When Nintendo shocked the world in 1997 by releasing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, many people were quite irate. The new 3D land of Hyrule was something that several hated and others loved, but in any case, the game was extraordinarily successful and helped prove that the N64 wasn't quite dead. After three years, much tinkering and countless pots of coffee, Nintendo created the game's sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, and although I really hate to say it about an N64 game, it is probably one of the most impressive sequels I have ever seen. Here's my review.
After sealing the evil Ganondorf into oblivion, returning to his normal form, and saving the entire land of Hyrule from destruction (see review of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for more details), Link decided to explore the rest of the world with his faithful companion Epona. They traveled out into the wild forests past the Kokiri village, but before long, disaster struck. A masked skull kid accompanied by a pair of fairies managed to incapacitate the young hero and quickly grabbed up his mystical Ocarina of Time and all of his other toys from previous adventures, but before the assailant could ride off on the stolen horse, Link came to and began to give chase. He grabbed hold of the fleeing beast and was dragged through the forest undergrowth for quite some time, only to see them ride off into a strange cave.
Cautiously, he entered in pursuit, but when he found the thief, all did not go well. The masked skull kid cursed Link with a spell that would turn him into a Deku Scrub and ran off, laughing like a maniac. Fortunately, the madman left behind one of his fairies. After making a quick alliance, Deku-child Link and Tatl leave the foul cave to explore the land they are now stuck in, only to meet an old acquaintance of Link's. The owner of the Happy Mask Shop agrees to help Link remove the curse in exchange for the Majora's Mask that the skull kid was wearing, and so, Link heads out into the land of Termina to save the day yet again. The only catch is that a gigantic moon of death is falling directly into the earth, giving him only three days to accomplish the task. How convenient.
At first glance, I thought that Majora's Mask was nothing more than a clone of the original. The controls, the enemies, even the cast of the original were brought back and cleaned up a bit this time around. However, I soon realized that this game was probably one of the most unique in the series. While the everlasting goal in Zelda is still to explore all of the dungeons in this 3D world and slay the beasts within to collect various tools and such, the methods through which you must do this have changed drastically.
As I mentioned earlier, the moon is slowly falling towards the earth, giving you only 72 hours to complete the game. If you don't somehow stop the moon before 6 AM of that last day, it won't be pretty. However, you can reset the clock by playing the Song of Time on your instrument. As the hours (Which are each equal to a real-time minute) pass by, the environment around you changes as well. People in town will say different things, areas that were closed before may now be open, and items that were once available may become inaccessible if you don't show up at the right place at the right time.
While it's true that you can reset the clock as often as you may need to, time travel does come at a price. Puzzles you solved will reset, people will forget about you, all of your money, arrows and bombs will disappear, and mini-games that you failed at will reopen. With the exception of your major items and whatever money you keep in the bank, each time reset erases all that you have done.
Another big change in the game is that masks actually DO something this time. There are two kinds of masks that you can get. The first are the transformation masks. These will turn Link from human to Deku, Goron, Zora, or… never mind. You'll see when you get it. While in these forms, Link will have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, while in Deku form, Link can hop on the water's surface to speed up water travel and can shoot snot bubbles out of his nose. On the other hand, if he touches any form of fire, the room you are in will automatically reset as if you had fallen into a bottomless pit (For some reason, falling into pits doesn't hurt this time around, and I have to admit I like this idea).
The second are the ability masks. While these don't change your species, they do grant you certain advantages that normal Link doesn't have. While wearing the bunny hood, you move with the speed of the wind, and using the captain's hat will allow you to talk to certain enemies without getting attacked. While some masks are essential in order to beat the game, others are there only as bonuses. Collecting them all does come with a nice reward though…
Like the first N64 Zelda, playing songs on your Ocarina can have effects on the game. Some are necessary to unlock secret areas, while others can be used to conveniently slow down time or warp to one of the many warp points hidden throughout the game. As before, the songs are pitifully simple, but that just helps you remember them better. The only interesting change in this aspect of the game is that each species of Link uses a different instrument. Some people will only react to a specific instrument. If you are stuck wondering why your music doesn't work, try it as a Goron or a Zora perhaps.
At some point in the game, you will (probably) receive the Bomber's Notebook upon gaining membership to the Bomber's League of Justice. As a Bomber, it is your job to find all of the unhappy people in Termina and assist them in any way possible. Some people require nothing more than someone to talk to, while solving the problems of others may wind up forcing you to repeatedly go through time in order to keep from making mistakes. You see, each person in the world has his or her own specific schedule, and unless you manage to help that person at the correct time, you will have to restart the clock at day one and try again. Helping out people is by no means necessary to complete the game, but many of the masks are only available through these side-quests. Also, unless you fill out your entire notebook and help out everyone, the ending will be incomplete.
There are several other minor mini-games to compete in. These include shooting down UFOs on horseback, hide-and-seek with five annoying children, fighting mini-bosses on a timer, and many more. Also, the Gold Skulltula hunts are back in a slightly smaller form. There are two Skulltula houses hidden in the game, each containing thirty Skulltulas, and if you can clear them out, you receive some sort of prize. In short, there is a lot to do besides simply beating the game.
As always, the bosses in this Zelda were spectacular. Old enemies from previous games were brought back and turned 3D surprisingly well, adding a bit of nostalgia to the game. While each boss does require some form of special weapon to defeat, you don't always have to use just one specific weapon to defeat it. I remember blowing up one particular boss with fire arrows only to learn later on that becoming a Goron lets you beat it in half the time. In any case, they all have at least some level of difficulty and can stand proudly among the ranks of all those other bosses from previous Zelda games. The best part of all would have to be that each boss could be fought as often as you want. Rather than marching through the entire dungeon again to fight it, you can simply step on a special warp point in the dungeon's entrance to get started without delay. It's a new concept in the series that I hope winds up in future games.
The N64 was not a very good system graphically, but TLoZ: MM pushed it to its limits. Sadly, this had been done years ago when TLoZ: OoT was made. Needless to say, the graphics have scarcely been improved since then. The different levels and areas seem to have a little more detail here, and there and the people you meet now have a few more facial expressions, but little else has changed. There was obviously some nice special effect work done, such as the darkening sky when time passes and bubbles floating by while underwater, but it was all there when the first game came out!
Other noticeable problems include some slowdown in certain situations, the usual low-quality N64 polygons, overuse of unimpressive cut scenes, and, most noticeably, the owner of the Happy Mask Shop. This character only possessed one smiling face in the original, but because he has a slightly larger role in the game now, the game's makers supplied him with multiple emotions such as anger, worry and relief, each complete with their own hand and body motions. Sadly, they did NOT supply him with the ability to change from one emotion to the other without instantaneously altering his body to fit the new mood. For instance, he may be tearing out his hair at one moment and then smiling and waving the next, providing you with a very choppy experience. In spite of all these system-induced problems, there were a few strengths.
Like I said before, the bosses were interesting. This is probably the only game where you can fight both a giant mechanical bull and a gargantuan piranha with a mask on its head. A few of the mini-bosses were hardly anything more than bulkier normal enemies, but most of them were at least interesting. The major bosses were all quite impressive, and the last boss has to be the freakiest one in the series.
Like a lot of other things in the game, much of the music was ripped out of the original and put in here. Fortunately, there were also many new songs added, consisting partially of new remixes of old Zelda songs and a few completely original ones. The true beauty of it all is that, as time slowly runs out, the music changes as well. The town theme on day one gives you the feeling of a bustling city while day two's music contains just a hint of a dark foreboding. By day three, the original song is racing by at a panicked speed and is barely audible over the earthquakes in the background. It's really not the quality of the music that's great but the way that they alter it depending on the situation.
The sound really hasn't changed at all from the first game. Every grunt from a villager, every shout issued forth from Link, every swing of your sword still has the exact same noise. Almost every sound effect from the first has returned with a few extras added in for the new creatures. As for voice acting, I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere.
When it comes to the storyline, I must say that I enjoyed it. First, it didn't contain Ganon anywhere. Although I love the other Zelda games, I am getting a bit tired of the giant pig king. Second, it was interesting to be able to manipulate time the way you could. To beat the entire game in the first three days you are given is impossible, but by completing one quest and gaining a key item from that, you can reset time and go to the place where the item is needed. Depending on which quests you complete, characters will react differently to you. It will take several tries to get everyone to react to you the proper way and often requires a bit of creativity, but I think it's worth it.
Finally, the game is an actual sequel to the original, taking place about a week after the first. Several plot holes from the first are filled and connections to other games in the series were made, plus the ending just paves the way for at least one more to show up. The plot itself was a bit underdeveloped, and there wasn't enough background given, but it still holds the game together fairly well.
The controls were superb, just like in OoT. In fact, they were the controls from OoT. Except for a few new items and abilities available to you, Link handles just as well as he did before. It probably would've hurt the game to mess with it more than they did and anyone who played the first will be able to start on the second comfortably in moments.
The N64 is a faded system, nearly forgotten and barely missed. But before it dies, the world should know that it did have a few titles that were worth playing, such as Golden Eye, Perfect Dark, almost any other Golden Eye rip off, and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. This is a game that no N64 library is complete without. So, if you haven't sold your system off, I'd have to suggest that you get it.