It may be nearly 15 years old, but The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask feels incredibly fresh in 2015. That’s a feat for any game, but it’s especially noteworthy for a game in the Zelda series, so often criticized for its derivative design. It may have been difficult for some to realize back in 2000, but time has shown Majora’s Mask to be an incredibly ambitious, unique and inspired Zelda game. It’s a brave departure from convention in more ways than one, and its 3DS revival leaves little doubt that it’s one of Link’s finest adventures.
In Majora’s Mask 3D, the gung-ho spirit of Ocarina of Time is traded for a tense, somber tale of tragedy and death. The people of Termina are doomed to destruction in merely three days, leaving Link to race the clock in an attempt to stop the descent of the moon upon Clock Town. Of course, you can’t do it all in a measly 72 hours. In fact, you’ll have to relive the same three days over, and over, and over, each time edging closer to the your ultimate goal. It’s an intense situation, and that magnified urgency definitely increases the stress, but it also makes every success feel that much more rewarding.
Time is constantly ticking away, each day beginning with a thumping reminder of exactly how long you have left to avert the imminent catastrophe. Success hinges on your ability to manage your minutes and make lasting changes in the world before turning back time and starting again. It’s a brave design that could easily have become frustrating and repetitive, but with more tools at your disposal after each reset, the world only becomes more fun to explore as you progress.
Certain areas, people, and items are only available at certain times during your three-day visit to Termina, requiring you to keep track of the individual schedules of each of its inhabitants. This was a bit of a daunting task back in 2000, but Majora’s Mask 3D boasts an updated Bomber’s Notebook that helps a great deal in organizing yourself. The in-game planner keeps track of tasks, schedules and rumors you collect throughout your adventure, and is a genuinely useful aid in your quest. It’s not always the most intuitive tool, and being unable to make customized notes is a bit of a pain, but overall Nintendo and Grezzo’s organizational alterations are more than welcome.
The co-developers also added more save spots, more precise manipulation of time, and even some re-worked boss battles, together making Majora’s Mask 3D a more enjoyable and handheld-friendly game while retaining most of the tension and challenge of the original. Purists will no doubt be upset that even one blade of grass is out line, but the changes help smooth out some of the rough and frustrating edges that marred the game on N64, helping to make it more accessible than ever.
While many familiar and iconic items are collected throughout your time in Termina, the majority of your powers and abilities come from a multitude of enchanted masks. Some grant new abilities while others completely transform your appearance, but they’re all a lovely change from the series’ traditional reliance on key items. The game also bucks the predictable progression of its predecessors and successors, boldly featuring only four dungeons. This doesn’t sound like a lot on paper, and it’s not — especially in comparison to literally every other game in the series — but it’s actually an ideal number for Majora’s Mask, giving players just enough of the franchise’s exquisite dungeon design while also making way for a much more substantial emphasis on sidequests and the memorable, desperate inhabitants of Termina. The only blemish, of course, is the dreadful Great Bay temple, which unfortunately remains unchanged from its N64 days. It’s an unintuitive and unfortunate low, but it can’t detract from the love and care that clearly went into the creation of the world.
Unlike the derivative, somewhat predictable iterations of Hyrule that have graced the Zelda series throughout its history, Termina is a notably strange and quirky locale. UFOs, talking monkeys, and a lonely hand in a toilet are only some of the unusual experiences the game has in store, and the perpetual possibility of the bizarre makes trekking through Termina a ton of fun. The place is quite nightmarish too, though, dealing with heavy themes not often explored in games, let alone the Zelda series.
The individuals Link meets on his quest express varying levels of dread and depression, many resigned to their seemingly unavoidable fate. As you interact with them over their last three days of life, you really come to care for each of them in a way few games can pull off. They’re all quirky, charming personalities from the start, but it’s their emotional evolution over the hours of the game that is the defining element of Majora’s Mask 3D. Because you develop a tangible relationship with almost everyone you meet, you actually feel compelled to complete sidequests as they come along in hope that your efforts will lighten the spirits being actively crushed by the moon’s encroaching surface.
Ocarina of Time impressed in its 2011 3DS remaster, but the same treatment breathes incredible life into its oft-forgotten brother. Gone are the jagged, distorted polygonal models of the N64, instead replaced with smooth, deliciously detailed characters and touched-up textures. It’s an amazing visual overhaul, and the colorful, boisterous world of Majora’s Mask benefits more from the upgrade than its N64 sibling. There are momentary drops in frame rate here and there, but for the most part Majora’s Mask 3D runs beautifully on 3DS, and it’s truly wonderful to see the game finally receiving the attention it’s been starved of for nearly 15 years.
Many people overlooked Majora’s Mask originally because it wasn’t “Ocarina of Time 2.” As its 3DS revival shows, however, Majora’s Mask is in many ways superior to its N64 predecessor. Nintendo and Grezzo have made a cult-classic more accessible, refined and enjoyable than ever before, and its return to the spotlight has cemented just how ahead of its time it was. Some of its flaws live on in this 3DS remaster, but ultimately The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is a game that absolutely deserves your time.