The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is my favorite game in the series. If I were asked why, I don’t know if I could give a truly cohesive answer to the question, but I’m going to try and explain here and now. With all my blogs based on a specific game or series, I’ll start with my personal history of the title in question, just so you understand my mindset as I explain the aspects of the game that won me over. So come with me dear reader, take hold of a mask, embrace our Terrible Fate, and join me in a journey to Termina, a land doomed to end without intervention.
I have never owned a physical copy of Majora’s Mask. Before we talk about that however, we need to go back to 1999, I had gotten an N64 used from GameStop, along with a copy of Ocarina of Time (a cart I treasure, because it’s a grey, not for resale version 1.0 cart with a stamp that according to the various sources out there say it should be 1.1, yet the 1.0 exclusive glitches work on it.), of which I played extensively. I even accomplished a 3 heart, mandatory power-up only run with no deaths on the save file. It was my first N64 game, and even now, as other carts get traded in to my indie game store or sold to friends, I keep this one with me, because of the rarity and its importance in my gaming life. So anyway one day I was surfing the net at school during some free time and I came across a trailer for something called “Zelda Gaiden” at the time by sites like IGN. I have included the trailer below.
I watched the ever loving hell out of this trailer, picking apart each detail, getting more and more excited for the eventual game to come, which would be dubbed “Majora’s Mask.” Yet I never owned a cart of this game, how is this possible? Well I was still a full time student, I didn’t get allowance growing up, and had no job, so income for me was birthday and Christmas (which are two weeks apart) to get stuff, and I’d forget about the game after it came out, strangely enough. My first actual playtime with the game was through rental (in fact, it was this rental cart that I beat the game for the first time on). The first week’s rental kind of went to waste, and it was because of an admittedly stupid reason, see I was used to the trading system in Ocarina of Time, so when I got to the “take the potion to the injured witch in the woods” part of the game, my brain never made the connection that I’m supposed to give the potion while the prompt telling me to do so was still on screen. I thought the text box was like all the ones in Ocarina and the ones from before in this game too, where you could only hit A to continue the text. So I ended up returning the game, still stuck in the swamp.
(This scene, this freaking scene prevented me from progressing for a whole week because of the change in the giving system.)
Upon my second rental, I don’t quite remember how (maybe I looked online for help) but I eventually figured it out and continued playing. Then I hit the Stone Tower Temple, and again was stuck, not because of some change in how the game played, but in the puzzles, couldn’t figure it out. When I brought the game to my friend’s house, we figured out the devious temple together, and watched the end of the game together. It would be years before I’d get to play the game again, when I rented it again and beat it a second time (I believe, I recall beating the game twice). Then nothing until the Virtual Console release. I bought that sucker day one, and it’s been on my Wii (and now Wii U) ever since, even though I’ve not played through to the end again, and probably won’t for another two weeks as of the time of this writing. Now, with the release of both the New Nintendo 3DS (Still a stupid name, I’m still going to call it 3DS+ or Super 3DS, and I have the New Red one on pre-order) and Majora’s Mask 3D just 13 days away, I have a reason to once again relive the bleak, atmospheric adventure in Termina.
(Soon...Soon I will have you.)
What I love about the game
So now the hard part about this blog, explaining why this game is my favorite. As you can see, I’ve had an interesting past with it, I’ve only seen the ending on a rental cart, and the 3DS remake is the only physical version of this beloved classic I’ve owned, so how is it my favorite over the likes of Ocarina of Time, and even A Link to the Past? Pardon me while I ramble about various things in the game.
To start with, it didn’t start out as my favorite, I loved the game when I played it, but I wasn’t sure it was my favorite back in the day. One day, about a year or so before the release of the Virtual Console version, I came across a blog on a Zelda fan site. After reading through the blog, I realized just how much care and love and backstory and lore were placed in Termina, a world doomed, a world you spend only three days in (even if it’s over and over). It was then I realized that Majora’s Mask was my favorite. It took what was familiar with the Zelda series and went into an all new structure (that even today has not been replicated, it truly is unique) with the darkest and most mature story in not only the series but quite possibly in most of gaming.
Sure, we have had ‘dark’ games before. A game where you and your partner, the last two of a rare, elite group of fighters dedicated to fighting and ending an uprising of dark creatures led by a demon? Been there. A game where the game area is destroyed by nuclear war or radiation and mankind is trying to survive in this new and overly hostile world? Yup. How about a game where the end is imminent at all times, where the people of the world are all divided and even fighting with each other out of doubt and self-regret over their past mistakes? With Majora’s Mask, you got that.
Majora’s Mask is dark, but it also knows that along with dark, other things can happen. A game can be dark, but also have humor in it (Tingle, despite his creepiness as a 38 year-old “forest fairy” is quite a humorous character in a world like Termina). It knows to have touching moments, to give your quest meaning, to give it reason to keep going (a certain mask is the best example of this). You have personal investment in saving the world, because of the way you are introduced, you are given a personal stake in the events because the hero is attacked, robbed, transformed, and shown just how evil the force poisoning the world is. The player decides to stop them not only to return to normal, but also because now that the evil of this world went after you, you have the want to bring the force to justice, which means saving Termina while doing so, and the best way to do that is to help others, learn from their lives, and grow stronger with the experiences gained from helping them.
The world itself also feels more believable in terms of detail. Hyrule Field, while amazing for when Ocarina of Time released, was also kind of…empty. Termina by comparison might be smaller, but it’s more detailed, each area shows off the history of the world and gives you a feeling of “this world has been here, and has been lived in,” especially with the ancient, dead kingdom that occupies the Ikana Canyon. This also goes into the gameplay. Majora’s Mask only has the four dungeons, and the items you get for the miniboss fights are the bow and elemental arrows. All of the other items you acquire over the course of the quest all come from elsewhere, so their use is incorporated into the actual world design. You can’t access Snowhead without the bow, or Ikana without the hookshot for instance.
There is also of course the very core of the game too, the masks. Termina is a land that celebrates and treasures masks. Some of the most important events have some form of mask to go with them. We only see 27 masks over the course of the game (you get 24 if you do the side quests, the sun and moon masks, and then the villain, Majora’s Mask itself) and each serves some form of purpose, or has some meaning to the person who gives it to you. Every mask you get, except for the Giants mask and Fierce Deity Mask is either a quest reward for helping someone, a tool to use to help accomplish something (that usually ends with another mask or item of importance) or both.
Then there’s the themes of the game as well. Many point to the idea of death and the five stages of grief, and it’s a neat theory, however I prefer the one listed in the article linked above. So much of the game is about helping people, healing the problems, healing the land itself. While you eventually have to go back in time and reset it all, the tools you acquire, the masks you gain, these are all permanent markers of your progress, and of the changes you’ve made to the world, somehow, some way, you get to keep these when you go through time, so somehow a piece of that change comes with you. Sure if you reset after helping Romani defend the ranch against aliens and don’t help she’ll get abducted and lobotomized, but yet, when you do finally save the world, you see she’s ok, all the help you do across the game, all the faith you instill, it carries over in the end, allowing all you’ve done to help Termina actually have meaning. For me, Majora’s Mask is more about healing and having faith in those around you, being brave enough to help when help is needed, and not the idea of death (although it is in there for sure, I just don’t think it’s the main focus).
Overall, Majora’s Mask is a special game to me. Following Ocarina of Time, a patent office for the gaming medium in a cartridge, there really wasn’t any way for Nintendo to top it, so allowing Aonuma to go off the rails and go crazy brought out a game that may have used a bunch of the same assets and similar controls, but it was a unique experience that is far more memorable than the story of Ocarina of Time (and that is no slam on OoT, that game was fantastic). Bizarre, touching, haunting, creepy, genuinely scary, bleak, unusual, deep, and gratifying are all words I’d use to describe it. Majora’s Mask is a masterpiece, and I’m overjoyed that the game is getting a second chance to get the love and acclaim it was too early for in 2000.
Oh boy, I can already tell this blog’s comments section could get ugly. It seems like mentioning this game just about anywhere causes drama, flame wars, insults and who knows what other dickery from any possible side of just about every viewpoint possible. This piece should be seen as my own personal viewpoint on this game and the company behind it, as it is for me to talk about my time having known about Starbound and Chucklefish. I would like to note now that this is my personal opinion, and I could get some facts wrong. Many of the events that have transpired during this game’s development have made some people see things differently than others, or me and in this situation; it literally is the case of personal thought on the matters. As such, my feelings below and the terminology I use are mine alone on this topic. So without further ado, let’s get started with a simple question for those not in the know…
Also one extra note, sorry for the lack of pictures, this blog I feel, while long, doesn't lend itself well to having a bunch of screenshots I'd haveto go take.
Who the heck are Chucklefish?
Chucklefish are British independent game developer and publisher consisting of approximately 11 members. Currently they have two games in development, their first, Starbound, and a second project currently in early development, being made by four of the team members called Wayward Tide. Chucklefish is also a publisher for independent games such as Risk of Rain, Wanderlust, or (my personally most anticipated indie game CF is publishing) Stardew Valley. With this information in mind, it is time to begin looking into my history with the main show for Chucklefish, Starbound.
I will admit right here and now that I never really clicked with Terraria. Sure some of the weapons were neat to fling around and the soundtrack was cute but something about it, that I can’t put my finger on always held me back from just totally enjoying myself. Maybe it was something with how the combat felt, or how you had to mine one tiny….tiny block at a time, or had to make a separate wall piece for the back of your structures. I don’t know but while the game was fun, it just never clicked like Minecraft did.
What is my history with the development of Starbound?
It was mid-2012 when I first heard of Starbound, though for the life of me I don’t remember where. I want to say it was from Destructoid, but I honestly don’t remember. What I do remember is eventually finding my way to the site, and the lighting demo, and that piqued my interest. As the weeks came and went, and more details emerged, I began to get excited for the project. After all it looked similar to Terraria (With the project lead, Tiy, being one of the artists on the original Terraria) in many ways, except it also felt different from it, even when looking at the videos. The sprites were larger, it felt more carefully animated than Terraria (seriously, whenever I walk in that game I feel like I have three legs from how the sprite is animated) and it was set in space.
Space games and I go together you see, I have loved the idea of exploring space and different planets in video games for a long time, sadly Privateer was before my time and patience to play it had come, so I missed out on that classic. My first true love of the open space game would probably be Freelancer, my word that game is awesome. Evochron Mercenary would follow. Being an almost entirely solo effort indie game featuring a fully open galaxy for you to do whatever in (really, you can travel from one end of the game’s space area to the other on conventional drives alone with no loading times, though that would take a really, REALLY long time). The game was also the first time I experienced being able to freely fly down to a planet and explore the surface without needing to load a new map, but I’m getting off track here.
Anyway, Starbound had the exploration/survival thing in space, which helped the idea click in my head and make me wait anxiously for pre-orders to come up. In April 2013, they did as a crowd funding, Kickstarter like style, which also doubled as your pre-order for the finished title. On the 17th, I placed my own order in, and then the waiting game began, would we get to play the early beta that summer? Oh, it would be awesome. That awesome however did not happen, at least not in summer. Turned out Chucklefish had bitten off more than they could chew, and went basically completely quiet for a few months, which brought about concern and ire from quite a few members of the community (I was vocal about this too, though not in a hateful way.)
Come November, Chucklefish had started talking again and they decided to change their estimated release date of 2013 to only having the beta out in that year. Considering they were so sure they would have the game out that year, many of us voiced our concern with the sudden change. My opinion feels like CF got in over their heads with this project, a huge, procedurally generated universe exploration game is quite the vast idea, and with a new-start company and small team working on it, there was no way the game was going to be ready, and so we waited. In late November the beta plan was released. The idea was to have it in three stages, the first stage being quick and relentless updates to the game, the second stage would be more stable, but have regular updates, with the third stage being the final push to finish the base experience.
Chucklefish asked the community to decide how to do this. Taking into consideration that a DRM-Free version of the game is to be made, but patching it there and on Steam would be quite the hassle, so they put up a vote in the official forums, where having Steam be the only version until at least stage two was preferable, since updating would be easier that way. Therefore, the game went to the Steam Early Access program. The real surprise came on December 4th, when the beta went up. The game was rough around the edges, but for the groundwork, it was quite enjoyable.
For a while, updates did come quick, hot fixes, stability, optimization fixes, they all came with great speed, the issues were that each update was large, about 500MB due to the files having to be replaced, and the fact that many of the updates wiped saves, so players had to start over. While this understandably upset people, the developers did make it clear that wipes would happen during this time, as is the case with a game still in heavy development. As the updates came, people started to complain more, so the updates became slower but more content came with each. Sadly the populace couldn’t be satisfied, so CF made the choice to stop updating on either the Stable branch and Unstable branch altogether, focusing on getting what they want in a 1.0 release done, eventually starting up a nightly branch, so players could see and test out the new stuff as it was worked on.
Therefore, from about April on, the game saw no updates to the two main branches, which caused even more hatred from people, especially on the Steam forums, since the devs seem to basically ignore those forums. Personally, I think not doing any updates during this time was a large mistake on their part, since they were overhauling the combat and things, these new core features, once finished, should have been pushed out to unstable and eventually stable as soon as possible. Not helping this gap in updates was the fact the entire time moved to their new office space, some coming from other countries.
As of this writing, the unstable branch has gotten the big update, what will become 1.0 once all the content is complete. (The core mechanics and features are in, but some balancing, tweaking, optimizing needs to be done, along with putting the true content where there are currently placeholders.) It took 8 months to get this update, but it is on its way, and hopefully it will be pushed to stable soon. Now some people say “Oh but the modders already did this but better!” To that I say, “When HASN’T a modder made something better than the default game.” This is especially true in the Elder Scrolls games, modding is what keeps those games alive and loved by so many. Anyway this is the my personal explanation of the history of Starbound’s development (I know I left out a couple things, like Omni’s meltdown, but that’s another thing I’d rather not look up to type more on, there’s already enough here at over 1000 words already and I haven’t even talked about the game itself yet.)
So, what is my opinion on the game in both the stable and unstable state?
To answer this question I must first mention the game’s price point. The lowest tier (Pixel) on the official website (with the purchase handled by the folks of humble bundle) costs $15 USD. For that money a person gets access to the beta (A steam key), a DRM-Free copy when they finally bring that out, and the soundtrack. As a soundtrack junkie, the OST alone is worth the price, it is a wonderful soundtrack that the current version (I thankfully saved the previous version, with has a bunch of removed experimental tracks in it) has 60 tracks to it clocking in at an impressive 5.7 hours of music.
As for the game itself, well… the stable branch is still bare bones, what is there is a building/survival/exploration sandbox with multiple planets and a couple bosses. The basic, rough framework is there, and it’s fun, but the last year hasn’t been easy on it. The unstable branch however is a different story. It’s like a new game, there’s actually goals in the beginning now, and the framework has been redone to better resemble a game, and even some of the content is now in. It’s finally starting to take shape, and soon it will be at the point where it can be called 1.0, however that’s not the end, as Tiy has already said that new stuff will be made for a year after 1.0 hits (which is when the stretch goals of pets and fossils will be added). It has been a rough year for Starbound, but things are finally starting to improve with this latest update.
I will be the first to admit that Chucklefish haven’t handled things perfectly during the last two years. They have made many mistakes, from putting out a confident guess for the final game’s release, going silent for months, to many other things. They are starting to improve I believe. The main site is updated almost every day with new information on the current developments for the game, and with this update now in unstable, it’s close to finally hitting the big 1.0, and I can’t wait. I understand the anger people have with Chucklefish, and I fully can see where they are coming from. I’ve gotten mad at them too over the last couple years, but in my mind, as long as I get a 1.0 Starbound, (and fossils and pets later on), I’ll be happy, as that is what I purchased with my pre-order (I did get mine before it went to early access, sadly things changed a bit with this transition). My main hope is that Chucklefish learns from this game’s development, and learn how to do things better with future projects, and hopefully all those people who are angry with CF, but love Starbound, will be able to look at all this and see it as a new company’s growing pains.
I will close with the following statement to Chucklefish, who I am sure won’t read this:
“Chucklefish, while you’ve angered me in the past, and I have been vocal on the forums of your mistakes, mostly in the missed 2013 date (which I don’t call a lie personally but I do understand why people think that way on this), I have given you the benefit of the doubt because I love Starbound. It is an amazing thing and I can’t wait to see it done. However, this game’s rocky development is your one shot with me, if this kind of thing happens again with your future projects, like Wayward Tide, I will not be afraid to say that Starbound will be my only Chucklefish developed game. Consider this your friendly warning.” (I still cannot wait for Stardew Valley though.)
Anyway, I think that is about all I can say on the matter now. It didn’t turn out like I formulated in my mind, but then again my original idea was going to point out every mistake I feel CF made and put my thoughts on how I would have done things differently. Aside from not announcing an estimate on anything more than the beta, and released a couple updates to help shape the stable branch’s core to the current unstable version’s set, there’s not a lot I can really say beyond being more vocal about things.
If you are still with me all the way down here than thank you for taking your time to read this rambling thing, I just hope this doesn’t spawn a series of arguments or insults to anyone.