Although there is no doubt that The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is a work of near genius, for the reasons noted so well above, personally I did not enjoy it quite as much as previous incarnations of the series, notably The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Probably the main reason for this was the amount of sequences which you had to do all in a big row, all at once, and very quickly, or else the day ended, and you had to travel back in time, losing whatever progress you had made in the particular side quest.
Probably the best example of this is the beginning of the game. After Link is mugged by the Skull Kid, and you get to leg it through the woods showing off Link's cool new jumping animation, you end up in Clock Town, at the start of the three days. All well and good. However, to perform the game's most vital action (playing the Song of Time, to travel back to the dawn of day one) you need the Ocarina of Time, which was stolen by the Skull Kid. And you have to get it before the end of the third day, else you die. But just getting a lousy Ocarina back shouldn't cause too much trouble, right? WRONG. Let's run through what you need to do to get the Ocarina back (and bear in mind you have to discover this all yourself in the game, there is not much in the way of clues). If you want this to be completely unspoiled for you, because you haven't played the game yet, I'd advise you to skip ahead.
- Step out onto clock town. Enjoy the morning? Lounge in the beautiful fresh air? HELL NO boy, you got an Ocarina to find.
- Pretty much everyone will try, at first, to leave Clock Town, but just there is a guard at each exit to block you while you still remain in the form of a Deku. There is a way you can get past him, but it's a bug, and I hear it's a bad idea. Anyway, the chances of the average player finding it at first is very low..
- Head to the area hidden away in the side of Clock Town (you would probably find it very difficult to find this point had if you did not seek out Tinkle and buy a map from him).
- Jump across the water and pick up the solitary fairy. She tells you to take her to the shrine in North Clock Town, which you should be grateful for, because it's one of the few clues you get...
- In the fairy shrine, give in the solitary fairy to form a Great Fairy, and she will give you the power to shoot mucus out of Deku Link's mouth.
- Head outside and use your new power to pop a balloon which a boy is shooting at with a pea shooter. He will decided that you look nearly good enough to be in the Bomber Gang, but you have to pass a test first.
- The test is a game of hide and seek - find all five bombers located around Clock Town before the end of the particular 12 hour section you are on. It's usually not too hard finding them, but actually managing to catch them is a bit more difficult. Special mention goes to the Bomber who tries to escape by running off the side of a building, and using a Cucco to glide down safely, before legging it.
- Find all the Bombers in time and they give you a five digit code, which you are advised to write down and remember. It won't be the same the next time you do it..
- The code can be used to get through the Bomber's secret passage, which leads to the Observatory, which is out on Termina Field. After a bit of Deku lily pad hopping, you arrive..
- ... Into the observatory. Talk with the astronomer and he allows you to use the telescope to have a look around. This is probably the part of the sequence which is the most not-obvious... you have to focus the telescope on the top of Clock Tower, and you will see a cut scene involving the Skull Kid, and a Moon's Tear dropping to the ground.
- If you talk to the astronomer he will tell you that Moon's Tears are quite valuable, and so naturally, you head out to pick it up...
- Once you have the Moon's Tear, you can go back through the secret passage to Clock Town, and then you can find the Deku Scrub who owns the Deku pad next to Clock Tower. He says he wants to retire, but will only leave his pad if he gets something valuable in exchange.. so trade him the Moon's Tear, and he heads off, leaving you with a Deku Pad, which Deku Link can use to fire himself out of.
- Use the pad to fire yourselfup to the platform outside the Clock Tower, pick up the Heart Piece... and wait. The tower doesn't open up until midnight on the last night (aka 6 minutes till the end of the world. Which means that on the off chance you did manage to complete the aforementioned tasks really quickly, you still have to wait for ages to get the Ocarina. There is an Ocarina tune which can speed up time, but obviously you haven't got the Ocarina yet, so you can't use it.
- Once it's midnight, the Clock opens, and you have 6 minutes to get up there, shoot the Skull Kid with a bubble / mucus attack, pick up the Ocarina, and play the Song of Time. Simple, haha.
While the above sequence is a very original creation (traditionally, the start of most RPGs involves you being sent on a quest by some guy to kill some other guys and save some stuff), I felt that it was a very non-intuitive sequence, and didn't really work with the time limited setting of the game, because it's simply not obvious enough what to do, and so you quickly run out of time and die, and have to start again from the beginning.
And that isn't the only sequence like it in the game. Later on, you have to do things like rescue all seven Zora Eggs, (3 from the Deep Pythons and 4 from the Gerudo Fortress) in a certain time frame, because you need to hatch all 7 together to learn a particular tune.
Even so, don't think that I hate this game or anything. I got this just after it came out, and it's definitely one of my favourite N64 games. Some of the ideas that were exhibited in this game are just brilliant.
The way that time passes isn't really anything new on the face of it - Ocarina of Time had a similar real time day / night sequence, and hell, games on the SNES had it as well. Seiken Densetsu 3, for example. However, Majora's Mask takes the concept to a completely new level. Time passes everywhere, wheras in Ocarina, it would only pass in certain areas (like Hyrule Field), and because of the fact that in Majora, time passing means less time until the Moon lands, you have to keep on your toes constantly. Once you have the Ocarina, though, there is not really the threat of dying, rather, the threat of not finishing a sub quest in time, and loosing progress. For example, as the above walkthrough shows, you have to bargain with a Deku Shrub to get his Deku Pad. When he agrees, he gives you the Town Title Deed, essentially saying that you own that bit of land. You can then use that to bargain with someone else.. There is a full trading sequence in the game, which involves giving the land title deed to another deku shrub, who gives you a different land title deed for his bit of land. You can make a number of trades all across Termina, and getting the deeds to each Deku Pad allows you to collect a nearby piece of Heart. This aspect of the game is much more thought out than I have seen in most other games.
Another masterful feature of the game is the way that each person in Clock Town, and many people outside of it, have completely worked out routines as to what steps they take and what they do for the 3 day cycle. This means that if you know where someone is at a particular time on a particular day, you can go there during that exact time on another 3 day cycle and they will still be there. Many interesting things happen over the three days - for instance, to get ready for the carnival in the Clock Town, a large tower is built. You can see the builders carrying the individual parts of it from their stores, and then assembling it in the main square. This always happens in the same way, and if you use the Ocarina song to slow down time, then the men (and everyone else) will move at a reduced speed. Clock Town is a masterpiece of choreography, with the builders building, the postman running around looking in the letterboxes, and little scripted events taking place (for example, hang around in North Clock Town at midnight, and you witness Sakon the thief mugging someone, who you can choose to help and get rewarded with the Bomb Mask). You could wander round the town just watching for hours, and the magic of the game never wears off.
A further point I should mention is the... weirdness of this game. There really is no other way to describe it. Apart from the Game Boy and Game Boy Color titles (Link's Awakening, Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons) this is an exception in the Zelda series in that it is not set in Hyrule. Admittently, for the games which are set in Hyrule, the map layout is completely different every time (pretty much the only common theme is that there are mountains towards the top of the map... although the games are supposed to be set at completely different times from each other, so I guess that does explain it..), but there is more to a location than the map. Termina feels like a completely different place, and whether or not you will like that depends taste. And as much as it is a different place, it all does kind of feel like a slightly mucked up LSD induced dream version of Hyrule - characters from Ocarina appear all over the place, but often with roles completely switched. Below are a list of characters who appear in both N64 Zeldas, with the roles they play in each. /msg me if I've missed any.
- Happy Mask Seller - in Ocarina, this guy was a very cheery chap who played a pretty unimportant role by lending Link the Happy Masks, which he then had to sell on. If he could sell one on (to a specific person; only one person in Hyrule would want each mask) he would get the next to sell. The goal of that side quest was to get the Mask of Truth, which could then be used to get some pretty amusing quotes from people by talking to them, and you could also use it to talk to Gossip Stones. In an obvious parallel, Ocarina considers the masks as a tiny, insignificant part of the game. Majora, however, amplifies the role of masks, and also amplifies the role of the Mask Seller. In Majora, however, he is an altogether more disturbing guy. Link first meets him below Clock Tower, and he says that he can help Link to shed his embarassing and inconvenient Deku shape if Link will retrieve Majora's Mask, which had just been stolen from him by the Skull Kid. He eventually teaches Link the Song of Healing, which is used to get Link back to normal, and also used to pick up the other shape changing masks. He looks very sinister compared to in Ocarina, and is seen doing a disturbing "mwah ha ha" style laugh at the game's title sequence. Interestingly, although he appears with a whole bundle of masks on his back, none of the game's usable masks are obtained from him...
- The Windmill Man, playing on that infernal music box, featured a bit part in Ocarina, as he taught Link the Song of Storms, which was necessary to get to the bottom of the well in Kakariko Village. There was an interesting, Terminator style paradox at this point... see this node for more details. Unfortunately, it appears that this guy does not get on too well with his agent, because the guy has landed him a pretty miniscule part in Majora. He is now called Guru-guru, and you need to talk to him in the small, hidden away area of Clock Town known as the Laundry Pool on the first or second night. Simply listen to his story (it's about him stealing a mask from a circus animal, who he was jealous of..*) and you get given the almost entirely useless Bremen Mask. Note that it's "almost entirely useless", because this mask does have one small but imporant use. Simply go to Milk Road (either on the last day, or after you have earned the right to use Powder Kegs) and use the Bremen Mask to round up all the Cuckos. They will grow into big Cuckos, and for this their owner Grog is so thankful that he gives you the Bunny Hood, undeniably one of the best masks in the game, for allowing you to run at double speed. Still, after you've done that little task, Guru-Guru has fulfilled his purpose. Perhaps we will see him return some day, in a new game, with a more fleshed out part... or perhaps not.
- Gorman was the evil new owner of Lon Lon Ranch in Ocarina, who was promised the ranch by Gannondorf, taking it from it's rightful (if idiotic) owner, Talon. Link challenged him to a race on Epona, however, and managed to get away with the horse. In Majora, for some reason, there are two Gormans, aptly named the Gorman Bros. Perhaps Link is drunk. In fact, more accurately, there are three people who look exactly like Gorman. One is the Circus Leader in Clock Town, and he is a perfectly nice, if rather upset, character. The Gorman Bros, who run a ranch on Milk Road, however, are much less nice. The game hints very, very strongly towards them being the masked milk thieves who steal the milk from Cremia every time she tries to get it to Clock Town, so clearly they need a bit of duffing up by Link. Yet again, Link challenges them to a horse race, only this time against both of them at once. It is essential to beat them, as they give Link a very important mask without which getting through Ikana Canyon would be impossible.
- The two evil witches which** Ocarina of Time cast as the end bosses of the Spirit Temple get given a complete role reversal for Majora: Koume and Kotake aka the Twinrova sisters are now mild mannered nice witches. Koume runs a potion shop in Woodfall, the first of the four main districts in the game accessible from Termina Field, and Kotake runs a swamp tour, but only when she's there. If you head over at first and talk to Koume, she says that Kotake is out picking mushrooms in the woods, and she hasn't seen her for a while. Head out there (following a monkey who kindly leads the way) and find Kotake and she is, predictably, in a bit of trouble. She asks Link if he has anything that brings back strength (The game puts all necessary clues and important words into a different colour, just to make doubly sure that everyone picks up the fact that they are important), which is a cue for Link to high tail it back to Koume's potion shop. He gets a free Red Potion, along with a complementary bottle (the first of 6 in the game), and he must take it to Kotake. When he gives her it, she recovers her strength and flies back to the Swamp Tourist centre, at which point she opens up her tour facility - indeed, she gives Link a free ride for saving her. You then get on the boat, and are taken to the Deku palace for the next part of the story... Why exactly Nintendo decided to swap the roles like this is a mystery to me, although the models created for the witches are full of character, so I think it would have been a shame not to reuse them..
- The final character(s) that are reused (which I can remember, anyway) are Romani and Cremia. They look, at least to me, like young and old versions, respectively, of Malon from Ocarina of Time. In that, she taught Link Epona's Song so that he could use the horse, but didn't play much more of a part. In Majora, as with Gorman, there are two of her, but one is a doppelganger of the young Malon, and one of the seven years older Malon. I'm not sure why they changed the names, although obviously calling them the Malon sisters would have been a bit lame. Not anywhere near as lame, however, as calling one of them "Cremia" (because they work on a farm! With cows! They make Milk! And the milk they make is Creamier / Cremia! It's hilarious, I tell you! **Shoots self**). Honestly, that's the crappiest "pun" in a video game since Sonic the Hedgehog's mate, Tails, who was actually called Miles Prower. Or rather, Miles Per Hour. Haha **Shoots self again**. There are some interesting things to be done in Romani Ranch (found at the end of Milk Road) however - each sister has a problem which must be solved. Romani, the younger one, is afraid of the aliens which come on the first night to abduct the cows on the farm (Aliens in a Zelda game? I told you it was weird...). Once Link has won Epona back, and can use Powder Kegs, you have to get to Romani Ranch on the first night, and use your bow and arrow to keep the Aliens away from the farmhouse. Succeed until daybreak, and you get a bottle (containing milk) to add to your collection. Cremia, the elder of the two, has a slightly more down to earth problem - whenever she takes Milk to Clock Town, a bunch of thieves steal it. Link, if he's hanging around the ranch at the right time, can ride on the cart with her, and uses his bow and arrows to fend off the Gorma... err.. the Milk Thieves. Successfully keeping some Milk safe will earn Link the Romani Mask, allowing him to get into the Milk Bar Latte at night, which opens up a whole new series of possibilities to gain hearts and complete quests.
As the above shows, the game is nothing if not weird. However, it's also very good, and as one of the later games released for the Nintendo 64, it is well worth playing. The time theme of the game can sometimes be very frustrating, but as this writeup and the one above it shows, this game, for the majority of the time, simply shines with the amount of thought and effort which went into designing it. No mean feat, considering that Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Zelda, Mario, and Donkey Kong amongst others, had only a small role in the creation of this game (compared to his role in designing most Zelda games). It may not match Ocarina of Time (after all, when the Gamecube arrived, I think it's very telling that the N64 Zelda which was packaged with The Wind Waker was not this, more recent title, but the previous classic, Ocarina of Time...), but then, what does?
As Jurph reminded me, the game was rereleased in 2003 on the Gamecube as part of a Zelda compilation disk, so you have a pretty good chance of finding that version.
I'd definitely recommend picking it up if you find a copy. The game was very popular when it came out, and so many copies should be floating around in bargain bins and so forth. If you have no N64, or can't find a copy, then it is possible to emulate the game, using Project64 or similar. You'll need a pretty hefty PC to emulate the N64 though, but if you have one, then the ROM is quite easily available on IRC, a couple of websites, and no doubt pretty much any major File sharing network. Either way, this is a game that any Zelda fan simply has to try if they haven't already.
* - don't blame me, I don't make this kind of stuff up.
** - heh. Witches which. I crack myself up.
Playing the game
Prima's official strategy guide to the game.