More than any other game in the Legend of Zelda series, Majora’s Mask seems to be the one that most players neglected when it first came out. Sure, we were all thrilled to have a sequel to Ocarina of Time so soon after that game’s release — a mere two years separated the two, an ungodly short development cycle in the year 2000 — but once we actually got our hands on Majora’s Mask, most of us just didn’t know what to do with it. I worked at a Funcoland at the time, and I was so excited when our Nintendo rep dropped by with a demo copy that my manager agreed to let me take it home every night, where I’d replay the same three days over and over and over, puzzling over the individual dilemmas of the peoples of Termina while trying my best to halt the progress of their collective fate as moon pancakes. Playing Majora’s Mask in this fashion — taking it home at night, getting as far as I could, returning it to work the next day, clocking out at the end of my shift, and then doing the whole thing over again — was like having its Groundhog Day-esque structure extend into the real world. It felt thrilling, uncomfortable, even a little naughty. I eventually made it to Snowhead before the final retail version came out, at which point I bought my own copy and put the demo cart back in Funcoland’s locked system for the last time. I figured it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to have to start over since I’d sort of already been doing that every night anyway, but I was devastated once I realized how much work I’d actually have to redo to get to the point I was at on the demo copy. So I gave up.
In my eagerness to play Majora’s Mask early, I’d sealed Termina’s fate for a full decade, until finally, in 2010, I completed it for the first time on the Wii Virtual Console. It was excellent, of course, and in most ways, the new 3DS version enhances what was already there to great effect. The game’s peculiar, Wonderland-esque approach of twisting familiar characters and backdrops into shadowy doppelgangers of themselves is more unsettling than ever, thanks to a graphical upgrade that brings Termina and its residents up to the standards set by the glorious The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. Content wise, nothing has been censored or softened for the remaster. Reuniting an estranged couple to exchange their wedding vows still ends in their annihilation mere minutes later. The Deku King is still the most overtly xenophobic character ever created for a Nintendo game. You still deliver pervy pics to a peeping tom in exchange for some quick cash, Perez Hilton style. And a little girl still gets lobotomized by space ghosts if you fail to keep them out of her… er… barn. Majora’s Mask’s child hero and whimsical facade belie a world beset by very adult problems, which is appropriate given that so many players who are playing it for the first time on 3DS are now pushing 30.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D has been tweaked in ways both big and small to make the game less bewildering, and most of these adjustments have been implemented intelligently, making it easier for players to grasp the complexity of the world while (mostly) avoiding the kind of unnecessary pandering that offends series veterans. The most appreciated change is an overhauled Bombers’ Notebook, an item that helps players complete every side quest, collect every mask and unlock the game’s true ending. On the N64 version, the notebook is hardly what I’d call useful; the information it presents is vague at best and confusing at worst. On the 3DS, not only has it been revamped to present information more clearly, but it’s also been upgraded with an alarm clock function to remind players of upcoming events. I find the alarm clock to be more useful in theory than in practice as it only allows for a single alarm to be set at a time, despite the fact that the game requires players to constantly juggle multiple quest lines on any given day. Two steps forward, one step back, I guess. Still, simply having the revamped notebook is immensely beneficial as it gives players access to a handy index of 60+ quests without having to reference a strategy guide or wiki page. The Bombers themselves — the “secret society of justice” consisting of five identical little rascals who spend their days lollygagging around Clock Town — have been given greater purpose as well, frequently providing hints and rumors throughout the game to point players toward events or quests they might have missed. I wish there was an added quest to reunite them with their mother, though… for as much insider information as they seem to have, they’re still completely oblivious to their own fates, which is the worst kind of irony.
The changes don’t end there. Boss battles have been redesigned to make it easier for players to find weak points, but they remain challenging if you’re experiencing them for the first time. The Song of Double time, which on the N64 version lets players fast-forward in six-hour increments, now allows them to jump to the specific hour of their choosing, which makes it a great deal less annoying to restart time-sensitive quests when you screw up. Even some key items locations have changed, giving Majora’s Mask 3D a bit of a Master Quest vibe. There’s also a new fishing mini game, which features two fishing holes and 24 fish to catch, including a couple of rare ones based on famous figures of Hyrule. Fishing easily represents an extra 10-15 hours of downtime for players in need of a little break from the apocalypse, and it can be quite addicting.
All of these are great examples of smart thinking leading to a fresher, more modern experience, and I’m glad Nintendo took the time to implement them. But not all changes are for the better. Deku Link’s Bubble Blast now has a big red circular target on it, which is the worst kind of meddling (and makes absolutely no anatomical sense, besides.) And the revamped save system is a mixed blessing, but that requires a little bit of understanding of how saving is handled on the original version. In order to even run Majora’s Mask, the N64 requires a 4MB memory expansion pack (doubling the system’s memory to 8MB); the game’s ROM is so packed with information that the only way to permanently save is to restart the three day cycle, which stores progress on key quest lines and dungeons but resets the count of non-essential items like arrows, rupees, etc., to zero. Players can create temporary saves at Owl Statues without having to restart the cycle, but they’re wiped out immediately upon restarting. The 3DS version isn’t hampered by these memory restrictions, so players can create permanent saves at any time simply by visiting one of the many Owl Statues or the new (and too frequent) Feather Statues; the only difference between the two is that you can’t use the Song of Soaring to drop link in front of a Feather Statue. On the one hand, this makes for a far more forgiving, more portable-friendly experience. On the other, it strips away much of the tension inherent in Majora’s Mask’s apocalyptic design. It can still be exhilarating letting the clock run down to the last few seconds before the moon crashes down into Termina, but being able to reload a save from any point during the three day cycle means players have far less to lose if they make a mistake or run out of time.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask turns fifteen this year, but playing it again in its newly remastered 3DS version, it feels more modern than even the most recent Zelda games. It disregards series conventions with wild abandon. It puts the spotlight on ancillary characters in ways that rival modern masterpieces like Skyrim and Mass Effect 2, while predating those games by a decade. And its three day structure demands a level of commitment from players that, to this day, no other Nintendo game has even come close to matching. It’s no surprise that so few players ever managed to finish the original N64 release: we just weren’t ready for the game back then. But Majora’s Mask 3D is improved in almost every way over the original, making Link’s most unique quest accessible to all players while bringing topsy-turvy Termina to vivid life in ways that a 4mb RAM expansion could never have done. Whatever reasons you might have had for skipping Majora’s Mask in the past are now irrelevant; Majora’s Mask 3D is the definitive version of one of Nintendo’s greatest experiments, and this time around, it actually wants you to win.
Invisible Gamer’s review of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is based on the final retail version, which the reviewer purchased at launch and played on a New Nintendo 3DS XL. The game came out on Friday, February 13th, 2015.