the legend of zelda majora's mask

Late to the Party: Playing The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask For The First Time

Going face-to-face with Skull Kid

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is widely accepted as one of the best adventure games ever made. It’s not perfect, but not many games of the awkward N64 and polygonal era are. I love that game, but it was never my style of Zelda, my preference is similar to the Super Mario series where the 2D titles seem to be more tailored to my play style. Part of that is likely nostalgia, I’ll admit that. But I also like the aesthetic of a moving picture book and slightly more cartoon-like animation and art styles.

So with The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom right around the corner, and a Nintendo 64-based podcast I run looking for its next big title, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask shot to the top of my “must-play” list. Not only because it’s a Zelda game, but also because I’ve never played it before.

So the following paragraphs will be a slew of thoughts and feelings I have about the game itself: mechanics, graphics, controls, and story. You can also hear me talk through some of my conflicted feelings towards the middle of my playthrough on our official podcast The Creature Cast (video version below).

Setting The (Dark) Scene

First and foremost, I love the way this game begins. Link trots through the forest on Epona before being knocked off and robbed of his Ocarina by a new, creepy character. We soon find out that Skull Kid is the culprit and he has some nefarious plans for the world. So, now it’s up to you to put a top to it! It’s great how you begin the adventure without delay. I also thoroughly enjoyed beginning the main crux of the adventure stuck in a Deku body. Instantly, I knew I was about to play a different and darker adventure than I’ve experienced in the past.

Forgive the pun but, this is one of the shining elements of this game. The darker setting is something I’ve always enjoyed in many Nintendo titles. With games and now movies typically hanging out in the family-friendly and colourful lane, the company has always done a pretty good job going grittier. That’s one of the reasons I love the Metroid series.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask does a lot with this aesthetic and feel. Putting on masks seems to almost be torture for Link and many of the townsfolk in Clock Town begin to lose hope as the days roll on. Day and night cycles (while not my favourite aspect), create a new sense of fear and environment I had only heard of until now.

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Conflicting Feelings

I really enjoy what The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask offers in terms of gameplay. The masks are a great way to change up how the world is approached and how you can tackle certain obstacles. Most of the time I found myself using the main four masks that you need and acquire through dungeons. Occasionally, the side quest items were fun to play around with. The mechanic provides some fresh looks and approaches to a series that in 2000, likely didn’t need it. After all, we were just coming off of likely the franchise’s biggest success up to that point. But despite just entering into the 3D space a few years prior, Nintendo took a different approach and for me, largely hit it out of the park.

The disadvantage to this however is just how convoluted and seemingly impossible it can be to unlock some of these masks and how complex a simple task can be. I tell this story on The Creature Cast, but a prime example is getting a hold of bombs and a bomb bag in the first half of the game.

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For those that don’t know, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask works on a three-day cycle. Time can be manipulated through Ocarina songs, but that’s a whole other mechanic (and one I enjoyed as well!). So in this scenario, I found an area I knew needed to be blasted open with bombs. But how do I get them?

After wandering the landscape for about 30-45 minutes I gave up and decided I needed to use some online walkthroughs. I soon find out that the only way to get a hold of this necessary item is to save an old lady at a very specific time. If I miss that window…poof no more chances until that time comes around again. Approaches like this left me puzzled and I found numerous examples as I completed my playthrough.

Because of this, the result is less discovery and more hand-holding. I don’t have the time for this type of thing anymore, life gets in the way as a gamer in my mid 30’s. I like the idea, but the execution didn’t always work for me. On top of that, I went into the late dungeons and battles with fewer masks, fewer hearts, and a smaller magic bar. That doesn’t feel great or fair.

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A Unique N64 Experience

I shelled out a few extra bucks to play this (and a few others) on the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack. I told myself I wouldn’t need it or do it, but purchasing this game (or emulating it) was not successful. I’m happy to say this game alone was worth the price of admission. It was also nice to have save states available. I’m not one to fall back on new technology on old games like this, but here I made an exception. I do think that part of my enjoyment came from the flexibility this gave me. Purists may not like that approach, but it’s just my reality at this stage of my gaming life.

In the end, I admittedly had a fair bit of up-and-down experiences with some of the game design, but outside of that The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is still an excellent game. I enjoyed the dungeons, the characters, the art style, world design, and the story from top to bottom. It starts off with a bang, and ends with a friendly embrace. I love that.

The way Link moves, fights, and traverses the environment is still a ton of fun even though the control scheme and camera system feel dated. There’s a lot of variety here and I think that creates a very unique Legend of Zelda and Nintendo 64 experience. If you’ve played Ocarina of Time you might know what you’re getting into, but rest assured there’s far more than meets the eye in this one.

I know that the discussion around this game can be polarizing. Many gamers I’ve spoken to or articles I’ve seen, have been on both sides of the enjoyment coin. Ultimately, I fall on the ‘thumbs up’ side of things. I do think if it’s a game you have never finished or it’s one you’d play for the first time like me, it’s worth digging into. Just keep in mind that you’ll likely to need to get a little help along the way.