The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was slipped in quietly towards the end of the Nintendo 64’s lifecycle. Between this, a lack of any real marketing campaign, and the need for the fiddly Expansion Pak add on for the N64 to actually be able to play the game in the first place… well, it’s not hard to see why the dark tale of Termina and its strange inhabitants was forever confined to cult status.
But this was one cult that wasn’t intent on keeping quiet. As soon as Ocarina of Time 3D suggested the mere possibility of a 3DS remake for Majora’s Mask, the internet reared its head and made itself heard. Since 2011, every slight tease and mention of Majora from anyone even remotely linked to Nintendo has sparked heated discussion, fervent rumours, and a whole lot of crying – and that’s just from us.
So what is it about Majora’s Mask that instils such heated desire in gamers for a remake? Sure, we were all happy when Wind Waker HD was announced, but no one really asked for it. Hell, in an IGN poll between Majora’s Mask and the mighty A Link to the Past, it was Majora’s Mask that came up trumps in the eyes of fans for an update.
Perhaps it’s because Majora’s Mask is the only Zelda game that really smacks of a missed opportunity. Before you grab your flaming torches and pitchforks, let me clarify that I don’t mean Majora’s Mask is a bad game – far from it; what I mean is that the world of Termina offered players a Zelda game quite unlike anything before or after it, and very few gamers ever experienced its glory.
For those not lucky enough to have enjoyed Majora’s Mask the first time around, here’s the premise: Link explores a world that has three days to live, before the moon (which for some reason has a face carved from nightmares) crashes down and wipes out everything (Heather wrote a piece for Continue Play a while back discussing the theory that the game is effectively an elaborate allegory for the process of grief). Thankfully, because you’re the Hero of Time, you have the ability to jump back to the first day any time you think that dang moon is getting a little too close for comfort.
Of course, there’s a wonderful catch. Going back in time will undo pretty much everything you’ve done so far. This is within reason obviously, you keep your quest items and heart pieces, so you don’t have to rush through the main quest in the allotted three days. But any sidequests you complete are undone. Forgotten. This is Majora’s masterstroke; to be honest, the dungeons and bosses in this game aren’t that great, but Majora pulls you in by creating a cast of NPCs and fantastic sidequests that you genuinely care about.
Most people would say that this is because we see their lives over the same three days again and again. We grow attached to these characters as we learn and memorize their odd little routines. We see them, over three days, become gradually more cautious about that moon that seems to be getting closer, and we learn their troubles and problems by examining their world. There are few more rewarding moments in videogames than working out where and when to be to help someone in Majora’s Mask.
You feel accomplished, sure… you’ll probably even get a reward for your troubles; but nothing compares to the feeling of finally being able to help someone you’ve seen fail time and time again over the same three days. That’s why it breaks your heart when you then have to go back in time and undo it. You keep whatever reward you got for the sidequest… but somehow Nintendo elevated this game above the mere notion of getting 100% “just because”.
Take the little old lady from the shop as an example. Eventually you discover she gets robbed sometime around the first night. You track down where and when this happens, and you finally manage to stop her robber. She gives you a cool new mask as a reward, and you’ve saved a little old lady. It’s all hunky dory. But then you go back in time and your good deed is undone. You now know exactly where and when a defenceless old woman is going to be robbed, but you have other, more important things to do now.
Sure, it’s “just a game”, but a great deal of gamers who’ve played this game know what I mean when I say that Majora’s Mask can make you feel uneasy, even guilty. The game teaches you that your actions have a massively rewarding effect for the better (for both you and the game world) and then purposefully makes it so that you can’t change everything. It’s sophisticated design, and shockingly deep stuff from a company that supposedly “only” makes games for kids.
Sadly, because it remains a relatively unknown title to more casual gamers (for whatever reason) Nintendo decided to revert to the Ocarina of Time formula that the series has stuck to ever since. Sure, there have been innovations, new ways to play, and some classic Zelda games in the process (hello, Wind Waker), but if the critical reception of A Link Between Worlds and the excitement around Zelda Wii U is anything to go by, fans are more than ready for a change.
And this is why this is the perfect time for Majora’s Mask to come out for 3DS. The Legend of Zelda, as a series, stands on the cusp of huge change. Zelda Wii U could be the breath of the fresh air the series needs. It could be the Zelda game that people rave about for the next twenty years as the title that redefined adventure games, in the same way that a Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time did.
So there really is no better time to show players that a different Zelda isn’t a bad thing, by letting them play a Zelda game whose strengths come from the fact that it is nothing like any other. It’s fair to say I can’t wait explore a massive Hyrule in HD on Wii U, but I’m just as excited by the notion of being able to head back to Termina for another go around. See, Majora’s Mask may offer one of the smallest worlds Zelda has ever given us to explore – but it’s without doubt the deepest.