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• The Legend of Zelda – Majora’s Mask 3D

developed by Nintendo & Grezzo, published by Nintendo
1 player / Nintendo 3DS / 2015.3.13

Masks are present in almost every human culture, and some are said to spiritually transform the wearer during sacred rites. Despite this, scant few videogames feature masks as a primary element in either story or game design. Nintendo cleverly introduced this universal concept to The Legend of Zelda with Majora’s Mask, giving the hero new abilities unlike anything players had seen in earlier Zelda games. The N64 original was rushed through production to quickly repurpose the engine and assets developed for Ocarina of Time, and as a result the game’s designers found many quirks to fix when remaking it for the 3DS.

Story

The mischevious Skullkid of Kokiri Forest steals a strange mask from a wandering salesman, not realizing the malevolent power it contains. Laying it upon his face, he becomes possessed by the spirit of Majora. In a chance encounter, Link chases him down a rabbit’s hole to the far off land of Termina. When he finally catches up to him, Majora retaliates by summoning the moon to crush everything in three days’ time!

Like a weird combination of Alice in Wonderland and the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day, Link is stuck in a perpetual time cycle that always ends badly for everyone. Players must use a familiar ocarina to go back in time and find a way to stop this chain of events.

Groundhog Day

In Majora’s Mask, three days (or 72 hours) passes in 72 minutes real-time (the game’s clock moves at one minute per second). Everything takes place according to schedule, so to unravel the world’s mysteries you must be at the right place at the right time. It’s mind-boggling compared to most games, where characters stand in one spot forever simply waiting for you to come along and solve their problems at your own pace, but that’s what makes this particular game so special.

The idea isn’t to replay the same events over and over again – that would get boring fast. It’s actually impossible to help everyone in one cycle, and any one of the dungeons can take up the bulk of your alotted time (even if you slow time by half using an ocarina song!). You’ll reset time frequently, usually after achieving a major milestone and earning a permanent item. You will inevitably repeat some stuff if you’re a completionist who wants to see and do everything, but key items pass from one cycle to the next allowing you to make steady progress towards saving Termina.

More freedom, less pressure

One of those love it or hate it aspects of the original Majora’s Mask was its save system, which really emphasized the clock. Players could only save their game in one of two ways: either by playing the Song of Time and resetting the three day cycle completely, or with a temporary save at an Owl Statue.

Essentially, you were forced to finish any given task within the game’s strict three day limit without being able to cheese the game by saving and reloading. This led to moments of panic as the game reminded you that in just 24 minutes the world was going to end, so you’d better finish that dungeon you were in the middle of.

As a result, Majora’s Mask could be quite unforgiving and frustrating compared to other games. The remaster tosses the old save system in favor of the standard, more lenient type. You can permanently save at any Owl Statue you find, and there are more of them located in each area. This means you can reset and reload to try to finish up more quickly if time becomes a problem. Most will see it as a welcome change, but it largely defeats the original intent.

Mostly Improved

Most of the big changes to the interface are carried over from Ocarina of Time 3D, but Majora’s Mask 3D makes use of the New 3DS’s extra analog nub. This allows you to control the camera angle independently from Link’s movement. It’s a great feature, but if like me you don’t own a New 3DS you probably won’t miss it.

Majora’s Mask was originally made in just 18 months, which meant certain aspects of the game did not get the usual spit and polish. The boss battles were a tad undercooked and some have been redesigned. The battle with Gyorg, for example, has a completely new second phase inside of a much larger arena, which together make better use of the Zora mask’s unique capabilities.

Another major change is how the Song of Double Time works. Previously, you could only skip ahead in 12 hour increments, but now you can skip to any hour of the current day. This reduces time spent waiting for events to occur. Other small changes remove redundant tasks (you can even speed up ladder climbing by tapping the B button).

One of the less welcome changes is that Zora Link’s dolphin-like swimming is now activated (and limited) by magic. The trade-off is that Zora Link’s swimming pace is slower, allowing players to more easily navigate close quarters underwater (where before, you would often ram into walls).

Challenge and Length

Majora’s Mask has four major dungeons, and each one is complemented by additional mini-dungeons and challenges, but the bulk of the game is in the sidequests. The remake does a much better job of informing the player of important events, thanks to hints dropped by the Bomber Gang in town. Not only do they give you the who, what, and where, they scribble them into your Bomber’s Notebook. It was easy to miss out on lots of this stuff before unless you had a strategy guide handy or had untold hours to methodically comb through the game. Still, even with these hints players who want to complete everything can easily spend twice the time on Majora’s Mask as they did on Ocarina of Time.

Presentation

Majora’s Mask wasn’t exactly an ugly game at the time of its release, but time hasn’t done it any favors, especially in terms of polygon count, blurry textures, and frame rate. If it has been awhile since you played the N64 version, go look at some footage on YouTube. The developer Grezzo has done an excellent job of updating the game, but some people still take issue with the less foggy and brighter, more colorful appearance. This is closer to a full remake than a remaster, but with the original game engine holding it all together.

Characters, environments, architecture, and props have more detailed geometry and much cleaner and more varied textures, and all of the animations have been redone to match the higher frame rate. Perhaps most importantly, better lighting and shadows dramatically improve the look of each area. However like Ocarina of Time 3D, the remake struggles to maintain a smooth frame rate in one or two locations (though this occurs only rarely) and it lacks more modern lighting and shader effects.

Less noticeable is the enhanced sound quality, which for the most part has the same synthy sound of the N64 original. A fully orchestral score could have done wonders for this game.

Conclusion

While it’s true the 3DS remake tosses out the panic-inducing nature of the clock with its laissez-faire save system, most of the other changes improve the game. If you missed the N64 version or gave up out of frustration, don’t let this second chance pass you by. However, its various gimmicks (a word I don’t use derisively) add up to a much more complex and challenging game than many are used to, so I would not recommend it to someone as their first Zelda title.

There is so much personality in the denizens of Termina, and they feel so much more alive compared to other games as a result of their three-day life schedules, that it’s not hard to believe there really is a tiny world inside your 3DS. Majora’s Mask is a gem of a game, better than Ocarina of Time in some ways, and remains the most unique chapter in the Zelda franchise. As the Zelda series moves forward, one hopes the designers will be given the freedom to think outside of the box as they did with this game.

PROs:

+ Mask powers dramatically alter Zelda formula
+ Unique 3-day cycle and time system
+ Easier to enjoy without needing a strategy book
+ Dramatic visual upgrade
+ 35+ hours of content

CONs:

– New save system eliminates original’s countdown panic
– Replaying certain events to complete quests still gets a bit tiresome
– Some events / quest objectives still too vague
– Some changes may dissapoint fans of the original

Official website
Iwata Asks: Majora’s Mask 3D
Official website (Nintendo)

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