While Ocarina of Time is widely considered to be the pinnacle of The Legend of Zelda franchise, we at Zelda Informer are known to often refute that and place Majora’s Mask at the top of the podium. We claim that Majora’s Mask has more emotion, greater character development, and a larger moral significance than Ocarina of Time.
Sometimes we even declare that Ocarina of Time has nothing on Majora’s Mask, but that is to forget the very fundamental truth that Majora’s Mask is nothing without Ocarina of Time. The original Nintendo 64 classic is a standalone title that leaves nothing more to be desired in gameplay or in story. Hyrule is saved and the Hero is sent back to regain the time he has lost. There is no need for anything more.
Ocarina of Time is perfectly rounded-off and presented as a neatly packaged bundle that leaves no pressing demand for a sequel. It has no need for its sequel, but Majora’s Mask is wholly dependent upon its predecessor; owing everything it is to what came before.
It is the commercial success of Ocarina of Time that prompted Nintendo to immediately work on a sequel. The title was initially slated to be a remixed version of Ocarina of Time; however Eiji Aonuma took on the challenge of developing a new Zelda title in approximately one year. Capitalizing upon this success of Ocarina of Time is precisely what prompted the route of the direct sequel.
To make the most of the little time they had, Majora’s Mask’s developers implemented the same engine, graphics, assets and gameplay as in Ocarina of Time. Majora’s Mask began with what is largely considered the best game ever made as its foundation. It’s hard to go wrong with such a solid beginning.
From there they added the three day cycle and the concept of the impending doom as a reflection of their own rush to finish the game on time. It is this hurried development that makes Majora’s Mask such an emotional and sentimental title. Time wasn’t wasted in building the game from a technical side, as Ocarina of Time provided majority of the required assets.
Time wasn’t even spent on drafting elaborate stories, because the development process gave them their inspiration. In their haste the attention was given to characters going about their daily lives and the emotions they experienced. The three-day cycle allowed the characters to be more complex, more real and more believable.
Aspects of the game such as the separation of friends and family—as seen through Kafei and Anju or even Link and Zelda—all comes from the staff’s long hours spent separated from their family in making the game by the deadline. By limiting the game to a three-day cycle, five major areas, and only four main dungeons, the focus was given to characters and emotion. It is thanks to Ocarina of Time’s success and technical foundation that this development environment which lead to Majora’s Mask was created.
Majora’s Mask was originally tentatively titled “Zelda Gaiden,” which translate to “a Zelda side-story.” Not only was this fitting of the title’s deviation from the plot of the main series, but also because of its focus on side-quests. Majora’s Mask is built around two core sidequest concepts that the developers could not fully realize in Ocarina of Time.
The first is that of the Mask Trading Sequence where Link sells masks from the Happy Mask Shop to citizens of Hyrule at a profit. The gist of the quest is to make everyone involved happy: the Happy Mask Salesman for running a profitable business; the customers for obtaining a mask they desire; and Link for contributing to that happiness and making some rupees on the side. Majora’s Mask is built around the gameplay mechanism of masks and utilizing them to make others happy.
The second unachieved concept from Ocarina of Time was that of the trading sequence with the Biggoron’s Sword as the final prize. As players received each item in the quest they must figure out which character may need such an item, and thus it is that you learn more about the characters and their lives. This insight into the non-playable characters is the driving premise behind what would become The Bombers Notebook in Majora’s Mask.
Because of this focus on sidequests, Majora’s Mask is often rightfully criticized for lacking a coherent and driving main plot. Even those who fully explore every nook and cranny of Termina will not understand the message behind it all, and that is because Ocarina of Time is a prerequisite to understanding Majora’s Mask.
Only through Ocarina of Time do players know the full significance of what Navi means to Link and what his quest is about. Only by playing Ocarina of Time do players know the emotional state of Link, who appears as a child physically yet is fully matured as an adult mentally.
Without Ocarina of Time we simply cannot understand how Link is unable to go back to his childhood and continue where it left off; the very reason that spurns his quest in Termina and a key influence on his mindframe. Majora’s Mask’s ultimate message is one of appreciating your friends, but without Ocarina of Time we are unaware of the friendship Link has lost.
Without Ocarina of Time we don’t fully realize the significance of the message of appreciating the friends who we do have, like Link learns of Princess Zelda. Indeed, Ocarina of Time is necessary to be able to fully understand all of the emotion and character development that we praise in Majora’s Mask.
Nintendo is well aware of Majora’s Masks’s need for its predecessor, as is demonstrated by their history of never releasing Majora’s Mask on a platform that does not have Ocarina of Time. It is true of the Nintendo 64, of course, but also for the GameCube and Wii Virtual Console. Zelda: Collector’s Edition on the GameCube came with both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, while Majora’s Mask didn’t release on the Wii Virtual Console until two years after Ocarina of Time. If Majora’s Mask 3DS ever comes to fruition, then it will again follow after Ocarina of Time.
There is no question that Majora’s Mask truly is an excellent game, and while it is appropriate to think of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask as a complimentary pair, we cannot ignore the truth. The truth is that Ocarina of Time does not need Majora’s Mask, but Majora’s Mask needs Ocarina of Time.
Majora’s Mask is not merely a sequel, nor is it merely a direct sequel, but it is an utterly dependent sequel. Without Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask cannot be fully appreciated and comprehended. Even though it is a deviation from the main series, Majora’s Mask is not a stand-alone title.
So next time we place Majora’s Mask up on the podium and make arguments for why it is in all ways better than Ocarina of Time, let us just remember that Majora’s Mask owes everything it is to Ocarina of Time. Let us remember that if Majora’s Mask truly is better than Ocarina of Time, the reason is simply because Majora’s Mask’s foundation was Ocarina of Time.
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