After years of teasing, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask finally got its often requested remake for the 3DS. It actually surprises me how much this was clamored for by the fanbase on account of how divisive it is. You either really like what it tried to do, or you really hated it. This N64 release originally came out when I was still in high school and I remember trying a demo for it at a store kiosk and not really enjoying it all that much. On top of that, you needed the N64 Expansion Pak peripheral to even get the game to run, so it all seemed more trouble than it was worth. My brother and I ended up getting the game anyway, so I gave it an honest shot and wouldn’t you know it, I had a good time.
To summarize, this will be my second full playthrough of the game since its release. Let’s see if I still like it.
Majora’s Mask follows the young version of Link as he sets out in search of Navi after she split following the events of Ocarina of Time. During his trek through the woods, he happens upon a group of troublemakers: Skull Kid and his two fairy companions, Tael & Tatl. They spook Epona, steal Link’s Ocarina and curse Link with the form of a Deku Scrub before fleeing into the woods, with the exception of Tatl who gets separated from her group and is essentially forced into Link’s companionship. After pursuing the Skull Kid, Link gets his Deku form reversed by the Happy Mask Salesman who reveals the Skull Kid is wearing the evil Majora’s Mask, thus granting him the terrible powers that he has. Link then arrives in the parallel world of Termina where its residents look identical to those of Hyrule (a way to write in the reuse of assets, no doubt), but with one key difference: there is a big, scary moon just waiting to crash down on the town within three days time. Naturally, three days isn’t a lot of time to save the world, but with the help of his trusty ocarina, Link can reset the day back to just after he arrived in Termina. And with that, you have the Nintendo version of what is essentially Groundhog Day, minus Bill Murray.
While cutscenes are minimal for the most part, the storytelling is still deep enough that fans have come up with various interpretations of its meaning, including theories that Link may actually be dead. Much of your appreciation for the source material is going to come from how much time you dedicate to learning about Termina’s citizens and how they’re coping with their impending doom. Since you’re repeating the same three day cycle over and over again, it gives the game opportunity to bring each NPC to life. Each character has things they’re doing at a given day and time and their conversations may change depending on when you approach them. Not only that, but your actions may adversely affect their pattern, leading to different outcomes depending on whether or not you decide to assist them on each cycle. Looking back, this was something of a technical marvel and probably ahead of its time.
Masks are an important asset to interacting with Termina’s citizens as well. A few of them will transform Link into different forms, though some grant other benefits, such as the Postman’s mask giving you access to people’s mail. Dialogue will change depending on what form you approach NPC’s in, and some reactions are more subtle, including animals either attacking or running from you based on your appearance.
And speaking of appearances, Majora’s Mask looks damn good on the 3DS. It keeps consistent with the aesthetic from Ocarina of Time 3D, which is not as impressive now that it has been four years and so many games have tested the hardware. But it’s still a big step up from the N64 release, and best of all, you don’t need to buy an extra peripheral to play it. If you did pick up a New 3DS XL though, the game makes a great case as to why you should be using the improved 3D capabilities. Lens flares, shattered rocks and more pop from the screen, plus the character models themselves are so much more fleshed out. The backgrounds and innards of buildings are built more convincing too.
On the topic of audio, expect the familiar grunts and exaggerated character voice overs from prior games, as no narration or anything was added. Also, Tatl doesn’t pick on you to the extent that Navi does, so that’s also a bonus. The soundtrack incorporates a number of familiar tracks from Ocarina of Time, including the always catchy Saria’s Song, plus some additional compositions from the awesome Koji Kondo. Tunes played on the ocarina to summon various things (Song of Storms, etc) also made the cut, plus have renditions on different instruments played by Link’s various forms. In other words, the musical variety here is rather spot on.
Majora’s Mask controls more or less identically to the last 3D iteration on the system. You use the 3DS thumbstick to move and the B button for your sword attacks. The A button controls all your context sensitive actions such as opening doors or picking up objects The R button is used to block with your shield whereas L locks onto an enemy or object to keep the camera focused on them, enabling Link to circle around or launch attacks without having to reposition the camera (on the New 3DS, the additional shoulder buttons perform the same functions as the buttons they accompany). However, you can now freely move the camera with the right analog stick/nub if you happen to have one, which is a huge step up for orientation purposes.
The X & Y buttons are reserved for any items that you may pick up, such as the hookshot. As before, there are a few slots on the touchscreen that can be utilized, including one assigned to an in-game camera for taking pictures and another for your ocarina. Playing your ocarina gives you access to your song sheet, so you can look at the notes and play them as you’re viewing them without having to switch to the menu each and every time. In the dead center of it all sits the map that populates with helpful icons, so long as you’ve purchased the corresponding map from Tingle or found on in a dungeon. Pressing start brings up the Bomber’s Notebook, which keeps track of any sidequests you may have encountered. This version makes it super obvious when a character is important to an event now, even when you haven’t done anything to officially start it by bringing up the notebook and creating a page for it. NPC schedules can be tracked with this item too.
Masks change things up even further, as certain ones transform Link entirely. By being in Deku, Goron, or Zora forms, Link can do things his normal human self could not, such as run through lava, dive deep underwater and… get shot out of flowers. New attacks open up to him in these forms too, including fin boomerangs that fire out of his arms, which is awesome. Collecting all of the masks in the game unlock an ultimate form of sorts that can only be used during the final boss battle, but it is sick looking and easily worth the hassle it takes to earn it.
In fact, Majora’s Mask does a good job in justifying the player’s time spent doing many of the sidequests. Almost all of them include some tangible reward, be it pieces of heart or bottles, but some are simply worth doing on account of how interesting they are, including one about a tragic couple who race to marry right before the moon is to crash down upon them. I was a bit surprised to learn there is no Hero Mode or Master Quest equivalent this time around, which may be a disappointment for those looking for a challenge. Especially since many of the changes have made the game quite a bit easier.
And let’s talk about some of those changes. Many of them revolve around the game’s key mechanic which is the clock. Time is always passing in the world of Termina, except when you’re in your menu or some form of cutscene is taking place. You have until the end of the third day to accomplish what you need to before the moon crashes down on you and it’s game over. The ocarina allows you to slow time down so you have adequate time to complete dungeons, plus you can reset the day back to the start of the first at the cost of losing progress. Key items stick with you, but any money not deposited and minor things like arrows and bombs are lost in translation. Plus, major events are undone and even bosses are revived. You can also speed time ahead if you’re waiting for a particular event to occur right down to the very hour, plus you can warp to the various owl statues you’ve encountered to save time.
In the N64 version, the only time you could save was when resetting back to the first day. No longer the case here, as the game can be saved at any owl statue whenever you want, making this far more ideal for portable play (though less so than OoT since you can only save at statues). However, the song that slows down time progression isn’t as effective as it was before. Which means you have even less time to fumble around in dungeons. While this does up the challenge a bit, I was never a fan of having to race the clock, and I suspect this will turn away more potential fans who feel the same. That being said, many of the boss patterns have been altered, some made easier and some harder, though all have more obvious targets for damage. Sheikah Stones will drop hints on what needs to be done next, and the improved Bomber’s Notebook ensures that it’s not only far easier to keep track of your quests, but to figure out what to do in the first place.
In other words, Majora’s Mask 3D simultaneously makes it easier to know what to do, but harder to do it on account of the stricter time limit. And yet, it is still arguably the definitive version of the game to play.
I can’t say whether or not this particular entry in the Zelda series is worth all the hype it has garnered. But there is a reason it has the following that it does: it dares to try something different with a long established franchise that usually adheres to certain “rules”, and it promptly drops those rules in favor of an experience you won’t find in any of the other games. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, despite its possibly alienating choice to enforce stricter time limits, is still the best version of the game you can play right now. It looks, sounds and even controls better (especially with the New 3DS), plus it’s made more convenient to play with the Bomber’s Notebook and the touchscreen item slots. It’s a shame there wasn’t more done with it, as a more challenging mode would’ve been welcome addition for hardcore fans looking to up their game. As it stands, it’s still worth at least trying out, even if the concept doesn’t particularly interest you. You may find that you liked Termina more than Hyrule all along.
Short Attention Span Summary
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D returns with an updated version of the Nintendo 64 classic. Sporting new visuals, an improved control scheme and a much better setup overall, it’s a much easier game to recommend to those who have never played it. It’s still very much a love it or hate it title though, as racing against the clock in a series that normally encouraged exploration is a bit jarring, plus that restriction has been made even worse with this update. Still, the good far outweighs the bad here, as this is the best version of the game you could possibly get your hands on right now.