Majora’s Mask brought an entirely new system of gameplay to the Zelda table: the mask system. While the inventories in other games didn’t typically extend beyond weapons and tools and items for sale, trade, or storage in bottles, given that Zelda was associated more with action-adventure elements than role-playing ones, the Nintendo 64’s second Zelda gem included more than twenty. Masks specifically had been featured in the series’ prior installment – Ocarina of Time – but had only played a minor role in a small sidequest. Now they would be shoved front-and-center, and would play a pivotal role as one of the pillars that made the gameplay of Majora’s Mask so unique.
The masks of Majora’s Mask served a number of purposes: from granting Link new abilities to allowing access to previously blocked-off areas to even transforming Link into another character entirely. The result was unprecedented: the new Zelda had mounds of replayability compared to previous titles, since players could find new ways of obtaining certain powerful masks earlier in the game, devise combat strategies involving any of the four main player-character forms, or seek out methods of breaking the infamous three-day system. Usually obtaining masks involved a series of events related to Majora‘s many NPCs, which made finding them fun and interesting, even if it grew a tad bit frustrating sometimes.
For the purpose of discussion, masks can be separated into three categories: (1) transformation masks, the most important of the three, which transform Link into one of four powered-up characters; (2) ability masks, which have a direct effect on gameplay but do not transform Link; and (3) event masks, which do not grant Link any special abilities or effects, but which are used to complete certain event sequences.
Transformation Masks: The Bread and Butter
The most radical of the mask types are the transformation masks. Unlike most other masks used or obtained throughout the game, transformation masks are always directly linked to the main storyline of the game. They stem from a magical healing song, first used to break the curse cast on Link by the Skull Kid in the beginning of the game. With the song’s power, wounded souls of those who have passed can be healed, leaving behind a mask containing the essence of their spirit.
Over the course of the game, Link obtains three important transformation masks: the Deku Mask, which turns Link into a leafy Deku Scrub; the Goron Mask, which transforms Link into a rough and tough rock-eating Goron; and the Zora Mask, which transforms Link into an agile and aggressive Zora. Each form has strengths and weaknesses and unique abilities that range in usefulness between combat and field or dungeon exploration.
For example, with the Deku Mask, Link can burrow into Deku Flowers and launch himself into the air, slowly gliding across gaps or pits or other hazards. While in the air, Link is vulnerable to attack by enemies, however, but he can also drop Deku Nuts like bombs onto the enemy. Despite being relatively weak combat-wise, this ability alone makes the Deku Link form indispensable when traveling throughout the first region of the game. Similarly, the Goron Mask allows Link to travel through lava, but prevents him from entering deep water, and the Zora Mask allows Link to move freely and easily through water, but is weak against fire and ice hazards. Knowing these strengths and weaknesses is key to surviving Link’s journey in Termina.
While assuming any of Link’s four forms, you also assume the identity of the soul from whom the mask was made. For example, when Link dons the Goron Mask, he becomes Darmani, hero of the Gorons. He’ll be able to take advantage of his double-life to uncover clues and to read the written scripts unique to each race in order to help in the quest to save Termina from the apocalypse.
We won’t spoil the other abilities of the three alternate forms, for those players who haven’t had a chance to pick up this brilliant installment in the series, but know that we’ve just scratched the surface in the way of what you can do with those three masks. And, wait, didn’t we mention a fourth…?
Ability Masks: The Side Salad
Less game-altering than the transformation masks are the ability masks, masks which have special effects in the field when worn or that alter Link’s physical abilities. There are five masks in total that fall into this category, and each of them adds something unique to the table. Unlike the transformation masks, each of these masks has absolutely nothing to do with the main storyline, but most of them play a part in filling the Bomber’s Notebook.
The most exemplary of these masks is the Bunny Hood, previously seen in Ocarina of Time. In that game, Link sold it to a prospective distance runner for a high price, but in this game, it’ll serve a more direct purpose. The Bunny Hood increases Link’s running speed astronomically, giving him a bit of a boost when he needs to jump across gaps or cross Termina Field prior to rescuing his horse. Another example is the Great Fairy’s Mask, which, when worn, will summon any Stray Fairies in any given room to Link’s position, which is of great help in the Stray Fairies hunt within each of the game’s four main dungeons. Perhaps the most drastic ability is that of the Giant’s Mask, which will cause Link to grow to a gargantuan size in order to fight against an over-large boss, all at the price of an incremental magic payment. Other abilities include invisibility to enemies and guards and an unlimited supply of Bombs.
Ability masks have a myriad of uses, but tend to be more difficult to discover. Keep your wits about you and you might be able to find them all.
Event Masks: And Now For Dessert
The last of the three types is the event mask. Unlike the transformation and ability masks, event masks grant you no outstanding abilities for use in the field. They are, however, required to complete certain sidequests, and sometimes even required to progress through the main game. The Garo Mask, for example, is used to access an area late in the game, and Kafei’s Mask will help Link in his hunt for the missing youth. Most masks simply coax certain reactions out of people, would-be-enemies, or even inanimate objects, allowing Link to progress through certain areas or trigger events to earn collectibles. Others have more cryptic applications.
How difficult it is to obtain event masks ranges from incredibly simple to extremely hard. Certain sidequests might offer multiple potential additions to Link’s mask collection depending on the paths you might choose, in which case you’re often forced to revisit them a second or third time to reap all the rewards.
Collecting Masks: The Majora’s Mask Experience
Using the masks is all well and good, but the real fun comes in collecting them. Most of them are deeply tied to some sidequest, and each of them has a history behind it. The Kamaro’s Mask, for example, bestows upon Link the moves of the legendary dancer, who lost his life tragically and whose wounded soul dances on somewhere in Termina. The Bremen Mask was once worn by the leader of an animal troupe and stolen by the music box man, Guru-Guru.
Unraveling these histories and the events that lead to discovering them is the real meat of the Majora’s Mask experience. It is this element of the game that is unique, and that has not been replicated since.