Time, how much do you have? How much do you waste? How much are you in control of it all? Probably not much, too much, and not enough, for time is what controls us all. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is all about the ticking clock, reminding us all that maybe tomorrow we’ll have to deal with a falling moon. Or tax returns.
Just shy of sixteen years old, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask still manages to stay fresh, its expiration day still a long way off, largely thanks to the daring mechanics the game embraces. After the incredible epic Ocarina of Time, the Zelda team were challenged to put together a sequel in a far shorter length of time. With the pressure in place, something smaller was obviously on the cards, and rather than make a harder remix of Ocarina as originally planned, Majora’s Mask came about. A smaller world, a smaller selection of dungeons, and a reuse of the prior games assets was the result of it all. But thanks to the inclusion of time, and a spark of imagination, Majora’s Mask managed to stand out as something completely different.
The basic premise of Majora’s Mask is to stop the moon from falling within three days, thus saving the world from instant death. But three days isn’t three real human days, nor is it the only shot you get, with time manipulation thrown in to gain full control other a timer which initially seems incredibly daunting. Daunting to the point in which players gave up very early into the adventure. If they gave it just a little more time… well, I guess that’s just how things go.
With the ability to fast forward, slow down, and return to the first day, Link can plan each three-day cycle carefully, deciding if side quests, exploring, or tackling one of the humongous dungeons should be on the agenda. With the ocarina, there is more than enough time to accomplish what you set out to do, too much time even, which provides plenty of down time to take in the rather sombre atmosphere of a world about to fall in complete destruction.
On the surface you see characters following their set daily routine, but if you follow them around, it soon becomes apparent how many secrets are being hidden. The postman who wants to flee but can’t break his routine, the innkeeper seeking out her fiance in hopes of uniting before the moon hits, and the cocky swordsman who can be found cowering in his back room expressing an intense fear of death are just a few examples of the sort of darkness that can be encountered. Lighter moments do exist amongst all this, but the deeper you dig into someone’s side story, the more the harsh reality of everything sets in. Few video games handle such topics with such subtlety, it was impressive sixteen years ago, it’s still impressive today.
But despite the game standing fairly well through the passage of time, just like the rest of us, it’s gained a few wrinkles, a few unsatisfactory quirks. It’s greatest strength, and its greatest weakness is the same thing; time.
When tackling the four main dungeons, it’s easy to manage time. You set out to one corner of the game world, learn about the problems, deal with a number of set pieces, tackle a dungeon like area, then make it to the actual dungeon. There is plenty to achieve before making it to one of the temples, but with time slowed down, it’s easily achievable. The temples then can be tackled on a new three-day cycle, thanks to each area having handily placed warp statues. Once you make it to the destination, all you have to do next time is warp and play the newly learnt song. That’s how it goes, and there is plenty of time to be stumped by gravity switching and water flow changing in the temples without the moon jumping in and crashing the party. The threat is always there, but it acts as tension rather than frustration.
It’s the side quests which are the problem though. These are the events which provide the more interesting moments of the game’s story, and any sane player would most certainly want to see them all through to the end. A handy notebook helps players know what time they need to be doing something, and a mix of slowed down time, normal time and skipping past a day or a night helps get you were you want to be without too much waiting around. Yet waiting around is inevitable, and constant.
You might skip ahead to the second day to sneak into a house, but you can only times you can skip to are 6am and 6pm. If an event won’t trigger till 3pm, well, you’re going to have to wait it out. There isn’t enough time to do something else in the meantime, but there is too much time to make the wait feel painless. As a child it’s too easy to be engrossed in the games magic, how it makes Clock Town seem like such a real place, but now, we’re all too impatient and conscious of our own limited time. It’s a niggle, but a fairly big one if you only have an hour to spare. Thanks the lord, or whoever you want for the Wii U version having save states.
The game has been remade for the 3DS though, and I believe that version fixes some of these issues, making this Wii U virtual console release a release purely for the sake of a release. It’s a cheaper option for those who want to go back in time, and the core of what made the game great in 2000 is still present in 2016, but if you have a 3DS knocking about somewhere, it might be worth opting for that version. Might save yourself a whole lot of… you know. I wonder how often the t word came up in this little write-up? I don’t have ____ to go through it and count…