Posted on February 11 2015 by Tyler Meehan
Majora’s Mask 3D features numerous changes from its original version on the Nintendo 64, and it in turn offers us unique insights into how the minds behind the Zelda series have changed over time. By examining differences between the remake and the original, we can explore the possible motivations behind these changes and learn how the perspectives and opinions of Nintendo’s finest may have shifted and varied over the past fifteen years. Specifically, through the study of certain magical abilities that have been altered for Majora’s Mask 3D, we can reveal a fundamental shift in the mindset concerning magic power in the Zelda games.
Thus far we have examined the alterations to the magical abilities of two of Link’s transformations, Deku Link and Goron Link. From the former, we learned that Nintendo now expects magic to be used more frequently; from the latter, that they have made some abilities now require more effort by the player to avoid using magic than it does to use them. Both of these shall be reiterated today, and a greater gravity towards this subject shall emerge, as we complete the triad by examining a change to Zora Link’s abilities.
Without further ado, let’s begin today’s analysis.
Zora Link: Full-Speed Swimming
I’m sure many of you saw this one coming.
Of the changes that
Majora’s Mask 3D has received, few have so many people on the fence about it as Zora Link’s swimming mechanics. Some have applauded the choice; others call it a terrible decision. Although I would like to refrain from judgment until I have played the game and experienced it for myself, I have to admit that I definitely lean towards the latter camp. I have long held Zora Link’s swimming as the undisputed king of all swimming mechanics in video games (all video games, mind you, not just the Zelda series); no other game that I’ve played has ever come close the sheer fun and usefulness of swimming as a Zora. However, most reviewers haven’t been too critical of the change – the game’s scores are still pretty darn high – which is pretty much the only thing giving me hope about it right now.
Despite my obvious bias, I can still understand the arguments being put forth by the opposite side. Zora Link’s torpedo-like speed is not the best for maneuvering around obstacles or navigating tight spaces; having a slower speed thus provides players with a method to weave through such areas with a minimal amount of frustration. For gamers who could not adjust to the rapid speed, it can only be expected that they would praise the decision to slow things down. And it’s not like torpedo speed is
gone – players can enter it at will by activating their shield.
However, this shield requires magic to use, and therefore Zora Link’s full speed has become dependent on the player possessing magic power. Forget whether or not you like this change or not – the simple fact is that this displays a
severe departure from the original mindset of those who created the game for the N64. To understand how, one need only examine the areas in which Zora Link’s swimming is employed.
The Settings of the Swimming
Despite being much loved by the fanbase, Zora Link’s unique abilities are perhaps the most limited of any transformation in the game. Only in underwater areas can he truly shine, and only a select few locations are expansive enough for him to actually need to swim in. Let’s examine each of these regions and determine the basic features of their submerged sections:
- Great Bay: a vast, empty region which Link must swim through to reach certain destinations
- Pirates’ Fortress: a giant pool at the entrance; lengthy underwater tunnels with the occasional mines to maneuver around inside
- Pinnacle Rock: a wide open underwater expanse
- Great Bay Temple: a central chamber with a sharp current, from which are multiple offshooting tunnels that lead to large rooms that, at least underwater, are rather empty and featureless
- Waterfall Rapids: a lengthy stretch of river with obstacles that are easily maneuvered around (save for in the racing minigame, where that maneuvering is the entire challenge)
- Ikana River: an empty, straight river
- Stone Tower Temple: two rooms – one with a some mines to swim around, one that is very deep and has few obstacles – connected by a long tunnel
- Zora Moon Dungeon: a series of long, interweaving, empty tunnels
From a design standpoint, then, there appears to be three different types of underwater areas in the game:
- Vast, deep regions with almost no details, secrets, or puzzles – examples being Great Bay, Pinnacle Rock, and the entrance of the Pirates’ Fortress
- Long and narrow rivers/tunnels that require little maneuvering, unless such maneuvering is the entire challenge behind the area – examples being the flooded inner corridors of Pirates’ Fortress, the Beavers’ Waterfall Rapids, Ikana River, and the Zora Moon Dungeon
- Areas which combine the previous two, often via vast, deep chambers connected to one another by long underwater tunnels – examples being the two dungeons to feature submerged areas, Great Bay Temple and Stone Tower Temple
Examining the bodies of water in this way reveals a fundamental truth in the thought process that went into designing these areas: in
Majora’s Mask, the underwater regions are specifically constructed for Zora Link’s torpedo-speed swimming.
With his full speed, Zora Link has the capacity to cross the vast distances of the first type of water region with ease, taking a minimal amount of time to do so. Following the path of the second type is similarly simple, as he can jet through these areas to reach the other end; his maneuverability underwater ensures that he can avoid any obstacles so long as the player is paying enough attention to see them as they approach. The third’s combined approach show off both of these strengths, though they can be a bit more challenging as players try to hit a single tunnel offshooting from a larger room – but then, that is why these areas are in dungeons, where more challenging features are to be expected.
As a result,
having a slower swim speed for Zora Link completely contradicts the design of the swimmable regions. It may offer the player better control, but the number of locations where such control would be worthwhile are few and far between. For the majority of underwater areas, reduced speed turns a quick trip from point A to point B into a lengthy trawl as Zora Link paddles along at a slow pace. This will affect player enjoyment – who really wants to take five minutes to cross Great Bay? – as well as task completion – collecting the Zora Eggs, for instance, is now a much more tedious ordeal, as it requires that you cross several of the game’s massive bodies of water multiple times.
“But that’s why they just tied torpedo-speed to the shield!” supporters of the change will cry. “You can still reach that speed whenever you want!”
Yes, that’s true…at the cost of magic power.
The Meaning Behind the Change
Once again, we can see a fundamental shift in Nintendo’s attitude towards magic by examining this aspect of the remake and original. We’ve already seen that altering the magic-related abilities of Deku Link leads to a downplay of the importance of conserving magic; similarly, the changes to Goron Link’s Spike Roll makes using magic the default purpose of rolling around. But Zora Link’s changes take it far beyond both of those.
The fact is that no player will swim across Great Bay, or pretty much any other underwater region of the game, with regular speed if they can help it – doing so would take far too much time, and there is nothing of interest in these regions to make the slower pace enticing. There will be a handful of instances where one may turn off the shield so they can navigate around an obstacle or two, but once they’re through that, the shield and speed will be turned right back on again. As a result, when it comes to Zora Link,
using magic has now become a necessity.
Altering the swimming mechanic reveals that Nintendo not only expects players to want to use magic on a regular basis – it
punishes them if they do not, with lengthy swims eating up hours of the Terminian day (not something you can always afford in Majora’s Mask…). Compare this to how often the shield was needed in the original version: such occasions were so rare that some players probably went hours as Zora Link without even realizing they had such an ability. The shield of Majora’s Mask for the N64 was cool and quick-to-use, easily killing most enemies it touched, but was only necessary for the Gyorg fight; all other enemies could be maneuvered around and sped past if the player lacked or didn’t feel like spending magic power.
The original title specifically allowed players to use their magic sparingly, or not at all if they chose to. By tying the torpedo-speed to the magic-consuming shield for the remake, Nintendo has now forced us to use magic power on a regular basis; to do otherwise is to turn a quick trip across the ocean into a long and boring journey. Such a move efficiently illustrates one of the key ways in which their attitude towards magic has changed in the past decade and a half. Put simply:
In Majora’s Mask, conserving magic was a simple task; in Majora’s Mask 3D, doing so is a tedious burden.
Using magic allows for what many gamers consider the “standard” of swimming; to not use it becomes an arduous issue that gamers may not be able to afford. It remains
possible to avoid using magic as Zora Link, but the inefficiency and – to be blunt – sheer boredom of such an option ensures that it will only be willingly selected by players who absolutely refuse to use up their magic power.
My bias is showing again, isn’t it? Five drafts of this article and I still can’t get rid of it completely… Okay, other side of the coin – this is not necessarily as detrimental as I’ve made it out to be. As we’ve noted in earlier articles, how good or bad these end up being
depends on what other changes Nintendo has made to the game. Is the sea floor now riddled with Magic-restoring options that Zora Link can pick up at will? Then this isn’t as bad; players can use up magic and refill it as they swim. However, this admission does not in any way affect today’s observations – it is still tedious to have to constantly be on the lookout for Magic jars, and players will still have to go out of their way to keep their magic from running out. I am simply admitting that the developer may have accounted for this problem and taken steps to keep it from becoming a detrimental issue.
Regardless of how each of us stands on the issue, this does further help us to zero in on what Nintendo’s stance towards magic has become in recent years. We have three main points about the changes to magic in
Majora’s Mask 3D that reflect the changed thought process of the company behind it. The gameplay no longer teaches players to conserve magic; the controls have shifted to make using magic a more default state; and now Nintendo is quite simply forcing us to use up our magic power in order to stave off the tediousness and boredom of the slow swim speed.
With these three points in our arsenal, we are now prepared to tackle the core change that has taken place amongst Nintendo’s staff in the past fifteen years. Their opinion on magic, its purpose, and the player’s desires with it have all undergone a transformation in that time span. Come tomorrow, we will at last look at what our three main observations can tell us when viewed together.
Until then, this is Alpha, signing off to go do…stuff.
Artwork by: lychi
The Transformation of
- How Deku Link Reveals a Change in Magic’s Conservation
- How Goron Link Reveals a Change in the Avoidance of Magic
- How Zora Link Reveals a Change in Magic’s Necessity
- How the Remake Reveals the Decline of Magic’s Value