Ocarina of Time proved that the Zelda series was even more captivating in 3D than it was in 2D. It is still regarded as one of the greatest games ever made, but despite this, at the very end of the N64's life, it got a sequel that quite a few people missed out on – Majora's Mask. Not counting the poorly emulated re-release on the GameCube (On The Legend of Zelda: Collectors' Edition), this is the first time since the original release in 2000 that you have the chance of owning a non-buggy version of this game.
Majora's Mask follows on directly from the ending of Ocarina of Time – Link has restored peace to Hyrule and returned to his past as a child. Seeing as he's quite the adventurous type, he decides to set off in search of other lands that may be in need of help, and while wandering through a forest, he is suddenly attacked by a strange Skull Kid wearing a mask, who steals the Ocarina of Time and Epona from him, and then turns him into a Deku Scrub.
Following the Skull Kid though a strange twisting tunnel, Link suddenly discovers himself in Clock Town, which is located in the land of Termina. Not too long afterwards, he finds out that this place won't exist much longer; a gigantic moon with a creepy face is hanging directly above the town, and in a little over three days, right in the middle of an annual festival the town holds, it will crash into the Earth – wiping out the town and everything around it. Link also meets the Happy Mask Salesman from Ocarina of Time, who is travelling. He promises to help Link if he can get back both the Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, which was stolen from him by Skull Kid.
Right before the moon crashes, Link recovers his Ocarina of Time and plays the Song of Time that Zelda taught him, causing him to warp three days back in time. The Happy Mask Salesman turns Link back into his human form, but he didn't get back Majora's Mask - So his quest is long from over! On top of that, the moon is still there and will once again crash in three days!
You'll notice that this Zelda game has far more character development than any other game in the series; each character in the game follows a certain cycle across the three days, and almost all of these cycles can be affected in specific ways. Through helping a gang of little thugs called the Bombers, you will receive the Bombers' Notebook, in which you can keep track of all people you can help and the exact times at which they have "events".
As you can imagine this leads to a ton of sidequests – not only do you receive pieces of Heart from these, but you'll also get some special items (Such as extra bottles), and most importantly, masks. The most involving sidequest in the game is that of Anju and Kafei; the pair are in love, but Kafei has been turned into a kid by Skull Kid and has since gone into hiding – you have to help them get back together and profess their love to each other before it's too late.
A lot of the characters in the game seem to be directly taken from Ocarina of Time – many having the exact same models – but when you actually talk to them, you'll find out their names and personalities are completely different. Ingo, the farmhand from Lon Lon Ranch, for example, now exists thrice as the three Gorman brothers – two of them manage a horse ranch, but the third has gone to Clock Town to pursue a circus career. This game also sees the introduction of Tingle, the 35-year-old man wearing green spandex, who makes a living by selling maps. Some people absolutely despise him, while others love him – he's definitely one of the crazier characters in the series.
While helping all of the game's characters makes up an enormous part of the game, it's all completely optional. On Link's main quest, he has to go to the four regions of Termina to awaken the four giants that can stop the moon – these are in: Woodfall, a swamp which is now poisonous, Snowhead, a mountain that has been completely snowed over (it is normally snow free), Great Bay, where it's no longer safe to swim, and Ikana Canyon, which has turned into a land of the living dead. Each of these regions is inhabited by different creatures: Dekus in Woodfall, Gorons in Snowhead, Zoras in Great Bay, and the undead in Ikana Canyon.
After helping out a certain person in each region, you will discover the dungeon. This means that there's only four dungeons in the game, but what the game lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality; all of the dungeons are well designed, and the fourth is generally considered to be one of the greatest Zelda dungeons ever. It is worthwhile pointing out that there are a handful of smaller dungeons as well, although these don't have any bosses or mini-bosses to speak of and, instead, focus on more unusual things.
All four main dungeons require heavy use of transformations – this is where masks are important. After first going back in time, you will receive the Deku mask, with which you can transform into a Deku anytime you want – proving invaluable in Woodfall. Helping out the Gorons and Zoras will earn you the Goron Mask and Zora Mask, which let you roll around at high speeds and become a pro at swimming, respectively. These masks are a great help in Snowhead and Great Bay. Ikana Canyon, however, will not offer you any new transformations, instead the focus is on using all of the previous three masks. While going through the main dungeons you can partake in their sidequests, in which you must collect 15 fairies and bring them to a Great Fairy nearby, who will reward you with things such as a larger magic meter.
As previously mentioned, you can gather quite an impressive variety of other masks – these can be found in dungeons or caves, and are sometimes given as rewards when helping other people out. None of the masks let you transform, but they will provide other uses: some are only used to obtain one or two Heart Pieces, while others will prove invaluable – such as the Blast Mask, which lets you explode any time you want, eliminating the need for bombs.
Time is of course a major feature of Majora's Mask – you only have a little over three days before the moon crashes, but there is the option to go back in time whenever you want to prevent this from happening. Through changing the notes of the Song of Time slightly you can also discover the Song of Inverted Time and Song of Double Time. Respectively, these will allow you to slow down time (effectively doubling the time 'till the moon's impact) and go forward in time by 12 hours. Some really dedicated fans have actually managed to beat the main quest in just one three-day cycle by playing the Song of Inverted Time – see if you can perform this feat!
Whenever you go back in time, you will lose all your "stacked" items, such as arrows and bombs, but rupees can be saved; the game has a bank, and anything you throw on it will remain there, even if you go back in time – just don't forget to store your rupees before you play the Song of Time!
Majora's Mask is definitely the oddball in the series when it comes to the overall atmosphere; the characters in this game actually have personality – unlike many of the other games – so it's not unlikely that you'll actually come to care about what happens to them. The Ikana Canyon region also stands out from the norm as it is quite creepy for a Zelda game, with almost everything that happens there revolving around death.
Musically the game is fantastic. There's a ton of variety, with each area having its own fitting music – the theme that plays during the final 6 hours is particularly amazing. Of course, some songs from Ocarina of Time are reused as well. Graphically, it's easily one of the best-looking N64 games about - it needed the Expansion Pak for a reason!
Although the game doesn't have anywhere near the amount of dungeons that Ocarina of Time had, it makes up for this with everything else. There are far more sidequests than in Ocarina of Time, and doing them all will most likely take longer than it did to get 100% in OoT. The graphics and music are greatly improved, and the core gameplay stays the same while introducing excellent new mechanics on top of it all – such as transforming.
It's really a shame that so many people never got the chance to play this game when it was first released – many would argue that it's superior to Ocarina of Time in almost every way, and that it rightly deserves to be regarded as the pinnacle of the series instead. As such, it really is an essential download – if you haven't played this game, you're missing out on a truly amazing experience.