Released a year after Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask borrows much from Ocarina while remaining an incredibly distinct game in the series. Comparisons to Ocarina of Time are inescapable – it reuses character models and several quests, but I often find myself comparing it to Link’s Awakening just as often. It steps away from Hyrule, and from Princess Zelda and Ganondorf. Link goes on his own journey, and finds himself in some alternate world. It almost feels like the series has a pattern going, with a more traditional Hyrulean adventure where you fight Ganon, followed by Link’s separate adventures (even though you’re rescuing Zelda in Adventure of Link, it’s a separate thing not associated with saving Hyrule or defeating Ganon). While Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask don’t revolutionize the Zelda series, they take the series in unique, innovative directions, playing around with the traditional formula for adventures that set themselves apart.
Instead of making Majora’s Mask a bigger, grander world and adventure than Ocarina of Time, the developers zoomed in for a game with more focus, intricacy, and nuance. It reminds me of every English class I’ve ever taken where you’re taught to narrow your focus and strengthen your claims on smaller points, rather than getting too broad with less substance. This is apparent even without playing any of the side quests. Just getting to each dungeon is a whole quest of its own. The ocarina dungeon songs are no longer just warp points taught to you by Sheik. You have to help those who live in the areas surrounding dungeons to learn them, and then use them to access the dungeons. NPCs are no longer limited by night and day; they now have different schedules and will be in different places depending on what day and time it is. They don’t wait around standing in one place to tell you secrets, you have to find them and chose whether or not to help them, which impacts other characters and events through the rest of the three-day cycle.
The game’s tonal shift from Ocarina of Time is immediately evident. The opening scenes feature a downtrodden young Link, slowly making his way through a dark forest with Epona. He is in search of his friend Navi, who left him after his adventures in Ocarina, and is the only one in the timeline he is sent back to who shares his memories of rescuing Hyrule. It’s a game perpetuated by loneliness. Link comes across Skull Kid, who, feeling abandoned by his friends, spreads his frustration across Termina, and becomes dangerous after obtaining Majora’s Mask. Through its power, Skull Kid has set the moon on a collision course with Termina. Link has to save the world again, and to do so, he has to constantly go back in time and repeat this three day loop, with his actions forgotten by others each time, just as they are after the events of Ocarina of Time.
The gameplay of Majora’s Mask is largely an expansion on a small side quest in Ocarina of Time involving the Happy Mask Salesman. In Ocarina, you’re working as a middle man to sell masks that grant special abilities. Now you’re gathering and using these masks yourself to try and get back the particularly dangerous Majora’s Mask from Skull Kid, who stole it from the Happy Mask Salesman. Eventually you’ll gather a Deku, Goron, and Zora mask, which allow you to transform into each race and use their unique abilities. Dungeons are designed around these abilities, making each a distinctive experience (more on that in next week’s post, the Majora’s Mask Dungeon Ranking).
There are only four dungeons in Majora’s Mask, and the heart and soul of this game lies in the side quests. Though only a few masks are required to beat the game, there are tons of optional masks acquired by helping out residents of Termina. As such, Majora’s Mask will be getting an extra post, a mask ranking, which will come out the week after its dungeon ranking. The masks serve a range of purposes, from making certain tasks easier to helping other Terminians. Obtaining every mask in the game will allow you to exchange each for one all-powerful mask to help you defeat Majora, the Fierce Deity Mask. Majora is a tough boss, but the Fierce Deity Mask makes it a cakewalk. But other games have you completing optional content for rewards that power you up. Where Majora’s Mask excels is in the side content that has narrative importance in the game. It’s a game that makes you care about characters other than Link, Zelda, and Ganon, where optional content has far more meaning and impact on the game’s story.
Majora’s Mask‘s most iconic side quest, the Anju and Kafei quest, is an ambitious quest that relies on the schedule of the full three day cycle. While Ocarina of Time introduced the day/night cycle to the series, where NPCs had two different schedules, Majora’s Mask took things much further. As I’ve already mentioned, most of the characters have schedules that change throughout the day – they’re not just standing around waiting for you to come talk to them. Add Link into the mix and there are consequences. Things you do on Day One could what characters are doing on Day Three. This is especially important in the Anju and Kafei quest. As this quest takes full advantage of the three day cycle and events woven in with other side quests, it is perhaps the most glaring evidence of the game’s true nature. It’s impossible to complete every side quest in one cycle, as some require that you fail to come to the aid of certain characters. And although at the end of the quest you have reunited Anju and Kafei, you’re probably still leaving them to die at the end of that cycle, especially if you’re trying to 100% the game, which requires that you go through the quest twice. So while at the end of the game you beat Majora, not everyone has been saved. And some events are set in stone before your arrival. You can’t revive Mikau, Darmani, or as we’re heartbreakingly reminded in the closing credits, the Deku Butler’s son. Saving the world from one giant threat doesn’t automatically solve everyone’s problems. The threat of the moon crashing into Clock Town may be gone, but that doesn’t mean that the lives of all the Terminians are fixed. There are clearly problems that exist in Termina even without Skull Kid’s mischievous ventures. And Link still hasn’t found Navi, which is what he originally set out to do. As one of the Moon children asks before the game’s final showdown, “if you do the right thing…does it really make…everybody…happy?”
Though Majora’s Mask may not have the impact on the series that Ocarina of Time or A Link to the Past has, I’m excited to look back on it as I progress through the series. As always, I’ll end with my favorite and least favorite parts of the game.
Least Favorite: As integral as the constant ticking clock is to the game, it’s definitely the reason I don’t play this game as often as others. It brings a sense of urgency to the game that goes against my desire to explore. I feel rushed, which isn’t something I always want when I’m playing a video game. It doesn’t make the game bad – it’s undeniably one of the things that make the game so good. I love its concept. It just makes it so that I have to be in a very specific mood to play the game.
Favorite: I like a game that makes me feel things, and boy does Majora’s Mask makes me feel things. There’s an emotional depth to Majora’s Mask that I think many other Zelda games grasp at, but don’t hit quite as hard.
Thanks for reading this week’s Year of Zelda post! Next week – a Majora’s Mask dungeon ranking.