The Legend of Zelda series is one that may gamers hold close to their heart. Not just because the stories, characters and vast worlds are simply stunning, with so much to see and experience, but often because their mythological tales resonate with us on a human level, telling us tales of what it’s like to grow up in a world filled with turmoil and delivering life lessons along the way.
With barely any miss steps in the series (lets not talk about those CD-i games eh?) Nintendo have been taking a look back on their classics to deliver revamped releases of two of the series best titles for the 3DS. Nintendo released their seminal time travel masterpiece, Ocarina of Time, on the 3DS some years back and have decided that now is the right time to deliver its equally perfect sequel. Often forgotten and standing in the shadow of its predecessor Majors Mask is a much darker journey that, while still tackling the issues of time travel, explores much more humane themes such as dealing with grief, failure, regret and depression.
I know, that sounds heavy and almost unbelievable for a game that arrived almost fifteen years ago and onto a Nintendo console no less but give it a moment of your time and you’ll see just how well crafted a game it is. Blending, almost hiding, amazing stories into the background leaving you to explore and unlock them, should you work hard enough.
If you’ve play Ocarina of Time, you’ll quickly feel right at home as Majoras Mask utilises much of the same artwork and design ideas, it runs on the same engine after all, but this is essentially where the similarities stop dead.
After saving the day for the land of Hyrule, the hero of time went on a journey of discovery only to arrive beaten, broken and in no shape to save even himself (Sure, theres a possibility that Link is dead, but thats a whole different story that should be saved for forums and angry conversations at the bar). His horse stolen by a masked scoundrel and now transformed and trapped in the body of a deck scrub, you've got 3 short days in which to get your human form back and stop this masked evil from wreaking havoc and crashing the moon into the earth.
This lingering threat from the moon is visible throughout your journey, that grimacing planet (yes, it has a face and Nintendo did it long before Noel Fielding) edging ever closer to the ground, ready to prove just how rubbish you are at playing games. You first need to accept that you wont be able to stop this complete planetary destruction of all life. At least, not on your first encounter. In fact, you’ll keep attempting it, hundreds of time over but you wont win of some time. Instead, you’ll edge ever closer to success with each go.
For me, this is the lesson to be learnt in Majoras Mask. Failure is something we all face but we deal with it by picking ourselves up and trying again until we can laugh about that defeat as simply another stepping stone to our success. To quote Thomas Wayne/Christopher Nolan, why do we fall down? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up!
Time passes quickly in this game, ticking through hours in minutes but once you reach the end of the 3rd day, which you'll have been reminded of constantly by banners detailing the details and a screen that gets smaller in time with clock strikes of the final hours, music will enter your world again as you find your Ocarina. This unlocks the ability manipulate time and bend its will. Speed things up, slow them down or rewind back to the first day at the expense of all those items you collected and all those tasks you've completed.
Well, sort of anyway. Your most invaluable items such as weapons, bottles and most importantly masks, will stay yours and transcend the time slip you’ll be experiencing over and over again as you take two steps forward and one step back on the path of adventure.
This is a brave mechanic to build an entire game on, especially when you consider just how old Majoras Mask really is. In fact, a large amount of people hate it due to its lack of explanation and stressful execution which often leaves you to decide between rushing towards a goal or rewinding, at the cost of your current progress, to start again with a clean slate.
But for all its frustrations, its actually an ingenious way of cramming so much into a small space of time. You’ll meet hordes of characters who will have different things to say and deeper stories to tell, should you bump into them at the right time on the right day or come prepared with the right mask that they're expecting to see.
This mechanic, while making you feel like a small fish in a big pond, brings a whole new meaning to back tracking as you’ll literally be rewinding the day in order to complete random tasks and lock more key items and masks. You’ll have to set reminders in a diary, one that a gang of kids threatened you with a game of hide and seek to unlock of course. That not weird, is it?
It also adds an extra element of danger to the games dungeons, putting you under serious pressure to race through the puzzle laden caves of abstract punishment. As if you weren't already stressed enough, as you move from room to room, struggling to find each key, you’ll be acutely aware of just how fast time is slipping through your fingers, something which, on more than one occasion, meant I was forced to abandon a dungeon half way through as starting it late on the second day left me with literally no time to finish. Rewinding back to the first day was my only choice and a bitter remind not to dilly or dally when on serious quests.
The flow of time isn't however a major part in the games dungeons. In fact, you’d almost think these sections were designed before the mechanic was even put into place, which is a distinct possibility when you realise how little tie the team behind Majoras Mask had to get the game out there.
Clock Town is where the parties at with this under loved sequel. A bustling hub in the centre of Termina that will fill your diary with so much to do and sink into your subconscious because its a beautiful place to explore. Probably on pare with some of the village you’ll find in Wind Waker (maybe a brave statement but true enough).
If you take the time to explore, you’ll find so many tasks to complete and roles to play. You can follow the postman and help solve his problem late at night (easy now) stop the town thief from robbing an old lady in the park, unlocking the power of explosions early on or even enjoy knowing the lottery results far in advance!
These may seem simple enough and not far reaching but they're simply the icing on this devils food cake of stories. How about trying to solve why it always rains on the second day? or perhaps witnessing and playing a role in the biggest love story a Zelda game (if not any game) has ever seen and then had shoved into a secretive sub-plot?
With the Mayors son missing, and his sweetheart who happens to scrub pots and pants (yes, peoples pants) at the local inn feeling abandoned by her true love, can you find the missing lad and mend his dear maidens broken heart? The answer is yes, but at a huge cost, one you shouldn't be so willing to pay. The bitter sweet irony here however, is that even when you do get a happy ending for someone, you’ll need to rewind time and undo their happiness so you can push on, reward in hand, their hearts broken once more. Which is perhaps why this sequel feels so dense, so heavy in tone and dark in nature, because you're not just playing the hero, you’re also in many senses a villain. Looking out for number 1, numero uno, the big I am.
For me, this is another note that runs seamlessly through the game. The concept of villainy isn't so black and white as the main protagonist was a simple soul looking for friendship before somehow being warped into an evil vessel of dark power. Each dungeon boss is also a tortured spirit looking for freedom and the towns people themselves can change from day to day as you explore their lives and why wouldn't they? They're scared! The town is close to destruction and the world is almost at an end, fear changes us all!
Have I mentioned masks? well, yes, I have. I haven't gone so far as to explain their importance though I’m sure and once again, they make for an ingenious mechanic that you can utilise as deeply as you so wish. You could go so far as to say the real goal of Majoras Mask isn't really to stop the moon from crumbling the heart to dust (is Zelda set on earth?) but instead to collect all 24 of the games masks. 24, each with their own powers or ability to unlock conversations and places.
After bumping into a kindly mask salesman, who happens to be carrying Marios face on his back if you look closely enough, he’ll see you trapped as a little Deku Scrub and save you, leaving you with a unique trinket in the form of a Deku Scrub Mask. When worn, you’ll turn back into your small wooden form and be free to hop along water fronts and glide along the sky as a beautiful flower-copter.
You’ll find more along the way but can choose to simply stop at the core set, 3 of which transform you into warriors of the Goron, Zora and the previously mentioned Deku race. Yes, Deku scrubs can be warriors too!
As a Goron you can punch anything in the face with pure might and roll around at high speeds, with magical spikes protruding. Trust me when I say you’ll have a lot of fun with that alone, in the Goron races. As a Zora, you can explore the bottom of the ocean without the need for Iron Boots and glide like a razor through the sea.
the remaining 20 offer all different paths to wonder, from unlocking and completing side quests to giving Link some nice extras such as faster running speed, or the ability to explode at the cost of one heart, saving you from having to carry bombs or spend precious coin on them. Should you be a big music fan, go for the Don Gerro mask and enjoy the sweet, croaky sounds of a frog choir! Each are strange and joyous to unlock, requiring some dedication with quests that'll have you running errands over the final 3 days in Termina which in turn means you’ll have to get to grips with time control and be in the right place at the right time otherwise its back to the first day and a fresh start for you!
With this being a remastering of the classic sequel, what have Nintendo inevitably changed or fixed about its original release? Well, there are a handful of changes that make life a that bit easier. The save system is much better, and the swimming controls are as smooth as you like, something the N64 version struggled with greatly and you can now jump forward in time to specific times as opposed to simply choosing dawn or dusk and then proceeding to hang around as time passed until your moment arrived.
Perhaps the biggest change however is in the visuals. Something I myself couldn't fully appreciated until I fired up my N64 once more and was blown away by how different it looked! This re mastering not only looks gorgeous and smooth, it pulls it off in such a subtle way, you’ll be convinced this is how you experienced it originally and its simply aged well! In which case, I’d advise not to go back and see the original, unless you want to ruin your childhood, just a little.
Majoras Mask 3D is a perfect game and a perfect reason to own a 3DS. It demonstrates how to remaster a game right, with subtle upgrades and true respect to its source. Weather you’ve played Majoras Mask before or not, you need this game in your collection. It’s easily the most fascinating Zelda game ever, if not the best..