Majora’s Mask is almost as much a black sheep to its franchise as Zelda II, yet remains lovingly special for all of its out there quirks. It’s confusing, weird, and doesn’t ever hold your hand, for better and for worse. Plus, everything is on a 72-hour time limit, which plays out in just 54 minutes – not nearly enough time, in the grand scope of the diminishing world Termina.
‘Not enough time’ is pretty much the running theme of Majora’s Mask 3D, both thematically and mechanically. Link loses everything, get’s turned into a deku scrub and has a depressed world simply thrust upon him. The game introduces you to all of it’s concepts by forcing you to walk around it’s main setting, Clock Town, with no room to leave into the wider world for a full cycle of three days, after which the moon will crash into Termina and kill everyone. In this space you get an understanding for the time limit, each day, and what happens to the people across each day; a rhythm the game repeats again and again. It’s not the most elegant introduction, but it’s unquestionably necessary. Once you end that initial cycle, you get turned back into a human and learn you can play the song of time to come back to the beginning of these three days as many times as you need to. Which you will, at the cost of all your progress with Termina’s people. Cue: adventuring.
Majora’s Mask 3D is a balance of running off into one of the four major areas, trying to do as much as you can, maybe grabbing a fast travel point, and then restarting your cycle of time. You carry over any major items you gain in each cycle, but more importantly the knowledge of each area and dungeon as you progress forward. It’s fascinatingly different and intrinsically repetitive, but not to any fault. Your time can easily be manipulated too, since you can play the song of time backwards to triple your time from 54 minutes for a three day cycle to each day being that long.
Whether you truly believe in Majora’s format is completely up in the air. The time the game gives you when you slow things down has been plenty for me to finish all the major areas with a different cycle for each. You have some preemptive set up to each locale, which can take entire cycles alone, possibly a mini-dungeon of some sort before the real dungeon, usually to acquire an essential item, and when you learn the area’s unique song for your ocarina, the path to the dungeon finally opens. It’s a tall order to complete all these tasks in one cycle, especially when each dungeon gets progressively more complex and puzzle heavy, posing some of the fiercest challenges in the franchise to date. Luckily, once you learn the song from an area, that’s always your ticket back into the dungeon, each of which have a fast-travel point just outside, allowing you to reset time and immediately resume progress with the next temple.
The crux of each area and the dungeons that reside within them are the transforming masks. The quintessential aspect of Majora’s Mask allows you to become either a deku scrub, a goron, or a zora, each of which have aspects that essentially replace items from your more orthodox 3D Zelda fair. Some tweaks have been made to controlling each in the 3D remake, and all for the better of controlling and handling their powers, save for slowing down the zora’s movement in water, which makes the swimming parts more grueling. The goron can break through anything with his fists, and the zora swims, making the need for iron boots completely moot. Making Link himself feel dynamic and transformative like this is a ton of fun. This extends the several other sub-masks in the game, which may modify one aspect of Link briefly, usually for the cause of completing a quest, but none so massively like the transforming ones.
With only four actual dungeons in the entire game, they’re understandably very difficult, since the curve of difficulty through Majora’s Mask is the most exponential of any Zelda game before or after. Woodfall, the first temple, is basic but still wildly unique, both aesthetically, and how it challenges you to use the item of the dungeon in more unorthodox ways, yet also introduces the player to transforming masks and how they replicate the function of items. The final temple, the Stone Tower, is the epitome of 3D Zelda dungeon design as far as I’m concerned, and actually functions brilliantly as two dungeons in one. It is by far the most difficult dungeon crafted in the tenure of Link’s 3D adventures, and the most imposing and satisfying to conquer.
The bosses have each received a major overhaul from the original Majora’s Mask, with cinematic gimmicks integrated into each fight. Some of them are pretty innocuous, like the change to Odolwa, the first boss, which requires you to stun him before you can actually attack. The last two fights have been completely changed though, and each feature a new phase of the battle. Without spoiling directly what they are, they make the fights more engaging, while not losing what made them vicious originally. All the changes are uniquely epic, and add a new spice for fans of Majora to experience fresh on their playthrough of this remake.
Other than that, most of Majora has been broken down and simplified just to make it more approachable to new players, and also more comfortable on the handheld platform. A Shiekah Stone, providing detailed hints, is accessible from the getgo, and you can now save anytime at more locations. Many other details have been altered, like Clock Town, which has been slightly rearranged and expanded to give it more personality. A couple of masks have been moved, but not in any out of touch way. The Bomber’s Notebook, a helpful list of all the mask-carriers of Termina, has been completely revamped to be more useful, allowing you to set reminders for events and carries much more information about the tasks you have and have not yet completed.
What Majora’s Mask comes down to is still very out there and weird. It’s a dark setting of impending doom and plays unlike any other Zelda with its focus on mask-mechanics. The designers utilize this, though, and make use of the setting in a way that few games, even to this day, do. The side quests and side stories are some of the most involved and emotional of any RPG out there, with the recurring theme of death and the very imposing moon hulking down on the world. Not just mechanically, but thematically Majora’s Mask is constantly taking risks, and is all the better and more unique for it.
Majora’s Mask 3D is a beautiful recreation of one of the best and weirdest games in the Zeldafranchise. It’s style, themes and mask-based choices are out there, but dynamic and involved in a way Zelda never was before and hasn’t been since. All the changes to the original in this 3D remake help justify Majora’s weirdness more and more, and though some of them don’t work, it’s nothing that hurts the experience for veterans and new players alike.