The tagline for this review refers to one of the many side quests in Majora’s Mask 3d. There’s an inn where, if you go to the bathroom after midnight, a hand comes out of the toilet begging you for paper. Should you give this hand a piece of paper, it quickly goes into the toilet and comes back up with a piece of heart, telling you that somebody dropped it down there. You never find out which NPC in the game is walking around with a chunk of their heart missing.
This anecdote should give you a good idea of what the game is like. The Zelda series has been around for a very long time, ever since video games first became a legitimate entertainment medium. At this point, there are 17 total games in the series, excluding remakes and each one tells roughly the same story. A boy named Link sets out to stop some evil force from taking over or destroying the world. In most games, this great evil is Ganondorf, the king of thieves. The fact that Majora’s Mask even exists is puzzling in some ways, simply due to how different it is. To many, including myself, the differences are what make the game and, judging from the sales of this 3D remake, many people are either curious to see or to revisit the game.
The game is a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time in that it picks up right where it left off. You don’t need to have played OoT in order to understand the plot of this game, but you will miss out on a few references. Anyway, fresh off defeating Ganondorf, Link’s fairy companion Navi leaves Link and he sets off into the Lost Woods to find her. He runs into an imp wearing a mysterious, creepy mask (the titular Majora’s Mask) and this imp (Skull Kid) steals Link’s horse Epona. Link gives chase and gets turned into a Deku Scrub by Skull Kid and keeps chasing him only to wind up in a mysterious land called Termina. He is approached by the Happy Mask salesman from OoT and asked to bring back Majora’s Mask since Skull Kid stole it from him. The mask houses an incredible dark power which can be used for bad in the wrong hands. And it soon becomes clear why. Link emerges from the mill to find that it was underneath a giant clock tower in the middle of a bustling city called Clock Town. In the sky is a gigantic moon that’s going to crash into the ground and wipe out all life in Termina. Link has three in game days to stop it, but it soon becomes clear that he’s going to need more than that to save the world.
The game does a terrific job of building its world using only a few details. The opening is almost surreal in a way, and sets the tone for the rest of the game. Right from the get go, walking into Clock Town is a strange and unique feeling. Everyone is on their own schedule, and will likely appear at different locations at different times on the in game clock. The tune that plays in town is relaxing and catchy, but speeds up and gets more desperate as the days wear on. During the first three days, many mysteries are presented to you. For instance, what appears to be a child wearing a yellow mask regularly sends out a letter in the mail box, and runs to hide in the back room of some unknown building. Meanwhile, the man who runs the local item shop seemingly disappears at night. But during the night, the Curiosity Shop opens, and it specializes in selling stolen goods. Simply exploring the town during the first three days opens up a lot of different side stories that can be explored further later on.
While Clock Town may not be the biggest hub in gaming history, it is densely packed with all kinds of strange and fascinating characters and their stories. It gives the game an incredibly unique atmosphere, too. Most of the side stories are worth seeing through to their conclusion, especially a very complex one involving the aforementioned kid in the yellow mask. But the game does a superb job of melding its atmosphere and story with its gameplay. The problems given to you by characters are ones that are simple but deep, which makes them all interesting. But you still get tangible rewards in game for completing these stories, which makes every quest worthwhile in two ways. The main story is still solid, but it really is the collection of side stories that make this game so special from a narrative standpoint. Very few games that I’ve seen have managed to make their world feel so alive and full of character quite like Majora’s Mask 3D does.
Something else that makes the game feel unique is that it isn’t afraid to get very, very dark in a mature way. For instance, one side quest involves helping a pair of sisters defend their ranch from aliens (yes, aliens). Should you do that on the first night, you can come back the second night to accompany the older sister into town so she can deliver her milk. Even if you succeed in helping her fend off some would be robbers, you can go back on the third day, where the older sister is telling the younger sister that she can finally have a special kind of milk so she can be recognized as an adult. The older sister also says that the younger one can sleep in her bed that night. It’s an incredibly simple line, but it speaks volumes. The older sister is aware that they are likely going to die, and she wants to be with her sibling until the very end. The game is loaded with dark moments that never feel overdone and help give it a sense of urgency. Even though there are plenty of goofy, light hearted moments (like anything involving the map maker Tingle, a 35 year old man who wants to be a fairy) the ever present moon in the sky (viewable from any outdoor area) serves as a constant reminder that failure means that innocent people are going to die.
Further helping the atmosphere is the music and graphics. The music is more or less the same from the original, but each tune fits its respective area and tone very well. The main Clock Town theme in particular stands out because on each new day it gets a bit more urgent and fast paced. The first day, it’s a simple, relaxing, pleasing melody. On the third day, there are heavy bass notes played on top of the quicker rendition of the song. I wouldn’t say that this game has the best soundtrack in the series (my favorite would be either Ocarina of Time or Wind Waker in that regard) but the sound track is still top notch and suits the game very well. The new, revamped graphics help breathe new life into this fifteen year old game. I love the artistic design of the original version, but everything in the game has been redone to its full potential. It’s a subtle mix between realism and cartoony that works incredibly well. Link in particular animates in a way that made my jaw drop. The studio that was in charge of updating the graphics did a superb job of maintaining the original art style while also making the graphics a lot more appealing. The 3D is also gorgeous, especially on a New N3DS with its super stable 3D. I turned it off most of the time to save battery life, but the 3D adds an impressive depth that makes the small details stand out even more.
After the first three days, Link gets the Ocarina of Time back and remembers being taught the song of Time in a poignant flashback with Zelda (which, incidentally, is her only appearance in the game). He is also told to find four giants that will stop the moon from falling. Each one resides in one of the regions outside Clock Town. It’s here that the Zelda formula starts to come into play. There’s a swamp in the south, mountains in the north, an ocean to the west and a haunted canyon to the east. The first stop is the swamp, where a local monkey has been kidnapped because the Deku Princess went missing and the king thinks the monkey did it. Meanwhile, the entire swamp has been poisoned from a mysterious entity inhabiting the local temple. The game does manage to stick pretty close to the formula; you will help a local group or person with some kind of problem, get a critical item, and eventually get a new song or item that allows you entrance to the next dungeon. Some people may be disappointed that there are only four dungeons. After all, other games have upwards of nine. But what’s here is very well done and challenging for the series standards. You won’t likely get too stumped about what to do (and if you do there’s a hint stone in the game that will point you in the right direction) but the four temples will make you use your noodle.
The level design does manage to impress in most cases, though. Since this game has a timer, it’s not an entirely smart idea to enter a dungeon on the third day (an in game hour is about 45 seconds, but there’s a song you can learn that will slow things down so you have a lot more time to work with). Thankfully, you can follow this general formula: arrive at new place, figure out how to access dungeon and do so; make it to the temple and activate an owl statue which acts as a warp point; travel back in time, then warp to the owl statue to allow yourself all three days to explore and conquer the dungeon. But, should you only partially complete a dungeon and, say, get the “dungeon item,” but then travel back in time, the dungeons are usually designed to allow shortcuts with that item. For instance, in the first one, you can use the Bow you get to lower a ladder that lets you bypass a large chunk of the dungeon.
Scouring these dungeons and leaving no stone left unturned is an important part of progression. I this game, each region has a Great Fairy that’s been broken into smaller, Stray Fairies. There are fifteen of these in each dungeon, and nabbing every single one and reforming the Great Fairy will provide you with a permanent upgrade like more magic or halving your damage taken. This is a mechanic that I’m amazed hasn’t come back in any other game in the series. Not only is it challenging, but it is incredibly rewarding to find every single one and get a new upgrade. And it’s never too taxing either, since there’s a mask that will alert you when there’s a fairy in the room.
Speaking of masks, they play a key role in this game. There are twenty four in total, each with a different effect. You usually get the masks through side quests, but there are a few special ones that you get from the main story. You see, when Link is turned human again, he got the Deku Mask, which let him revert back to being a Deku Scrub whenever he needed to. There are three more transformation masks; a Goron one that allows you to roll around at high speeds; a Zora one, which is my personal favorite that allows you to swim with ease as well as use its fins as boomerangs; and a final one which I won’t spoil, but is also quite awesome. Each mask in the game serves its own purpose, but the transformation masks are the highlight of the game. Each one has their own advantages and disadvantages, but they are all fun to use in their own way. The other, basic masks vary in usefulness, though. Each one has a neat effect, but there are ones that are used only to get pieces of heart or even other masks. Still, some of them, like the ubiquitous Bunny Hood (which doubles your running speed- incredibly useful in this timed game) are great. I would also like to give kudos to the remake team; one infamously useless mask has been made a little bit less pointless with the inclusion of a brand new side quest that nabs you an empty bottle. Overall, though, the masks are all fun in their own way and are unique to the series (in case you couldn’t tell, I’d like another game in the series to utilize them as a game mechanic).
There are other changes made to this edition that are welcome. One of them, and arguably the most important, is the inclusion of save statues. In the original, the only way to permanently save your game was to travel back to the first day. There were owl statues, but they only created a suspended save game. In this one, each owl statue permanently saves your progress, and there are other save statues scattered around the world. My only real issue with the original game was that the save system could be a bit too punishing at times, so this change was great in my eyes. It makes time traveling a bit less of a hassle and makes the game more suited to handheld gaming. Some areas of the game have been altered slightly, but not in a way that makes them unrecognizable (for instance, the save statue in Clock Town has been moved to behind the tower, along with the bank, which was originally in West Clock Town). Bosses have also been reworked, but in a good way. The latter two in particular have been redone in cool new ways. I won’t spoil how here, but the last main boss fight before the end game is almost completely redone in a cool way. There are also two new fishing holes for people who love that kind of stuff, and the Zora swimming has be redone. Originally, the Zora form was extremely quick. Now, the way to swim quickly is to activate magic. The slower swimming is serviceable, although it doesn’t work as well as it could at times. Still, no game is perfect and it’s a very small flaw on what is otherwise a stellar game. The Bomber’s Notebook, which keeps track of characters and quests, has been updated to make figuring things out a lot less cryptic (but it never ever gives away how to do a quest). Lastly, if you play on a New 3DS, you have full camera control, which is a very nice feature. I do wish there was some kind of Master Quest (basically a more difficult version of the main game) like there was in the remake of Ocarina of Time, but it’s hard to complain when the normal game is so good.
This is the part where I make a confession: Majora’s Mask is my all-time favorite video game, so, naturally I was excited to hear about a remake. I was initially worried about it, thinking that it was nothing more than nostalgia that made me love the game. I went in almost expecting to be disappointed. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case. Everything I fell in love with in the original game is intact, but this remake made some small but welcome changes. If you’ve already visited Termina before, this might be worth looking into simply because it’s portable and has had some slight tweaks that make it better than it ever was. And if you’ve never played the game before, this is the definitive edition of a true classic. I’m not giving the game a 10/ 10 because it’s perfect (I don’t think anything made by human hands will ever be 100% perfect) but because it’s a truly unique work of art that has aged like a fine wine. Every facet of the game comes together to form a unique experience unlike anything else in gaming, and it does so with flying colors. It’s a masterpiece of video game design and world building, and a true testament to the medium as an art form.
+ Story, atmosphere and gameplay combine effortlessly to make a game unlike any other
+ Dark, but in a very mature way
+ An abundance of side quests with interesting stories and characters, and tangible rewards
+ The world feels alive thanks to a lot of small, sometimes very weird details
+ Masks are an awesome and unique gameplay mechanic
+ Stellar music and incredible revamped graphics
+ It’s portable
+ Many small changes that make it easier to get into, while also helping it age very well
- It would have been nice to have a Master Quest like in the Ocarina of Time remake
- Swimming as a Zora sometimes doesn’t work as well as it could