Feeling fine at the end of the world.
by Randy Marr
Few games are able to invoke a true feeling of dread and foreboding. Most games try to give you a sense of urgency in the story, but the gameplay mechanics are either artificially constructed or just ignore the problem entirely. That evil army looming just on the cusp of the country will never quite get here until you reach points X, Y, and Z in the storyline. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D forgoes all of that, and gives you one of the most dreadful and foreboding Zelda games in the franchise’s history.
Granted, it was able to do that back in 2000 when the game originally came out, but now it does so while cleaning up a few odds and ends to make for a better, slicker experience.
If you missed it the first time around, Majora’s Mask is a departure from what would be considered the standard Zelda experience. The moon is falling and threatens to kill everyone in the strange land of Termina unless Link can find a way to stop the Skull Kid and an evil mask. Rather than focusing on a grandiose tale of good versus evil, Majora’s Mask is about people dealing with the hardships that have come to their lives, and the inevitable end right around the corner. It’s a rich set of personal stories with the apocalypse serving more as a backdrop than the primary focus.
That being said, you never lose the sense that “No really, this is going to end.” There is a persistent doomsday clock counting down the remaining 3 days you have until the moon ends all life in Termina, and potentially the world. This countdown clock isn’t just your typical gameplay level countdown, found in games like Mario and Sonic, but serves a grim reminder that the end is coming. The most you can hope to do is reset time for 3 days in order to take another stab at saving the world. With the rise of the genre in recent years, it’s not unfair to favorably compare this system to “rogue-likes” and their need for the “perfect run.” You’re never really going to have one perfect run for the whole game: you’ll need a number of them for clearing dungeons and gaining the equipment you need to take back with you to the start of the cycle to move further in your overall goal.
This system is going to be the thing that makes or breaks most people’s enjoyment of the game. Some people are going to run into an instance where they have to redo the majority of a dungeon because they didn’t make it in time, or they’re going to just get bored with having to relive the same 3 days in Groundhog’s Day fashion. That’s okay, it’s not going to appeal to everyone, and you should know going in whether or not you think it sounds like fun. If it does, though, let me assure you that it is done superbly well. The world runs like clockwork, and you’re given just enough tools to keep track of it while still allowing you to discover all the minutia of detail hidden around Termina.
Just like in the Ocarina of Time remake on 3DS, the bottom touch screen adds a lot to fix the issues with going into menus and dealing with the busted interface of the Nintendo 64 games. Now, you can assign items with a quick drag of your thumb, and even have an extra slot you can assign masks and items too. It’s an improvement over the old system, but I’d honestly prefer it if Masks could just be equipped directly from the mask screen without having to assign them to a button. it’d be a bit more annoying for the rare puzzles that require you to transform between forms, but for 95% of the time, it would make mask equipping snappier.
The game also looks markedly better than it did in 2000, though that should be a given with any remake. Colors are more vivid, but don’t sacrifice the game’s overall dark style. If anything, they enhance it with a better contrast to the doom and gloom hanging overhead. Character models all look more like your foggy memory wants them too when you look back on Majora’s Mask, so it may not look immediately better. But trust me, I’ve done the side by side comparisons, and the difference is night and day.
Majora’s Mask has always held a special place in my heart for it’s pathos. It holds a real sadness in it’s story, and doesn’t always give you the happiest of endings. But the endings are always cathartic. They end exactly as they should, even if it’s not necessarily how you would want them too. Sometimes, people aren’t coming back, even when you save the world. It’s a harsh, but beautiful reminder of loss and sorrow.
What Majora’s Mask did back in 2000 was reinvent a series before it became too stale. Like Link’s Adventure before it, it decided to try something new and different. Even in the areas where you think it might fail, I believe the game should be rewarded with your time and your efforts to see it through. It truly is a remarkable game that I would not hesitate to recommend to anybody looking for a change in what has become the traditional Zelda story beats. It will be a trip into a strange, new world, that you may find utterly enchanting.
***Reviewer Pro-Tip*** If you plan on playing this game, just remember one thing: You can play the Song of Time backwards, at any point after getting your musical instruments, to slow the speed of time. Why this isn’t just the default speed of the game, or made more apparent is beyond me. But it’s there, and it will likely help you further enjoy the game. You can also play the notes to the Song of Time twice in a row to skip time forward. I hope this helps!