Majora’s Mask is a dark jewel to behold.
I have to admit that after the two successful Zelda re-releases on the 3DS I'm ready to rebuy everything from the Nintendo 64 days. Just keep 'em coming and take my money. Would be great to have a portable Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64. The only two decent and noteworthy iterations of Mario Party are the first two on the N64 so why not work around an online -- someone should break the news to Nintendo about the whole internet thing -- and instead of making Mario Party 86 simply put those two in a nice pack and send them away.
Majora's Mask is a wonder to behold much like Ocarina running on a handheld. This is probably Zelda's finest hour, much of what this game delivers is so much different from what Ocarina thrived to achieve. When faced with the challenge of crafting a sequel to a game that had quickly become a classic how should one proceed? Make a larger than life appeal, bigger and badder? Could work. Or you could proceed like the Majora's team did.
Strangely, Majora's Mask never tries to outdo Ocarina in any way or form you would expect, especially if you lived that monumental period marking the gap between these two behemoths; from the moment the file selection screen fades to start, up to its sinister closure it offers a new dynamic for what Zelda actually represented in 3D at that time.
Take Ocarina and its vast memorable world. After a kick-start getting used to controls and basic structure there suddenly was Hyrule Field, which was staggering at the time. You could venture around the land and meet its inhabitants who certainly had their point of view about the land of Hyrule and troubles of their own. There were some key locations like the Market or Kakariko Village but the veins of Hyrule stretched far beyond.
Majora's Mask doesn't rush forward to let off the hand of the player right away. Instead it observes them with inspecting, preying eyes. Wherever you go in Termina you feel the game watching you, oppressing you with its constant remainder that if you take too long the world will end, the moon will fall over the heads of everyone and everything will be for nothing.
There's no way to feel lost in Majora's Mask, you always 'know' where to go next, the challenges faced are what separate a task you're aware from a task completed. Just go to the direction of the ocean, just go to the mountains; the new fairy Tatl will eagerly say every time a new path presents itself. This makes Majora's Mask much more linear in the sense that you probably had to stop by Kakariko Village a thousand times in your trips while heading for the main quest in Ocarina.
But knowing where to go next isn't the only method used to make one feel lost. You are indeed lost within Majora's world, lost in barren realms reaching an inevitable end unless everything goes exactly right. All those people living their lives, oblivious of what is actually happening in the hours/days preceding the Carnival, merriest event of the region. That's extreme irony in happiness and apocalyptical misery.
The central point here is Clock Town. Since this is the center of the cross dividing the world in 4 main locations along with its corresponding Temple, this is where the backtracking will occur. It's not even backtracking to tell the truth, since you're constantly redoing your steps and you always begin here, exiting the sinister automatic wooden doors of the gloomy tower.
Everything is darker, including the story. There's this guy, Skull Kid, who once encounters two fairies that befriend him. Together they ransack the mask seller who had a very special mask, a mask that in the hands of the wrong people could mean destruction and chaos. Everything changes when Skull Kid interacts with this strange piece called Majora's Mask.
The Skull Kid makes another victim, Link, and steals his horse while leaving behind one of the two fairy siblings, Tatl. The fairy then starts to work side by side with Link to once again reunite with her brother Tael. Unfolding from a series of events the mask seller tells the story to Link about the mask that was stolen and asks for his help.
Sometimes everything seems stripped to the basics. There's less collectibles than Ocarina. The Skulltulas are only present in a secondary mini-game within the main game while the number of quarter heart pieces went through the roof, mainly because Ocarina had 8 bosses that gave out complete heart pieces while Majora's Mask has 4.
You'll probably spend much more time in-between dungeons running errands before venturing inside one of the 4 main locations. The first Temple has a difficulty level comparable to one of Young Link's dungeons in Ocarina. The second Temple might be somewhat like the Forest or Fire Temples. The last two temples are harder than any of Ocarina's offers.
When faced with the dilemma of creating a sequel to a game that became instant classic one must face a few questions first. From the very first day in December 23th of 1998, Ocarina was bound to be unforgettable. A title people would remember from years to come. You could approach this problem by making a 'larger-than-life' sequel. You had 100 Skulltulas? Throw 200 in there. 20 hearts? Make it 50. 8 main dungeons? Let's put 12 in there.
I have to say that's the answer most of us were expecting at the time. Now, older, I can see how brave the decision to make a game like this was, and how right it became. There was zero chance of making Ocarina's sequel more of a big deal than Ocarina itself was. There was just too much hype. Unlike Mario the transition for Zelda was much more interesting since it actually involved more exploration. And exploring in 3D was something we had never experienced before.
Trying to fight Ocarina with its own weapons would only hurt the sequel and they managed to realize that. In some weird, funny way they went against the grain and whoever could see through this apparent introspective nature of the game was pleased with the results. Taking Majora and judging it by fairly inconsequential set of self-made rules about what a Zelda game should work out won't do a thing. In fact, many of the mechanics present in the game are unheard of even by today's standards.
It's good to see they were strong enough to create another memorable masterpiece before the idiotic fanboys broke the dam to get their share of uninspired Zelda fix every two years time. The name of this masterpiece is Wind Waker.
Majora's Mask is not a pretty game. It stares at you with its condescending glance, as if you were unworthy of what's hidden beneath layers of gloomy brilliance. It's like a rigid father that loves his children but is only able to showcase his cold outer-self to stand high and strong against the hassles that might come about. It demands nothing less from you, you must endure its dark fantasy compared to the flamboyance of its predecessor, you must see through its apparent shorter span, offering convoluted small tasks, full of punctual demands. Not with a smile.
Majora's Mask is a dark jewel to behold.