In a recent article featured in Game Informer, Dan Ryckert reminisced about his experiences with Majora’s Mask and reflects on the title. Within it he dwells upon what it was like as a teenager waiting for the game, the bustling rumours of the title and whether or not it would be released on the failed 64 Disc Drive. He also talks about how he becomes surprised by the unique experience that Majora’s Mask provides within the series and how it exceeds his expectations, and goes on to outline several points on why he became fascinated with the game.
Hit the jump for my thoughts on the article and its subject.
“The most defining characteristic of Majora’s Mask is the way the story and time-bending gameplay mechanics work together.” Because of the use of a three day system it’s possible to fully explore three whole days in the lives of many of the citizens of Clock Town; simple things like the progression of the clock tower or the changing of the weather does wonders in immersing the player deeper into the game. Majora’s Mask is unique within the Zelda series, and indeed within much of the gaming industry, in that it goes in-depth within the lives of most of the characters, examining the details of their final days of life and exploring the various ways that Link interacts with them and the consequences those actions have within the lives of those characters.
An interesting example is within the Anju and Kafei timeline – you have the option of either hand delivering a letter from Kafei to his mother or sending it by post. While this may seem a like very small difference, the first option rewards you with a bottle filled with Chateau Romani, a special kind of milk which supercharges Link, and the second allows the Mailman to interact with the Mayor’s wife who releases him from his duties, which he passes on to the player in the form of his hat and he is able to flee from the doomed town.
“With his notebook, Link could track the needs and schedules of numerous characters, and significant rewards were in place for completing these sidequests.” The sidequests of Majora’s Mask were one of the real pulling features of the game. Sometimes they were simple fetch quests, such as the Shiro the invisible soldier in Ikana Valley, but we also got a few more intricate ones such as the Kafei-Anju event line or the Rosa Sisters which required the completetion of a previous quest to complete. Quite a few of the sidequests are interconnected actually, requiring previous sidequests to be completed first or taking part due to the events of larger over arcing plot. These connections all help bring to life the characters and makes the player contemplate the casuality of their actions, both within the game and in real life. Maybe the receptionist you spoke to just lost her boyfriend? Or maybe that old lady sitting by herself is lonely and just wants someone to listen to her stories? It’s really interesting how the game stops and makes a person think about their interactions with others on a concious level.
“These rewards usually came in the form of one of 24 magic masks.” While not all the masks are magic, such as the Kafei Mask, quite a few are and a lot of them can change the gameplay dynamics quite a bit. The three transformations masks all offer huge situational benefits or drawbacks; the Deku is immune from most attacks within a dekuflower and can fly for short lengths of time but is suseptible to fire attacks; the Goron is a great close range fighter who makes up for slow run speeds with the ability to roll around at high speeds but drowns if he enters water; and the Zora has good mid-range combat ability, able to shoot his fins like boomerangs or create an electric barrier around himself fending off enemy attacks but is weak to ice attacks. The Bunny Hood is probably one of the most praised of the “regular” masks and with good cause – it’s the easily the most adaptable mask and able to be used in almost any situation, both within and without battle.
However not all of the masks were so easily utilised. While understandably a few masks, such as the Kafei Mask has very few uses, there was no reason that other masks could not have been incorporated in greater detail. For example, the All-Night Mask is only ever used to “survive” through the stories of Anju’s Grandmother or Kamaro’s Mask was only ever used in the event sequence with the Rosa sisters. While collecting a lot of masks and going through event sequences was fun, it would have been great if there had been a bit more thought put into the utilisation of many of the masks past their one use.
Overall I think Majora’s Mask was a great game. It deviated from the classical Zelda pattern by stepping away from several key elements withing the series, such as Zelda, Ganon or Hyrule and put the player in an unknown location and up against an enemy we’ve never been place in before – the very environment in which we walk, talked and breathed. The moon itself was our enemy, threatening to consume all the life in Termina. It built an atmosphere in the game that is hard to replicate, an eerie theme of death and moribund curiosity echoes throughout the game. It gave us an experience worth having. Something new, something exciting, with unique gameplay mechanics and an original story. While the traditional Zelda games are loved for excellent reasons, the occasional deviancies from this pattern should be welcomed and appreciated for what they are, rather than held in comparison to traditional games.