Friday, June 5, 2015

[REVIEW] The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D
Played on: 3DS 
Genre: Action-adventure
Developer: Grezzo / Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

If you ask any seasoned Zelda veteran to name the most unique entry in the series, Majora's Mask is likely to be their choice. The original Nintendo 64 version followed in the footsteps of Ocarina of Time, which was a pioneer of 3D exploration and is to this day considered one of the most important games of all time. This makes Nintendo's decision to go fresh here even bolder, and the resulting title will, at many times, make you wish more developers followed this philosophy more often.

Since this is one of the few straight sequels in the Zelda series, the Link here is the same one we got to know and love in Ocarina of Time. While adventuring with his trusty horse Epona, Link ends up tricked by an entity called the Skull Kid, losing his horse and weapons and transformed into a Deku shrub. He then finds himself in the city of Termina, where, due to the Skull Kid's meddling, an extremely creepy-looking moon will crash land in three days. Of course, Link is the Hero of Time, meaning he can keep using his ocarina to relive those tree days over and over again in order to gather masks, weapons and embark into missions to stop the catastrophe.

Oh, you most certainly are not.

Without spoiling anything, this intriguing plot leads to some of the best storytelling the series has ever seen. Characters in Termina (and in the many surrounding areas) are your usual Zelda fare of lighthearted personas, but the creepy atmosphere and the very real sense of danger affects their story arcs in a way that can get truly touching. Specifically, one of the optional sidequests gets so poignant towards its end that it seriously got me to the verge of tears. This is not something that usually happens on a Zelda game, so it was a truly gratifying surprise.

Another interesting aspect here is that the game offers only a few traditional weapons. Instead, most of Link's abilities come from masks, which are rewarded for completing missions. Some of the masks (namely, the ones that transform Link into new creatures) are necessary to the main campaign, while others are useful items that can be collected as rewards from sidequests. Getting all of them will be quite challenging, but extremely rewarding nonetheless.

The best swimming method in the Zelda series? Yes indeed.
Great exploration, of course, has always been a mainstay of the franchise, and here it's no different. I had a blast adventuring though each of the game's several areas, figuring out puzzles and looking for those all-important masks. The perpetually ticking three-day clock is a neat addition to the overworld, as there are some events that can only be witnessed at certain periods of the cycle. Managing time gives the game a sense of urgency that works wonders with the "impending disaster" vibe, especially given how the music becomes creepier and more urgent each time the final day comes.

And then there are the dungeons. Like I said in the last paragraph, I love the game's implementation of a clock; in the final hours before the moon crash landing, you'll always have to play your Song of Time to get transported back to Termina city on the first day, making you lose all of your "expendable" items such as bombs, arrows, and bottle contents. This works great for storytelling, for side quests, for environmental puzzles in the overworld... but it absolutely does not work for dungeons. If you've played any Zelda game at all, especially a 3D Zelda, you'll know that dungeons are a slow, methodical, puzzle-heavy affair. You often have to think long and hard about what to do next in order to conquer them. And yet there's that freaking clock, ticking away relentlessly. It won't even stop during boss battles, meaning there's a very real danger of having to stop halfway through the fight and start it over in a new three-day cycle. It absolutely doesn't work, making the dungeons in the game, which are all excellently designed (yes, even the water dungeon), feel like an absolute chore.

Nice beer belly, Link!
Each dungeon also features fifteen stray fairies; should you collect them all, you can take them to a nearby fairy fountain to get a special item or ability. This is a great way to compel players to search every single corner of a dungeon... yet fairies are considered an "expendable" item, meaning you'll lose all of them every time you reset the clock. You can't even take the ones you got to the fountain before playing the Song of Time; no, sir, you have to get them all in a single three-day cycle. This is what infuriated me the most about the clock implementation on dungeons, and made me simply give up altogether on fairy collecting, a gameplay mechanic that I otherwise loved.

Yes, Majora's Mask is a game of extremes: there's pure bliss in the way the story unfolds and the vast majority of the game plays, there's a degree of innovation which is unprecedented in the series... and then there are the dungeons. In adapting it from the Nintendo 64 original, Grezzo tweaked a lot of the elements that didn't age up all that well, and yet left the dungeon problem sadly unsolved. If it were otherwise, I believe Majora's Mask 3D could be simply the best game in the entire franchise. Alas, it was not to be, and as such it will remain a flawed masterpiece.


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