Shortly after Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time was released and subsequently conquered by gamers around the world, many began to wonder if they would see another Zelda game within the next five years. Historically, Nintendo has taken anywhere from three to six years to deliver sequels to its hit Zelda franchise. The six year wait from A Link to the Past (1992) to The Ocarina of Time (1998) was almost unbearable. In the end, though, Nintendo immaculately transformed the 2D world of Hyrule into the defining 3D utopia it proved to be. Everything about The Ocarina of Time was something in which all future games could learn from.
Nintendo sold millions upon millions of those precious gold carts regardless of the N64's inadequate user-base. The question was would Nintendo deliver N64 owners one more blissful Zelda experience before the console faded away? There was the secretive Ura-Zelda title for the 64DD, but it didn't look like that would find its way to America and on top of that it was merely just an expansion of The Ocarina of Time's world. That game turned out to be what was temporarily called Zelda: Gaiden, which was then briefly named Zelda: Mask of Majora, and finally the title Zelda: Majora's Mask was set in stone. And so the legend continues as Link sets out on another quest to defend all that is good from the evil that lurks.
- Brand-new expansive 3D world outside of Hyrule called Termina
- Real-time night/day sequences
- Three different days
- Play as young Link
- Gain new swords, weapons, and spells
- Gain masks to change form and get different character interaction
- Capitalizes on the acclaimed Ocarina of Time engine
- Utilizes the 4MB expansion pak for bigger worlds and better graphics
Link's new journey begins where The Ocarina of Time left off. After he rid Hyrule of evil he decided to set out on a quest that would benefit him. He went searching for an adored friend whom he set apart from when his legacy turned legendary. In the middle of this journey Link stumbles into a mysterious new land named, Termina (Note: Termina appears to be based off the word "Terminus", which denotes a limit or ending point). Through word of mouth, Link hears that Termina is in peril because the moon is unmercifully crashing down towards the earth leaving only a matter of days before the land breaths its last breath. On this new territory Link is riding his young steed through a thick forest, when two fairies scare his horse throwing him to the ground leaving him unconscious. It turns out the two fairies are working at the hand of an evil masked thief and all-around troublemaker. Link awakens angered to find them toying with his Ocarina of Time, which was given to him by Princess Zelda. This masked villain steals Link's horse and eventually curses Link himself. This is where the story begins and just three days -- 72 Hours-- later it will end if you don't halt the moons death march towards the land of Termina. Link isn't sure where this disguised troublemaker fits in, but the end of the world awaits if he doesn't vow to help these people.
Like the Ocarina of Time before it Majora's Mask opens up with an exquisite cut-scene that is visually dramatic with moody lighting, fog, and flawless animation. It pulls you into the world of Termina swiftly by inflaming your rage for this masked character that stole your Ocarina of Time and your horse too. Nintendo has done an amazing job of immersing you in the story right away. If you've played The Ocarina of Time the story will prove to be more intimate to you, but even as a newcomer to this franchise anyone will find pleasure with the story line. In fact, one might go as far to say that you don't even need to have played the previous Zeldas to feel like a part of the game. That's not to say you won't feel the nostalgia pouring in, but the storyline is one that doesn't really rely on the Zelda franchise to pull you in. This is truly a testament to the skills of Nintendo's team. Through Majora's Mask they've proved they haven't been forced to rehash gameplay and storylines to create a good piece of software.
The object of Majora's Mask revolves around two things: masks and time. Without spoiling the game too much, the masks stem from the owner of the Happy Mask Shop. The villain introduced to you in the beginning has stole one of the shopkeeper's most important masks. The Happy Mask Shop owner offers to lift the curse that was cast upon you if you agree to get his mask back. In lifting the curse you receive a mask that gives you the ability to transform into a different creature when you put it on. With that said, know that more masks come as you progress through the story. As Link you have three days to save the world from destruction, and in the midst of your quest you gain masks which you need to use to accomplish certain tasks or advance the storyline. The masks play such an integral part to the game you actually can't do many of the things without finding certain masks. There are a total of 24 masks to find, and each of them will aid you in a different way.
At the heart of Termina lies Clock Town, and surrounding it are four lands, each unique in their own way; swamps, snow-covered mountains, beaches, and deserts lie at each corner of the land. In these four areas lie the temples which have been cursed by the masked marauder. The boss figure that protects each temple has also been cursed. The object is to relieve the cursed creatures of their masked suffering and to lift the damaging effects on that portion of the land. For example, the swamps may be filled with poisoned water and lifting the curse on it will leave the water clean again.
Now, many may be quick to point out that four temples are several short of that found in The Ocarina of Time. Well, fear not because Majora's Mask is going to give you anywhere from 30-50 hours of gameplay depending on your skill level. How exactly is there so much to do with only four temples? Well, it all comes back to the masks. Majora's Mask has been designed with many side quests (many integral to the game) that revolve around the masks. Nintendo has designed the title so that you cannot just walk into any temple, finish a set of puzzles, and defeat it. If you don't have certain masks sometimes you can't even access a temple. And, often, you can't do certain things within temples if you don't have the proper masks. There are actually three main masks that change your form. One of those, for instance, is the Deku Scrub mask. With that mask you can hop over water and use flowers to hang glide through the air, which you need to do within the first temple. In the second temple you'll utilize the powers of the Goron mask which gives you great strength and let you roll up into a ball. With those powers you can resist the burn of lava and even smash giant blocks. At later temples you'll need to combine the strengths of the masks to finish the temples. So, it's important to understand how significant the masks are in Majora's Mask.
Aside from the masks the Ocarina of Time also plays a huge role just as it did in the last game. The songs you learn can be used to alter time, warp from place to place, heal, awaken, and even change the weather. If you've played the last game you'll get an idea as to how it's used in Majora's Mask. The usage is very similar.
Also, as mentioned before, you only have three days to save the world. Well, you should be happy to know they are not three days based around real-world time. Each day is actually only about 18 minutes long, allowing for a whopping 54 minutes of game time. How do you manage to squeeze 40 hours out of 54 minutes? Well, the big secret is The Ocarina of Time. With the Ocarina you can warp back to the beginning of the first of the three days and save your progress. The downside is that almost everything resets when you go back to the first day. You lose your money, basic items (deku nuts, sticks, bombs), and the temples reset. There are a few exceptions, though. If you get a major item like a mask or a sword you will keep this as you warp back through time and save. So, as you play the game you'll quickly realize that you have to start a temple and finish it within the given three days of time. There are a few ways to get around the 54-minute problem, however. One of the most important ones is the ability to alter time. By altering time you can turn those three days into several hours to complete a temple or side-quest. Time also stops when you hold conversations or play your Ocarina of Time. So you shouldn't have to worry about wasting time during moments you can't control.
We should also mention that the saving process varies greatly from the Ocarina of Time. You cannot save at any moment in the game. You have two choices. You can either save and return to the first day, or you can find checkpoints marked with an owl statue. When you save and return to the first day you lose nearly all collectible items and anything you've done such as a temple will reset. So unless you finish everything you wanted within those three days to you'll need another solution. That solution is the owl statue, which is usually placed in key areas throughout the land (you can even warp to these statues as you'll find out). At this owl statue you can save your progress up to that exact point and when you turn the game back on it will start you back right where you left off. The trick is, once you've restarted this saved game you'll need to save at the first day again once you've completed your objectives, or you'll have to save at the owl statue again. What happens if you don't save again? The game is programmed to revert to the last time you returned and saved to the first day if you don't save at an owl statue when you turn the power off. It's tough to understand, but understand that you'll need to complete temples within the allotted three days. Otherwise it reverts to your last first-day save.
While considering the topic of time it should also be said that each day varies as it would in a real world. The people of Clock Town are doing different things, the weather changes, and certain advancements in the story can only happen on certain days. Most of the acquiring of masks relies heavily on time. You'll even get a notebook that automatically keeps track of all the things you have to do; this is how detailed this newest Zelda offering is. Put frankly, we can't even sum up all the things that can be done in the game. It is so huge and meticulously detailed that it would literally take chapter after chapter to describe everything.
Majora's Mask runs on an upgraded version of the Ocarina of Time game engine, which now utilizes the 4MB expansion pak. In fact, it requires it. You will not be playing Majora's Mask if you don't buy/own an expansion pak. The addition of the 4MB expansion pak is thought to be part of Majora's Mask because the title may have started out as a 64DD title which also required the extra 4MB of RAM. Considering the extra money involved with the 4MB expansion pak one might wonder if it's really worth it. We can assure you that the extra features are worthwhile in the end.
Graphically speaking the extra 4MB gives you a greater draw distance, less pop-up, more local lighting, more textures, more animation, and more characters on the screen. The draw distance is so amazing that the first time you step out into the world of Termina you can see almost endlessly. You get the distinct sense that a car would come in handy because of the sheer expanse of the world. There's not a drop of fog to be found. The texture design is also some of the most brilliant we've seen on the Nintendo 64. Admittedly some of the textures are low resolution, but Nintendo has done a fantastic job of making the most out of the limited power of the N64. The textures are colorful and diverse, and each new area has its own unique look because of it.
Nintendo even introduces some new effects like motion blur. Many of the cinemas and even gameplay feature this effect. And, while on the topic of cut-scenes they are just as dramatic and present as they were in The Ocarina of Time. Nintendo has ensured that Majora's Mask maintains the cinematic touch.
However, the graphics do lack some of the finesse we were hoping for. There are some scenes that drop as low as 10 to 15 frames per second. At certain times Nintendo opted to take the framerate hit for some added visual effects. The extra 4MB of RAM allows Majora's Mask to have a lot of characters on the screen, and at a few times Nintendo went overboard which sends the framerate to the grave. But, fortunately it's minimal. The game maintains a consistent 24-30 frames per second most of the time. When it does get chunky it doesn't really affect the gameplay. Although, one of the temples pushes the envelope in the framerate area. One more thing to note is that the extra 4MB of RAM are really put to use in terms of managing all the characters. On any given day the game is keeping track of upwards of 50 characters, which is absolutely amazing.
Put simply, you won't be disappointed with what you see. Majora's Mask has been polished and shined in a lot of areas, and nearly uses all of the N64's resources. It even utilizes certain graphical effects like lighting and textures to remind you the earth is coming to an end. Each day looks distinctly different. This title will likely go down as one of most graphically impressive games to ever hit the N64.
Most importantly the Overworld theme has returned. It was the one thing that many regretted with the introduction of The Ocarina of Time onto the N64. Not in Majora's Mask, however. As soon as you step outside, the sweet sound of the Overworld theme awakens the memories of all the great times you've had with the Legend of Zelda in the past.
Just as the graphics play a key role in so does the sound. The composition changes in some areas as the days go by and especially as the environment changes. For example, on the first day the music is high-spirited and "fun" within Clock Town. On the second day the tempo has increased dramatically, which gives off the effect that time is passing all to quickly. The changes are subtle enough that you don't intentionally notice them, but more or less sense them. It is really only when the moon is crashing down that the music grabs you by your stomach. Admittedly the sound is very N64-ish; meaning there's a lot of MIDI that sounds like very synthesized. However, again Nintendo makes the most of what they have. The music is used in a really brilliant way and it varies by many degrees.
The sound effects are equally well used. Each character has his or her own distinct sound effects that compliment their actions. Many of them make you laugh because of the way they've been used. As well, Nintendo always remembers to take care of the often-overlooked areas in the sound department. They've included the environmental white noise that many games tend to leave out. Just standing outside you'll hear a certain hum that is very reminiscent of real life. Nothing is perfectly silent, after all. Further the cawing of birds and rustling of nearby animals or creatures is always present. Summed up, the sound effects don't miss a beat. The temples are eerie, and a snowy environment is just as crisp as ever as the snow crunches beneath your feet. It may not be the best sound on the N64 in terms of quality, but it's definitely some of the best we've heard in terms of composure and effectiveness. Koji Kondo is the renowned Nintendo composer that has yet again delivered us a moving soundtrack to accompany the dazzling gameplay.