The year 2000 was a year of suspense. Conspiracy theorists waited in suspense to see if the year would bring with it the total collapse of the world’s electronics systems, the American public were held in suspense for months waiting for a vote tally that would determine the US election, and perhaps most importantly of all, it was the year that the long-awaited sequel to Ocarina of Time was due to be released. In October that game finally came, in the form of Majora’s Mask.
Majora’s Mask was created as a sequel to its massively popular predecessor Ocarina of Time. Yet, despite the fact that the two games were built using the same engine and employed many of the same character models, textures and physics, Majora’s Mask was no Ocarina of Time; in fact, the two games were as different as night and day – or should I say, as different as the way they treated night and day. Majora’s Mask used a 72-hour in-game clock that took the player through a three-day trek through the world of Termina, with a constant stream of schedules and events throughout the three days, and time-reversal mechanics that let you go back and experience each day over and over, none of which had been used in Zelda games (or games for that matter) before.
Link begins his adventure by traveling through the woods in search of Navi, his long-lost fairy friend from Ocarina of Time. Unfortunately, his trip is interrupted by the Skull Kid, who has been possessed by the evil contained with the titular Majora’s Mask, and uses the evil power of the mask to transform Link into a Deku Scrub. Link (conveniently) loses everything from his previous adventures, including his Ocarina of Time and his horse Epona, and with some help from the Happy Mask Salesman he sets out on an adventure to regain his humanity.
As mentioned previously, Majora’s Mask did things very different from Ocarina of Time. Beyond the Groundhog Day-like narrative structure in which Link must repeat the same three-day cycle over and over, the game was much shorter than its prequel despite the fact that it needed additional memory (via the Memory Expansion Pak included with the game) to run. In place of Ocarina’s nine official dungeons, Majora has only five… plus a few more mini-dungeons that you can count if you feel like being lenient. However, what the game lacked in length was more than accounted for in depth.
Unlike the world of Hyrule in Ocarina, the world of Termina seemed so much deeper and alive. Whereas the people of Kakariko Village and Castle Town never moved or changed position or said more than one line, Clock Town felt rich and alive and full of vibrancy (during the first day) and terror (during the last). Because the game presented a continuous three-day loop, NPCs suddenly had schedules and, now, motivations behind every little action they performed. And even more interesting, thanks to the Bomber’s Notebook, Link was able to make subtle changes to the schedules of those NPCs, sending history into an entirely different flow. Anyone who performed Kafei’s and Anju’s long and arduous sidequest know just how many potential points of failure there were in getting them to hook up and wed in the end.
A central theme to the game is the ability to collect masks. There are 24 in all – often found from fulfilling the requests of NPCs. The masks have many varying purposes. One mask helps to bring stray fairies closer to you so that you can trade them in for extra powers and abilities; one causes all of the animals near you to march along behind you like some sort of Pied Piper, and another even allows you to talk to Gibdos and Redeads! But the four most important masks allow Link to change his shape and abilities to cope with the hazards within the world of Termia. Deku Link can hop across water effortlessly and can also fly through the sky by shooting out of Deku flowers. Goron Link can roll into a ball and shoot through the world at alarming speed. And Zora Link, with boomerang fins, can move through water with more finesse than Link can move across land. And as for Fierce Deity Link? Well, he made Majora look like a Chu-Chu! It was always delightful to uncover a new mask and see just how useful it might be. Some of them… weren’t, but some like the Bunny Ears made exploring every last nook and cranny for masks worth it!
While the dungeons were few, they were also some of the most amazing and creative dungeons to be had in the series. Woodfall Temple was dark and creepy, a rather strange take for the first dungeon of the game. Snowhead Temple required players to backtrack through large sections of the dungeon to follow new routes that were opened midway through. Great Bay Temple had players cursing at yet another water temple. And Stone Tower Temple? I’ll never forget just how far down my jaw dropped the first time I saw a treasure chest appear on the ceiling! They also have a lot of replay value, as the different masks mean that you can defeat rooms and bosses in several completely different ways.
After getting through the game’s introductory cycle (which, incidentally, you can not save during since you don’t have your sword), the game gives you a 54-minute time limit for each cycle of three days, or around three hours if you playa certain time-slowing song (plus cutscenes and talking, which were outside of time). Unfortunately, this lead to some people feeling pressured or stressed while playing the game. Of course, actually running up against the clock was a rare event; outside of finishing the Kafei/Anju sidequest, the only time I ever hit the final six hours of the game was when facing the Evil Fish of Doom in the Great Bay Temple (who mercilessly killed me seven times in a row, the last of which was a draw since we dealt each other the fatal blow at the same time). Yet just the threat of losing three hours of gameplay and doing it all over again was enough for some players to hang up the controller on the game.
For others, though, the rich world of Termina really spoke to them, and now, after a long period of time away from the frustrations of some of the temples, Majora’s Mask continuously appears in most players’ Top Zelda Games list. While it often does not exceed the fan love for Ocarina, there is a strong contingent who vocally list it as their #1 game because of its unique design, dark undertones, and realistic NPCs.
With the release of the game came a manga adaptation of Majora’s Mask, created by Akira Himekawa. Much like the game, this manga—the second story of the series—continued from the end of Ocarina. However, unlike Ocarina, the manga was merely an adaptation of the videogame story, just based upon the game’s plot instead of following it to the letter. This leads to some moments where the manga made up things that likely aren’t considered canon for the game, such as an origin story of Majora and the Fierce Deity, but it’s still an interesting read.
Last but not least, 2000 also brought about a surprise that would make people more eager for Zelda than ever before. With the release of information regarding Project Dolphin – which would eventually become the Nintendo GameCube came a trailer that would blow Zelda fans’ minds.
For at Space World 2000, we would feast our eyes on The Legend of Zelda 128… (working title).
All we saw was a brief visualization of a battle scene between Link and Ganondorf, rendered in what was then beautiful graphics, locked within an epic swordfight with one another. The clip couldn’t have been more than a minute long, but it was still remarkable because it dwarfed the Nintendo 64’s graphics processor several times over. And all of a sudden, gamers were eager to get their hands on the GameCube due to the brilliant graphics that it would ultimately have.
What we didn’t know at the time was that The Legend of Zelda 128 was just a demonstration of what the graphical prowess of the GameCube… and a theoretical Zelda for it… would look like. Nintendo was still very much only planning a new Zelda game. And so, well… I won’t spoil 2001’s thunder. While we all know that LoZ 128 was ultimately transformed into Wind Waker, the big shock over that announcement was still a year away.
Tune back in tomorrow to continue our journey through time.