Editor's Note: This article was originally posted in November 2014. With Majora's Mask out in North America today, we're republishing this piece from Bob, who remains a huge fan.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask released at the worst possible moment for an N64 game: the exact day Sony's PlayStation 2 arrived on store shelves.
It might be hard to remember nearly 15 years after the fact, but the PS2 overshadowed everything video game-related in that last quarter of 2000. And since massive hardware shortages made finding a console nearly impossible, Sony created a consumer frenzy that would only be matched in 2006 by the mania surrounding the equally-hard-to-find Nintendo Wii. Amid all this next-gen hysteria, Majora's Mask quietly crept into the world, wowing critics and polarizing fans with its oddball take on The Legend of Zelda.
Even though the series hadn't completely settled into its habit of perpetually riffing on A Link to the Past, for some, Majora's Mask proved just too different. And those who clamored for a "mature Zelda" after the cartoony SpaceWorld 2001 Wind Waker reveal didn't realize they had it all along with Majora's Mask: What other game in the series lets you watch its cast of characters travel through Kübler-Ross' five stages of grief as they await their death by moonsplosion?
If you're still not convinced of Majora's Mask's greatness, that's fine: as Someone Who Literally Can't Shut Up About It, I'm here to help. What follows are a list of reasons 1.) why it's one of the best Legend of Zelda games to date, and 2.) why you shouldn't be afraid of its weird ways. Read on, and start counting the down the days until its ambiguous release date—and hope no celestial bodies smash into the earth before then.
The Time-Loop Adds the Just Right Amount of Tension
One of the biggest obstacles I've encountered in my Majora's Mask prosthelytizing is that fact that people find the game's time limit too restrictive. If you're not familiar with the central mechanic, Link only has three (in-game) days to get things done, though major accomplishments like finishing dungeons persist throughout multiple loops. It's completely understandable if working under these restrictions makes you anxious, but Majora's Mask provides more than enough time to work with—especially if you learn the essential Ocarina tune that slows the passage of time by half. Since most of the in-game events require you to let time pass—sometimes until the final few minutes of Termina's existence—you're only really under the gun when it comes to beating the boss of a dungeon. And, unless you're absolutely miserable at Legend of Zelda games, the two hours you're given should be more than enough time to finish off one of the game's four temples. (But you'll be forced to play a little more efficiently.)
The Characters Are Simply Unforgettable
Majora's Mask's cast of characters may at first seem like a cynical reuse of the previous game's assets, but these Ocarina of Time variants have bigger and bolder personalities than the figures they're modeled after. Of course, it helps that the lives of these folks play out around you: They're not just standing around in prescribed locations, waiting to spout out a few lines of dialogue as you work your way through events. In fact, the antics of Link don't seem to matter all that much to the people of Termina—they're much more caught up in an impending disaster that's impossible to ignore.
Because all of Majora's Mask's side-quests task link with bringing Termina's citizens happiness in their last days, they're able to be fleshed out as real characters instead of only serving as exposition delivery devices. As the days pass, some accept their fate, some find themselves full of regret, and some even seem to be operating under a thick cloud of denial. And visiting characters during Termina's final moments makes for some especially dark and heartbreaking experiences, especially for a Nintendo game. Clock Town might be relatively compact compared to the environments we're used to today, but Majora's Mask takes advantage of this small size by packing its walls with an ever-changing cast of lovable weirdos.
It's Brilliantly Bizarre
Majora's Mask strives for an off-putting—but not forced or overbearing—degree of weirdness you won't find in any other Zelda game. Sure, other installments have their oddities, but the world of Termina bubbles over with compellingly bizarre concepts, the most prominent of which can be found in the form of a glowering moon that fills more of the sky with each passing hour. Even the beginning of the game is meant to disrupt your expectations, as it traps the sword-swinging Link in the body of a deku scrub, one of Ocarina of Time's most pathetic creatures.
And throughout the course of Link's adventure, he'll save cows from being abducted, give a toilet-bound disembodied hand some much needed wiping paper, play the role of exterminator in spider-infested mansions, reunite a bluesy Zora band, bring together star-crossed lovers minutes before the apocalypse, and perform other memorable feats. Link can also transform into a Zora or Goron by using a mask fashioned from the head of a recently deceased member of each respective race, but it doesn't seem like an altogether pleasant experience: Changing forms causes the little guy to shriek in horror as his body contorts into a new shape. Yes, Majora's Mask wants to disturb you.
You've Never Played a Legend of Zelda Like This Before
Let's get one thing straight: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is one of the greatest games ever made, if not the greatest game ever made. So it's not surprising that Link's sole SNES adventure would serve as the foundation for many Zeldas to follow. Majora's Mask, however, deviated pretty strongly from this formula: It only features four central dungeons, and each one offers a different type of arrow as its central reward instead of what you'd typically find on Link's utility belt. Majora's Mask makes a major departure from the standard collection of Zelda tools by spreading various abilities across Link's many forms and masks. And working your way through all of Majora's Mask's content involves finding the best use for the very specific benefits these masks provide.
Better yet, Majora's Mask washes its hands completely of the whole "Ganon" business for the most sympathetic villain the series has ever seen, a pathetic figure driven to extremes out of sheer loneliness. It's a stand-alone experience that's free from any notion of a timeline, and once Link leaves the world of Termina behind, the fact that he'll never see it or its residents again acts as a real emotional gut-punch. If you consider yourself a Zelda fan and have never touched Majora's Mask, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. It's simply the darkest, strangest, and most emotional Zelda game to date, with an atypical execution that stands in stark contrast to the repetitive sequels surrounding it. And with this upcoming 3DS remake, a whole new generation of Zelda fans will finally see what inspires fanatics like me to write 1200-word articles singing its praises.