Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Legend of Zelda: Mask of Majora 3D comments

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Mask of Majora 3D, from Grezzo, 2015
Normally, I prefer to buy used games in the under-1,000 yen range ( <$10 USD), but back around Christmas I got a hankering for playing another Zelda game, and I wanted to try one of the sequels designed for the 3DS (the other two used Zeldas had been for the Nintendo DS). So, I knuckled under and payed 2,300 yen for Mask of Majora. If you're not familiar with it, Mask is a re-make of the Nintendo 64, and GameCube games. It's fundamentally the same game, with some of the graphics being reworked, an extra sidequest, and some tweaks to a couple of the dungeons.

(File load screen. It's day 2, 2:35 AM. I've beaten all four main bosses, and collected 19 hearts, the quiver and bow, the best sword in the game, the expanded bomb bag, the mirror shield, all 24 masks and all 8 songs. I don't have any unmatched heart pieces.)

If you haven't played it yet, the story takes a bit of explaining. One day, Link is riding his horse, Epona, through the woods, when he's attacked by a humanoid scarecrow boy named Skull Kid. Skull has two faeries, one of whom gets left behind, and ends up joining forces with Link in order to help save its friend. Skull takes Epona and Link's ocarina, and escapes through the trees to a place called Clock Town. There, Skull Kid goes to the top of one tower and summons down the moon. The moon, which is actually a demon in disguise, will destroy the planet in exactly 3 days. After this point, Link encounters a mask salesman, who says that Skull had stolen the Mask of Majora from him and he wants Link to get it back. In your first attempt, at the end of the third day, you fail at getting the mask, but you do recover the ocarina, while also learning the Song of Time, and being told about the Four Giants that exist outside of Clock Town that have the strength to stop the moon and save the town. After playing the Song of Time, you're taken back three days to the moment you first entered the town at 6 AM, and all of the events that occurred over the last three days in the town are reset. All that you get to keep with you are the songs you learned, the masks you've found, your weapons, and any money you put in the bank, oddly enough.

(In Clock Town, at one of the save/teleport points. Below is part of the town map. Note the camera to the upper left of the lower screen. One of the puzzles for unlocking heart pieces requires "taking photos" of a couple NPCs.)

One of the key elements of the Zelda games is the set of tools you pick up that let you solve successive puzzles, such as the bow, the bomb bag, and the hookshot. So, if you enter the first dungeon carrying only your sword and ocarina, there will be places you can't get into. Later, after getting the hookshot, or the bombchus (little robotic mice-shaped bombs), you need to return to that dungeon, and use those tools to get into the new sections, which may only contain a piece of heart (4 pieces gives you one more heart in your health bar) or more rupees (money). However, in Majora, only the bow gets used all that extensively. The hookshot and bomb bag to a lesser extent, and the bombchus almost not at all (there's one mini-game that requires the bombchus, and one side dungeon at the end of the game that uses exactly two bombchus total). The real "tool focus" is on a few of the masks.

(In the field south of town, being attacked by a blob monster. Battles are real time. The bunny ears mask lets Link move faster, plus I have the bombs assigned to the X button if I want to use them.)

Each giant lives behind where you encounter the main dungeon boss at each of the compass points. That is, there are four main storyline dungeons to the north, south, east and west of Clock Town, and those are element based. The south dungeon is in a poisoned swamp, the north one is in snow-bound mountains, the west one is in the ocean and the east one is in a mummy-infested desert canyon. Each region is populated by its own master race (respectively, the Deku (plant based), the Goron (rock monsters), the Zora (mermen and merwomen) and humans). To survive in the first 3 regions, you pick up a mask that turns you into that creature, giving you their specific abilities. Deku-Link can stun enemies and use flowers to fly across chasms. Goron-Link can roll into enemies, pick up heavy objects, and walk on lava without taking damage. Zora-Link can walk under water, swim very quickly, porpoise-jump onto higher ledges that Link can't get up to, and throw his fins to defeat enemies at a distance. There are 24 masks total, most of which only get used once or twice to obtain a piece of heart, another mask, or an empty bottle (bottles can be used to carry potions, healing faeries, or zora eggs for one of the side quests). Having at least 4 empty bottles can make your life easier. In the 3DS version of the game, you can get 7 bottles total, but I skipped one side quest for one of the bottles, because it just wasn't worth the hassle. Anyway, when you defeat one of the 4 storyline bosses, you unleash one of the giants, and you get that boss's mask so you can repeat the boss battle again without having to go back through the entire dungeon to reach him. You have to go through the dungeons in order (swamp, mountains, ocean, canyon) because each one rewards you with the tool, mask or song that lets you enter the next one. After finishing the fourth dungeon, you get the song that lets you save Skull Kid from the Majora Mask, and then continue on inside the moon for the final boss battle against Majora.

(Deku-Link, next to one of the flowers. Stepping on the flower and pressing the A button causes Deku-Link to pop out and fly using petal propellers for a few seconds, to cross chasms and get to moving platforms.)

To a large extent, I felt frustrated with this game. It's a combination of Radiata Stories, and Groundhog Day. There are somewhere around 40 characters inside Clock Town, and living outside in the surrounding areas. Each character has its own backstory, and daily activity schedule. You need to constantly reset time and discover the things that those characters need from you, either in order to progress the story, or to get masks or pieces of hearts. You can't solve everyone's problems all within the same 3-day stretch, so you end up having to relive those three days multiple times, as in the Groundhog Day movie. The backstories can be very moving, but they get in the way of the game. Basically, the town is preparing for the big Festival of Time, which should take place following the third day (because the moon destroys the town that morning, the festival never happens). A troupe of entertainers has been recruited to dance and play music in the festival, but on the morning of Day 1, the wife of the mayor tells the troupe leader that she's changed her mind and they're now out of a job, because she'd rather hire the Zora merpeople band. The leader drunks (on milk) instead of telling the others, and the other performers are still desperately trying to figure out what dances or music they're going to play in the festival. So, Link must teach the dancers a new dance, help the Zora band conductor do a sound check in the night club, and cheer up the troupe leader. Meanwhile, at a dairy farm outside town, the troupe leader's brothers are stealing milk from the farm, the woman running the farm is trying to keep from going bankrupt, and her daughter is trying to save the cows from aliens that always arrive the night before the Festival of Time to abduct more cows. While at the same time, the woman running the inn the troupe is staying at wants to know what happened to her boyfriend, who has been cursed by a thief and is currently in hiding. The innkeeper's mother and grandmother fight with her over her choice of boyfriend, with the mother trying to push her towards the troupe leader. It's all very melodramatic, and the only way to discover all this is to talk to everyone over and over again through the course of the three days, sometimes while wearing different masks.

So, where do the puzzles come in? Those are largely in the dungeons, which have three segments each. The first segment is to just get through the maze outside the boss palace to the teleport save point (reachable with the ocarina and the Song of Wings). The second segment is in the boss palace, requiring that you get the boss key in order to fight the boss. The third goes hand-in-hand with the second, where you have to locate and collect 15 faeries in each dungeon. Doing so, and then returning them to the faery pool, restores the Great Faery in that palace, and rewards you with extended MP, new physical attacks, or a new sword. To get through these segments, you need to push blocks, activate switches, use your tools to get past chasms or over walls, and get past timed traps.

(Goron-Link, in the desert canyon palace. To get to the building entrance across the gap, you need to create replicas of 3 of the heavier characters so they can stand on the three switches as Link runs across the platforms spanning the gap. The Goron-Link copy is to the right of Goron-Link.)

I have a great fondness for the first Legend of Zelda game, which was complex, yet rather straightforward, and very low pixel count. Majora tries too hard. The world is huge, but you don't need to pay attention to maybe 60% of it to get through the dungeons and puzzles. The buildings and outside landscape are highly detailed and well-thought-out, but places that look like they'd have hidden stuff don't, and close to 80% of the hidden stuff you do find only gives you rupees or bombchus. The bank has an upper cap of 5000 rupees (reaching that gives you a piece of heart), and it's not that difficult to amass that much money in a short time. The shops in town can be a bit expensive if you have to buy arrows or bombs, but you can go outside and chop up clumps of grass to uncover the maximum of arrows and bombs you can carry for free in less than 5 minutes, so money becomes irrelevant halfway through the game, as do the hidden places that only have rupees.

Additionally, there are a LOT of mini-games, and I tend to hate mini-games because the programmers never put as much thought into them as they do into the main portion of the game. A case in point is with merperson Zora-Link when he has to race through hoops in the water. Often, the camera will get confused in confined spaces and just jump back and forth between viewpoints, making it impossible to see where Link is in a tunnel or conduit. Also, Zora-Link can't turn around in a full circle when standing in water. He only flips 180 degrees from front to back and then front again. So, if you miss the entrance to a conduit, or hit the lip of the conduit mouth, you can't simply swim in a tight arc, or turn 10 degrees to the right to enter the conduit at a different angle; it's all or nothing. Screw up once in a timed race, and you just have to stop, wait for the clock to run out, and then try over again from the start. I hate that. On the plus side, though, the mini-games usually only need to be beaten once, and you never have to play them again (generally, you play them to get a piece of heart). The bosses can be equally bad. You only have 3 days to get through the palace to reach the boss there, and if you're having trouble with one puzzle, you can lose a full day just on that. And if you use the wrong weapon, you'll run out of time before beating the boss (that happened to me several times). On the other hand, if you do figure out what the correct weapon is, you only need to stun the boss 4 times to access its weak point, and hitting that 3 times each per stun will kill him in less than 6 hours, game-time. Unfortunately, to learn what the correct weapon is, or where a lot of the stray faeries are, or the secrets to some of the puzzles, requires that you read one of the more complete walkthroughs. There's no way I could have finished this game on my own without a walkthrough.

(Link, preparing to run across the platforms in the desert canyon palace, with the Link copy to the right, on the third switch. Note that the Zora merman mask is assigned to the X button on the lower screen.)

The music is ok, the animated cut scenes are great, and the character designs are very good. I do like the character backstory idea, but as I mentioned above, it gets in the way of playing the game itself. Then there's one more change to the 3DS version - the fishing holes. The 3DS version provides several places where you can go fishing, which I tried a little bit and found to be incredibly boring. You cast out a line, wait, reel the line in, and cast to another part of the pool or ocean. Repeat for a few hours. I assume that the point is that catching the boss fish for each of the 4 fishing holes will give you pieces of heart. The game has 20 hearts total for Link's health bar, and I only managed to get 19. I gave up on several of the other mini-games and didn't even bother with doing the fishing. (I was short 4 pieces of heart, one empty bottle, and the largest quiver upgrade, and I still managed to finish the game without them.)

Summary: I'm happy I finished Mask of Majora, because it is a massive game, and much better thought-out than the other two Zelda games for the DS. But the reliance on mini-games was very irritating, and I came close to throwing the 3DS against the wall more than once. If you prefer the newer Zelda's to the older ones, you'll probably love Majora. That is, if you haven't already played it. I'm now going to wait on buying any more games, but maybe in 3-4 months, I may decide to get one of the other 3DS Zeldas. Maybe.

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