Majora’s Mask: The Best Zelda

The Zelda timeline splits after Ocarina of Time but in our series playthrough, our group decided to follow the game up with Majora’s Mask since the game stars the same Link.  Not only is the game impressive from a development standpoint (Ocarina came out in November 1998 and Majora’s Mask was released in Sept. 2000, meaning the game was developed in a little under 2 years), it’s one of the highest points in the series.  In fact, let’s be honest, it’s the best Zelda game despite not having a lot of the series’ core elements.  What it lacks in exploration, Majora’s Mask makes up for with characterization and ingenuity.

This isn’t to say Majora’s Mask is a perfect game.  To those who stress about such things, the 3 day time limit discourages exploration.  The game’s fairly linear with access to areas gated by items (the bow is needed to enter the mountains, powder kegs are required to get the horse which is necessary to get to the ocean, etc.).  While challenging, the dungeons are remembered more for their tedium or gimmicks than anything else.

All those low points are overshadowed by how amazing everything else is.  The game has the best characterization in the series, with people who actually have agendas and desires.  In most other Zelda games, NPCs stand in one spot during the day and another at night.  Regardless of what’s going in their lives or in the world, they’ll always be found at that spot.  This makes the characters static and the world less immersive and interesting.

With the clock and timer in Majora’s Mask, NPCs actually move about and will only be found at certain points during that time.  The actions they do and what the player does will affect their schedule.  Take the entertainment troupe leader, Gorman, for example.  He goes to a meeting with the mayor’s wife on the morning of the first day, finds out his show has been canceled and then goes to the bar and drinks himself into a stupor the next two days…unless the player has access to the Milk Bar and all the racial transformation masks, at which point they can snap him out of his funk.  If this is done on the first night, Gorman can be found playing cards with his employers and noting they’ll be leaving town to avoid the moon.

It’s worth noting that helping Gorman is completely optional.  He only gives a mask which isn’t needed to complete the game.  The sequence does show, however, that Majora’s Mask was years ahead of its contemporaries.  In an era where Telltale games and RPGs are built around player choice, Majora’s Mask was among the pioneers of that design decision.

The game’s also incredibly meme-tastic.

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Autopsy: Ocarina of Time

Continuing on to the next chronological 3D game in the series, the Zelda playthrough arrives at Ocarina of Time.  It’s a game that often tops (or nears the top) of a “greatest games ever made” list but the game was released in November 1998.  There’s some validity to the critique that the game hasn’t aged all that well, although not nearly to the point of Final Fantasy VII (where the non-battle sequence or FMV character models have had people clamoring for a remake for at least a decade).  While not my favorite Zelda game, Ocarina of Time can still be appreciated as a piece of game history.  While there’s some wrinkles to the game, it’s also quite playable.

For the record, our group’s playthrough was based on the Master Quest version on the GameCube.

Ocarina of Time successfully brought the Zelda franchise into 3D.  It was so successful, in fact, it set a template that was pretty well-established up through Skyward Sword.  That template was essentially give the player a safe tutorial area to get used to the game mechanics before unleashing them on a world that’s only gated by the items the player possesses.  The game also established the “collect 3 of ‘x’ (Ocarina‘s spiritual stones, Wind Waker‘s orbs, Twilight Princess‘ Fused Shadow) to open up the 2nd act of the game where you collect ‘y’ (medallions, Triforce pieces, Mirror of Twilight) so you can fight the final boss” plot.

It’s worth considering that even with Breath of the Wild opting for an open-world approach, it wouldn’t be too surprising if they kept some of the Ocarina formula.

Aside from the safe tutorial area, the above isn’t too similar from A Link to the Past.  The obvious separation between Ocarina and A Link to the Past is the series’ jump to 3D, where Ocarina laid the groundwork for future 3D action-adventure games.  Camera lock-on via Z-targeting allowed real time combat that was both challenging and feasible.  The scale and depth of the game was only rivaled by PS1 JRPGs.  While Metal Gear Solid was also released in 1998 and Ocarina’s plot isn’t nearly as complex, the game still tells a story that is epic and sensible.

Without Ocarina of Time, games like Shadow of the Colossus and Devil May Cry would have turned out very differently.