If you’ve read any of my Gerudo-related articles, you’ve probably learnt by now that I’m a Gerudo fanatic. I fell in love with the badass woman warriors in Ocarina of Time, so imagine my delight when I played Majora’s Mask, not long after completing Ocarina of Time, and discovered the Pirates’ Fortress. I was thrilled to see that there was once again a dangerous, all-women’s group for Link to face in his quest to save the world.
Tingle’s Maps is a series in which we explore the endless lands of Hyrule in search of our favorite places in The Legend of Zelda. We’ll explore everywhere: the beautiful landscapes that make us put down the controller in awe; the deadly terrain that threatens Link with the harshest of elements; the bustling towns that bring the game to life; and the abandoned grounds that evoke peace and sadness. As well as the grand locales, we’ll also discover all the secret caves and hidden crevices that lie between. Let’s adventure!
I distinctly remember that first moment when I submerged from Great Bay into the Pirates’ Fortress. As the sweeping shot of the Gerudo Pirates patrolling the entrance played and the intense drums and trumpets of that awesome music kicked in, I thought to myself “Oh my God! They’re Gerudos! This is so cool!” While the Gerudo fan girl in me wanted to get a photo of them with the Pictobox (which I was also obsessed with), the gamer side of my brain knew that they were enemies, and I had to avoid getting caught. I threw on my Zora’s Mask, dove into the cove, and got to work infiltrating their base.
One thing I loved when playing Zelda was the pre-dungeons, which I felt were a great warm up before the main challenges of the temples (like the Ice Cavern before the Water Temple and the Bottom of the Well before the Shadow Temple). The Pirates’ Fortress in Majora’s Mask was no exception: I remember thoroughly enjoying the underwater navigation with Zora Link as well as the various puzzle elements you must overcome to get inside the Fortress. Twirling around tight corners and splashing in and out of the water was challenging yet entertaining, and it made me realize just how versatile and skilled Zora Link truly is. As a result, the Zora Mask became my favorite transformation mask for the rest of the game.
I also enjoyed the stealth aspect of the entire Fortress, which were clear throwbacks to Gerudo Valley in Ocarina of Time. But what really made the Fortress thrilling to me is that it had just the right balance of stealth and combat. The frequent one-on-one battles acted as perfect breaks from the stealth, just like in Ocarina of Time. Although they may be straightforward once you know how to beat them, I absolutely loved these battles. The badass, dual-wielding Gerudos are just oozing with cool. It’s a shame that there was no Gerudo transformation mask – that would have been right up my alley (if only I knew what Breath of the Wild had in store for me years later).
From sneaking around the Fortress to picking off the Pirates one by one, there is little time to rest during your quest to reclaim Lulu’s eggs from the thieves. However, I clearly remember that moment when you see a bee enter its hive above the leader’s throne room. It was fun getting a glimpse of the Gerudo Pirates discussing their plan, as well as ruining their day by unleashing the bees to drive them out. You can then use this opportunity to claim your Hookshot treasure and roam about the room as you please, which is always a nice break in stealth-heavy sections of games. My only gripe is that, once you reach this point, the rest of the Fortress becomes pretty easy. Up until now, it was a challenge to avoid getting spotted and to ration your arrows to stun the Pirates. But the Hookshot allows you to take shortcuts that bypass most of the Pirates’ patrol paths and allows you to stun them without ever running out of ammo. I suppose that was the reward for making it as far as you did, but it would have been nice to see the challenge scale up in some way to keep you on your toes.
But that’s not all: it’s even worse if you have the Stone Mask. At this point in the game, some diligent players may have already acquired the Stone Mask from the soldier Shiro in Ikana Valley, which enables you to walk past all the guards in the Pirates’ Fortress completely unseen. Doing so utterly breaks the challenge of the area, so I think it was a shame that the game included this feature. Luckily, the Pirates who fight you before each egg can see past your plain-as-a-stone disguise, so at least that fun part of the Fortress wasn’t ruined by the mask. However, what’s EVEN worse is that Nintendo apparently thought this wasn’t easy enough! In the 3DS remake of the game, they moved the location of the Stone Mask away from Ikana. Did they move it somewhere else to make it more challenging, given how it makes the Fortress super easy? Nope! It was now smack bang in the middle of the Fortress. I strongly disliked this change, among numerous others that made the game easier. What was once a reward for your exploration – a shortcut for breezing your way through the Fortress if you chose to do so – was now literally a handout that actively encouraged you to avoid the challenge of the Fortress.
Some people may argue that this was a welcome change, and I can certainly see the other side of it. The egg hunting in Majora’s Mask is definitely one of the slower, more tedious parts of the game (but surely not worse than the Triforce piece hunting in The Wind Waker, right?), so being able to quickly power through the Fortress to get the eggs and move on is certainly appealing. I just wish they kept the easy mode a little harder to get! I will also say that, despite these gripes, the Stone Mask was something I personally enjoyed using in the Fortress, but for reasons other than making it easy. As I mentioned earlier, I was eager to get a close-up view of the Gerudo Pirates, so I remember putting on my Stone Mask and catching a ride in one of the pirates’ boats patrolling the entrance. As they were completely oblivious to me, I took numerous pictures until I got the perfect one with my Pictobox – I just loved their design that much. But imagine how pleased I was to discover you actually have to do this as part of the main story! In exchange for a seahorse who’ll help you find the remaining Zora Eggs, Link must trade a photo of a Gerudo pirate to the fisherman in Great Bay.
Despite all of its kinks, the Pirates’ Fortress is still to this day one of my favourite mini-dungeons. Perhaps I’ll always be biased as a fan of the Gerudo, but I genuinely think it was one of the few areas that tested your cautiousness, your puzzle-solving, your combat, and of course your patience. That, to me, made for a challenging yet exciting area to face.
I will admit though – even when you weren’t wearing the Stone Mask, those pirates were sometimes blind as Keese.