I see the bad moon rising… falling!
Just like its predecessor, The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask received an upgrade for the current gaming generation. This game adds significant adjustments to gameplay, graphics, and even quests. While there isn’t too much “new” content, it still feels like a slightly different experience. This title, based on the 2000 title for the N64, is one of the most beloved in the Legend of Zelda series. Like previous entries, this game radically changes up the norm for the Zelda universe; the plot does not involve a fight between Zelda and Ganon, the antagonist is the Skull Kid you sought out in the introduction, and the stakes go beyond apocalyptic! Combined with the existential and occasionally macabre themes, this could very well be the darkest entry in the series. Combine that with unsettling fan theories and notorious fan fiction, and you get a celebrated game for the ages. However, we’re not here to talk about the original game so much as the “Enhanced Edition” (see what I did there?) for the 3DS handheld.
Since I have a space minimum and have to fill it with something beyond ranting and rambling about what the 3DS version altered, let me talk about the original game first. As mentioned before, Majora’s Mask is a serious departure for game entries prior to that. Sure, The Legend of Zelda series had its dark and sometimes upsetting moments; such as witnessing one of the Hylian Guards die right in front of you, but this was amidst a heavily heroic overtone within a high fantasy world. By contrast, Termina is an uncanny world that gives a level of discomfort you’d expect from a David Lynch production. Not to mention, you’re continuously greeted by a sense of impending doom. Or rather, you literally can’t escape the living embodiment of doomsday. The atmosphere is less about heroic triumphs, so much as the dark revelation that people are miserable and there’s little you can do about it. Within your time frame, there is only so much you can do. You can help a few people, but everyone else will be overwhelmed with some kind of grief; loss, failure, confusion, and more. As many have pointed out, this matches with the stages of grief when coping with major tragedy. Compared to worlds where good and evil butt heads, the themes here seem much more mundane and easier to relate to. Sure, you can stop your pal turned nemesis, but you’ll live in a world where so much misery and torment still run rampant. Or you could focus your time on trying to save the world in its entirely, but you’ll quickly be stretched thin. The stress of heroism will overwhelm you and you’ll fall.
Now, you may argue that Twilight Princess also carries this almost gothic macabre and pervasive gloom. Well, yes and no. Twilight Princess harkens more back to heroic themes, rather than bleak questions and topics. Twilight Princess allows you to dive into dark mirrors of our own world corrupted by shadows, but doesn’t A Link to the Past have something similar? I could argue the images of ruined villages in that game and in Ocarina of Time were more haunting than what we saw in Twilight Princess. To me, Twilight Princess is to D&D 4th Edition’s Shadowfell as Majora’s Mask is to AD&D’s Ravenloft. One tries to be dark, while the other is relentless gloom and torment. Conversely, the images within Majora’s Mask range from subtle and uncanny to outwardly disturbing. Granted, Ocarina of Time had images of gore and torture within the Shadow Temple/Haunted Well, as well as disturbing implications of war and hatred. However, Majora picks up for that with images ranging from alien abduction to subsequent lobotomy, to having a man transform into the living dead, to encountering some of the most depressing ghosts in fantasy fiction. And trust me when I say, that’s just a small sampling. Just wait till you encounter some of the masks that you put on your face. Some are downright deranged and/or horrific!
In terms of mechanical changes, most of these are carried over from the 3DS Ocarina of Time. For example, the touch screen inventory survived the jump to this remake as well, with some boxes being reserved for special quest items. In fact, using certain masks can change some of your other icons, such as the Ocarina screen itself. In addition, the countdown clock has been redesigned to look something akin to a draining meter. While this was a change I particularly cared, for the final countdown clock was something I enjoyed. The font slowly drained from yellow to red as an avatar of the moon became more angry as time went on. If that unnerving changes doesn’t make the player push forward faster, I don’t know what will. Also, while the apocalypse game over is a nightmare to behold, the exposition Nintendo put afterword cranks up the nightmare fuel even farther, straight out saying that you have failed and everyone is dead because of you. While the original added a level of creepy to the Happy Mask Salesman, this one solidifies the brutality of Majora’s doomsday plot.
Now, let’s combine these changes with what seems to be in-game difficulty adjustment. These come in the form of the Sheikah Stones from 3DS Ocarina as well as modified saving stones that allow you to track progress without flying around the map. While not super modular, those looking for the classic experience can easily ignore these new additions because they don’t appear that intrusive. But, for those struggling with the puzzles and challenges, you have that option to get a little helping hand. Admittedly, some of the frustrating moments in “Water Temple II: Aquatic Boogaloo” were made less agonizing through these in-game assistants. And even then, the modifications to the Great Bay temple seemed minimal at best. But hey, at least swimming was modified to make the experience less painful as a result. That said, connecting the Zora shield to the fast swimming does take the fun out of cruising along the Great Bay itself.
Overall, if you expect a wholly new experience from this title, you’re only in luck if you’ve never played the original version. That said, this iteration of the game still feels fresh while delivering a sense of nostalgia. The changes and adjustments feels much more practical than the minor alterations found in Ocarina 3D, allowing for slightly different experiences while observing concerns in the original version. Personally, I wished they added expansive content that feels right at home with the rest of the game. This could have been extra NPCs/quests, add ons to the map, or what have you. Granted, if you’re going to add to an original game; you go all out or just forget about add ons in the first place! (Take note, BeamDog!) Perhaps you enjoyed this game when you were younger and want to traumatize a kid in your family. Besides the fact you’re cruel and sadistic, it’s a fantastic game and fantastic story to share with a new audience. For those who might have been too young to really get the nuances and deep meaning within the game itself, revisiting this title allows the gamer to really get the most out of the thought provoking and existentially tolling world of Termina, alongside its many delights and frights. So, fire up that 3DS and prepare to meet with a Terrible Fate! Majora’s Mask gets 8.5 Creepy Masks out of 10 form me!