Five Things Zelda Wii U Should Borrow From Majora’s Mask

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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.

zora-linkGiven 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.

sakon-thiefTo 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.

kafei-anjuMajora’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.

stone-tower-templeSure, 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…

majora-mask-treeThe 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.

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  • Erimgard

    I agree with all of this stuff. The depth in Majora’s Mask was just fantastic.

  • Ghoti

    Such a deep and emotional game… I really want a 3DS remake, then a sequel about a more adult Link in Hyrule.

  • http://twitter.com/NeoAnimus Sam Schmidtke

    I agree with everything here except points #4 & 5. IMO, the day and night schedule worked in MM’s favor because the player could go back in time and revert everything to normal. It would only work again if a change like that wasn’t entirely permanent.

    The transformations also worked in MM’s favor because the player was still essentially Link, they weren’t different people. I think that’s where a lot of games tend to lose me if I’m sitting here playing this one character and then all of a sudden I’m someone completely different. I don’t like that, part of the escapist mentality of playing video games for me is identifying with the character and felling like you are that person. Something like that is hard to do with multiple characters.

    Part of what makes all these elements so great is that they worked seamlessly together in one game. Taking one or two of any of these elements and sticking them into a game without the others wouldn’t make them work as well as they did in MM. That’s why I think SS and TP wasn’t as great as they could have been because the devs were trying to take all these elements that worked well in other games without realizing that they only worked because of other elements of gameplay from those games.

    I feel like if they really want Zelda for the Wii U to truly shine, then they need to revisit what made past Zelda games so great. Games like pokemon, metroid, final fantasy, etc do so well because they expand on their core, base gameplay and revolutionize everything else. Zelda seems to be going downhill because they keep trying to revolutionize the core experience. Again this is just my opinion.

    • http://justmagicthings.tumblr.com/ Skyfolk

      In a way they were different people. Link was using the souls of dead beings to basically take on their identity. Which is really creepy.

  • Dadoong21

    *cries*

    Majora’s Mask is perfection!

  • http://www.facebook.com/AntonGustin Anton Gustin

    Majora may very well be one of the best villains in video games ever, such a sadistic character with no true motivation as to why he/she want’s to destroy the world, it kinda seems like he/she just feels like it. So badass.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Books2323 Angel WithAn O

    I think the characters were really the best bit of Majora’s Mask. They made you want to save the world not for the Triforce/MacGuffin, but to save all the people you’ve gotten to know and care about.

  • K2L

    Is this some sort of article series? Because this is the third time you write about borrowing five things from X game. Rather than deliberately “borrowing” things from X game, the next game should be good on its own, forge its own awesomeness. Not project itself from past glories like you’re saying it should.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      It’s not about “projecting from past glories.” It’s about keeping gameplay elements that were accepted parts of the games and refining them so that the newer games render the older ones obsolete by comparison.

      • K2L

        “accepted parts”? If I recall correctly, the 3-day mechanic was reviled until it became cool to love MM. Or do you mean the everyday day/night system present since OOT?

        • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

          People hated the overarching TIME LIMIT. What I’m proposing is that they take the more intricate “time of day” schedule-based quests (beyond just “this stuff in the daytime, this stuff in the nighttime” feature from OoT and most other Zeldas). There won’t be a countdown timer in any future Zeldas.

  • Joe

    Agree with all except the first. This was the most emotional, mysterious, frightening, and beautiful game ive every played.

  • Truth

    Noooo we already got a new villain from Skyward Sword. I think Ganondorf should come back but this time “bigger and badder than ever”

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      Demise was just a proto Ganondorf, with the same motives and objectives (and apparently the same spirit).

      • K2L

        Also, if Ganon returns, he better has an active in-game participation, rather than playing bait-and-switch like he stupidly did in Twilight Princess.

  • Nathan

    Love this series, and you make some great points. The best way to make a great sequel or new evolution in a series is to take elements of past games that worked well and enhance them to be even better. I sincerely hope to see that happen with Zelda Wii U.

  • Cero

    I only really agree with 3-1 because the entire intricate day and night schedules only worked because there was 3 days and 3 nights and you have to rewind time so you get to see everything. I don’t want time travel again, they use it a lot. Multiple characters, meh, I kind of disagree with the entire multiplayer zelda I think it could completely change the feel of the game (maybe not for the better).

  • Nejove

    Majora’s Mask is my favorite Zelda, personally, and I personally think that 2 and 3 are perhaps the most important things that Nintendo should consider for Zelda U. Those two factors together made Termina feel very immersive. It had a very stylized and imaginative world full of numerous sidequests, hidden dialogue, and easter eggs, but through its story and character development, it made you want to “explore” the world’s inhabitants and their lives as well as the world itself.

    Personally, I feel that one of the problems with most Zelda games since Wind Waker (apart from various stealth and/or collect-a-thon segments that just feel more annoying than fun) is that they don’t do as good a job creating an immersive or awe-inspiring environment (meaning the places, their inhabitants, and even the activity that happens there) that the gamer wants to explore (and is largely free to, within limits).

    In part, I think this is because the series has gotten fairly “samey” and predictable. It’s still Hyrule, complete with its obligatory iterations of the same places and things. Same old Link, Zelda, Gannondorf, Triforce, Destiny, the gods, Master Sword, yada yada yada. Chances are you’ll find a Lost Woods, Death Mountain, Lake Hylia, Hyrule Castle somewhere or other, probably a desert, and your obligatory forest/volcano/water-based dungeons. Why is this a problem? Because creating a vibrant world that the player wants and is allowed to explore as they play is one of the series’ key themes, yet who gets excited to explore environments they already know, places and peoples they’re already familiar with, and a predictable cast of characters that behave more or less predictably? And can they go there before the story sends them there, anyway? I want places and people that really feel different and/or a plot I never saw coming to flip my understanding of the characters and places I thought I knew upside down, even if it still plays and feels like a Zelda game.

  • rickdeath

    Majora but not just him Gannon comes back finds the mask salesman. Gannon was looking for a weak aura he sensed. It wants revenge on a certain kid. Gannon then restores the power of Majora with the triforce of power. They go on a rampage As there might is almost limitless together. Link hears of this goes on one last adventure knowing that he may never return to Hyrule afterwords. A quest full of hardships peoples suffering and links pure determination to stop it. The master sword needs one last awakening. Another race against time New and old enemies. He may need the help of the spirits once again. fierce deity may not even have the power alone to stop this upcoming threat. Can link ease the suffering of the people and save the world once again. Will darkness shroud Link and take him into the abyss. This is something i wish to know and a few years back hoped to see happen. What do you think???

  • Sketchie

    Those last two paragraphs gave me chills… Man, you really hit the mark here.

  • mogge3751

    i would love to see majora as the villain instead of ganon for once :P