Welcome to a brand new GZ Original feature, where we take a look back at some of the coolest games released and brand them the best games ever … of the week, that is. For our inaugural edition, we're taking a look at The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Arguably the most unique entry in Nintendo's long-running fantasy series, Majora's Mask set itself apart from its franchise brethren by offering unique gameplay elements, a riveting story, and other noteworthy nuances.
It's often considered one of the weirder Zelda games, but even then, there's absolutely no denying that Nintendo was trying to do something different, and the results were quite impressive. So let's see exactly what makes Majora's Mask the best game ever … of the week.
One of the greatest sequels of all time
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is often heralded as one of the greatest titles of all time and the best Zelda game ever. If that's the case, then there's a strong argument for Majora's Mask being one of the greatest sequels of all time. For starters, it's one of the few entries in the series that doesn't just retell the same story all over again. This is a completely different quest that deals with entirely different subject matter, and it's all the better for it.
In addition, while Majora's Mask runs on the same engine as Ocarina of Time, it feels like a vastly different experience. Sure, the combat, character interactions, and inventory management are features that feel fairly identical to the game's predecessor, but everything else — from the structure of the world to the game flow — is largely unique. As a result, Majora's Mask is more than just an Ocarina of Time rehash — it has its own identity and creates its own unique experience.
The darkest Zelda tale ever told
This isn't the same save-the-princess story we've seen in the past. Instead, Majora's Mask tasks you with saving humanity itself. After leaving Hyrule to embark on a personal journey, Link enters the land of Termina days before a massive festival is set to take place in a small town, only to discover that the Moon is about to crash down upon said town. The lives of everyone who lives in Termina are at stake, and it's up to Link to prevent the end of the world.
This story of the apocalypse is even more brooding due to how much it touches on the very essence of death. From the moment you encounter the withered tree at the beginning of the game (complete with a face of horrid, painful agony), you know Majora's Mask is going to deal with some pretty heavy themes. Early in the game you learn the Song of Healing, which you must play several times to release the tortured spirits of several important characters from their pain and let them move on to the afterlife. It's chilling indeed, and it's also quite moody.
Acting as a sort of backdrop to all of the death and despair is the constant sense of fear prevalent throughout the game. Characters you encounter are not only sad due to whatever troubles they may be facing, but they're genuinely scared for their lives. Whether you talk to the witch Kotake, who's worried about her missing sister Koume, or the Goron race, which is facing an unusual, deathly blizzard, you're constantly encountering folks whose lives are in danger and who have little hope for the future.
Progressive time-traveling mechanics
There's a disastrous sense of urgency in Majora's Mask on account of the forthcoming apocalypse. With just three days left until the Moon crashes into Termina, you always feel like you're rushing to save the world. When you hear the bell toll and find out that you only have two days left, that sense of urgency grows more intense. Then, when you're informed that it's the final day, you can't help but feel that death itself will impose its unrelenting will on everyone and everything.
Thankfully, Majora's Mask features a completely original time-traveling mechanic that lets you rewind time so that you return to the first day, as well as slow the flow of time. This doesn't make the game any easier, because rewinding time causes you to lose your inventory items such as bombs, arrows, and rupees. Additionally, dungeons and towns reset, so you can't just get halfway through a main temple, rewind time, and then continue where you left off. No, you have to clear that temple in one fell swoop, making time-traveling a useful but not cheap trope.
We've yet to see a gameplay mechanic like this appear in a game again. Perhaps it's because it's actually somewhat polarizing and forces you to play a certain way. Whatever the case may be, Majora's Mask is wholly unique because of it, and whether you love the game's time-based gameplay or hate it, it's still quite well made and different from almost everything else seen in other games.
Emphasis on sidequests makes for a different kind of Zelda
Most Zelda games are known for their large collections of sprawling dungeons. With only four main dungeons, you'd think Majora's Mask is a relatively short game. It's not. While it isn't a 30-hour or even 40-hour affair like other entries in the series, this particular adventure is still fairly lengthy. That's because rather than focusing on dungeons, the game puts a strong emphasis on sidequests.
It's not as tedious as you may think, though. Side missions are rather lengthy, and you get to explore a lot of Termina as you complete them. No, you're not visiting a vast multitude of temples, but you are witnessing varied environments such as the swamp, mountains, and ocean. It's a different kind of Zelda experience that lets you see the game world in a different way rather than constantly confining you to indoor environments.
Breaking the mold
One of the things that really stands out about Majora's Mask is its mask-based gameplay. While you have access to bows, bombs, and other items that are considered series staples, you also rely on masks to gain special abilities. These masks act as power-ups of sorts, and collecting them and figuring out how to use them is half the fun. Utilizing them allows Link to perform actions he otherwise wouldn't be able to, and it's quite interesting turning into a Deku Scrub or Zora, even if the transformation itself looks absolutely haunting and totally painful for Link.
Ultimately, there's simply no denying that Majora's Mask is a vastly different game when compared to the rest of the series. It breaks the mold of traditional Zelda games and gives you something incredibly different. You're not traveling through Hyrule to save Zelda this time around. Instead, the fate of the world and the lives of countless individuals rest in the palms of your hands.
Majora's Mask is possibly the most daunting Zelda game ever created. While Nintendo isn't really known for breaking away from tradition, the company did so here, and its efforts are largely respectable. The game attempts to do things differently, and it succeeds. Majora's Mask is both an experimental Zelda game and a great example that the series doesn't always have to rely on the same gameplay elements. As a result, it's one of the best entries the franchise has seen, one of the best sequels ever made, and one of the greatest games of all time.
Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.