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Review: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

The darkest game in the Zelda series also happens to be one of the finest.

By Jack Taylor – 15 November 2011
Reviewed on Wii

There has been an evident element of darkness in the storyline of almost every Zelda game since the series began: the death of the sage in the sanctuary in A Link to the Past; the tragic backstory accompanying The Wind Waker; even in The Minish Cap, Vaati the Wind Mage turns Princess Zelda to stone and possesses her father in an attempt to take over the kingdom. Don't even get us started on Twilight Princess, which had one of the darkest plots the Zelda universe had ever seen. However, not even that compares to the gripping tale of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, quite possibly the darkest game in the entire series.

What's remarkable about the story of Majora's Mask is that it can be so incredibly immersive. In other Zelda games, you quickly get a basic understanding of the story and what you have to do in the game; in Majora's Mask, you find yourself engrossed in the terrible tale of Clock Town and its residents, powerless to save themselves from a rather distressing-looking moon that seems to be hurtling down toward the land at an alarming speed. You find yourself emotionally connecting with the people of Clock Town and others in the game's land of Termina: the Four Giants, the keepers of the temples, might just break your heart when they cry out to you.

The story begins shortly after the events of Ocarina of Time come and Link has said farewell to Hyrule before taking Epona off to an unknown land. Before he gets there, however, Epona is startled and sends Link flying, knocking him out. Here we meet a familiar face in the Skull Kid, a lonely boy with no friends except for two sibling fairies called Tatl and Tael, and he wastes no time in stealing Epona and riding off.

Things get worse still: the Skull Kid is wearing Majora's Mask and soon uses it to transform Link into a tiny Deku scrub. It's not long after this that Link, joined by the left-behind Tatl, meets the Happy Mask Man, who explains that he has had his precious mask stolen from him and he needs help getting it back. He asks you to bring back his mask and he will return you to your normal self in return - but he is only in town for three days.

It's at this point that the quirkiness of the game will really hit you. Clock Town is unlike anything that's ever been in a Zelda game: the closest you could get to a comparison in a previous game would be Kakariko Village in Ocarina of Time, which is still a long way off. Clock Town is split up into five different areas, making it considerably larger than Kakariko as well, and includes a large number of characters simply going about their everyday business. It brings about the feel of the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life, particularly the fact that the game progresses over three days (though an in-game hour takes a couple of minutes to complete, if that, so those three days will only take a few hours to complete).

Of course, three days isn't very long when you're trying to single-handedly save the world from impending doom (namely, the ugly-mug moon falling from the sky), but Link has one special item at his disposal: the Ocarina of Time. In Majora's Mask, the Ocarina of Time can actually change time: Link can slow time down, skip ahead a few hours or go all the way back to the start of the first day using the Song of Time and various interpretations of it. This is an absolute necessity: if you don't use the Song of Time before your 72 hours are up, the Moon will crash into Termina and you'll lose everything from the last three days. In many cases, you'll find the ability to slow time down incredibly useful, as it gives you quite a bit more time to work, especially in dungeons and temples.

Those 72 hours won't just be spent in Clock Town, however: Termina is much larger than that. It's essentially split up into five regions: Clock Town, slap-bang in the middle; Woodfall to the south; Snowhead to the north; Great Bay to the west; and Ikana Canyon to the east. The same theme is always evident: each area, bar Clock Town, has a temple which has been infected by darkness brought about by the power of Majora's Mask.

It's these temples that you have to visit, but in quite a pleasant twist, there's a fair amount of preamble before you can even access them. First-time players will usually find themselves using a couple of three-day periods to get everything done before using another inside the temple itself; even veteran players will have difficulity getting to the latter temples. With this in mind, it'd certainly be fair to call Majora's Mask one of the most challenging Zelda games ever, if not the most challenging.

While it's true that Majora's Mask only has four temples, all of which are full of puzzles and considerably tougher than your average Zelda dungeon, the work that you'll need to do before getting to the temples really pushes the game's longevity to the max. It also tests an interesting new concept: while you will always find a new major item in each temple as per usual, you'll also need to find at least one major item outside the temples in order to get to them. This is where the game's biggest new innovation comes into play: masks.

One of the most important aspects of the game is undoubtedly the collection and use of the 24 unique masks. Each mask is important because it does something different: for example, the Bunny Hood lets you run quickly, while the Stone Mask makes you invisible to most enemies. The most important masks are the Deku Mask, the Goron Mask and the Zora Mask, as these allow you to change form into said species. Without these, you won't even be able to get into the four temples, let alone complete them, as they provide Link with many useful abilities: for example, Zora Link can dive with ease and Goron Link can roll around anywhere.

For many players of the game, however, the challenge will not be the standout aspect of the game: arguably, the most powerful aspect of the game is its soundtrack, which at times can be incredibly emotive and even moving. The theme of the Four Giants, who are encountered a number of times throughout the game, is particularly moving, recognising the turmoil that these keepers have been through and the helplessness that they feel. The theme to Termina Field is particularly memorable, with the theme previously being used in A Link to the Past as the main Hyrule Field theme. Majora's Mask certainly has one of the best soundtracks of the entire series, no doubt aided in part by the game's darker-than-usual plot.

Overall, it's clear that not only is Majora's Mask the darkest game in the series: it's also the most involved. It might seem short in theory - there are only four main dungeons, after all - but the amount of work that needs to be done before you can even get to those dungeons is staggering and, even then, you'll often find yourself going back at some point. The storyline is perhaps the most emotive and enthralling ever found in a Zelda game and this is what really makes Majora's Mask come alive. It doesn't matter if you've recently joined the Zelda fan camp and you never played this game or if you've never played a Zelda game in your life and you fancy a challenge: you don't need to think twice about getting this. It's an absolute essential.

Verdict: Incredible

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

Published by Nintendo
Developed by Nintendo