A Shadow on Majora’s Mask
Nintendo understandably wanted to maintain the momentum for The Legend of Zelda while the figurative iron was still hot and fresh in the minds of gamers around the globe. Plans for an enhanced edition of the game (which would remix existing features and add new content) were planned for the N64’s disk drive peripheral, the Nintendo 64DD. Though these plans were eventually shelved with the N64DD’s failure to connect with gamers in Japan, this development led to the creation of a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time (a rarity for a franchise largely comprised of standalone installments) with 2000’s The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
Majora’s Mask has naturally always been compared to Ocarina of Time. It was, after all, a sequel to that game, the first home console Zelda game released after Ocarina of Time, and the only other Zelda game ever released for the N64. Yet, another major factor in this comparison is that, because of the rushed development window, Majora’s Mask reuses a lot of the same assets from Ocarina of Time. Those reused assets are most visible in the character designs. This is explained away as Link traveling to Termina, an alternate version of Hyrule but, for all intents and purposes, the characters Link encounters in Majora’s Mask are meant to be new ones.
Like Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask was met with critical acclaim and was a commercial success. However, it was not as warmly received as its predecessor. Given their constraints, the development team opted to go deeper and darker with the game’s scope rather than try to recreate the more sweeping Ocarina of Time. That game presented players with an epic battle between good and evil across a seven-year time jump and nine full dungeons. Majora’s Mask only featured five dungeons, including the Moon, with players revisiting the same areas and events with the game’s central three-day time loop premise.
A solid game in its own right, Majora’s Mask falls awkwardly into a space of having too much of its personality and presentation echoing Ocarina of Time instead of independently forging its own voice. This problem would effectively continue to haunt Majora’s Mask when it received a remake on the Nintendo 3DS in 2015, two years after Ocarina of Time received its own 3D remake on the handheld console. Though a set of separate remakes which were released 15 years after those first impressions, there was still a popular perception that Majora’s Mask fell short of Ocarina of Time on the 3DS. It effectively cemented the popular perception that Majora’s Mask lived in the shadow of its older, more successful sibling.
As for the Ocarina of Time N64 DD project, it was revived for the GameCube several years later and ported to the console as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Master Quest in 2002. The enhanced remaster not only subtly upgraded the technical presentation for the more advanced hardware, but included an alternate game mode, the Master Quest, which increased the difficulty and remixed the game’s puzzles and dungeon layout. Critically lauded, Master Quest was released the same year as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker on the GameCube, practically demanding direct comparison from a franchise rediscovering its identity.
The Wind Waker and Burden of Expectations
When the GameCube was unveiled at the 2000 Nintendo Space World exposition, a technical presentation showcasing the console’s significantly improved graphical capabilities included a sequence of Link fighting Ganondorf in a darkened castle. While fans were excited that this demo suggested the tonal successor to Ocarina of Time was in the works, Nintendo wasn’t particularly interested in pursuing the darker fantasy stylings it had during the N64 era. Instead, 2002’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker featured a cartoonish, cel-shaded animation style, offering a more family-friendly tone without compromising on the depth or quality of gameplay.