The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D Review – Borrowed Time

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Developers: Nintendo EAD Tokyo, Grezzo

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Release Date: February 13

What separates a remake from a remaster? Traditionally, the former is reworked from scratch and features radical changes to gameplay and graphics. The latter usually acts as an upgraded port derived from an original game engine. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D falls somewhere between both parties as, somehow, gameplay remains the same and different at the same time. Change is good when made to update outdated gameplay concepts. However, a certain level of respect should be kept for the developer’s original intents.

Retelling A Beautiful Tale

For those who missed out on playing this title over the past 14+ years, Majora’s Mask is set just after the events of Ocarina of Time. Searching for Navi in an unknown forest of Hyrule, Link falls victim to the hijinks of a Skull Kid wearing the legendarily evil Majora’s Mask. He turns Link into a Deku Shrub, heads for the nearby land of Termina and sets a course for the Moon to collide with the planet over the following 72 hours. Using the power to manipulate time as many chances necessary to reset the clock, Link must gather the remains of the land’s prophetic giants and summon them to help stop the wicked Majora’s Mask once and for all.

The writing of Majora’s Mask weaves a beautifully haunting nest of stories, giving depth to the NPC collective that few games even dared to replicate since.

Players expecting a cartoonish, happy narrative after going through Ocarina of Time 3D are in for a surprise of outstanding proportions. What I love most about the Majora’s Mask story is how decidedly dark it is portrayed through the game’s narrative. For Link, escaping fate is merely a Song of Time away. For everyone else in Termina, there is the overwhelming reality of death facing them within their lives. I’m talking literally; the Moon and his gigantic face are staring at the citizens below as he crashes towards the land.

This raw, emotional approach means showing a couple getting married mere minutes before the end of the world in order to be bound eternally in matrimonial love. It means an innocent child potentially being forcefully taken away from her home if you fail to protect her livelihood. It means Link seeing someone die in front of his eyes, to which he builds a makeshift grave in their honor.

The main draw that separates Majora’s Mask from Ocarina of Time, despite their similar assets and character models, is the mask system. By helping solve NPC’s daily problems (both simple and spanning all three days), players are reward with masks that give them special properties. Outside of the prime masks named after certain Zelda species’ (Zora masks turns you into a Zora, etc.), they provide functions like increasing running speed, find hidden mushrooms and gain access to privileged areas.

Rewarding players with masks excellently serves as a two-pronged approach to both story and gameplay. Players are incentivised to explore the interconnected stories of Termina’s citizens in order to humanize them. Providing upgrades as a bonus works to keep players involved with the game as both a hero and a citizen, caring for those who dared to ask for help. The writing of Majora’s Mask weaves a beautifully haunting nest of stories, giving depth to the NPC collective that few games even dared to replicate since.

Changes, The Good

Stepping away from what made the original so great, let’s get down to the most important facet of Majora’s Mask 3D’s upcoming release; its gameplay alterations. Transposed to fit with the Nintendo 3DS’ control scheme, the top screen mostly displays the world around Link, the time bar and the A and B button prompts. Everything else, including a constant menu display, health and magic bars, stays permanently on the touch screen.

The two main competing elements that face Majora’s Mask 3D’s development is optimization and casualization. What intrigues me the most is the permanent fixture of the Ocarina of Time, in addition to having 4 switchable item commands instead of 3. For the most part, fixes to the game’s user interface represent a smart adaptation from the original. Flipping through the menu to take boots on and off makes the Water Temple from Ocarina of Time one of my biggest dungeon practicality letdowns in Zelda history, in spite of its excellent concept behind the level design. This UI change simplifies a process made previously complicated by technical limitations.

Speaking of the Ocarina, one of the more daring changes from the original Majora’s Mask concepts of time management comes in the Song of Double Time. Once used to jump forward to the nearest half-day in the 72 hour cycle, players can now use this song to progress to any 1-hour block between each day. In addition, the Bombers’ Notebook can keep track of upcoming events and lets you set an alarm before they occur.

The two main competing elements that face Majora’s Mask 3D’s development is optimization and casualization.

The way I see it, Link is given the ability to manipulate time as he sees it with this ocarina. He can use it to slow down time to half speed, he could previously jump up to 12 hours in the future and reverse time itself to his needs. When it comes to complicated side quests that require specific time windows smack dab in the middle of these 12-hour time jumps, it was a waste of time to have players park themselves in a segment of the map and simply wait it out for minutes as the next quest branch commenced. Letting players manage their time efficiently should be relished, not disregarded.

Additionally, it goes without saying that Majora’s Mask is a technical improvement and a half on the 3DS. The textures, assets and character models have been vastly improved, downplaying how garish 3D worlds used to run on the N64. More importantly, the game runs at a much higher framerate than its original 20 FPS (most of the time), although when slowdowns occur, boy, are they noticeable. The stereoscopic 3D works wonders, as certain visual cues onscreen are complemented to perfection. In short, Majora’s Mask 3D made the technical transition to handheld gaming amicably.

Next: What Majora's Mask 3D Gets Direly Wrong, Plus Our Final Score