The year was 1999. I was a 8 year old trapped in his room playing one video game over and over wanting to escape my reality. My reality was hospitals and ambulance rides for my diabetic mother but my escape was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the fastest selling game of the N64 era. I had gone over and over the entire game world multiple times looking for every secret area. New to the console life, I was blown away by the story telling, art, music, and emotional feel of this world. As a child I was a subscriber of “Nintendo Power” which not only sent magazines but also on the rare occasion a VHS of upcoming trailers. I remember the day in early 2000 when my mother came and handed me my VHS. This VHS looked into my soul, the words “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask” with a eerily creepy mask with spike jetting out of it all different colors. I instantly headed to the living room to see what was in store for my next favorite game. Watching that video left me confused and intrigued. What could possibly be in store for me, and the Hero of Time?
Months passed and I got the game from a friend. Upon returning home I remember the excitement and then the disappointment after putting it in to find out it didn’t run. The RAM was not enough, Majora’s Mask was the first N64 game to require the “Expansion Pak”. At 9 years old this didn’t make sense, but after getting the needed Expansion Pak I couldn’t wait to drop that cartridge in and begin my journey. That opening screen scared the living hell out of me. The mask rotating into the screen as music starts to play ending with a face on the moon and a beautiful song transitioning into a creepy tune all added to the creep factor.
After making it through the introduction I created my save file and was dropped into a cut-scene of Link riding on his trusty Epona after saving Hyrule from Ganon in Ocarina of Time. In the Lost Forest two fairies knock Link off Epona and he becomes unconscious. As the camera pans out you see the scary mask again, and a little kid or creature wearing it. The person behind the mask says a few things and searches the unconscious Link taking the Ocarina of Time. Link awakens startling the masked person who then jumps on Epona and darts into a tree leading you to another world. As many of us now know this is a split in the Zelda series leading us to a alternative universe and one of the branches of the timeline that all Zelda games take place in.
You start your actual game play cursed to the form of a Deku Scrub thanks to the masked person. As you’re cursed you see him run under a closing door trapping you and one of his fairies “Tatl” together leaving you to work together to re unite Tatl with her brother fairy and you with the thief. Working together you escape the area and end up coming up the Clock tower meeting an even creepier looking man the Happy Mask Sales Man from the previous game who seems to of been following you. He relays a message that the Skull kid has stolen his Majora’s Mask and that the mask infects the user and wishes to cause terror on the population. Worse yet he informs you of the already impending apocalypse which will take place in exactly three days. After learning about the mask and it’s impending apocalypse you set out to free yourself of this cursed body.
You start in a town called Clock Town and the timer starts. Majora’s mask is the first game in the series to revolve around a countdown. Things in this world only take place at certain times on certain days meaning, you must meet certain criteria to either witness or participate things that further your story. I remember being 9 and 10 not able to fully understand why this game was so challenging. Coming from a linear Ocarina of Time to Majora’s Mask was a world of difference. I spent hours exploring this new universe, wandering all around trying to find the next thing on the next day and always running out of time and being sent back to day 1. I learned to dread the hours. The gameplay was fun and familiar and the world was beautiful. Clock Town at the center and all the major areas Swamp, Mountain, Ocean, Canyon spread about in all four directions around Clock Town. I must admit this game was by far the hardest in the series and the only one I didn’t finish before moving on to a new game, I was so frustrated with the game mechanics at such a young age I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I will say though after playing on 3ds I see the beauty in it again.
Development and New Mechanics
Majora’s Mask takes place several months after Ocarina of Time and is one of the closest in timeline game sequels and quickest turn arounds for the series only consisting of roughly a year. From the 1993 release of Link’s Awakening it took five years to release Ocarina of Time but using the same game engine and assets from Ocarina of Time Eiji Aonuma was able to get a smaller team that only required one year to release Majora’s Mask. Asking himself what could ever come after the success of OoT (Ocarina of Time) the team settled on a world revolving around a 3 day cycle. This would allow the team to make a smaller world with the same depth as its predecessor. Mr. Miyamoto and Koizumi were actually the brains behind the story and the three day cycle. As well as a three day cycle they also decided on implementing Masks and Transformations as a major aspect of this title. Unlike OoT where masks were a side quest they play a major role in Majora’s Mask. Link uses them to transform at will into creatures who all can interact differently and are engaged differently by the world around you. The Deku Mask for example isn’t allow to exit Clock Town, The Goron mask frightens dogs and the Zora mask makes dogs happily follow him around. Other masks however may not alter his appearance but give him enhanced abilities such as the bunny hood will increase his running speed, Stone mask makes him nearly invisible to everything and the Post Master mask lets him retrieve mail from post boxes.
Although Majora’s Mask has never topped the top three favorite Zelda titles for me, I can’t write it off. Back in 1999 creating a game in a year was unheard of. Even though they reused all assets from OoT they took a creepy spin on it breathing new life into the assets and tweaking everything about OoT to make it feel new again. It was a complex game that for my childish brain was honestly probably above my intellectual capacity. I must admit though I’m making it seem worse than it was I never really had trouble with OoT and that’s my reference as it was my first console game. The way they intertwined music with the three day cycle and hinting at an alternative world based on Hyrule was intriguing and well fleshed out. Although it may not be top three it would probably make top five for me. I have fond and angry memories alike with this title. If you have always wondered why or what made Majora’s Mask so incredible I hope you now understand, It was pure recycled beauty that felt new. It took 1 year from development to release and it was classic Zelda reinventing itself. This was at a point where each new Zelda game introduced something new, a new play style, new graphic style, or in this case new mechanic. If you’ve enjoyed this article be sure to check out the rest in this series. HERE.