Majora's Mask is the sixth installment in The Legend of Zelda series and the second with 3D graphics. The game is set in Termina, an alternate version of the usual setting of Hyrule, where the Skull Kid has stolen Majora's Mask. Under the influence of this evil artifact, the Skull Kid causes the moon to head towards Termina, where it will crash in three days.
The gameplay is centered on a repeatedly played three-day cycle and the use of masks. Songs control the flow of time and open passages to the four temples that Link must complete. Unlike Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask requires the Expansion Pak, which provides more memory space for enhanced graphics and additional on-screen characters. Majora's Mask was generally well received by critics, who praised the improved graphics and deeper story compared to Ocarina of Time.
Unlike previous Zelda titles, Link can transform at will into different creatures: the Deku Mask transforms Link into a Deku Scrub, the Goron Mask into a Goron, and the Zora Mask into a Zora. Each form features unique abilities: Deku Link can perform a spin dash, shoot bubbles from his mouth, skip on water, and glide for a short time by launching from Deku Flowers; Goron Link can roll at high speeds, punch with deadly force, stomp the ground with his massive body, enter lava without damage, and weigh down heavy switches; and Zora Link can swim rapidly, throw boomerang-like fins from his arms, generate a force field, and walk on the floors of bodies of water. Many areas can be accessed only by use of these abilities.
Link and his three transformations receive different reactions from non-playable characters. For instance, the Goron and Zora are allowed to exit Clock Town, but the Deku Scrub is not permitted by the guards to pass because of his resemblance to a child. Animals also interact differently with the four forms of Link. For example, Link's normal form receives an indifferent response from dogs, Deku Link is attacked by dogs, Goron Link frightens them, and Zora Link makes them chase him happily.
Other masks provide situational benefits. For example, the Great Fairy's Mask helps retrieve stray fairies scattered throughout the four temples, the Bunny Hood allows Link to run faster, and the Stone Mask makes Link invisible to most non-playable characters and enemies. Less valuable masks are usually involved only in optional side-quests or specialized situations. Examples are the Postman's Hat, which allows Link access to an item hidden in a mailbox, and Kafei's Mask, which initiates a lengthy side-quest that offers several rewards. Other masks, such as the Fierce Deity Mask, can only be used in boss rooms.
Other uses for songs include manipulating the weather, teleporting between owl statues spread throughout Termina, and unlocking the four temples. Each transformation mask uses a different instrument: Deku Link plays pipes, Goron Link plays bongo drums, and Zora Link plays a fishbone guitar. Jackson Guitars created a limited edition 7-string replica of this guitar that was the grand prize in a contest in Nintendo Power.
During the three-day cycle, non-playable characters follow fixed schedules that Link can track using the Bomber's Notebook. The notebook tracks up to twenty characters in need of help, such as a soldier to whom Link delivers medicine, and an engaged couple who Link reunites. Blue bars on the notebook's timeline indicate when characters are available for interaction, and icons indicate that Link has received items, such as masks, from the characters.
Clock Town lies at the center of Termina and is the place Link starts from when he returns to the beginning of the three-day cycle. The centerpiece of Clock Town is the large clock on Clock Tower that counts down the three days before the Carnival of Time. Human activity is focused in Clock Town and the nearby Romani Ranch. Termina Field surrounds Clock Town; beyond lie a swamp, a mountain range, a bay, and a canyon in each of the four cardinal directions. The Southern Swamp contains a Deku monarchy and the Woodfall Temple, an ancient shrine containing monsters (including the masked jungle warrior, Odolwa) that have been poisoning the swamp. The Snowhead mountain range, north of Clock Town, is the site of Goron City. Normally a lush pine forest region, the area has been experiencing an unusually long winter caused by a masked bull named Goht in Snowhead Temple. The western area of Termina, the Great Bay, is the site of the Zora and Gerudo civilizations. A giant fish, Gyorg, is generating storms and contaminating the water surrounding the Great Bay Temple. The desolate Ikana Canyon, to the east of Clock Town, is the site of a former kingdom. It is inhabited mainly by the undead, except for a ghost researcher and his daughter, as well as a thief named Sakon. A pair of giant insectoid serpents known as Twinmold are casting a dark aura over the land from their nest in the Stone Tower Temple.
The annual Carnival of Time is central to the Terminian calendar. On this day, people wear handmade masks for good luck and walk along a walkway from the festival tower to the Clock Tower, where they sing an ancient song to the Four Giants to wish for a good harvest and luck in the year to come. Anju's grandmother tells Link that if a couple dedicates two masks to the sun and the moon and are married on the day of the festival, then their marriage will be prosperous.
Link follows the Skull Kid through the cave to Clock Tower in Termina. He meets the Happy Mask Salesman, who says he can help Link if he retrieves the Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask from the Skull Kid. They exit the Clock Tower in the center of Clock Town, which is preparing for the Carnival of Time. Link learns that the moon will crash into Termina in three days. He confronts the Skull Kid and Tael at midnight of the third day at the top of Clock Tower. He cannot take the mask, but he retrieves the Ocarina of Time and plays the Song of Time to send him back to when he first arrived in Termina.
The Happy Mask Salesman teaches Link the Song of Healing, which returns Link to his human form and leaves him with the Deku Mask. The Happy Mask Salesman tells Link that Majora's Mask grants its wielder's wishes, but possesses them with an evil, apocalyptic power. The ancient ones, fearing catastrophe, "sealed the Mask in shadow forever" to prevent its misuse. This tribe vanished and the origin and nature of the Mask was lost. The Skull Kid, possessed by Majora's Mask, is responsible for the moon threatening to destroy Termina.
Link travels between the Southern Swamp, Snowhead, the Great Bay, and Ikana Canyon. Link enters a dungeon in each, defeating a boss that gives Link the power of one of the four giants that can save Termina. When all four have been completed, Link calls the giants, who halt the moon's passage towards Termina. Majora's Mask rises from the Skull Kid and enters the moon. With the help of Tatl, Link follows and defeats Majora's Mask. The Four Giants return to their sleep and Tatl and Tael reunite with the freed Skull Kid. The Happy Mask Salesman takes Majora's Mask, saying that the mask has been purified and its evil power has been destroyed. Link rides away on Epona as the Carnival of Time begins. The game ends with a post-credits scene depicting a drawing on a tree stump of Link, Tatl, Tael, the Skull Kid and the four giants. As this picture is shown, a snippet of "Saria's Song" plays briefly in the background.
Majora's Mask first appeared in the media in May 1999, when Famitsu stated that a long-planned Zelda expansion for the 64DD was underway in Japan. This project was tentatively titled "Ura Zelda", with "Ura" translating roughly to "Hidden" or "Behind". This expansion would take Ocarina of Time and make changes to the level designs, similar to how the "second quest" of The Legend of Zelda expanded upon the original game. In June, Nintendo announced that "Zelda: Gaiden", which roughly translates to "Zelda: Side Story", would appear as a playable demo at Nintendo's SpaceWorld exhibition on August 27, 1999. The media assumed that Zelda: Gaiden was the new working title for Ura Zelda.
Screenshots of Zelda: Gaiden released in August show unmistakable elements of the final version of Majora's Mask, such as the large clock that dominates the center of Clock Town, the timer at the bottom of the screen, and the Goron Mask. Story and gameplay details revealed later that month show that the story concept as well as the use of transformation masks were already in place.
That same month, Miyamoto confirmed in a Famitsu article that Ura Zelda and Zelda: Gaiden were separate projects. It was unclear if Zelda: Gaiden was an offshoot of Ura Zelda or if the two were always separate. Ura Zelda would become the Master Quest outside Japan, eventually released on a bonus disc for the GameCube given to those that pre-ordered The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in the US and bundled with the GameCube game in Europe; a PAL/NTSC Nintendo 64 release was canceled due to the failure of the 64DD in Japan.
In November, Nintendo announced a "Holiday 2000" release date for Zelda: Gaiden. By March 2000, what ultimately became the final titles were announced: Zelda no Densetsu Mujura no Kamen in Japan and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask elsewhere.
The music was composed by Koji Kondo and Toru Minegishi, whose score featured new interpretations of familiar melodies from Ocarina of Time and other titles in the Zelda series, such as the recognizable "Overworld Theme". Fujiko Takimoto, who contributed to the voice of Link in Ocarina of Time, returned for Majora's Mask. Nobuyuki Hiyama, who voiced adult Link, contributed to the voice of Fierce Deity Link and Zora Link.
The game sold approximately 314,000 copies in its first week of sales in Japan, and has sold three million copies worldwide. Despite superficial similarities to Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask is often regarded as one of the darkest and most original titles in the Legend of Zelda series. Edge magazine referred to Majora's Mask as "the oddest, darkest and saddest of all Zelda games". Reviews were generally favorable, although opinions are mixed regarding whether the game is as good as its predecessor. According to Famitsu, "The difficulty level of the game is drastically improved [from Ocarina of Time], the limited saves, and the time limit to finish the game all help to make the game more enjoyable to play". N64 Magazine ended their review by saying, "it was told that Majora's Mask should cower in the shadow of Ocarina of Time. Instead, it shines just as brightly", awarding the game 96%. GameSpot said the game was much more difficult than its predecessor. IGN described Majora's Mask as "The Empire Strikes Back of Nintendo 64...it's the same franchise, but it's more intelligent, darker, and tells a much better storyline". GamePro characterized the story as "surreal and spooky, deep, and intriguing".
Majora's Mask was one of the last major titles for the Nintendo 64. Nevertheless, GamePro described the game as "living proof that the N64 still has its magic." It has been ranked the 7th-greatest game by Electronic Gaming Monthly, whereas Ocarina of Time was ranked 8th. Nintendo Power rated it the 15th best game on a Nintendo system.
One common criticism is that Majora's Mask is not as accessible as Ocarina of Time. GameSpot, giving Majora's Mask an 8.3/10, considerably lower than the 10/10 that was given to Ocarina of Time, wrote that some might "find the focus on minigames and side quests tedious and slightly out of place". Game Revolution wrote that it "takes a little longer to get into this Zelda", but also that "there are moments when the game really hits you with all its intricacies and mysteries, and that makes it all worthwhile.
Similar to several other GameCube re-releases, the game is not a port in the traditional sense, but rather the ROM image of the original game running on a software emulator. The only differences are the colors of the action buttons due to the GameCube's green A button and red B button and the pause screen's use and depiction of the L button as the left page scroller, as opposed to Z. Also, the manual states that due to the emulation some of the sounds have been altered from the originals. Aside from these, because it is only emulated (rather than altered for the new console), there are some timing discrepancies between the two consoles; some of the music sounds inaccurate on the GameCube and the frame rate is lower. The game also has a habit of freezing, unlike the Ocarina of Time port, causing unsaved data to be lost (this occurs much less often if the Rumble feature is off). Despite these problems, the GameCube version has a cleaner look because it runs at a higher resolution than its Nintendo 64 counterpart. In addition, the GameCube version supports component video connections and progressive scan (480p) or in PAL territories, 60 Hz.