So, itís my first Destructoid post since the start of the new year. One would think that such a weighty title would drive me to say something meaningful. Something with an overwhelming amount of merit, with the potential to shake the hearts and minds of gamers here and everywhere across the internet, i.e. the oft-ignored tenth realm of Norse cosmology.
So of course, Iím going to opt for a cop-out.
If youíve seen some of my other posts, you may know that a while back, I did a post
on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
, doing my best to defend and explain its thematic merit as well as declaring it to be one of my favorite games ever made, if not my definitive
favorite. UhÖwellÖI donít think thatís necessarily the case anymore. I had a feeling it would happen, considering that I hadnít played through any of the other Zelda
games in a long time (if at all). How could I decide my favorite game with so many options to choose from? And so many games needing a closer look?
So first on the list was Majoraís Mask
. It took a lot of digging and cord-finding to get all the necessary components (it doesnít help that my brother was remarkably blasť about helping to find the cords), but once all the pieces were in place like some significantly-less-lethal Voltron, I fired up the game and gave it a go. And what did I think of it? Well, in a nutshell, itís my new favorite game.
ÖIs what I WANT to say, but I canít. For about fifteen minutes (or rather, my time with Majoraís Mask
), I was more than willing to name it my Number One Game. But now itís impossible. Now I realize that I need to play through Wind Waker
to see if that game -- a game that Iím obligated to like now more than ever as a respite to the proposed brown-and-gray sludge-storm of the industry climate -- is everything Iíve ever wanted. And I know for a fact that if I end up clearing Wind Waker
, Iíll just end up naming that as my Number One Game for a few minutes before deciding that I need to play Ocarina of Time
. And then THAT might be my favorite game until I hunt down and accost my friend until he gives back that copy of Twilight Princess
I let him borrow a year and a half ago and has presumably gone untouched.
With the an updated version of Wind Waker
well on its way, I canít help but wonder if thereís even a point to trying to narrow it down my Number One Game. Instinct suggests that if the top slotís going to anything, itíll be a Zelda
game (or something like it, like Okami
); if not that, then I guess at the very least I can name my favorite Zelda
game. And by virtue of my hot dog-enriched mind, I can articulate why -- and maybe point out things that other gamers might have missed. Ergo, I played through Majoraís Mask
and did a pretty solid write-up of it. I consider my Skyward Sword
post to be one of my best, but the one I have up for Majoraís Mask is just as good, and maybe better. Relative to my skill level, of course.
Just one problem: this is where the ďcop-outĒ comes in.
Iím almost certain that if I were to add the post in full here, it would be too big for a Destructoid post; even if the word or character count doesnít carve a deep gash into the system itís still a lot to be reading in a single go. Couple that with some formatting issues, me actually trying to stay in character -- up to and including the whole thing being a dialogue with the titular mask -- uploaded videos (of suspect quality), and the fact that Iíve already got everything uploaded and working on my other blog without having to transfer here (because Iím too sleepy to try) means that Iím better off just saying ďhead over here for the real deal!Ē and leaving it at that.
So in general, if youíre eager to hear more about Majoraís Mask, you can abandon this post right now and head over to my main blog
-- i.e. where all three parts of the real discussion are uploaded and ready to be read at any time. And since itís three parts, that means you get breaks so you can grab a snack, or plan your campaign to hunt me down and flay me for making you read so much.
And yetÖwell, I feel kind of guilty about just linking to my blog and leaving it at that. This is Destructoid, and the community blogs therein; the object of the game is to talk about things here with this audience in mind, not just to pull them away to show how much of a pretty little snowflake you are. So I decided to opt for a different approach. You can look at my official Majoraís Mask
discussion at any time, and abandon this postÖOR you can stay here and keep reading as I do some additional jibba-jabba here. Or you could read both, butÖcome on. Sometimes selflessness can be suicidal.
So what can I say about Majoraís Mask
? I should start by saying that it really is a relic of the past. While the world is still fairly sizable -- at least large enough to surprise me and my 2013 sensibilities -- itís still not exactly massive. That applies to both its world and its total game time; I would assume that you can beat it in about a couple of days if you cleared your schedule. I suppose the key word here is ďexpediencyĒ; you can clear the prologue -- everything from the opening text to being able to walk into southern Termina for the first time -- in about an hour. Iím pretty sure there are some DS games where you spend that much time just learning which buttons do what. The same goes for conversations; I didnít exactly have a stopwatch going, but Iíd wager that only a few of them go on for more than two minutes. It really is remarkable what a difference a few generations can make, and how much a lack of power under the hood can change a gameís effect. It just feels so focused and direct; the fat has been trimmed for the sake of getting you back into your adventure.
Itís a design aspect that Iím thankful for, because it lets the player go from one memorable moment to the next. Oh, sure, the dungeons are all quite the trip (more on that in a minute), but there are lots of little sequences that help make the game. Personally, I think making mask acquisition is one of the most brilliant and devious things Nintendo has ever done besides unleashing Pokťmon upon the world. Getting the supremely-powerful Fierce Deityís Mask -- a transformative tool so powerful it makes clearing the last boss as easy as putting on a particularly-loose t-shirt -- is only made possible if you help the innocents of the game. Itís a tactic designed to force you to help othersÖor more than likely, a means to extend the game. But itís a good tactic, in that youíre rewarded more justly than just clearing a dungeon, or even earning your beloved mask.
I finished the game a couple of months ago (and before that watched my brother play through the game with a playerís guide in his lap), but there are still lots of scenes that stick with me to this day. Gorman breaking down into tears after hearing a certain song; forcing chicks to go through instant puberty by marching them along; Iíll always have a place in my heart for the Kamaroís Mask sidequest, in that I stood in front of the Rosa sisters and showed them the awesome power of dance by effectively saying ďCheck this shit out, ladies
Ē and doing moves that make the Macarena look sensible. Even beyond that, there are in-game moments that arenít tied to a mask; thereís Mikauís ballad just before his death, the Gorons collectively falling asleep as the elderís baby stops crying, the headless soldiers arguing in Ikanaís throne roomÖand thatís not even touching the horrifying events and implications spread liberally throughout.
It really is remarkable how much staying power MM
has in oneís mind -- a testament to the sidequest-driven, mask-reliant design philosophy, no doubt. I have a sneaking suspicion that if not for the masks, the game would be significantly shorter; with only four main dungeons compared to OoTís
eight (plus the latter has a full-fledged final dungeon, while the former has unconnected puzzle rooms), and IIRC a shorter development period, itís likely that shortcuts had to be taken. But this being a Zelda
game, those shortcuts ended up becoming a full-fledged element of the game in their own right, not just a distraction or a means to make completionists tear their hair out.
If youíll let me do a little guesswork (though I suppose you donít have a choice), I may have an idea as to why MM
-- or any Zelda
game, most likely -- is so easily and fondly remembered by many. Itís memorable because itís person-oriented
. Think about it: in the context of that game, we get to see people of all races and ages and classes reacting to the impending doom thatís literally hanging over their heads. We get to see glimpses of their daily lives -- quite literally, since a lot of them work on schedules -- and have an impact upon many of them in our quest for masks. Itís reminiscent of the much-maligned ďset piecesĒ of modern gaming, albeit on a different axisÖalthough itís because of that little facet that thereís a massive divide. After all, what are you more likely to remember and bond and align with? People you can talk to and learn about? Or things that are collapsing all around you? Iíd argue for the former, obviously; theyíre not set pieces in the usual sense, but as characters they ARE a part of the set. The same applies for modern games; Iím more likely to remember Sully or Dom or Cortana than the things that happen around themÖwell, barring Domís case (Iím still kind of sore about that one).
Maybe this is just my personal preference, but MM
speaks to me because it does something that many stories -- games, movies, books and more -- should strive to do: create an actual world. One that feels like itís lived in and fleshed out, not just a backdrop for the action. It goes beyond just having a full range of motion like most post-OoT Zeldas
; itís a matter of context. Backstory. World-building. And most of all, the people in the world. How do they react to the upcoming end of the world? How do they carry out their daily lives? Who are they? What do they do? Why do they do it? Termina (or any world) gains a lot more impact and credibility when weíre shown the effects of an impending apocalypse, not just told about them. Itís a basic writing rule, one that carries over to video games all too easily -- and thankfully, itís a rule that MM
not only remembers, but exemplifies.
Thatís not to say that MM
spells everything out for you; in fact, one of its key strengths is that a lot of information remains completely hidden. There are minor examples like Ikanaís bloody past or whoís really the father of Luluís children (Iím under the impression that itís one of her bandmates, but as far as I know thereís no confirmation)Öand then thereís the major examples, like the Happy Mask Salesman and the titular mask. Iíve gotten into discussions about the origin and identity of each recently, and while I have my own theories, I think itís for the best if we donít
know whoís who and whatís what. Itís good to be able to theorize; itís good to leave such mysterious creatures unexplained for the sake of breeding horror and paranoia; itís good to not have answers, because trying to make our own adds to the memorable nature -- and again, the horror factor. (As a side note, if there are any side materials or art books that explain either character in full and you know them by heart, then justÖjust keep it to yourself. Iím better off not knowing.)
Even with all of the above in mind, I donít think MM
is the perfect game, or just perfect in general. Now, this is coming from someone who doesnít have a strong sense of what makes one Zelda
game better than another AND as someone fresh off of declaring Skyward Sword
his Number One Game, but I canít shake the feeling that MMís
dungeons are kind of a pain in the ass. Theyíre not terrible or anything, and they do provide their fair share of savory ďEureka!Ē moments, but I feel as if theyíre not as airtight or as complex as I would have imagined. I admit that I caught glimpses of SSís
design philosophy, in that each dungeon is smaller and tighter and more focusedÖbut at the same time, I feel like at that time they hadnít nailed down what they wanted to do with said philosophy. Woodfall Temple is (as youíd expect of a first foray) a breeze to clear. Snowhead, Great Bay, and Stone Tower are theoretically simple, but in practice theyíre a lot more complex -- and in my experience, not in a good way. The rolling you have to do as Goron Link feels ill-suited for a cramped, indoor area, and several times I felt like I was falling off ramps and platforms for no real reason -- not to mention the backtracking involved. Swimming as Zora Link has the same problem, only compounded because you have to navigate a full 3D planeÖand all this in an area where water currents can sweep you into the wrong room on a regular basis. Stone Tower doesnít feel as much like two dungeons (as it should, since you navigate it while right-side-up and upside-down) as it does a series of trial-and-error mishaps -- flipping and flipping and wasting time while you try to understand where to go and what to do.
There is a chance that Iím misremembering things, or just being jaded because I tried to (and managed to) collect all fifteen Stray Fairies per dungeon in the same run as clearing them; I came down to the wire a couple of times, but I pulled off a win. But even though I look favorably upon the game, I have to admit that the Stray Fairies are pretty much a way to artificially extend your play time. You can do the smart thing and clear a dungeon, then come back when youíve got a full three days in game time to seek them out and the proper items. Or you can be a daredevil and do both at the same time, getting frustrated and annoyed as you have to search every last room, and the Great Fairy Mask is still sparkling even though thereís nothing in sight, and you know you have to get to this fairy in this location but the damn water currents push you past, and then you get knocked off a ledge by an enemy and falling into a pit of lava and who puts a pit of lava in a tower and oh my God I only need to find one more Fairy so where is it and are you kidding me I have to go back to the entrance and flip the dungeon around to get the last one and then go back and flip the dungeon again and get back to the last room OH GOD I ONLY HAVE FIVE MINUTES LEFT HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME NINTENDO?!
I guess what Iím getting at here is that the difficulty in MM
comes down to annoyance rather than challenge (though how challenging any given Zelda
truly is may be something beyond my mortal ken). With the exception of mask-collecting, thereís virtually nothing you really need a walkthrough for. Enemies go down pretty easily, with only a scant few needing a strategy beyond ďslash with swordĒ or ďshoot with arrowĒ, especially after you upgrade to the Gilded Sword. There arenít any true brain-bending puzzles; itís just a matter of going somewhere that your map says you havenít been (and finding the path there, by extension). Iím convinced that collecting the Stray Fairies is more trouble than itís worth, with only the magic gauge upgrade being the closest to ďnecessaryĒ. And in the grand scheme of things, what is the point of making me lose every stock of my consumable items when I reset the three days? What if I like using Deku Nuts, or want to enact the Deku Stick glitch? And while weíre at it, why does Bombchu even exist?
Well, whatever. At this point Iím just moving into nitpick-territory, and while there are probably issues you could name, I want to stress -- heavily -- that Iím in a good place with MM
. Is it the perfect game? No. Is it my Number One Game? No. It almost was, but I canít put in the top slot. Is it still an awesome, incredible, worthwhile, memorable, and all-around amazing experience? Hell yes. I barely touched it the first time around, and having rectified my mistake I know what Iíve been missing out on.
Itís pretty good, is what Iím trying to say here.
And thatíll just about do it for now. If you want to see more of my ranting on MM, you can head over to my blog. If not, then I guess Iíll see you in six months when I remember I have a blog on Destructoid. Till then, like, comment, and subscribe! Or whatever it is people do on the internet!
ÖI also poked holes through nearly every facet
. So if you got burned by that game, Iíve got you covered. With bandages and ointment.