hour cycle, which gives every NPC in Clock Town their own schedule which they stick rigidly to. This was the main reason why the N64 original needed an Expansion Pack to run, and it’s easy to see why; every person does their own thing. During the day, they are up to their usual business, whilst at night, they’re usually indoors or fast asleep. By the time the final day rolls around, most of them have fled the town in terror, which really gives the game a creepy vibe (more on this in a bit).
In order to keep track of them all, you are given the ‘Bomber’s Notebook’ early on, which charts everyone’s activities throughout the three days. This was an integral tool in the original – and it is improved greatly in this remake. The old version was occasionally obtuse, and it was easy to miss vital events; with this one though, you now have access to a full calendar, as well as an alarm and the capability to see when certain folks are available. Make no mistake, this notebook is virtually essential to getting everything out of this game (unless you use a guide, you big cheat, you).
After you encounter Skull Kid after the first three-day cycle, you finally gain access to the meat of Majora’s Mask.
Reverting back to the first day, you turn back into a human, and regain the Ocarina of Time. It’s here where you learn the Song of Time, which can slow time, speed it up, and even allow you to skip to a certain hour (which is new to this version). On top of that, your Deku powers are transferred to a mask – which serves as an introduction to this game’s other big feature: the masks.
Ahhh…The masks. After being told you must retrieve Majora’s Mask in order to save Termina, Link must journey across the land and reawaken the four giants of the four lands, who can help to hold the moon at bay when it finally comes crashing down. In order to accomplish this, you need to get items. All the Zelda staples are here; rupees, heart pieces, magic, special tools…
…And masks. Yes, in this game, Link does his best Jim Carrey impression by gaining new abilities thanks to the wide array of colourful (and occasionally disturbing) face wear. The three big ‘uns are the Deku, Goron and Zora masks; each of which can transform Link into their namesakes. The Deku mask enables him to shoot bubbles and fly with special Deku Flowers, the Goron mask lets him roll at high velocity and carry powder kegs, and the fishy Zora one can make our little elf swim through water like a torpedo (though this has been slowed a bit in this 3D version). There’s also a super-secret fourth transformation – and it’s so secret that Nintendo saw fit to plaster it all over the game’s promotional material. Thanks, fellas!
Along with these, there are a load of ‘lesser’ masks that are nevertheless equally invaluable. These are mostly gained from completing quests, and you’ll want to get every single one if you want to get your mitts on that super-secret final mask. Some of them only act as glorified keys, whilst others give you handy abilities like super speed (Bunny Hood), fairy attracter (Great Fairy’s Mask) and the ability to sniff out potion ingredients (Mask of Scents). Obtaining them all is a serious task, and it undoubtedly takes up a large percentage of the game’s play time.
So, essentially, the two big ‘hooks’ of Majora’s Mask 3D are the three-day cycle and the masks – but that’s not to say that’s all there is to the game.
Despite the smaller landmass that Ocarina’s Hyrule (and only four main dungeons), Termina is still absolutely jam-packed with content. Some may accuse the requirement of replaying days over and over as a cheap and lazy design decision; but really, such a move makes Majora’s Mask utterly unlike anything else out there. This is very much a game that was born from (somewhat ironically) time constraints – a game that is a result of Eiji Aonuma’s and Yoshiaki Koizumi’s auteur spirit as interpreted by a tight schedule. It truly is fascinating to see such a unique title birthed from a 12 month time limit and the cheeky reusing of assets.
All of this really gives Majora’s Mask an unnerving vibe; one that permeates the entire campaign. Constantly, you are under the impression that something isn’t quite right, and that every single character knows something that you are completely oblivious to. Whether it’d be the cryptic dialogue, the interpretive meanings or simply the goofy expressions on a character’s face, this is a game that relishes in its oddness. The fact that this is a Zelda game just makes it all the more remarkable.
That’s not to say the game is an unwelcoming, Dark Souls-esque trip to Frustration Town (population: you). Despite being harder than usual, this is still very much a well-designed Zelda game. It’s even slicker on 3DS too; the save system is more forgiving (with the Owl Statues now acting as permanent saves), the Gossip Stone hint system returns, the touchscreen makes selecting items less painful, a boss has been redesigned, and Grezzo have even seen fit to add a relaxing fishing pond (well, until you come across the pond’s local beast)!
So in all, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is an outstanding reimagining. Really though, did you expect anything else? The original was a cult classic, and now Nintendo’s stereoscopic handheld has yet another feather in its incredibly fluffy cap.
9.5 out of 10