Majora's Mask is truly a double-edged sword.
You've got a plan that could never go wrong. Taking a long vacation away from the world you just fought so hard for is what the doctor ordered. Exuberantly, you get on your steed and ride into the horizon. Yet darkness always waits unsuspectingly for the great Hero of Time, no matter the circumstance. Trekking slowly into an enchanting realm within a lush forest, you seem to detect something, but pay it no mind. There are ethereal spirits and wisps fluttering about the night sky creating an unsettling feeling, as if this is no ordinary place. You are finally coming toward your destination when your horse suddenly rears, sending you flying. An eerie creature grabs your belongings and rushes off ahead, leaving you in the dust. Taking heed, you quickly rush off toward the demon to confront him. However, things don’t go over so well when you finally corner him. In an unspeakable manner of sorcery you are suddenly thrown into a vision reverting you into a pitiful Deku scrub.
Could this be a nightmare?
Luckily, one of the two fairies that was traveling with the odd sorcerer is now left behind with you. Wanting to be reunited with her brother and the dark being again, she joins up with you for the moment, giving helpful advice along the way. Finally, after you make your way back to town, you confront a jolly man who seems to be a mask collector. He is determined to transform you to your former self as long as you retrieve a particular mask for him. By his description, it is the same mask worn by the very monster that put the curse on you. As you begin your quest to return to normal, you notice the moon, but it has a terrifying face. A strange premonition comes over you, and through hints and clues, you find out that the star will crash into the planet in three short days -- better get moving.
Putting you in a dire situation in a dark new world is what one would think of as a positive addition to the Zelda line. Majora's Mask is really the first title in the series to go down a separate path, rather than the tiresome "rescue the princess" charade. So, in an astute sense, it is the story of this game that drives it along. However, it is the supposed sequel to the timeless classic, Ocarina of Time. How on earth can you bounce back from such an enormous hit? Of course the idea seemed simple enough. Put Link in a completely different world and situation but keep the main elements of the original Nintendo 64 classic in tact. While it all sounds well and good, one cannot shake the sense of mediocrity emanating from the overall design. Majora's Mask certainly tries to be innovative, but takes on the curse of trying to do too much at once.
On a positive note, the battle system from Ocarina of Time is used again in this installment. With the lock-on targeting system in place, combat has never felt more in depth. The fluid movement and simple controls coincide with an excellent camera that brings everything into an incomparable unison. But, one cannot help but feel a pre-emptive sense of déjà-vu throughout the progression from area to area. What makes matters worse is the fact that this new land feels much smaller than Hyrule, and the people that inhabit it are nearly identical to the citizens of such. Even though there are new towns and different environments to progress through, it is safe to assume that Nintendo overused the copy and paste button a bit too much.
This assumption is made apparent again as you journey through lands inhabiting previously seen races. The rocky Gorons, plant-like Deku, and enchanting water humanoids known as the Zora make their appearance again and it makes you wonder -- are these the only beings in existence? What makes you forget about these troublesome rehashes is the fact that you can actually play as them. With the arrival of each new mask, the fundamentals of play from the original seem to slowly vanish, bringing a somewhat fresh element to the table. All in all, there are four temples in the game with intriguing puzzles and platform situations that help contribute to the use of these masks. At times you may have to transform into a Goron to roll over that narrow hill, engage the Deku scrub's helicopter technique to cross a canyon, or use the boomerang fin trait of the Zora to hit a far-off switch. The classic puzzles that have become a staple in the Zelda series are all here, and the timing of them in each dungeon brings together a feeling of balance.
The other half of the proverbial pie for this series has always been exploration. From the early days on the NES to the fairly recent release of Wind Waker, sighting new territories and searching through every nook and cranny has always been part of the series' tradition. However, as much you may want to explore this unique world, your concentration will always be distracted by one controversial detriment. This being, the falling moon and the time system deriving from it. Why, oh why do you add something like this into an adventure title that just begs to be seen? Maybe it would be easily ignorable to some, but that constant pressure of being rushed really speeds up the play, and shortens the value much more than it could have been.
That's not to say there aren't options available to deal with this nuisance though. Using your ocarina, you can slow and speed up time, or play unique songs which help contribute to puzzle solving. The essence of the clock moves in a similar fashion to games like the Harvest Moon series. Meaning a couple minutes in the real world is an hour or two in game, adding up to maybe five or six hours before the third day strikes. Learning how to control the clock at the right moment is interesting, but with one slip you can end up wasting a lot of time just trying not to lose your belongings. This correlates the save system to the balance of time, and you will need to revert to the first day to save . . . every single time. In the process you lose minor items such as arrows, rupees, and bombs, in addition to the people you met in that particular run forgetting your face. Also, certain events will only happen at particular moments, meaning you may have to wait prolonging periods of time, in boredom, until the situation eventually occurs. Yet, if there is a saving grace to this variation of ups and downs, it would have to be the boss fights.
From the enormous mechanical beast Goht to the maniacal sword toting shaman Odalwa, the confrontations do not disappoint. In fact, ignoring the simple enemies and ongoing ticking of the clock is key if you desire to get to these epic clashes. Each antagonist has their own style of combat and the masks play an integral role in finding unique ways to damage them. Think of Ocarina of Time's bosses but with more strategy involved and much more concentration required on your part. The bosses are even replay-able after you conquer them, which is an option its predecessor could have benefited with.
The music truly mirrors what is happening on screen, and definitely keeps you entranced throughout. Brand new ocarina tunes can be heard echoing alongside the classic Zelda theme, which was disappointingly absent from Ocarina of Time. The slow, melodramatic notes that play within the various temples will keep you on your feet, while a new remix of the Kakariko Village theme helps liven the consistent visits to Clock Town. Sound effects remain the same as the game’s predecessor; with sword slashes, bomb explosions, and deku nut flashes all sounding like they normally would. There isn’t any voice acting and the inclusion of a few more fresh ocarina songs would have been nice, but overall the audio certainly doesn't falter.
Another impressive feature that Majora's Mask has going for it is the ability to update your weapons. While you may remain a kid throughout the whole duration of the game, it is the sword upgrades that make up for this. And the missions behind their creations help bring about the only sense of challenge that coincides with the time rush. So it may just be worth it to continue progressing along, no matter how much you may dislike the new game-play system.
Majora's Mask is truly a double-edged sword. The dark and overshadowing theme mixed with excellent boss fights and great battle mechanics bring the short-lived experience alive. Yet, the menacing time system and abundantly reused character models bring down the charm a bit. If you have never played Ocarina of Time, then by all means play this one first. The similarities may get to long time fans of the Legend of Zelda, but newcomers will not be affected by this in any way. And while it may lack polish and seem like a rushed effort at times, it is the mere point that it is a quality Zelda title that drives the force behind a confident recommendation.