Following in the footsteps of one of the greatest video games ever released is not only daunting, but intimidating – completing such a feat within a development time of a little over a year seems nearly impossible. And yet Nintendo, no stranger to delivering bombshells, would take on the task of creating a title to follow up on the incredible success of 1998’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and in 2000 released a game that shined all on its own, rather than paled in the shadow of its predecessor: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
After Nintendo’s 2011 remake of Ocarina of Time for Nintendo 3DS, fans began clamoring for Majora’s Mask to receive the same treatment – after denials that the remake was indeed a reality, followed by multiple hints of its impending release, we finally have The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D. Eiji Aonuma has discussed that the game wouldn’t be merely a remastered port, but that there would be changes to various elements of the game, and in the time I’ve spent with it I’ve already experienced a number of these changes. So how exactly does MM3D compare to the original?
The first thing you’re hit with is how nice MM3D looks; Majora’s Mask has a range of rich, vibrant colors and textures that Ocarina of Time does not, and co-developer Grezzo did a great job of smoothing things out, rendering environments more realistically, and bringing NPCs to life. The increase in realism really brings out the bustling life in Clock Town, and once you start branching out into Termina’s overworld, the natural environments are more lush and beautiful than they’ve ever been. Just as with the OoT remake, the controls are a natural fit coming from the N64 controller to the 3DS; I was worried that it would feel like my inventory was a bit of a tight fit, given that this game has you balancing masks and weapons and there are no c-buttons to assign items to, but the touch screen features two slots, I and II respectively, that serve as good options for items used less frequently, like a mask, compared to your bow and arrow, which I always have assigned to a button.
It becomes apparent rather quickly, especially for players becoming acquainted with MM for the first time, that this game has a lot going on around you, and that things are happening even without you being directly involved. While I was busying myself with starting the Southern Swamp, I was also finding myself wanting to start the side quests and to explore the overworld. One of the first changes you’ll encounter early into the game is that the Happy Mask Salesman gives you the Bomber’s Notebook, rather than receiving it from the Bombers (a change I found odd and frankly unnecessary), and that there are many more entries in the Bomber’s Notebook than in the original version of the game. People involved in certain side quests that you get introduced to get added into the book, but if you aren’t able to help them at a certain moment in time the book records your “failure” to help, giving you incentive to go back later and attempt to complete that side quest with that person. The Bombers supply you with town gossip relating to side quests, which also get tracked in the book to look into further at a later time. Overall the Bomber’s Notebook seems to play an even larger part of the game, as it’s in constant use and information is being added to it more frequently than in the original game.
Since we’re on the subject of changes within the game, one of the most welcome additions to MM3D are new save statues called feather statues, in addition to the owl statues (some of which have been moved around) that veteran players are used to. Granted, I feel like if I was able to get through the game at 10 years old without having accommodations made for me to make things easier or more accessible, then someone playing in 2015 should be able to do the same, but I also won’t say I wasn’t taking full advantage of being able to save more frequently, and a lot more easily. Also, the two different save methods – quick save at an owl statue or go back to day 1 and lose your stash of rupees and items – have been changed and you can now save at an owl statue or save statue without having to worry about which save method to utilize. Conveniently, the bank has been moved right across from the owl statue in Clock Town, which makes for a quicker trip to save rupees. Jumping around in time has been tweaked a bit as well; when playing the Song of Double Time, you can now choose which hour you’d like to jump ahead to, rather than simply moving from day to night, and you can set personal alarms so you can keep track of events within the game (so now you can make sure you won’t be late in stealing that innocent Goron’s room at the inn, you selfish person, you). The Song of Time no longer saves your progress, as was mentioned above, but simply returns you to day 1 with no items. And of course, don’t forget that fishing is now a part of MM3D, with two fishing holes that have 10 different varieties of fish to catch.
Boss battles have experienced some of the biggest changes, with every boss now featuring an obvious weak spot, as well as changes to the overall fight and the methods you will have to use to take them down. I’ll preface my next sentence with a warning that if you want to see the changes yourself without me ruining it for you, stop reading now. This change caught me off guard in my battle with Odolwa; gone is the boss chamber with the elevated boardwalk, replaced with a room with a flat floor, numerous deku flowers, and a giant glowing eye on the back of Odolwa’s head. I had to figure out how to beat him, and I’m pretty sure my method was the right way to do it, but it felt like a change that didn’t need to have been made. Satoru Iwata and Aonuma explained that the original game was too “unreasonable” in that the weak points of the bosses weren’t obvious, and that many people attacked the bosses randomly rather than knowing how to take them down properly, making some of the bosses particularly tough. Again, I see this as more of Nintendo’s neurotic hand-holding to make tough games more accessible, which bothers me – if a game is hard, it’s hard, and if you have to go through some trial and error to figure stuff out, rather than having things spelled out for you with glowing weak points, consider it an opportunity to build some character. Majora’s Mask isn’t an “unreasonably” hard game, it just presents more of a challenge than Ocarina of Time, in a very welcome and innovative way, boss battles included.
The things I looked forward to the most with MM3D were experiencing again the dark, foreboding story, and the fascinating character development within the side quests. MM explored themes of death and regret, love, friendship and loneliness, true evil, and time in ways that OoT didn’t, often on a much darker and, sometimes, more disturbing level. It’s safe to say that Nintendo hasn’t taken a Zelda title in this direction since MM, with Twilight Princess being the most comparable but still not quite as brooding. The conclusion to the Anju/Kafei side quest alone is one of the most heartbreaking/heartwarming stories within any Zelda game, not to mention incredibly impressive in its scope, which spans the entire 3 days of the game. MM also introduced some of the most memorable and mysterious characters into Zelda canon that Nintendo has yet to re-explore (which enrages me), like the Fierce Deity, Majora, and Keaton, to name a few. And MM is the only Zelda game where you can save cows from incoming aliens in the middle of the night – “weird” is perhaps another theme we can give MM credit for exploring.
Majora’s Mask 3D is as close to a perfect remake as a developer can hope to get in breathing new life into one of their most loved, respected titles. Rather than simply porting MM to the 3DS with better graphics and tweaked play controls for the handheld, Nintendo considered what they felt could be improved in the gameplay mechanics and delivered a solid homage to the title they’ve often overlooked since the game’s release 15 years ago. While I may not totally agree with some of the changes, I don’t hate any of them, and do feel that most of them make the overall experience a little less stressful while working within the 3-day time limit. I highly suggest adding Majora’s Mask 3D to your 3DS library, especially if you’ve never played it. Then you’ll finally understand why so many Zelda fans often find themselves divided between Team Ocarina and Team Majora for who takes the crown of being the best Zelda title in the franchise.