Stian: I really do not know how to start with this debate. Majora’s Mask is my least favourite Zelda-title and one I have tried many times to play through with a more positive mindset, yet always find myself regretting seeing through. This is because I do not get the game’s appeal as a game. There are a lot of intriguing design-choices that I feel are bogged down by not being expanded upon or should have been removed or changed entirely.
Before I get to the main points of that aspect, I think it should be said that I do enjoy Majora’s Mask’s style. It is a neat take on surrealism and while reusing almost every character-model from Ocarina of Time, it does so in a creative and colourful way. This is also expressed wonderfully through the story, or rather, the side stories. Every character is going through a unique struggle, be it a mummified parent or someone in a desperate need of some toilet paper, it makes the world vast and personal. Yet, I hate playing through it. But before I get to that, what do you think about this title Casper?
Casper: My review isn’t out yet as of writing, but I think you’ll find me fairly critical of the game. Like with Wind Waker, I feel it’s a great Zelda game with a unique appeal that does have some pronounced problems. Like you, it’s not a game I am too fond of replaying, but it is one I hold very dear and greatly respect.
I had great fun playing through it once and experiencing what it had to offer. It’s an amazing story to take in, both through optional sidequests as well as its main plot. Isn’t that enough? I admit that some of the mandatory parts of the game deter me from completing it a second time, but I still like to pop it once in a while to replay whatever amount of the game I can tolerate and immerse myself in the emotions and atmosphere wholly unique to this game.
Replay value isn’t everything. There are movies, anime, books, and even other games that I similarly count among my favorites, yet probably won’t be watching/reading/playing through from start to finish ever again. That doesn’t mean it’s not cozy to sample parts of it and recall just why you love those works so much to begin with.
Stian: While I do not hold the storytelling in such high regards, I do agree it presents a wonderful world and setting to get lost in, with interesting smaller stories to partake in. However, that is sadly not enough for me. I have always had a displeasure of playing through Majora’s Mask since my very first time with it. This is where I wonder how much of the game you like.
Personally, I enjoy about 20% of it. To get it out of the way, I do not mind the time aspect, as it is easy to avoid pressure from it with different songs to alter it, and is more of a neat quirk than anything else. I still hate how you lose keys on playing the Song of Time and how busted the original N64 is with its saving, but I digress. Instead, this concept helps the atmosphere. Seeing NPCs living their daily lives and doing specific things at specific times, really makes Tarmina feel alive.
It is then a shame when the quests can range between requiring multiple intriguing steps in order to finish it, and reward you with helpful upgrades, to dull fetch quests and context sensitive masks. It might be strange to talk about this aspect first, but sidequests are what makes up for about 70% of the game and there were not many I enjoyed to partake in. About 90% of them required minimal effort to finish, or felt worthless as they only gave you minor upgrades. I know the reward can be in seeing the results storywise, but when I did not have fun doing the quests or the actual reward not being worthwhile, I got quite annoyed.
C: The numbers will be your undoing, Stian!
70% is seriously misrepresenting the balance of main quest to sidequest. With 4 lengthy dungeons to complete, plus the tutorial and final battle, and the questing leading up to them, I think 60% main quest would be the more generous estimate when we’re talking time investment. As you say yourself, many sidequests are simplistic affairs or so optional they aren’t even worth counting to begin with.
When I criticize the parts I don’t like in Majora’s Mask, I think about egg hunt in the Great Bay or the item-trading maze in Ikana. Those are tedious to play through and, sadly, mandatory. However, I like almost every other sidequest I can think of, including the ones I suspect you label as simple. I love meeting Guru Guru and hearing his story, then using his Bremen Mask to fill the emotional last request of Grog down by the ranch. I love going to Kamaro to learn his stupid dance and then teach that to a new generation of dancers so his legacy lives on. I love Keeta, the council meeting, the dojo master, The Postman, The Butler. Majora’s Mask is filled with these fantastic encounters, many of them subtly melancholic or bittersweet.
Sure, some of those quests aren’t complicated. You just run to Kamaro at night, grab his mask, run to the dancing sisters, quest complete. It’s easy because we know already, but I remember as a kid I discovered Kamaro by chance and then had to make the connection myself that his weird mask might tie in with the two girls when I found them dancing in the streets at night. We shouldn’t judge these quests merely by how fast someone could finish them with a walkthrough or on their 10th time through the game.
S: I would agree if it had not been for how focused the game is on the side activities. There is a reason for why those are remembered and not the temples necessarily. In comparison to Ocarina of Time for example, there are 36 heart pieces, whereas Majora’s Mask has 52 hidden in its title. In other words, they are scattered everywhere and give clear signs that you should explore and go off the main path.
You also clearly remember a lot of the side activities well, so we cannot argue that it is not a main aspect of this game’s concept. However, you make an interesting point. The sense of wonder and exploring elements for quests the first time around can leave to intriguing discoveries. However, this is probably where I struggle with those ideas, as they never lead to interesting puzzles in my eyes. Sure, putting the pieces together is one thing, but it is quite blatant here in my eyes. This comes from someone who loves old point and clicks and dungeon crawlers where taking notes was essential, but I do not see why these ideas could not have been implemented better here. Especially when there is already a notebook to keep you track on the quests in this game.
However, let us say we did not have to partake in the optional aspects as they are just that: optional. As you stated, the main quest has four dungeons, the road leading up to them, a tutorial (I believe you mean the days leading up to getting the Ocarina?) and the final battle. I cannot act like those were much fun either, with only a few exceptions. I hate the tedious first three days, two of the dungeons I absolutely despise, I only liked two of the roads to the temples, and the boss fights range from fun to outright annoying. To not start ranting, would you elaborate on your experience of this main road?
C: I most certainly will elaborate.
I hadn’t paid attention to the amount of heart pieces, but the numbers you cite sound accurate. There is more side-stuff to do than in Ocarina of Time, even though that is by far the bigger game. Quite amazing, I must say. Zelda games often don’t have enough to do on the side or activities are all clustered together in small HUB zones with lots of emptiness between them. As a critic of Ocarina of Time’s world design, I’d expected you would be elated by the density of content in Majora’s Mask.
As for the main quest, it certainly has its enormous low points. I already complained about the egg quest and the maze, but others bits can be a drag too. You mention the initial 3-day cycle leading up to the retrieval of the ocarina and, yes, that’s another mandatory segment that could have been designed better. You either stress out and run out of time never knowing that the game expected from you or you finish everything on day 1 and then have to fill time until the game will let you continue.
Still, I feel every Zelda game has its flaws and those of Majora’s Mask contrast well against its high points. The main story carries you through some amazing developments and twists, with Darmani’s scene for the Song of Healing being a real tear-jerker. Woodfall Temple and Stone Tower I both enjoy as dungeons, and I can appreciate the other two if I go into them with the right mindset and a fresh 3-day cycle. Without exception, I enjoy the boss in every one of these dungeons and the final battle. These are great fights that break with Zelda tradition and especially Odolwa is one of the most amazing first bosses in the series. Are you telling me you don’t enjoy these fights? Are you mad?
S: Come to think of it, while I would argue that there were solid side activities to do in the earlier Zelda-titles, sidequests first started to expand after Majora’s Mask. Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and so on, clearly had more quests centred around character specific stories and not just through general exploration, which is somewhat interesting to think about. I guess I can appreciate Majora’s Mask for actually making that happen. However, Majora’s Mask is clearly the first step into this setup, and to me, becomes an example of how more can be less (in terms of interactivity, I should stress).
I am glad to see we agree on certain low points of the game. However, I am never looking forward to the Snowhead Temple due to how much it can drag and the Great Bay Temple I hate more than any other temple in the series. As for the boss fights: no, that is not it. I do enjoy the first two bosses due to their creative setups, but the rest of the main fights are below average in my eye at best. Gyorg has some terrible camera work, Twinmold is just a bore, and Majora I found a letdown for being a final boss, even if its visual design is cool! The same range in quality I could also say for the sub-bosses, but I did find more of them enjoyable than not, even if some were outright reused from Ocarina of Time.
It is here I cannot get away from the thought of Majora’s Mask being first and foremost a game I am playing. Because of this, I can go from having a decent time, to a feeling like I am wasting it. There are high points to this game, sure, but that for me is significantly less than half of the game. However, the style and setting is again what seems to drive most people to enjoy it. While I did not like the Goron Elder’s Son at all, I will admit that there were many moments and characters I cared for, like Lulu’s reasoning for losing her voice or when you bring Gorman to tears by simply playing a ballad for him. Unfortunately, these are elements that did not need interactivity, but work on its visuals alone. Because of this, did Majora’s Mask even need to become a video game? Did it work better as a manga?
C: The Akira Himekawa manga is pretty nice, but it cuts a lot of this content out. Unlike Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask had to cope with a single volume. This leads to hilarious shortcuts, like Link and Tatl just bumping into Kafei on the streets of Clock Town and immediately solving his problem. I’ll lend you my copy sometime.
A central problem for the manga is that Majora’s Mask’s story works so well exactly because it’s a game. A lot of the emotional impact lies in little moments the player can discover for themselves and the unique schedules that each NPC operates on is vital to this. Personally, one of my favorite characters in the game is Mutoh. I love that you can find him in the mayor’s office furiously arguing against the cancellation of the festival and, on the final night, he alone stands atop the tower made by his workers who have all fled, glaring at the moon and defiantly standing between it and the festival he holds so dear.
In those 3 days across which the game plays, you can see and follow the lives of dozens of NPCs. Sure, not every hour of it is unique, but there is so much happening that you can influence that it simply wouldn’t work in any other media. I am still detecting new details anytime I play through the game, like Anju’s family lying to their grandmother about why they are leaving the city. Himekawa’s manga only features a handful of these moments and can only superficially recreate the experience of discovering them yourself.
We can argue about our preferences in the gameplay and what temple or boss fight could have been better, but if anything, I think we should walk away from this debate appreciating that Majora’s Mask tells a phenomenal story that wouldn’t have worked the same in any other media.
S: Well, I cannot deny that you have a point there. Similar to solid games focusing on creating an atmosphere, they need to create a world that you can indulge in through your interactions and in this case; exploration. However, I would argue that games can do this and provide good gameplay throughout simultaneously, such as Eastshade, Yakuza 0 and even Zelda’s own Wind Waker. Hopefully, someone can make a complete reimagining of this game in order to expand upon its possibilities. I mean, the remake for the 3DS was a decent step, right?