Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ghost's Arcade: Thoughts on Majora's Mask

"You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you?"

Ghost here, thanks for joining me.
As with any product or service, there are going to be items that you, as the consumer, are not going to enjoy.  That is an inevitable part of the human experience; you can’t please everyone.  As a gamer, I have come across many unsavory games.  Many of these games I have outright ignored as I could tell they weren’t worth my time to begin with.  Many of my gaming friends tend to agree with me on most games I dislike such as Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories and The Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass.  However, there is still one game out there which I have despised since my youth which everyone claims to be a masterpiece.  This game is The Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask.

Let’s rewind the clock to 2004 shall we?  At this time, I was seventeen years old and had only really been gaming for about three years.  Most of my gaming experience was Pokemon, Star Wars, and Super Smash Bros.  During this time, I started to branch out into other games based on my liking for the characters in Smash.  I picked up an N64 cartridge of Ocarina of Time at some point prior to 2004, and fell in love with the game and it’s intuitive and incredibly fun nature. When 2004 rolled around I noticed something on the used shelf at my local Gamestop.  The Legend of Zelda Collector’s Edition for the Gamecube had caught my eye.  Not only did it have Ocarina which I loved and now wouldn’t have to disconnect my Gamecube to reconnect my N64, but it also had three other games in the series.  Eventually I got around to Majora’s Mask and… I absolutely hated it!  Instead of this wide open world with tons of things to explore and do in an easy to understand method, I was shoved into a small world that was mostly cut off and no idea what in the name of all things holy I was supposed to be doing.  To top it off there was a rapidly decreasing time limit!  This was in the days where information wasn’t quite as readily available online as it was today and as such I was lost; this eventually caused me to rather hate the game and I didn’t pick it up again for years.

I know at some point probably around 2009 I attempted the game again but I still found it just as confusing and just as unforgiving with its time limit as I still didn’t have enough time to do anything even with a more competent guide found online.  I decided to just ignore its existence despite so many people telling me I should love the game, and I shelved it to never touch it again…or so I thought.  Jump to 2016 and my friend KoD who regularly appears on this blog had gotten the 3DS remake of Majora’s Mask and had fallen in love with the game.  He pressed upon me to re-play the game or purchase the 3DS version as he felt I would enjoy it more now that I am a seasoned gamer and would like the enhancements made by the 3DS version.  Being the Scrooge that I am, I chose to simply replay the Gamecube version so I wouldn’t have to buy the game again.  What did I discover?  Well…

…but maybe not as bad as I originally thought

There were times in which I was surprised, times in which I wanted to strangle something, and times in which I was actually having fun.  Now that I’m older I can more easily and logically examine exactly why I still feel that this is still a bad game.  That’s the purpose of this post… examining what I learned upon my latest playthrough of Majora’s Mask.

What I Did Wrong

The lack of enjoyment while playing a game can come from simply not playing it the right way.  Games generally have a right way and a wrong way to play; you may be able to finish the game doing it the wrong way but it’ll certain make life harder.  For example, you can easily screw up something like Fire Emblem by not checking your surroundings and map before-hand.  Running head first into the enemy is suicide in those games.  I found that I had been doing a couple things wrong in Majora’s Mask when I was younger.

My first problem was trying to organically play through the game and figure it out.  While I’m sure there are some people out there who could pick up this game and know what they are supposed to do, it became obvious to me that this is the type of game where you absolutely need a guide.  I’m not talking about just grabbing one and reading a few sentences at a time.  No, this game is the kind of cryptic game that you honestly need to sit down and read the guide far ahead of time and almost study it like you would a test.  Many of the side quests give you excellent items or upgrades but you wouldn’t have any idea how to get them if you didn’t know what you were supposed to do.  When I played through this time, I would pause the game and not restart till I had read through at least half of the whole guide page off the Zelda Dungeon... twice if necessary.  Knowing exactly where I was supposed to go and what I was supposed to do aided me greatly.  Trying to just figure it out like I had done with Ocarina of Time was not a valid option.

My second problem was not having the scarecrow dance through the day/night.  Nowhere is it mentioned within the game that you should be talking to the scarecrow and piddling away twelve hours of your precious time.  You only have a set amount of hours that go away at the speed of light, so why would you purposely skip twelve whole hours?  Well if you happen to do this early, you will be taught the Song of Double Time and the Inverted Song of Time.  The Inverted Song of Time is an absolute life saver!  I wish that something in the game has prompted me to speak to him when I was younger because it truly is a necessary song to learn.  The Inverted Song of Time slows down time to around 1/3rd of its speed allowing you to take a very long time to do things and still fit within the three-day time span.  In my previous playthrough I would generally be getting to the final boss with only a couple hours left on the night of the third day putting me in an absolute panic.  However, after playing the Inverted Song of Time, I was fighting the temple bosses on the afternoon or night of the first day only!  I wish I had known about this song when I was younger. 

What I Grew to Love

I started to have a mini-existential crisis as I was playing this game through this time because I actually found some elements that I truly enjoyed.

While I enjoyed messing around with the various masks before, I absolutely appreciate and adore them now.  Having such a wide variety of masks that modify how Link works or interacts with the world around him was a stroke of genius.  I also can now fully appreciate the stories behind the Deku, Goron, and Zora mask and how the spirits of those people have lived on through the masks to aid all of Termina.  The seemingly painful transformation process as their spirits are effectively ripped back into the land of the living for a short time.  Let’s not forget the personification of the willpower and suffering of Link and all Termina in the Fierce Deity Mask.  The masks are something that I truly love and I wish this mechanic would come back in a more prominent way sometime.

I loved the general atmosphere of this game.  It seemed familiar, with reusing existing assets from Ocarina of Time, but it also seemed very different and bleak.  The world was going to end as the Moon was slowly crashing down upon them.  There was absolutely nothing that anyone could do about this and throughout the three days everyone either flees or just accepts their impending death.  As the song says, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.  Most of the other Zelda games I have played, the world had seemed mostly fine and upbeat in a sort of “well this is just how it is now” attitude while moving on as if Ganon/Ganondorf hadn’t actually done that much.  In this game, you got to actually see consequence, panic, and gloom as if the world was truly going to end as each day passed.  This doom was on top of all the other natural disasters going on at each of the temples which would have already caused enough distress.  It’s an incredibly atmospheric game that is semi-unique in the Zelda series.  I only say semi-unique because in many ways, Twilight Princess would later capitalize on this feeling of dread as the places overrun by Twilight were extremely depressing and full of atmosphere.

Lastly, I enjoyed the game when it was being Zelda and not trying to be something else.  When the sort of random nonsense that was usually left to optional side quests became the focus of certain portions of the game I wasn’t enjoying myself.  When it was being Zelda, just walking around trying to gain access to temples and going through temples defeating enemies and bosses I was really having a good time.  The entirety of the Woodfall Temple and the whole segment of getting the Goron Mask and gaining access to the Snowhead Temple were two of my favorite parts of the game because the felt like Zelda and they felt not only really well planned but well executed.  If the game had featured more standard Zelda goodness I might have even been able to say this was a good game but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

Why I Still Don’t Like It

Now we’ve come to the real “meat” of the article.  While I did find 3 things I thoroughly enjoyed about the game and found 2 things I had done wrongly that would have increased my enjoyment, I still dislike this game.  Why?

First off is this game’s increased focus on side quests.  Now hold on to those keyboards because that’s not the whole reason!  Having an abundance of side quests is generally a good thing as it adds depth to the characters and situations while lengthening the gameplay.  This in and of itself is a good thing.  However, the fact that you have no idea what is going on through 80% of the game is what turns a good thing into a bad thing.  Certain portions of various side quests can only be done at certain times on certain days.  If you don’t waste a full 3-day cycle of following people around and figuring out what they do and when they do it (or find a guide telling you when to do what) then you’re hopelessly lost.  Now if these side quests were purely optional things then I wouldn’t be complaining.  While they still are somewhat optional, the benefits they provide make the majority of them worthwhile especially if you wish to get the Fierce Deity Mask for the final battle.  It’s just a pity that the process of doing these side quests is seemingly random unless you break the organic playing of the game and just read a guide telling you where to go and what to do at what point in time.  Now I do believe that this has been somewhat helped in the 3DS version by the updated Bomber’s Notebook actually providing people’s schedules but it’s still a headache if you don’t just follow a guide.

There are a few gameplay parts that really bothered me as well.  First being that L-Targeting is really unresponsive.  I never had this problem in Ocarina, Wind Waker, or Twilight, but I sure have them here.  Half of the time I’m trying to target the one and only thing you can target in the room and the game just decides that it can’t be bothered to help you out there.  Also, earlier I mentioned how when the game wasn’t being Zelda I wasn’t having fun.  Here is what I was referring to.  When gaining access to the monkey in the Deku Palace, it stops being Zelda and starts being flying Metal Gear Solid.  While there was a section of stealth in Ocarina of Time, it didn’t involve an aerial section with enemies knocking you off of your platform or out of the air with ease before you could even get close to attacking them.  This, of course, forced you down into the regular stealth portion below causing you to go all the way around the palace and start again.  Any enemies you had taken out will respawn.  When you get into the Snowhead Temple, it becomes Sonic’s Drunken Spin-Dash.  You have to curl up as a Goron and roll around to get past certain areas of the temple.  Unfortunately, simply rolling in a straight line is way too much for the big guy and he just ends up swerving off to the right or left of the small platforms you have to cross.  It was at this point after spending close to 12 hours of slowed-down in-game time trying to cross one single bridge that I just turned off the power and shelved the game again.  I’d seen enough to make this post.

There are two major core mechanics of this game, masks and time travel.  While the masks are brilliant, every single thing I am about to say for the remainder of this section can be boiled down to the latter of these core mechanics, the time travel and it’s lack of sense thereof.  Where to begin….

In the game, when you reach the end of the third day and the Moon is crashing down upon you, you play the Song of Time to take yourself back three days to re-set the cycle and give yourself three more days to help save the world.  This means that EVERYTHING resets.  Any people you may have saved, any good that you may have done, any bosses or temples that you may have cleared instantly go back to the terrible state they were in before you even started.  This means that if for some reason there are a couple things to do for side quests that you didn’t have time to do in the previous three-day cycle you will have to do every single thing, including beating the temple boss, all over again to get the world back to a state where what you are wanting to do can actually happen.  Repetition for repetition’s sake is always a bad thing.  I know there wouldn’t be an easy way to fix that wouldn’t totally break the game’s intention but I absolutely hate having to do something over and over and over because you just have to re-do it over and over.  Needless repetition kills games and depending on how fast/good you are at this game you could be seeing a lot of repeats.

Earlier I mentioned that I loved the atmosphere of the game.  That being said, the atmosphere kind of dies some if you really sit down and think about it.  In Ocarina of Time, time was always progressing.  Although you could play the game for 900 hours or more and Ganondorf wouldn’t actually do anything to destroy the world, there was always the feeling that he could at any moment if you didn’t get your Hylian butt moving.  In this game, you know exactly when the world is going to end, and that it’s certain unless you find a way to stop it.  However, once you realize that you can go back to the morning of the first day at any point even seconds before the world’s destruction, it loses its urgency.  You could literally spend all day tossing arrows at guards, rolling around Termina field as a Goron, or just generally screwing around doing absolutely nothing to further the plot or side quests and it wouldn’t matter because the world isn’t going to end anytime soon for you.  You could spend 30 years’ worth of theee days roaming around Termina goofing off and being a douchebag because you can just sing your little song to give yourself three more days where nobody remembers anything you’ve done prior to.  It kind of takes you out of the magic of the whole thing.

Another problem I have in regards to time travel is how the items are handled in this game.  Why does Link suddenly lose any of his money or usable resources when he goes back in time yet he keeps others?  When it comes to time travel, it’s generally an all or nothing sort of thing.  Anything on your person in the TARDIS or the DeLorean would be brought with you to whatever time you are going to.  Alternately in the world of the Terminator, absolutely nothing comes back with you except your body and what you know…not even your clothes.
Why is this some sort of weird hybrid of the two?  I realize that going the Terminator route would NOT be the way to go at all, but why not bring everything back?  Why do we get to keep our bow, masks, bottles, hookshot etc when we travel back in time but we lose all of our money, bows, stick etc?  How does the bank work?  You started off the first day with NO money in the bank.  Now suddenly you’re back at that same point in time and you have money in the bank on the morning of the first day that you didn’t deposit in there till three days later?  This makes absolutely no sense and while it may be a bit of a nitpick to some this really bothers me about this game.

Last problem is kind of the biggest problem of all.  In the end, it seems as though you really haven’t done anything.  You’ve spent hours upon hours playing this game and doing its little dance around the same three days multiple times and for what?  The work you had done in the temples ends up being credited to the various races living near those temples and you don’t really get a chance to relish in them being cleared from evil as you have to deal with the moon.  Once you start dealing with the moon, you play a song which causes giants to appear who stop the moon from crashing down (and taking full credit for that as well) and then you’re off to the moon to stop Majora’s Mask all on your own.   You don’t get any sort of congratulation.  You don’t get any sort of feeling that what you’ve done has really helped out people because once you beat Majora’s Mask, that’s it.  Game over!  You don’t get to see how Termina has changed because of the Moon being stopped.  Now, I don’t necessarily need the game to congratulate me or acknowledge my achievements, but as a gamer you want to feel as though what you’re doing has made a real difference in the world you’re saving.  Since every area you saved goes right back to being messed up the second you go back to the first day you lose that sense of making a difference in the world.  You lose that sense of making life better.  In theory, any temples that you didn’t re-fight the boss and any side-quests that you didn’t re-complete during the lead up the final time the moon approaches will remain in the terrible or unfinished state they were in because in that particular cycle you didn’t intervene.  It’s as if no matter how hard you try, there are always going to be leftover bad in Termina that you can’t do anything about.  In Ocarina of Time, once I took care of a temple boss, the area became healed and better.  Once you completing a side mission it was complete and you could see how people were aided because of you.  You could see that your efforts were paying off in the long run.  With this, the only thing that comes close is calling the giants to stop the moon from crashing down and... that's about it!  I mean sure the skull kid asks to be your friend but then both the mask salesman and the fairy tell you  "thanks for doing some stuff, now piss off."  All feelings of gratification are gone.  That’s ultimately what has made me continue to dislike this game.


If you truly enjoy this game and think it’s one of the best Zelda titles, then I fully understand.  I get how you can be sucked into the atmosphere and the unique mechanics.  I understand how the masks system is beyond amazing.  I envy your love for this game.  I went into this hoping that I could finally see the masterpiece that everyone keeps claiming this game to be.  I wanted to love and enjoy it like everyone else.  I wanted to stop despising this game, but… unfortunately that’s not what happened.  

Sure, I’ve downgraded my hatred, but I still don’t like it.  It’s move up in rank from my absolute least favorite Zelda game to my third least favorite Zelda game, beating out Zelda II, and Phantom Hourglass.  We do not speak of the CD-I games.  While my dislike has downgraded, I just can’t say that I enjoy it despite wanting to.  When you have such a big issue with one of the two core mechanics of the game there’s pretty much no hope of finding it enjoyable.  Hate to end this on such a downer note but, that’s just the way it is.

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness.

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