Majora’s Mask was released towards the end of the N64’s life cycle back in 2000, meaning many people (like me) missed out on playing what has since come to be regarded as a classic Zelda game. Happily, Nintendo released an enhanced remake for the 3DS last year, so I’m finally able to fill this gap in my video game experience. So far, I’m only a few hours in, but it’s already becoming clear to m why Majora’s Mask has such an enthusiastic following.
Majora’s Mask was released a couple of years after Ocarina of Time, which is still widely regarded as one of the best video games ever. Sensibly, Nintendo decided against rehashing the story and setting of OoT, and Majora’s Mask instead takes place in a different time and place. Specifically, the story is about what Young Link did next after his part in the events of Ocarina of Time. Link is off adventuring when he runs into a mysterious character who comes to be known as Skull Kid. Skull Kid is a mischievous child who has come into possession of a mask said to house an evil spirit, and who seems to be caught up in a plot to end the world.
Ocarina of Time wasn’t all sweetness and light, of course, but nevertheless Majora’s Mask feels quite ‘dark’ in comparison and certainly has a decidedly creepy and strange atmosphere at times that actually makes it feel kind of scary. There’s one moment in particular early on that would rival much of what I’ve encountered in horror-themed games. This is not what you might expect in a game centered around Young Link and generally childish shenanigans. Of course, there is still a lot of trademark Nintendo humour as well as the odd blatantly weird inclusion like the 35 year old ‘forest fairy’, Tingle, who sells you your maps.
Majora’s Mask is perhaps most famous for its unusual time-based mechanic. The story takes place during a recurring three-day time period, played out in real-time with one minute being equivalent to one second or so. Link therefore spends his time going over a lot of the same ground, like a tiny elfish Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. This time-travelling mechanic allows for some interesting gameplay and storytelling possibilities, as your understanding of the world and its denizens’ routines expands alongside your inventory.
It also impels you forward, and there is a sense of urgency about proceedings that is quite rare. Although Link’s Ocarina has the power to turn back time, you’ll lose many items and progress when you do so, meaning you’ll often feel in a hurry to get things done before you run out of time. Combined with a gameworld where things change depending on what day it is, it results in a more poignant and reflective atmosphere than any experienced gamer will be accustomed to. Time matters in this game: perhaps an unwelcome reminder to some of us who have devoted tens of thousands of hours to video games over the years. The linear progression through Majora’s Mask’s ostensibly looping time cycle serves to remind you not only that time spent is irretrievable, but may also, depending on your own temperament and disposition, lead you to reflect on your own mortality. Scary stuff indeed.
As far as the look and feel of the game goes, Majora’s Mask will be achingly familiar to anyone who played Ocarina of Time in the late ’90s. The iconic music from that game, in particular, is heavily recycled, and I admit to feeling an almost physical sense of shock the first time I heard the Song of Storms since playing Ocarina of Time in 1999 or so. The sound on the 3DS is great, of course, and the graphics translate very well to its 3D display. The controls have also been successfully mapped to the 3DS interface, and controlling Link using the analogue stick is straightforward. The buttons occasionally feel a little small, for those of us used to playing action games on consoles, but it’s very rarely more than a slight inconvenience.
For a 16-year-old game, Majora’s Mask has aged quite well, though of course it benefits from a bit of sprucing up in this version. Having just completed the first dungeon, I’m looking forward to playing through the rest of the game, although I get the impression there is a lot of optional content and I’m not sure how long it will take me. As with many aspects of Majora’s Mask, I suppose you could take that as a bit of a metaphor for life in general.