Here it is, the final chapter in the list. With great pride, I introduce my number one pick.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is the black sheep of the Zelda series, but to me it is the series’ shining glory. Majora’s Mask, like the other titles in the series, is a tale of heroism, but there are dark undertones and a story of impending doom.
Majora’s Mask was released only two years after the critically acclaimed Ocarina of Time. Moving away from the standards of the series, this game was set in the land of Termina (some speculate it was named as a derivative of terminal). A moon is plummeting towards the land, caused by a tortured masked skull child who attacks Link in the game’s opening. The story starts with Link riding solemnly through the Lost Woods in search of his fairy companion, Navi. While traveling, he comes across a masked skull child who steals his possessions and his horse. Link pursues his assailant deeper into the woods, and in his pursuit falls into a mysterious place and begins a new journey of self discovery.
There are key gameplay differences that separate Majora’s Mask from its predecessor. One of these involves the masks. In Ocarina of Time masks were part a side quest for the Happy Mask Shop, but were only tokens and had no powers. In Majora’s Mask, masks have their own individual properties.
For example, consider the bunny hood. In Ocarina of Time, while this was used to stop Stahl children from appearing at night and was given to the post man in Hyrule Field, it didn’t grant Link any special active abilities. In Majora’s Mask it gives Link the ability to run twice as fast and allowed different speech options depending on whom you were talking to. The masks with more dramatic effects are the transformation masks, which you get from special characters throughout the game. These include the Deku mask, the Goron mask, and the Zora mask.
The second key difference in Majora’s Mask over its predecessor is the three-day cycle. The game operates on a three-day time span that repeats endlessly and represents a moon’s fall onto the world. Throughout these cycles you must complete the major quests to stop the destruction the moon’s crash will cause.
Throughout the game the transformation masks are key to different challenges, activities and dungeons. Each mask has a temple that you will use it the most in. They also have uses in the overworld.
The Deku mask turns Link into a deku – a very light creature. In Deku form, Link can use specially designed flower beds as launch pads to shoot up into the air. When at the apex Link will release two little flowers which act like helicopter blades.
The Goron mask transforms Link into a heavy Goron and grants him the ability to pound the ground, which comes in handy when trying to open some doors with old and rusted switches. Another Goron ability is rolling, an attack and mode of transport.
The third of the transformation masks, the Zora mask, turns Link into a lean and nimble Zora who has the ability to swim and, while swimming, use a magical barrier as a shield.
Along with special abilities, each of Link’s transformations have different versions of the ocarina styled to the characters’ race and personality. The Deku has a set of pipes, the Goron a set of drums, and the Zora a guitar. In specific situations you must select the right instrument when playing certain songs.
As in Ocarina of Time, the ocarina has teleportation abilities. Throughout the land there are Owl statues which you must awaken with your sword so you can then teleport to them from any location. This ability saves time which is hugely beneficial given the time limitations in the game.
On the topic of music, Nintendo outdid themselves with the soundtrack in this game. They tailored every piece of music to the scenario and landscape that it is associated with. Every single note is memorable and unique. When I hear a piece of music from the game I can vividly picture the location you would be in.
Each temple has a unique and dramatically different soundtrack. The music and the atmospheric undertones are all around you, fully immersing you. The overworld, Termina Field, is set to a rendition of the classic Zelda theme. It’s an inspirational track that accompanies well exploring a Zelda game.
The most important song is the Song of Healing, used to sooth the soul of those being tortured by darkness, usually inflicted on them by the skull kid. This song is also used to acquire the transformation masks.
Returning is the Song of Storms, with a few added features that give it further use. Another song returning is the Song of Time, which allows you to return to the beginning of the three-day cycle. Variations of it allow one to travel ahead in small increments or change the pace of time.
Each temple requires a certain song played to gain access. Some of these are gathered through essential side missions that keep the game fresh as one progresses. As mentioned, you have a continuous cycle of three days in which you have to defeat every temple, achieve every item, win every heart, and complete every side quest.
A lot of the game revolves around Clock Town, the main hub where a majority of the NPCs live and work and where a hefty amount of side quests originate. Many of the people in Clock Town are returning NPCs from Ocarina of Time. Malon is back as Romani, who has a ranch named after her in the game. The Cucco Lady, also from Ocarina of Time, returns as the Stock Pot Inn owner Anju.
Fans speculate that the use of NPCs from Ocarina of Time throughout the game was done with a purpose beyond saving time and money in development. The game may be based around the stages of grief. As Link sets out on a journey in search of his lost companion Navi, he goes through these stages, which is why he recognises so many faces from Hyrule.
Another theory suggests that Link dies at the start of the game when chasing the skull kid and the rest of the game is just his soul grieving as it accepts his fate, and he recognises the characters from his adventure in Hyrule.
The end of the game is dramatic. People have fled the town as the moon looms close overhead. On the night of the last day, when midnight strikes and the door to the Clock Tower opens, Link enters the tower to confront the skull kid.
This game is very special to me. I always loved the Zelda series and until this game was released I was never able to decide which of them was my favourite. I was nine, going on ten when this game came out, and despite the game rating being slightly beyond my physical years, it spoke directly to my soul. I cannot speak highly enough for this game and its legacy. I rate it 10/10.