As the first true sequel in the Zelda franchise, Majora’s Mask takes the (at the time) still fresh formula and turns it into its own separate game that only resembles the series in look. I tried for years to get into this game, and every time I’d get maybe half an hour into it and stop for a good few years. Even this final playthrough, took my wife and I over a year to finish. There is a few reasons for this… (Side note, Zelda, of The Legend fame, doesn’t even appear in this game)
Everything in Majora’s Mask has an overall feeling of uneasiness to it. From the dialog, to the characters, the story, even the music all has a very off putting feel to it. This is why I never liked the game in the first place. This game is dark… dark in the sense that it focuses on death and destruction, despair and a knowingness that life is going to end very soon. Every transformation mask you get is part of a deceased person. Putting on their mask transforms you into that person and you have to deal with the others’ memories surrounding that person.
The masks are a large part of the game, but most ultimately don’t serve much of a purpose outside a select moment or two. The transformations are absolutely horrifying as every time Link puts a mask on or takes it off, a cutscene of him screaming in agony happens. Collecting all the optional masks are fairly easy to do and quite fun. Most of them deal with helping people around the town, which is one of the most amazing things about Majora’s Mask.
The whole clockwork nature of the game, is such a fantastic idea. Within the 3 day time limit, everyone is on a schedule. Certain events happen at precise times, and it is Links job to follow these story beats to their conclusions. Sometimes stepping in and altering the events that are unfolding. And this is where I wished the game really focused. It really wasn’t until the final part of the game, ramping up to the end boss fight where you really encounter these on a constant basis.
The majority of the game still is rooted in the Zelda 3D formula, getting items and following a strict linear path through dungeons. But now you have time, a constant ticking clock to remind you that you have to keep moving. The clock in this game is an incredible feature, but kills a lot of my desire, as the Zelda series is about exploring, yet you are reminded, at all times thanks to the sundial countdown clock in the bottom middle of the screen, that you have to keep moving. Even though there are only a handful of dungeons in the game, traversing through them becomes much more stressful when you have a time limit that doesn’t allow you to go at your own pace and rush through the puzzles.
I never did run out of time, but came close several. You are forced to reset time back the first day and lose everything you have collected. Rupees, Bombs, Arrows, Fairies… everything is gone anytime you mess with time, yet you keep certain items like masks or bottles, but it’s all very confusing and there is no in game explanation of what you can and can’t keep. With rupees, there is a very clever, albeit clunky system for saving your money. A street rat kid offers to be a bank, you give him your money and he stamps you with however much money you have. No matter how you mess with the time stream, you go back and he’ll always look at your stamp and give or take however much money that your stamp says.
Again, it’s a clunky game, and offers a in-game notebook that allows you to keep track of the games events and what you have completed. This would be another great opportunity for video games to have a cool special edition real life notebook to keep track of progress, puzzles, and everything else… But that is for another rant.
One of my main issues with the game, and why I never got passed the first hour or so of the game when it was released was the time mechanics. It’s confusing. Limiting the game to 3 days and having to go back over and over and over again, is just frustrating. I always was pressed for time, and having more control over time would have helped a great deal. There are three main things you can do with time. Reverse to the first day, Fast Forward to dawn or evening of the day, or slow time down by double. Slowing time down by double does help in the dungeons, but can still be too fast. There were many times in the Ocarina Of Time, where I was stuck on a puzzle and ran around for a long time trying to find a certain item or solution to a puzzle. This just rushes you through.
Fast forwarding time to dawn or evening is nice, but not good enough, there were several instances where I had to complete a certain scenario that took place at a specific time, where I had to wait for multiple in game hours. Thank God for emulators, because I just used the fast forward button and just skipped a lot of time, but even then, there were times where I would just have fast forward on for like 5 minutes just to get to the time. There is so much idle waiting around for something to happen and it feels like poor design at that point.
Reversing to the first day also, like I said just makes all your items go away, so you always have to remember to deposit your money in the kid’s bank before you are done, or rewind time. If not, you lose all of it and there is a bizarre save system in place. The only way to save is at stone owl statues. These owls will come to life when you hit them with your sword and ask you if you want to save, if you do, you are time warped back the first day and thrown out of the game to the main menu...There is zero other way to save. So make sure you are ready to quit out of the entire game and be at the first day again.
One of my other complaints is the music. The music is such a large part of The Zelda series, and all the other games have such memorable and enjoyable music. Any gaming playlist has at least a couple Zelda themes on it, Overworld, and Song of Storms at usually the most played. The songs in Ocarina are so perfect and beautifully composed. I remember making a CD of all the Ocarina music, both in-game and orchestrated that it was the first CD I ever played in my car. It’s iconic. But Majora’s soundtrack is so full of Dissonance , or unpleasant sounding melodies and music that it’s off putting. It’s not enjoyable at all and only serves to wear down the player and make them uneasy while playing the game. Even as it straight up takes the several songs from Ocarina and uses them again, it can’t make the original music good. Every new song you learn is what I can only describe as ugly. It’s awful, not memorable and it’s beat or pacing of playing the notes is straight up weird. One note is held too long, several notes are played way too quick in succession and are utterly unmemorable. So you end up having to bring up the menu systems (which is slow and laggy) anytime you need to use the music.
The songs are also just cut off. Whenever you would play the songs in Ocarina, you would be gifted with not just the notes you played, but also the end of the arrangement that made the game and music feel more real and full. In Majora, all you get is the same ugly notes repeated a second time and that’s it. Like the developers knew you didn’t want to hear anymore than what you have to play.
All in all I think Majora’s Mask was just too rushed. With a limited year cycle to release, the reusing of so many assets, enemies, songs just makes it feel cheap. With a longer development cycle, it could have been up there with Ocarina, but it will always be much less in my mind. It has some very interesting and cool ideas, but the way it was all put together is just ugly and gross. Nothing about the world of Majora’s Mask makes me want to be in it for any longer than I absolutely have to. From the weird characters, to the awful ambiance music...It's a game that just doesn’t mesh together well, it’s almost like cooking. When you make a meal, you have all the ingredients, each one of those ingredients needs to work together with others to make a wonderful meal, but when you have certain ingredients that don’t work well together, you get something awful. In Breath of the Wild, when Link mixes together ingredients that don’t go together, he gets Dubious Food, and the item description is almost exactly how I feel about Majora’s Mask. "It's too gross to even look at. A bizarre smell issues forth from this heap. Eating it won't hurt you though... probably."