(Retro Opinion, Game Released 2000)
Written by Thomas Read
It’s no secret that most people prefer Ocarina of Time to Majora’s Mask. Whether it was the more straightforward progression, greater length of dungeons and gameplay, or simply the fact that it came out first, Majora’s Mask has long been considered a cheap knock-off Ocarina of Time. While I personally do agree that Ocarina of Time is the better game, I’d like to take a moment to point out that Majora’s Mask does not get the credit it deserves.
Anyone who’s played Ocarina of Time (Hopefully that includes you) can instantly tell the similarities between Ocarina and Majora. They run on the same engine and the layout, physics, and controls are all the same. To put it simply, they handle the exact same way. The only difference between the two, therefore, is the situation Link finds himself in. It’s the same Link behaving in the same way with almost all of his inventory taken from Ocarina, but in a different place and with different dungeons and enemies.
Termina, the land of Majora’s Mask, is a parallel universe to Hyrule. Many things are the same- Both contain a large town, a ranch, a body of water, a desert and a number of dungeons (Four true dungeons in Majora’s Mask, nine in Ocarina.) Nearly all of the NPCs are the same, with some new additions. Because of the huge amount of similarities, it’s hard not to draw comparisons. However, the differences pretty much end there, and while initially Ocarina players feel at home, this deja vu ends up fueling a vague sense of uneasiness, a huge theme in Majora.
As you probably know, in Majora’s Mask, the moon is going to crash into the earth and destroy the world. You have three days to stop this from happening, but can go back to the beginning of the three day cycle at nearly any time. The important things are permanent, the less important are not. It’s a reminder about time limits in older video games: Not only do you have to complete a task, and do it well, but you only have so long to do it. This mechanic is the main difference between Ocarina. For some players, this was a source of anxiety and even hatred; the looming feeling you were going to lose your progress. For me and many others, however, this was a unique feature that made Majora different from other games. The time limit was also not unreasonable, especially with the help of some magic songs you learn.
Well, that’s unsettling.
While masks featured a small role in Ocarina, mainly used for a handful of sidequests and upgrades, masks play a huge role both in the culture of Termina and in the gameplay of Majora. There are a total of 24 masks in the game, each with their own ability and sidequest to obtain them. Most are only helpful in a few niche situations, but some are amazingly handy to have, such as increased speed, unlimited bombs and even invisibility from enemies. There are four transformative masks, which are key to the game. You turn into a different form for each (Goron, Deku, Zora, Secret) allowing you a completely new set of abilities and attacks. These different forms are an incredible addition to a Zelda game, and they mesh seamlessly into the storytelling. It’s remarkable the masks are so often overlooked when people think about the overall quality of this game.
Majora’s Mask features a noticeably darker setting, plot, and overall atmosphere than its predecessor. While in Ocarina you start out in a bright green forest surrounded by fairies and children, Majora has you start off slowly riding your horse through some misty woods. These two opening scenes contrast sharply, and are a good indicator of the difference between the themes of the two games. In Ocarina, it’s a very standard defeat-the-villian-so-he-won’t-take-over-the-world kind of affair. Majora’s Mask has a much more vague plot. [SPOILERS] You come to find out there’s some evil mask who has possessed some harmless forest spirit and plans to destroy the world. Why? Who knows. Maybe that’s just the way the mask gets its jollies. [/SPOILERS] You don’t know what the real enemy is for most of the game (Actually I still have my doubts.) All you know is if you take too long, you will die. This, coupled with the overall darkness of the game and creepy undertones, make for a much more unsettling Zelda than we’re used to. It takes some getting used to, and some effort on the player’s part to really see what’s going on in Termina, but Majora’s Mask does ultimately have a much stronger atmosphere than Ocarina.
Majora’s Mask is, admittedly, a shorter game than Ocarina of Time in the end. Majora’s Mask takes much more backtracking and has about half as many dungeons. However, you will notice the world is more dense. The things to explore and do are closer together than the hugeness of Hyrule. The town in Majora’s mask is conspicuously more populated and alive, with more to see. Majora’s Mask is not a short game by any means, but seems so when compared to the grand scale of Ocarina. One thing Majora does have going for it is a huge collection of sidequests. Ocarina had some, but Majora definitely has it beat, in fact you’re given an item just to keep track of most of them.
What is most strange about Majora, for me, is that is doesn’t explore the world of Hyrule or its legends at all. As it’s set in a different world, Link’s adventure after Ocarina is completely unrelated, sort of a standalone episode in The Legend of Zelda. The biggest elements in TLoZ: The Goddesses, the Triforce, Ganon and Zelda are all missing except for some in a couple cameo roles. It’s less about the world and its story, and more about who Link is as a person. It tells of Link on a quest of his own, and how he’s interrupted and deals with the challenges given to him. I find it a much more interesting coming-of-age story than Ocarina of Time, as that featured not a boy turning into a man, but a boy in the body of a man.
While a sequel to Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask is not the same game. The differences are vast, and the mechanics of how to achieve goals have changed. It is a mistake to try to compare the two, because you end up loving one and hating the other. It’s important to take them as two different games with different ways of playing. Ocarina is more straightforward, polished, and accessible than Majora, but Majora has unique if quirky gameplay, a brand new world to explore and a lot to offer. It’s still incredibly memorable and an addition to series that should not be overlooked. Most importantly, it took risks, trying gameplay elements that few games had for its time. No, it’s not as good as Ocarina, but can you tell me with complete confidence a Zelda game that is?
PS: Fingers Crossed for Majora’s Mask 3DS.
Picture taken from http://www.airbornegamer.com