Review: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D
Published by Jack Taylor February 14, 2015
Return to Termina in one of the most enthralling and affecting games on Nintendo 3DS.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is one of the darkest Zelda games ever made. When it launched for the Nintendo 64 in 2000, it followed in the footsteps of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time; a hard act to follow since the 1998 classic is still considered by many to be the greatest Zelda game ever made, if not the greatest game in history. Perhaps the best way to follow something that groundbreaking is to be as bold as possible the next time around, and while Majora's Mask used many recognisable elements from Ocarina of Time, it could hardly have been any different in tone.
After the events of Ocarina of Time, Link heads out on his travels, taking him away from the familiarity of Hyrule and into the twisted land of Termina. Before he even reaches Termina, a Skull Kid wearing a mysterious mask steals Epona - Link's horse - and maliciously transforms Link into a small Deku scrub, rendering him almost completely powerless. Link soon meets with the Happy Mask Salesman who promises to change him back into his usual self in return for a favour, but things aren't as simple as they seem: Link's task is to retrieve the cursed Majora's Mask from the Skull Kid, and worse yet, Termina is at risk of imminent destruction as its rogue moon threatens to fall on the land in just 72 hours' time.
The gameplay of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D is unique in that it takes place over just three days. There's a great deal to be done in three days, which might at first make it seem like an impossible task, but what makes Majora's Mask 3D different is that you'll replay those three days over and over again. Using the fabled Ocarina of Time to play the Song of Time, you can at any time choose to return to the dawn of the first day, giving you another 72 hours to carry out all your tasks. Your major milestones will hold: temple bosses remain beaten; your item inventory remains effectively the same; and your heart containers and magic meter also carry through. You'll lose progress you've made in minor quests and some of the quest-specific items you receive as a result, but every quest in the game can be completed in the standard three-day timespan, so it's important to manage your time well to ensure you complete the tasks you've started if you're able to.
The land of Termina is almost clock-like in its design: to its north, south, east and west are Snowhead, Woodfall, Ikana and Great Bay; at its heart is Clock Town, where your game begins and where you'll start at the beginning of every three-day cycle. The events that surround you will always begin in exactly the same fashion, with a character's actions only changing over the course of those 72 hours if you happen to intervene in any way. In this sense, starting a new three-day cycle is like being able to completely restart your own actions; furthermore, there's almost a sense of freedom to be had in deciding what you're going to do in your next three days. You might have a plan, or you might want to do some travelling and investigating, which is one of the best things about Zelda games anyway - there's always something new to find if you look close enough.
In order to manage your quests and plan your time as well as you can, you're provided with a journal called the Bomber's Notebook, which allows you to keep track of important characters and the events surrounding them. Fans of the original game will remember this, although it's received some of the most notable improvements in Majora's Mask 3D, making it even easier to plan your days out. Majora's Mask was never very forthcoming when it came to hints about what would take place and when, which left some players checking guides or narrowly missing important events; this time around, the Bomber's Notebook is gifted to you slightly earlier in the game than before, making it easier for you to start filling it up. It's also much easier to read than before, featuring separate pages for events and a three-day schedule, with the former giving you clear chronologies of ongoing events and the latter providing exact times in which certain prompts or events take place. The young Bombers will even provide you with a few hints along the way; these will stay in your notebook until you're ready to act upon them in the future - or, as the case may be, the past.
While the Bomber's Notebook is the biggest recognisable improvement, there are a huge number of other changes which make the game feel like a more enhanced version of the original. Even early on, while still in Clock Town, there are a number of modifications which will be appreciated by many, such as the fact that the dimensions of each part of Clock Town have been changed so that they would fit each other perfectly if you were to piece them all together. Saving the game has been made much more convenient, as it's now possible to save and continue at any owl or feather statue and at any time, the difference between the two being that you can quickly warp to owl statues but not to feather statues. At the Clock Town bank, the number of rupees you currently carry is automatically filled in when depositing to save time. Even the Song of Double Time, which originally moved you forward to the next day or night, now lets you skip forward as many hours as you choose during the same day.
One of the most significant parts of Majora's Mask 3D, which makes it truly unique in its design, is its use of masks. Throughout the game, you'll collect more than 20 different masks, all of which have a purpose at some point during the story. The masks you'll use most are the transformative masks, which allow Link to change into different forms including the aforementioned Deku scrub; these will be vital for making progress in temples and throughout Termina. The other masks and their purposes vary considerably: some will be useful more often than others, such as the Bunny Hood, which makes you run much faster; others, like the Bremen Mask, might only have one or two specific purposes, but completing the tasks which require them will often reward you with a new mask, a piece of heart, or something equally valuable.
The fact that the gameplay in Majora's Mask 3D is so recognisable, yet that everything else is very different from the norm, is really what cements the game's uniqueness. It can also be a very challenging game, but it challenges you by pushing you for time and forcing you to be brave in the face of difficult situations. A good example of this is the inclusion of two spider houses; each house contains 30 Gold Skulltulas hidden in confined spaces, and your task is to hunt them all down and kill them. That's easier said than done for someone who's never been keen on spiders. By doing this, though, Majora's Mask 3D challenges you - much like Link - to find your courage in order to complete the tasks set out in front of you. That might sound like a very deep commentary, but it is what it is: a solid reflection of the game's overall tone.
Majora's Mask 3D provides the same comfortable controls as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, so fans of that will feel right at home here. Items and masks can be equipped to four icons on the touch screen, two of which double as the X and Y buttons for the easiest access. The items menu now includes enough slots to fit every item in the game, thanks to a couple of those that are less frequently used - such as quest-only items - being moved to the Gear menu; as in Ocarina of Time 3D, you're free to move items to wherever you want to place them, and the same applies to the masks you collect throughout the game. Players with a New Nintendo 3DS will also be able to use the C Stick to seamlessly manoeuvre the camera, which you can also choose to invert on its axes if you prefer; players with a Circle Pad Pro can also use the second Circle Pad to do the same with an original Nintendo 3DS. Though the free camera might only be available to players with a New 3DS or a Circle Pad Pro, it's a fantastic addition which makes Termina feel so much bigger and really opens up the entire world in a new way.
One of the more notable new additions to Majora's Mask 3D is fishing, first introduced in Ocarina of Time and expanded upon in this new iteration of its sequel. There are two fishing holes in Termina, each home to around 10 different species of fish, giving you the opportunity to head in and try your luck at catching some of them. It's not quite as simple as catching them all, though - it never is, not even in Pokémon - because some fish will only appear in certain circumstances, which could be anything from the weather to which mask you're wearing. Some fish even have their own behaviours, such as the one that'll only try to eat fish you've already snagged on your line. It's a great way to pass the time, and although it does cost 50 rupees for one session, there are a couple of ways to obtain fishing hole passes, which will give you free entry on a single occasion.
The most satisfying thing about Majora's Mask 3D, certainly for those who played the original, is that so much effort has been put into enhancing every aspect of the game. There is nothing frustrating or even mildly annoying about any aspect of it whatsoever; even the mildest of grievances in the original, such as not being able to skip the short sequence that plays every time you use the Song of Soaring, have been attended to. Even the visuals are among the best you're ever likely to see on the system; how this can look so much better than Ocarina of Time 3D is unfathomable, but it does. Tie in the addition of the free camera and the super-stable 3D on the New Nintendo 3DS and you've got a game that looks absolutely staggering. It sounds just as good, too, with a soundtrack that holds up in 2015 as well as it did in 2000 and is still as close to perfect as you'll get.
It's clear throughout the game that this is an experience of the highest quality imaginable. It speaks volumes that this remake took three times as long as Majora's Mask to develop; every single moment in time throughout the game is spectacular. The experience is seamless. It's almost as though every single area, every character, every little piece of music has been lovingly hand-crafted and pored over for hours just to make sure it's absolutely right. It helps that the gameplay in Majora's Mask 3D is among the best, and certainly the most unique, in the entire series. It helps to prove that the game, no matter how different it might be, can still stand tall next to the greats in any corner of the video game world.
For that reason, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D is not just an easy recommendation; it's an absolutely vital recommendation, and it's an experience that everyone - particularly those with a penchant for enthralling and adventure-led titles - must try at some point. Majora's Mask was brushed under the carpet in 2000 because it was different, despite being a fantastic game; Majora's Mask 3D, for all its enhancements and additions, does one thing above all else. It does something that you can never set out to do when making a game, but which happens purely by the end result you create: it cements itself as one of the greatest games of its generation.
The Nintendo Channel would like to thank Nintendo UK for providing a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D to review.