Thursday, February 19, 2015

You know something momentous has occurred when I actually write a blog post. Yes, my friends, it's happened. Nintendo listened. Comrades, we have Majora's Mask for the 3DS. And I intend to bask in its glory, if you care to join me.

It's been said once, twice, three four five six SO MANY TIMES, the Legend of Zelda Majora's Mask is a beautiful game inside and out, being both one of the best in the LoZ franchise and the gaming industry as a whole. It has extraordinary gameplay, a phenomenal story, a subtly crafted and grabbing visual appeal, and a relevant haunting soundtrack. (Aspects that really made me dig deep for the right big words to explain.) And I can dissect all these elements separately to Kingdom come, but there's already enough of that out there. I want to look at this game for great big beast that it is. I don't want to look at this painting for the quality of the paint used to create it, or the brush techniques employed. I want to see it for what it is. So let's talk shop.

The Legend of Zelda franchise is known mainly for it's well established formula when it comes to gameplay and story. It can be said that most Zelda games are a variation of the same song. Another thing to note is that, more often then note the gameplay will change more drastically then the plot structure. Whether this is a positive or negative mark against Nintendo is subjective (and while I can understand that the repetitive nature of this system can annoy some, I honestly find no problem with it but that's another post for another time), but this point makes that much more a statement on Majora's Mask. For this installment was a drastic change for what LoZ was at the time, and even today could be considered pretty out there.

This direct sequel to what is still herald a master piece of gaming, Ocarina of Time, the only memento that the player has of their escapades in Hyrule was the protagonist himself, Link. Having embarked on what was described in the opening cutscene as a "secret and personal journey" (long speculated to be a journey to find his companion from Ocarina of Time, Navi, who had abruptly left at the end of the game), he is robbed while in the Lost Woods by a pair of Fairies named Tatl and Tale and an Imp named Skull Kid. The Skull Kid proceeds to steal the Ocarina of Time (that was gifted to Link in Ocarina of Time by Princess Zelda and has the power to reverse time) and Link's horse as a somewhat bad-natured prank. Link chases the Skull Kid down the proverbial rabbit hole and emerges in the land of Termina, where he confronts the Skull Kid. In this confrontation the Skull Kid uses the power of a mask that he stole from another unfortunate traveler known as the Happy Mask Salesman to transform Link into a powerless creature known as a Deku Scrub. After Link is able to retrieve his ocarina after a second encounter with the Skull Kid (with the help of Tatl, one of the Skull Kid's fairy friends whom was left behind after the first confrontation with the Skull Kid), the Happy Mask Salesman comes to restore Link to his true form (his own intentions being somewhat shady) and warns Link that the Skull Kid intends to destroy the land of Termina using the mask's power by causing the moon to crash into the earth three days from now. From here, we have our mission. We must use the Ocarina of Time to relive the same three days until we have amass enough power to stop the Skull Kid and retrieve Majora's Mask.

Here we encounter the first drastic change that effects both the gameplay and the story, the main antagonist.

Previous experience has conditioned players to always expect to go head to head with some incarnation of the beast prince Ganon (whether he be Ganondorf, Demise, or other), and through this, we find a set structure that spanned throughout the games. Whatever form of Ganon you faced, while the challenge changed, the goals, motivations, and tasks of you and Ganon were always clear. Ganon wants to take over Hyrule. In order to do so, he needs the Triforce. You (the player) and Princess Zelda (the game's namesake), are the key to obtaining the Triforce. In order for him to take over Hyrule, he must use you and Zelda. In order to subdue and defeat him, you must gather together seven sages and use their power to bring him down. Doing so will save Hyrule. As I said, through the antagonist we find the structure of the game. But it doesn't stop there. Through the antagonist we also find the tone of the game. Gannon is a towering force of power. He's cunning, he's intimidating, he is irredeemable. And in being all these things, he is simple. He doesn't challenge your perceptions of right and wrong, he enforces them. He's a motivator, he's daring  you to be the Hero. And defeating him has no negative consequences. Not only does he define himself but he defines you, for the only thing that can take down a force of absolute unrelenting evil is a force of absolute unrelenting good.

But the antagonist we face in this game is not this strong, powerful entity that clearly knows who he is and what he's doing. Instead, we have an Imp. A small Imp who, on his own, does not amount to much. Through uncovering his back story we even find that he was abandoned as a child and overall outcasted from the citizens of Termina, his only friends being his two fairy companions. It was really only through luck that he happened to stumble onto Majora's Mask (the mask which he stole from the Happy Mask Salesman) and gained all that tremendous power. This little boy does not know evil, he only knows hurt. He is bad, but has the potential to be good. And because of that suddenly we do not find ourselves on the steady ground we were granted in the previous games. Are we the Hero, really? For having to take down what was otherwise a poor defenseless creature, a boy who truly doesn't know better? This is were part of the conflict merges. And the world itself does all it can to reinforce this. All throughout Termina we find the aftermath of the havoc Skull Kid has wrought, from separated loved ones to each other to kidnapping, stealing, and overall destruction. We talk to citizens who believe that Skull Kid must be stopped at all costs, and have good reasons for it. But then, our companion, our partner, Tatl, is a constant reminder that the Skull Kid is not an absolute unrelenting force of evil, that there might be something in him worth saving. This time, the struggle is not only of strength and power of will, it's one of principle as well. You're journey is not only centered around doing what's right, it's finding out what the right thing to do is to begin with.

This game is very linear and straightforward, it doesn't give you the choice to judge right and wrong on your own standards like a title from Tell Tale Games or Galactic Cafe. But it got you thinking about it, which is the important. It gave you the possibility to disagree or question what you were doing as you were doing it. Maybe it made you think twice about slaying enemies or saving some while ignoring others, which is something that games just didn't have at the time this first came out (2000 for the Nintendo 64, for the three people who read this and don't already know everything there is to know about Majora's Mask). Have gameplay mechanics evolved to become better suited to really dive into this particular flavor of philosophical dilemma? Heck. Yes. But I believe Majora's Mask was where it started (or at least one of the places). And from Nintendo, no less! And one of Nintendo's most secure franchises! The last thing anyone expected Nintendo to do was to not only change a proven working formula but to do so with one of their biggest IPs. Good on you, Nintendo. Good on you.

So, wow. This ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would be. I mean, I still want to talk about a lot more. Guess this'll just have to end up being a series. (See, this is what happens when I talk about Majora's Mask. I love this game FAR too much.) Look forward to part two next week, when I talk more about the land of Termina. Until then, check the links below for FREE (legal) downloads of some AWESOME Majora's Mask soundtrack remixes.