The following is an opinion article. You are allowed to disagree.
The Nintendo 64 holds a very special place in my heart. It was the first Nintendo home console I ever owned, and marked the beginning of my Nintendo obsession. Like many readers of this blog, and Source Gaming, I’d imagine that we all had similar experiences growing up. Reading through the same issue of Nintendo Power multiple times in order to find every little hidden detail, racing with friends in Mario Kart 64, bring your memory pack to a friends house and experiencing the thrill of the rumble pack in Star Fox 64. Today, I would like to discuss why I think Majora’s Mask is a perfect game.
Majora’s Mask’s development is incredibly fascinating. With Ocarina of Time just released, the team had planned to create a Master Quest version of the newest Zelda. Eiji Aonuma, at the time in charge of dungeon design and acting as co-director, did not want to just remix the dungeons in Ocarina of Time. Instead, he wanted to create a new game. Miyamoto approved of the idea as long as it was created within a year. Majora’s Mask was only the third game Aonuma directed (in some way) with the first being, Marvelous: Another Treasure Island on the SNES.
Since Majora’s Mask had a developmental time limit of a year, assets were borrowed from Ocarina of Time. During the initial planning stages of what eventually became Majora’s Mask, Miyamoto and Yoshiaki Koizumi came up with the three day system. In an Iwata Asks about Spirit Tracks, Satoru Iwata states:
“Actually, I feel as though, back then, we were given a glimpse of the concept that “Deep, compact play is one form of the games of the future”. I think in that sense, as a product, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was a big turning point for Nintendo.”
With Majora’s Mask, players retread the same events over and over again in order to save the world from destruction. The game involves mastery and deep understanding of its contents in order to progress to the finish. This is slightly different from normal game design in which players are slowly introduced to concepts one by one until reaching some sort of “mastery” stage. Generally speaking, games are progressed by clearing a room, and moving onto the next one — never to return to the rooms that are cleared. While Majora’s Mask definitely has elements of this, the idea of expanding the options in a previously “cleared” room, in order to create new challenges is one that was not very prevalent.
In my opinion, the story and atmosphere of Majora’s Mask lends itself to this concept quite well. The time-traveling aspect of the game gives the player justification for retreading the same room over and over again. In the opening sequence of the game, Link is forcibly thrown into the dystopian world of Termina by the meddling Skull Kid, possessed by the powers of Majora. The game evokes a strong sense of mystery in its narration as the world opens up slowly to the players. The lore of Termina is revealed through some required dialogue and cutscenes, but a lot of it is discovered by completing optional side-quests.
Perhaps the best example of this is the way the Giants communicate with Link after completing the dungeons. At first, the Giant refuses to answer Link’s questions, but after clearing a couple of dungeons, they become more expressive. The motivations behind Majora, and the Skull Kid are eventually revealed. While Majora is branded as pure evil, the Skull Kid’s motivations are more complicated. Is the Skull Kid really a ‘bad guy’? Majora’s Mask isn’t afraid of letting the players think about it’s deep story and definitely leaves an impact on everyone that plays.
Majora’s Mask is perhaps the darkest Zelda to date with death, loneliness, anger and acceptance being some of the core themes of the game. Playing through it when I was younger, I wasn’t privy to just how mature the game is. The game doesn’t rely on sex, drugs or explicit violence to be mature. If you’ve played through Majora’s Mask when you were young, it’s well worth to revisit it as an adult.
There are some downfalls of the game. In the Japanese version, the Zora swimming is incredibly difficult and saving is cumbersome. The English version has some minor translation goofs. The game could’ve been longer. The main story of the game is shorter than Ocarina of Time (by an average of 8 hours). The original idea of the game was to have seven days, but because of the development time it had to be cut down. Despite this, there are plenty of reasons to fall in love with Majora’s Mask. When thinking about the Nintendo 64, I cannot help but remember the impact that Majora’s Mask has left on me.