When The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time hit the gaming market, it no doubt made a cultural impact which ripples through the gaming scene to this very day. Zelda, to some, is the pinnacle of gaming and the entry point to many enthusiasts. Building upon that idea was no doubt a very hard task that would ultimately be built around a lot of hype. Coming off the heat of Ocarina of Time was the broodier, big brother known as Majora’s Mask on Nintendo 64. It was a sequel that had impossible odds to contend with, but emerged victorious in paving its way.
Much like David and Goliath, the obstacles Majora’s Mask had to face were astronomical, but somehow it prevailed. Utilising its short development time, they managed to create something truly special, merging assets from the previous game and incorporating a host of new ideas. Majora’s Mask took the formula of Ocarina of Time and gave it a darker feel. The plot this time revolves around Link being trapped in a parallel universe from his own where the moon is set to collide in a matter of three days. What transpires is the usual Zelda formula as you embark on an epic quest to save the land and return home.
Though Ocarina of Time was far from being standard fairytale fluff, Majora’s Mask really pushes itself to be darker and bolder, with some truly nightmarish imagery. From the menacing glare pulsating from the moon overseeing the land of Termina, to the various masks Link is able to wear to gain special abilities, each element manages to embed itself in your brain for some truly striking visual moments.
The masks were one of the main new features that Majora’s Mask brought to the table. In true Zelda tradition, many upgrades and abilities are handed to the player as they combat dungeons and complete quests. There are 24 of these masks for you to find and all of them provide useful and innovative abilities. They completely change Link’s physique, morphing him into something barely recognisable. This included a mask which would turn Link into a rock species known as a Goron, or a water race known as a Zora. Becoming these different races enabled Link to navigate the environment in many ways, such as crossing lava or skipping on water.
The sheer amount of variety and ways the masks became implemented into the world grew substantially as the story played out, offering new opportunities for each mask to showcase its full potential. It’s a unique system and one that has not really been utilised again in a Zelda iteration.
One of the key features of Majora’s Mask, and perhaps the one it’s most noted for, is the inclusion of the three day cycle. You see, the land of Termina only has three days to stop the cataclysmic event of the moon crashing down. What transpires is a gameplay loop that was extremely fresh for the time of its release and was hailed as being innovative. You only have three in-game days to save the world, which roughly operates at a couple of real-time hours.
This should either be impossible or make for a VERY short game. But Majora’s Mask took the story of Ocarina of Time and ran with it for the sequel. Link is still equipped with his Ocarina and is able to use a variety of songs to assist him on his quest. With the Ocarina you can turn back and slow down time. This gives you more options to play around with and decides how you’ll tackle objectives. Tackling dungeons became a strict attrition of time management as you had to weigh up the options of venturing inside and taking on the boss within the allotted time frame.
Rewinding time would still leave Link with all of his abilities. Any songs, masks, and objectives completed would still be registered and would enable you to chip away at the tasks at hand every few days. Characters of the world would completely forget who Link was, alongside any smaller items and rupees that hadn’t been deposited in the bank. Majora’s Mask had the potential to be a very stressful game, but having the correct planning and by fully utilising all of Link’s abilities, victory could be found.
With such a short turnaround between Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, it never seemed like the latter had a chance of succeeding. Fortunately, it managed to carve out its own personality and become a wonderful companion piece to Ocarina of Time. The way the world operated still holds up to this day as being a truly unique spin on Zelda tropes. The gameplay from Ocarina of Time remained fundamentally the same in Majora’s Mask, but the game built upon it in interesting new ways. Adding a layer of darkness resulted in a more mature storyline and aged alongside the audience. Simply put, Majora’s Mask is not only up there as one of the greatest Zelda games of all time, but one of the greatest games in its own right.