By dankempster 3 Comments
The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask: Discovering Gaming GreatnessI never owned a Nintendo home console before the GameCube, so before that my only exposure to the Legend of Zelda series was a fleeting few minutes with a friend's copy of Oracle of Ages. Since then I think I've played, if not completed, pretty much every instalment in the franchise, from the original right through to Twilight Princess and Phantom Hourglass. Up until recently, there was one exception - Link's second Nintendo 64 outing, Majora's Mask. I played Ocarina of Time three or four years ago on GameCube after getting hold of the special edition of Wind Waker with the OoT bonus disc. I know people say it doesn't hold up, but it really did blow me away. Perhaps it's because I'm part of the Final Fantasy VII generation, but I found myself able to look past the game's shortcomings and appreciate just how revolutionary it was. It remains my favourite of the 3D Zeldas, although for how much longer I can't honestly say. I'm only around halfway through the main quest of Majora's Mask, but it's such a refreshing take on the Zelda formula that I can't help but be sucked into the experience.
Everybody no doubt already knows the plot behind it so I won't get bogged down in explaining it in detail. The gist is, you play as Link (the same Link from Ocarina of Time), who finds himself in the strange land of Termina. Termina's going to be crushed by the falling moon in three days, and it's up to Link to prevent that from happening. The plot may not quite have the epic scale or labyrinthine twists of modern adventure titles, but it sure makes a difference from saving the damn princess. That was the first thing that set Majora's Mask in a league of its own for me - the fact that it completely goes against Zelda tradition in terms of its plot. It shows that a good Zelda game doesn't have to stick to the formula to be successful. It's a shame the developers seem to have forgotten that, because the recent instalments in the series have stuck to the formula so rigidly that it's often been detrimental to the games themselves. It's nice to see a game shaking it up and being different, and this isn't restricted to the plot. It's evident in the gameplay too.
Given the three-day time limit Link's on, the game relies on a very well-implemented time mechanic to enable him to get everything done. Time-travel was used in Ocarina of Time to create a dual world-style mechanic - you could either play as Young Link in the present, or Adult Link in the future. In Majora's Mask, because the cycle runs on a three-day loop, time travel and manipulation becomes much more important. You effectively have three game days to complete any given task, and when the 72-hour cycle ends, you use the Ocarina of Time to travel back to the first day, at which point the loop starts all over again. Where this system really shines is in the execution of side-quests. Everybody in the world of Termina has their own schedule, along with their own problems to be solved and needs to be met. With the help of the Bombers' Notebook, which stores all relevant schedule information, the player has to learn to manage their time effectively in order to complete certain tasks. I'd only ever seen a time management system like this in games like Harvest Moon before, so to see it work so effectively in Majora's Mask is a pleasant surprise. It effectively provides the freedom of an open-world game, where you can jump in and out of the main quest as you see fit and take things at your own pace, without actually being a true open-world game itself.
Perhaps my favourite thing about Majora's Mask, though, is the use of masks as a gameplay mechanic. While a lot of the masks in the game are little more than novelty items obtained from (or necessary for) certain side quests, the ones that actually change Link's physical appearance add an incredible amount to the game. The different guises he can assume under the magic of the masks each bring with them a unique moveset and a different approach to playing. For example, in situations where Link might usually have to resort to using bombs, Goron Link can get by with the power of his melee attacks. Goron Link can't come into contact with water, but Zora Link is at his most effective when submerged. The effects these different masks have on the way you play the game makes for some great puzzles and truely memorable boss battles (here's looking at you, Snowhead Temple!).
In summary, I'm loving Majora's Mask because it does pretty much everything that I've been wishing a Zelda game would do ever since I finished Twilight Princess. It ditches the tried-and-tested set-up in favour of something much darker and certainly more interesting. The new gameplay mechanics fit in well with the ones established in Ocarina of Time, and provide a fresh take on the series without completely abandoning its roots. If Twilight Princess gets its own Majora's Mask, then it'll be the best thing to happen to the series since... Well, Majora's Mask, I guess. Thanks very much for reading and Merry Christmas. Stay tuned for part three of my Christmas mega-blog, a pondering look at storytelling in videogames, which should be coming in a few hours' time.
Currently playing - The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask (GC)