Review: Z-E-L-D-A. Five letters with the power to out sell any launch game for Playstation 2
The Legend of Zelda series is 15 years old spanning 5 major console games, and a gameboy game, that was updated with the release of GBC. The 5th console installment of the series is much along the same lines as the gameboy title in the essence that it does not follow the Princess Zelda/Gannon/Tri-force plot, and feels more like a side quest for the young adventurer Link. After the Zelda series made its breath taking 3-D debut on Nintendo 64 in form of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, it was hailed by many as ?Game of the Century? and received perfect or near-perfect scores by almost every gaming related publication out there. With the more or less death of the 64DD add-on, the new Zelda sequel would be released in cartridge format for the Nintendo 64. Originally dubbed ?Zelda: Gaiden,? the final US title of this game would be The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. This would be a real test for Nintendo, and the gaming world. Why, you ask? Miyamoto was suppose to have minimal involvement in the production of this title. His team was suppose to create a title that would fit in the realm of excellence of the past game with only suggestions and minor tips from the legendary video game master, Miyamoto. With great expectations could this game possibly live up to its predecessor?
Yes. Affirmative. Of course. With out a doubt. Anyway you want to put it, Majora's Mask is an outstanding game. As stated above the story is different than ?kidnap Zelda, beat Gannon, save Hyrule.? The story starts off with young Link riding his trusted horse Epona when he is attacked by Skull Kid wearing a mysterious mask along with his two fairies. Skull Kid steals a precious item from Link and transforms him into an undesirable Deku Scrub form. Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, Link's quest turns into a quest for masks, items, and powers through dungeons and sub-quests in order to accomplish his goals.
Collecting masks you ask? Well in Ocarina of Time there was a mask shop in which you could buy and collect a few masks that would vary a few interactions with people and objects, however no real important purpose. This idea of masks is the basis for MM (Majora's Mask). While you start in the aforementioned Deku scrub form, that is one of the three main metamorphoses that Link can undergo with the help of his masks. The three forms include Deku Scrub, Goron, and Zora. Link is able to change into these alternate forms with the aide of the respective masks that have to be earned in one way or another. Through out the game you must use these masks in various times in order accomplish certain goals and tasks. There is one final mask that will transform you into a final form however, don't expect me to give away one secret about it.
Included with the masks that cause transformation are other masks that need to be collected through out the game. Performing certain tasks can attain these masks, or more than likely complete an entry in a new feature called the Bomber's Notebook. This notebook has to be earned at the beginning of the game. Once you attain the notebook you will be able to meet with people and learn of their problems. Then by helping them with their problems at certain times, which is definitely not always an easy task, you can complete their notebook entry and earn certain items from them.
Perhaps the most important new feature in the MM is the 72-hour time system. The story line fits in with the fact that you will only have 72 hours in the game to succeed in all your missions before the Moon comes crashing to Earth. While the 72 hours pass much more quickly then real-time there are ways to slow down time and speed up time as you will learn later in the game. The time plays a significant factor in MM. Certain areas will only be attainable at certain hours upon certain days. People's moods will change depending on the day and the conditions of what is happening.
Time also plays a significant factor in the save system. Unlike Ocarina where the gamer can save his/her progress when ever it felt necessary by simply accessing the menu. The save function in MM is much different. You can save by A) going back in time to the first day, B) saving at an owl statue located at different locations around the world map. By going back in time you lose all dungeon progress if the dungeon is not completed, money, and any remaining arrows, bombs, deku sticks you had remaining. By saving with the owl statue, it will save all of your current data without changing anything, however once you save you must quit and when you go back into play the game the save will be lost. While this situation may seem a bit overwhelming for some, it does add some much needed difficulty over it's predecessor. Gamers must actually try hard to complete the tasks of a dungeon within the 3-day time limit.
The actual engine and controls are the same as Ocarina and shouldn't feel foreign to anyone who has played the previous adventure. With the exception of new abilities due to the various transformations and masks, the battle system is the same. There are many more enemies in the overworld, and four main dungeons within the game. There are so many sub-quests that it is impossible to measure the length of the game by the number of dungeons. The replay of this game is astounding due to all of the possibilities.
As far as graphics go, Zelda MM pushes N64 to its limit while utilizing the 4MB (required) expansion pak. The backgrounds and different locations are simply spectacular. While exploring around Clock Town (central location in MM), you get the feeling that you are exploring around a real town. As you take your first steps into Termina field surround Clock Town, you can see from here to forever. There is not a drop of fog to be found anywhere within Majora's Mask, and all of the scenery is beautiful. While I have a small gripe with the same character models used with different names, all-around this is a visually astounding game. While there is perhaps one or two instances in which a drop in frame rate could occur when too many enemies are on the screen for the fun machine to handle, these instances are few and far between and do not affect gameplay much at all. The 4MB expansion pak also has the job of keeping track of sometimes 50+ characters in the game, (no easy task) and proves that more memory doesn't necessarily only mean better graphics. Over all the visuals in Majora's Mask are some of the most impressive found on the system.
The words, or should I say music, gamers have been waiting to here. The original Zelda overworld theme has returned to MM after its most disappointing absence in Ocarina. On top of this wonderful addition, the music in Majora's Mask is incredible and without a doubt one of the best soundtracks on the N64, with the correct timing and tone to affect the mood and feeling of the game. The sound effects are also perfectly timed and give a great sense or realism to the game. Also, the playing of the ocarina and other instruments in different forms sounds great too. The different instruments fit the different transformations of Link well. While the midis could stand to technically sound a little better, the quality of the music and effects overshadow this minor flaw.