Hello, Master Malstrom!
The recently posted Zelda e-mails have prompted me to write you something about Majora’s Mask. It’s a very unique game and the most fascinating aspect of it is that it is amazing and awful at the same time. It is great because it is probably the best execution of a game that sends you on loops, ever. It is terrible because it defies a lot of the things that people expect from Zelda. I remember that when the game came out, a lot of people hated it because it was not Ocarina of Time. But I also remember that the people who put time into it loved it because it was not Ocarina of Time.
The game is off to a rocky start. Link is getting transformed into a Deku Scrub and has to find a way to return to human form which can easily take up to two hours the first time you play the game. You also cannot save before you went back to normal. These two facts alone kill the game for most people. It’s even worse for people who can’t figure out what they have to do, because they will have to start all over again.
Next up is the time limit. Link has 72 hours to save Termina, and to transform himself back during the first cycle. Each hour in the game is 50 seconds in real time, giving you one hour in real time to get the task done. The clock only runs during gameplay time; cutscenes, conversations and menus pause it. So you actually get to spend more than just one hour before time runs out, hence why the description in the above paragraph can hold true. The time limit can put enormous pressure on the player which is another reason why many people don’t like Majora’s Mask. Playing the Song of Time at any point allows the player to go back to the start of the first day (obtaining the Ocarina of Time and the Song of Time is what transforms Link back to his human form).
Essential things to know not being shoved in your face is another problem. Someone who pays attention to the scarecrow and can connect the dots will figure out that playing the Song of Time in reverse will slow down time by 50%. This doubles the time limit and thus makes tasks much more manageable. Playing each note of the Song of Time twice will allow you to fast-forward to the next 12 hours intervall. This means you don’t have to wait around for 10-40 minutes if you are anticipating a certain event during the three day cycle.
There’s probably more that can be offputting, but the three paragraphs above should suffice to make the point that players have to overcome significant hurdles to enjoy the game. This is not by any means good game design and that’s what makes Majora’s Mask so terrible. If it didn’t sport the Zelda name, most people would have dismissed it without giving it any more thought. A good first impression is important and Majora’s Mask misses the mark entirely.
Now for the things that make Majora’s Mask great.
Despite being a game that sends you on repeated loops due to its short time limit, it’s rare that you have to do anything twice. There are “checkpoints” almost everywhere. This is the first thing I mention because the person who sent you the very long Zelda e-mail mentioned that they had to do the stealth section four times. You only have to do it once because you will keep the song you learned at the end of it, if you choose to reset the cycle. You won’t have to travel to the swamp area by foot anymore either, as long as you keep activating the obvious owl statues (they serve as warp points after learning a song that is right on your way to the first dungeon); there is also always one near the entrance of a dungeon. Once the player has understood the game mechanics, they know that reseting the cycle doesn’t come with any penalties as long as a task was completed; you get to keep the rewards. Well, after reseting the cycle you will have to cut some bushes to replenish your disposable items (bombs, arrows), but that’s really about it. In the end it comes down to simple time management: If you are already on day three of the cycle, don’t start a task that you can expect to take some time (like a dungeon). The time limit ceases to be an issue.
Another great thing is that there is a lot to explore despite a strict order for the four areas and dungeons. Going out of your way to collect some heart pieces (which have value because Majora’s Mask is more difficult than Ocarina of Time) is worth it. There’s also no mandatory Master Sword, so if you don’t care for optional tasks, you will keep your weak starter sword for the entire game. If you keep looking, you will pick up a sword that is twice as strong, and even a big sword that is wielded with both hands and does quadruple damage. So players who make it past the initial baggage actually do get a game that feels like Zelda, and moreso than The Wind Waker and later games because those forced the Master Sword on you with no further sword upgrade being available which tied the growth of Link to the story (and that’s boring).
I could also talk more about the good things, but this e-mail is long enough as it is. Majora’s Mask is a terrible Zelda game on the surface. This cannot be denied because the series’ origins allowed you to go out and fight enemies with your sword almost immediately. There’s simply no justification for a two hour long build-up. Beneath the surface of Majora’s Mask is a Zelda game that manages to offer most of what Ocarina of Time did (albeit in a different form; fewer dungeons, more optional things), but this is only of value to those who can overcome the underwhelming introduction and learn to accept the three day cycle and the rules that come with it.
I love this game, but at the same time I would never say that there should be another Zelda game like this. It’s damaging to the IP, let Zelda be Zelda. Take the setup from Majora’s Mask, remove the bad parts (the longwinded intro section) and make it its own IP, if there is ever a desire to make such a game again. That way everyone would be happy, but I guess that’s just not Nintendo’s approach. Their idea of making people happy is to merge two flavors into one and stop making the less valuable (to them) flavor. Hence why every new Zelda will have to incorporate a lot of puzzles and true old school Zelda shall not exist. Hence why 3D Mario is absorbing Super Mario Bros. Hence why F-Zero’s anti-gravity goes into Mario Kart.
Now what if I told you that I can and do enjoy all of the aforementioned games? Would that make me crazy?
I don’t think it does. It’s all about being able to separate personal taste from business sense. A lot of gamers aren’t capable of that. They will throw a fit as soon as someone says that a game they like is not good for business, even if clear evidence is presented. It gets irrational quickly because there is too much emotional attachment.
Keep doing what you are doing, Master Malstrom. Keep calling games I like funny names. I don’t mind because more often than not you are right.
If it was its own IP, no one would buy it!