Majora’s Mask is very much an outlier in the Zelda lineage; it’s a different beast which changed the traditional formula and shook up the series like no other game has before or since. Its dark and creepy aesthetic marries the fantastical style of Zelda with something more gothic, creating a wonderful visage which is truly unique in its execution.
This 3DS remake is even more impressively crafted than any of the previous Zelda reworkings: while Ocarina of Time had the additional Master Quest and The Wind Waker featured an improved final quest, there are myriad additions and tweaks here which amount to an exceptional, and far more modern, end product, albeit one which may turn away diehard fans of the original game.
There’s something truly wonderful about how the world comes together, with Clock Town as a hub and many lands, such as the snowy mountains or swampy forest, which mirror the landscapes of Ocarina’s Hyrule. The world flows; people do different things on each day, roads open and festivities take place, with residents blissfully unaware of the catastrophic event just around the corner.
That event, of course, is the moon falling and obliterating Termina at the end of the three day cycle. Since that time – a couple of hours in-game – isn’t nearly enough to complete the temples and quests in order to save the land, Link’s ocarina allows him to travel back to the dawn of the first day (or in fact any specific proceeding hour in the remake) and begin the cycle anew. As you restart you keep key equipment, like the bow, as well as your progress, but lose expendable items, such as arrows or rupees. No matter how much you reset though, there’s always this incredible impending sense of doom which pushes you through the game.
The sense of dread is exacerbated by the huge moon, complete with a creepy face, looming over you no matter where you go in the world. It falls in real-time, growing bigger as you progress through the three days, and constantly torments you, reminding you of the evil you’re facing. It’s a smart trick, and one that’s reflected elsewhere as the world moves through those same three days over and over, people repeating what they’re doing, leaving you to learn who will be where and at what time.
It makes Termina feel like a real, living place, and your time with Majora’s Mask is a short – but impressive – glimpse into a world which isn’t static, as you’d often find in other titles.
As touched upon before, this isn’t the same Termina that you visited fifteen years ago; people’s locations have moved, archaic mechanics have been updated, and this is essentially a hefty reworking of the game rather than a quick reskin.
Take the save system for example. Gone are the archaic temporary saves and save-on-reset and in their place are abundant statues, the returning owl statues and new feather statues, with the former also acting as a fast travel grid across Termina. This makes sense for saving and playing on the go, with the previous system requiring you to complete your current tasks before resetting to the start of the timeline.
While most of the equipment echoes that found in other Zelda games, the game’s most important and impressive system comes in the form of the collectable masks. There are dozens of these, some essential and some not, each with different attributes and uses, from the bunny hood which will make you run faster, to the transformation masks, which turn you into other creatures of Hyrule.
Those transformation masks bring a great deal of variety to the gameplay and only serve to add to the immaculate temple design, changing Link’s entire appearance and giving you powers such as a speedy Goron roll or underwater breathing as a Zora. When you’re using these in tandem with your equipment to complete a temple, you’ll find some of the finest moments in the entire Zelda franchise, with some incredible level design which still feels ahead of its time today.
Although collecting all of the masks isn’t essential, it does represent a large portion of the game and most side quests revolve around either using or obtaining these. Some non-essential masks will help you in the main quest too, though the changing of one location of one of these – the stone mask – will likely confuse and irritate veteran players. It makes sense for new players though who aren’t as likely to stray off the beaten path and find it, given that it was previously placed in an area which you had no reason to visit until later in the game.
It’s with the masks where you start to realise how huge the game actually is when compared to its predecessor. Though initially it feels limited due to the three day cycle, when the game opens up and you get used to resetting time there’s just so much to do, both in terms of side quests and in the huge areas you get to explore. You’ll still feel rushed, perhaps wanting to do a lot in one cycle, which is the crux of the system, but it’s something that you’ll get to either way, and you’re not really punished for resetting.
It does, however, feel slightly easier – or at least less of a chore at times – than the original with all of the alterations. It’s a modernising of the game, after all, and while not all of the changes are welcome, particularly if you’ve played the original, or if you were a fan of the high-speed Zora swimming, they are there to balance it out a bit more. It now tells you where to go next rather than leaving you clueless, with the Bomber’s Notebook an important example of this, keeping track of all your quests and pushing you to explore side options by hinting at where to go.
There’s also additional content, in the form of fishing holes for you to while away your time in, but there’s nothing hugely substantial in this department, at least as not as impressive as Ocarina of Time’s Master Quest or Boss Rush. Certain sections have been streamlined and changed in a similar way that a Master Quest version of the game would be, it’s just a shame they didn’t simply keep the original as part of the package as a harder mode.
That’s not to say it’s all less of a challenge across the board; some sections, namely the boss battles, have been tweaked, and you’ll notice that your previous strategies may not work, instead forcing you into a longer and more impressive battle. Ultimately, everyone will have their high points and low points with the changes, but it’s clear that Nintendo set out to improve on the flawed sections of the game.
One place where the game has definitely improved is with the visuals. It keeps the dark and grimy aesthetic – something that the Ocarina of Time remake lost at key points – and runs with it, creating something that’s mightily impressive for the 3DS hardware, with some fantastic lighting effects and 3D visuals which will draw you into the game. You’ll want to have the 3D slider up while playing this, and it truly shows the scale of Termina.
Of course, music remains an integral part of Zelda, and while it’s still the same base sounds, it’s a lot clearer than before, and still holds up to today’s handheld standards. Overall, despite some slowdown issues when a lot is happening, this is a technical marvel, and a really impressive tribute to the original which doesn’t compromise the art direction in any way.
Majora’s Mask might be the best Zelda game, but then again, you could say that about almost all of the mainline instalments in the series. This remake changes that title – for the better, from a technical view – but that’s likely to mess with fans’ nostalgic tendencies and will confuse returning players at points. But, for anyone playing Majora’s Mask for the first time, this is an extremely refined reworking of a game which would likely feel archaic and broken if released again in its original state.
Whatever the case, the world of Termina is one that’s begging to be explored, even just for the unique factor of the three-day cycle, which shows a living, breathing world on the cusp of destruction, creating a land that you’ll feel immensely connected to and that you’ll absolutely want to save.