As a direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, to this day the most popular Zelda game ever made, Majora’s Mask had a lot riding on its shoulders. But as a side story put together in a single year, the emphasis wasn’t so much on creating a new Grand and Epic Adventure, but a more personal quest.
What was Majora’s Mask known for? Not for its take on Hyrule or for its additions to the core of Zelda lore, but for its bold strokes in otherwise unexplored areas.
#5: New Playable Characters
Majora’s Mask marked the first time a Zelda game featured multiple playable characters, in the form of Link’s Deku Scrub, Goron, and Zora forms. These transformations, achieved by donning magical masks, were one of the biggest selling points of the game – the new races introduced in Ocarina of Time were, after all, immensely popular additions to the Hyrule universe, and people loved getting the chance to take control of them.
While I don’t see Nintendo going the “multiple transformations” route again any time soon, the implementation of multiple playable characters left a powerful mark. Rather than having Link transform, it might make more sense to implement a “tag” feature where players can swap between characters either at will or when they reach certain locations.
Given that the Wii U entry is apparently set to introduce some kind of multiplayer function so that players won’t necessarily have to have the dangers of going alone, multiple characters makes even more sense. Now Link will have partners who can join him on his quest, and players who decide to team up can each have different abilities and skills at their disposal.
The palette’s pretty wide open in terms of what kinds of characters we could see appear. We could have encore appearances from some of the members of other Hyrulian races like Gorons or Zoras, or we could have Princess Zelda fight at Link’s side in an even more direct way than she did in 2009’s Spirit Tracks.
Whatever the case, as long as it makes sense in the game universe, multiple characters has potential to change the way we explore new areas and dungeons and solve puzzles, just as they did in Majora’s Mask.
#4: Intricate Day & Night Schedules
The other iconic gameplay innovation of Majora’s Mask was its complex three-day system. Every character had a unique schedule that players could influence based on their actions in the game, allowing for branching storylines, alternate means of accessing certain items, and in some cases certain event sequences were necessary to access certain story threads.
It’s unlikely that a future Zelda game will incorporate the doomsday timer mechanic, meaning we won’t ever see a true success to the three-day system, but some of its strengths – namely the unique NPC schedules, branching storylines, and alternate means of unlocking certain collectibles – could make a return.
To give one example of a great use of the way alternate event sequences can affect gameplay, let’s look at the Bomb Shop Lady quest. If you happen to be in the right place at the right time on the first night, you can intercept Sakon the Thief as he swoops down on the lady who runs the Clock Town Bomb Shop as she’s delivering her stock of Bomb Bags. This will lead to the Big Bomb Bag showing up at the Bomb Shop the next day. Fail to save her from the thief, however, and you’ll have to buy the bag on the black market for a much higher price.
Meanwhile, the way the quest turns out has a ripple effect. If you stop Sakon, you’ll have rescued the Bomb Lady, but he won’t ever show up at the Curiosity Shop to deliver his stolen goods. That means Kafei won’t be able to track him back to his hideout in Ikana Valley, leaving the Kafei & Anju sidequest unfinished.
Of course, outside the three-day schedule structure, where you could go back and change the sequence of events to fulfill all of the best possible outcomes for each of the quest threads, these kinds of quests would have to be altered so that they only trigger under certain conditions and so that each of them offers an alternate means of netting the rewards. Still, it’s moments like these, where your action or inaction influences the world around you, that made the game’s NPC schedules pop, and I think it’d be great to see the next Zelda take on the challenge of an intricate day-night cycle.
#3: Memorable Character Story Arcs
There’s a bit of overlap between this feature and #4, but here I’d like to emphasize one element of the game’s NPC sidequests in particular: the memorable story arcs.
Majora’s Mask had some of the most beloved character plots in the entire series, from the tragic love story of Kafei & Anju (and all its subtle sideplots) to the eerie alien abduction plot at Romani Ranch to the touching father & daughter tale in Ikana Valley. Even minor character conversations, such as the varying reactions to the falling Moon from Clock Town residents, carry a strong flavor and make the game world and the events that take place within it really feel meaningful.
The games since, including The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword, have tried their hand at tons of NPC quests, but none of them has quite been able to match the luster of Majora’s Mask.
#2: New Places to Go and Things to See
While we’re definitely in favor of the first HD Zelda showing us Hyrule like we’ve never seen it before, part of that’s going to require actually showing us things we’ve never seen before. Termina was an alternate dimension to Hyrule, and Nintendo used it as a relatively clean slate in terms of the game environments.
Sure, swamps, snowy mountain peaks, oceans, and deserted valleys aren’t necessarily groundbreaking, but it’s the amount of effort they put into making these places feel exotic compared to the usual Zelda fare that made them resonate so well. To this day Stone Tower Temple is one of my favorite places in the entire series. Why? Because seeing it overcharges my imagination.
It’s because Termina was so unique that theories like Hylian Dan’s “The Message of Majora’s Mask” were possible. While going back to Hyrule would mean that many of the locations we’d visit will bear some familiarity, there’s still plenty of room to add new never-before-seen realms and ruins to the Kingdom of Hyrule – new places that spark our imagination in new and exciting ways.
#1: A New Kind of Villain
There’s an ominous sense of doom that hangs over you from the moment you first set foot in Termina. A strange moon looms in the sky, with many wondering whether it’ll eventually fall, crushing the town and all its inhabitants. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been taking place all over the land, with a mysterious imp as the apparent culprit. He bears a mask of unknown power, and a grudge against ancient gods who have been asleep for as long as anyone can remember…
The evils at play in Majora’s Mask are perhaps more mysterious, more widespread, and more deadly than anything we’ve faced in any of the other games. And Skull Kid and Majora’s Mask aren’t your average villain, seeking world domination through the usual means. One is lashing out against those who he believes has wronged him, and the other just wants to consume all life for an unknown purpose.
When we arrive at the doorstep of darkness, we aren’t staring down a wicked fortress, but gazing across a wide green field with a single tree at its center.
It’s this unconventional approach to the threat of evil that makes Majora’s Mask such a psychologically impactful game. Evil doesn’t just come in a single flavor – it comes out of the diverse hearts and minds of ordinary people.
Once you’ve tasted that kind of villainy, the usual “power-hungry dictator” stuff just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore.
Check out Zelda for Wii U at Zelda Dungeon:
More Zelda Articles at GenGAME:
- Five Things Zelda Wii U Should Borrow From Ocarina of Time
- Five Things Zelda Wii U Should Borrow from Skyward Sword
- Zelda Doesn’t Need a Reboot, Here’s Why
- Zelda Wii U: Non-Linearity is More Than Just Dungeon Order, Has to be the Heart and Soul of the Game
- Zelda Wii U: Cooperative Multiplayer is the Next-Gen Revolution We’ve All Been Waiting For
- Zelda Wii U: Tap Into Everything That Made A Link to the Past Great