Right Click to Zoom — Fans vs. Funds; A Comparison of Project AM2R and Metroid: Samus Returns

Welcome to this week’s iteration of Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. Today, I’ll be looking into both Project AM2R and the newly released Metroid: Samus Returns, and comparing their different game design choices.

As far as I can tell, this is quite possibly a unique situation to have occurred in video game history. The original Metroid 2 was released on the Game Boy in 1991, and now decades later it has received two full remakes within a year of each other. It’s a rare opportunity to study how different developers and game design decisions can impact the delivery of what is effectively the same game, not to mention what elements of the original source material they keep or discard. Let’s give a brief synopsis of the two first for those not familiar.

Project AM2R (short for Another Metroid 2 Remake) was first begun in 2007 and released in August 2016, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the Metroid franchise. The game was largely the work of Milton “DoctorM64” Guasti, who maintained the AM2R site with a blog of his development updates and design choices. Over the years, he was very thorough in explaining his decisions, ambition, and scope of the game, showing a remarkable amount of professionalism. The process was understandably ongoing, but the end result was an incredibly high quality fan-game incorporating features and updates from the entire Metroid series to that point.

You can still read this development blog on the AM2R website. Sadly, a DMCA claim by Nintendo means the game is no longer officially supported or available for download on the site, but is nonetheless on the internet and easy to find. In fact, just this month an update was released by a dedicated team of fans using the game’s source code, implementing both a New Game+ and Randomizer modes that I will likely try out in the near future.

Metroid: Samus Returns, on the other hand, is the first official “true” Metroid game in the series since Other M in 2010 (the exception being Federation Force, which takes place in the same universe but is a Metroid game in name only). Back in 2015, developers MercurySteam pitched a remake of 2002’s Metroid Fusion to Nintendo for the Wii U/3DS. While the pitch failed, the prototype impressed series creator Yoshio Sakamoto enough to see the team hired to develop their own official Metroid 2 remake instead, and Samus Returns for the 3DS is the result.

Having just played through Samus Returns and completing it the weekend it came out, I believe that MercurySteam did a fantastic job in delivering their vision of the series. At the same time, so did AM2R, so now it’s time to look at what they both did.

Continue reading “Right Click to Zoom — Fans vs. Funds; A Comparison of Project AM2R and Metroid: Samus Returns”

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A Storm of Blood

Due to various circumstances I’ve been very remiss in doing much in the way of writing for the past month, and what little I’ve been doing has largely been things that aren’t ready for public eyes just yet. I did have a chance to review two games over on GameSkinny: Tokyo 42, an interesting but frustrating cyberpunk action game in the vein of Syndicate; and a visual novel about dating girls in North Korea that was bought for me as a dare to review. Never let it be said that I won’t take on such a challenge.

In addition to not writing too much, I’ve not actually had much opportunity to chip away at the backlog over the past month. Instead, I played Final Fantasy 14. A lot of Final Fantasy 14. Talking about my time with that will be the brunt of this article.

There have been a few other games that I’ll quickly go over to acknowledge my playtime. First, my go to aside from FF14 remains Heroes of the Storm, which I’ve still been plugging away at in short intervals and downtime with or without friends. I made it back to Diamond this season after an uncharacteristically good run of placement games (8-2), which was a pleasant return after floating around Platinum for the last couple of seasons. In addition, the upcoming Starcraft hero Stukov is both a huge favourite of mine and is also of my most frequented support role, so I’m looking forward to getting my hands on him.

Beyond those two games, I bought and completed Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia on 3DS. Well, rather, I completed Chapter 5 which is where the plot ends, but I didn’t dabble in any of the post-game stuff. It was a reasonably enjoyable game and I intend to make a post dedicated to it soon.

I also picked up Ever Oasis for 3DS on its release, mostly on a whim. It’s an interesting little game with a mix of Zelda-lite exploration and combat combined with a basic Harvest Moon system of town management. Sadly, while it started out interesting, there’s a few little issues that serve to bog the game down in terms of enjoyment, and it ended up feeling quite shallow and more like busywork rather than fun gameplay. Not sure I’ll get back to that, but again, planning to talk more on that.

Oh yeah, and E3 happened. Naturally I was in no position to attend, being on the wrong hemisphere, but I did pay some attention to it. I was mostly uninteresting by the vast majority of games on offer, but just about broke my chair in excitement when they announced Metroid Prime 4. I’ll most definitely be getting a Switch at some point now, that’s clear enough. Overall though, the presentation was largely meh and didn’t really have many highlights, so I won’t speak too much on this just yet. If anything interesting does come from it, well, odds are I’ll be able to write about those games when I play them.

So with that out of the way, let’s get into Final Fantasy 14 and its newest expansion then. Continue reading “A Storm of Blood”

Finding The Source

Today’s post is going to be about something different from the usual discussion and writing about video games that I normally do here. Simply put, I need a place to ramble on about the thoughts, feelings and emotions that I’ve been subjected to by something — this something being a music album — and there’s fewer better places than a blog. Video game stuff will follow along shortly; feel free to skip this one if you don’t want to hear my thoughts on anything else.

Still with me? Alright. First, background information!

So once upon a time in the year 1995, a Dutch musician by the name of Arjen Anthony Lucassen released an album called The Final Experiment under a music project titled Ayreon. This was a progressive metal concept album which told a very interesting sci-fi story and had quite the narrative, with a number of guest vocalists brought on to play the roles of various characters.

The narrative itself concerns the titular Final Experiment occurring in 2084 when, with an apocalyptic war unfurling, humanity attempts to change history by sending a message back in time. This message appears as visions of the destruction to a blind bard in the Middle Ages by the name of Ayreon, who attempts to warn the populace and King Arthur’s court of what he sees.

Continue reading “Finding The Source”

The Persona Aftermath

It’s been almost two weeks after I finished Persona 5, settling down to do so a couple of days after the last post. There’s been a huge amount I wanted to say, and I was still fully intending on doing a proper review for it on GameSkinny or for here, but ultimately I just haven’t been up to writing much lately. I will hopefully have it written up in a couple of days, by which point the window will likely be closed for getting any real attention or readership for it, but no matter.

I really don’t know how to quantify how much I liked Persona 5 though. I feel like I could call it my favourite game ever, yet part of me suspects that isn’t the case and I could probably argue it with a few others. I feel like I could call it the perfect JRPG, but I know for a fact that there are flaws and issues with it, even if most don’t surface unless I really start nitpicking. I suppose I’d liken it as similar to Gigguk’s Perfect Anime, which is a thought provoking take on how we absorb entertainment as a whole. Persona 5 is my Perfect Game, just about, and I don’t expect another game to come along and topple it in my eyes anytime soon.

At least not until Trails of Cold Steel III, anyway. Fingers crossed on that one.

The other games that I’d call my favourite games are things like Baldur’s Gate 2, Morrowind, Chrono Trigger — games that I played more in my formative years that have stayed with me since, but it’s hard to know if I’d feel the same way if I was introduced to them today. At the same time, they have shaped my tastes in games so much that even if they may not “hold up” if first played today, they have been so influential that I would be loathe to call them not as good. Besides, they’re all games I can (and have) replayed even in more recent years and found plenty of enjoyment.

By contrast, the games of the recent couple of years that have truly stuck out for me are more like modern updates and advances in those earlier genres. The first two Trails of Cold Steel games, for example, gained similar responses from me as Persona 5 by basically being exactly what I wanted out of a JRPG in terms of gameplay systems and story.

Now Persona 5 has come along and set the bar higher, yet at the same time I don’t consider the overall feel of the characters and party members in P5 to reach the level that Cold Steel did. I liked most if not all of the Persona 5 characters both major and minor, protagonist and antagonist, but they weren’t written as cohesively and emotively (nor were they as numerous) as the overall cast of the Cold Steel games. Everything else is a step above in Persona’s favour, but if such an important aspect is lower, could the game be called perfect? These are the things I think about, even if that in itself is nitpicking.

That said, it’s been nearly two weeks and these thoughts have not ever left my mind for too long. Persona 5 may be over as an experience, but it has remained with me so profoundly ever since that it’s coloured my gaming habits and related moods. There’s a very real chance I’ll fight off my urge to pick up new games and work on completing them and instead go replay the game on a harder difficulty, not even a month after its release. That’s the kind of appeal the game has presented for me.

Since I haven’t done that, instead I went looking for gaming experiences like Persona 5’s. I thought I’d swear off JRPGs for a while because others can’t compete, but instead I picked up Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse once more, set on beating that after putting it down for P5. And beat it I did — that became my new obsession, forcing every other game out for a while as I struggled to fill the hole Persona left in my heart.

Thankfully there were quite a few key systems and narrative points in SMT4 that helped ease off the Persona come-down enough, and it itself was a very good game overall. Great themes, enjoyable story, likeable characters, solid battle system… and the worst final dungeon in a JRPG that I can think of. Seriously that last dungeon was atrociously badly designed in all ways and it was almost enough to kill off all my positive feelings of the game had it lasted even a few minutes longer (and it lasted HOURS). Thankfully, the final boss fights more than made up for that and left me with a satisfying conclusion. I’ll share more thoughts on that fully soon, with luck.

Nonetheless, ever since I finished with that game, I’ve been bouncing from title to title trying to find something to captivate me as it did, and nothing has succeeded. I’ve played a huge amount of Heroes of the Storm following that big update, I’ve rummaged through my 3DS collection for titles I never finished and flicked through about half a dozen of those, and I’ve started playing the Skyrim mod Enderal (which is quite good) among other games, and I’ve continued to drop some time into FF14. But nothing is quite having that same effect.

I suppose I should elaborate and say that it’s quite uncommon for me to stick to a game from start to finish in one go from the launch onwards. Normally I multitask profusely and put games aside for variety the moment I get bored or frustrated with them. It’s only more recently that I’ve found the patience and persistence to get through more titles from start to finish, and even that has started to vanish. Persona just did it better, and now other games aren’t captivating me enough, regardless of their genre.

It’s actually frustrating to feel this way, but there you have it I suppose. Persona 5 — so good that it’s ruined all other gaming enjoyment for me since. I did say that I realised halfway through that choosing not to judge it fully until I’d reached the end felt meaningless when I was growing despondent at the mere thought that it would eventually end, and I didn’t truly expect to seriously feel that once the credits had rolled. But I do.

All the way throughout, Persona 5 managed to keep my attention rapt. 98 hours total play time, and it only had the most minor of fumbles in terms of pacing and focus. It never wore out its welcome or felt like it dragged on. Some might say it’s a bit slow to start and I can see that, but I was quick to be pulled into its world and want to experience more. As the plot progressed and the dungeons continued, I always wanted to see and know more. I wanted answers for the questions the game was presenting to me, and I was rarely if ever left disappointed. If I did feel that way, it wasn’t because the game failed to deliver, but simply because I was hoping the game might push or explore a couple of concepts further yet chose not to do so. It’s not necessarily a defect or a flaw in the game; it’s merely how I wanted more narrative elements to chew and digest on.

By the time the credits had rolled, the story was told from start to finish in a completely satisfying manner. All the major plot points were resolved and all the characters had their moment to shine in some way. The narrative smarted small and ramped up constantly until it capped in a truly grandiose Shin Megami Tensei fashion. The final boss wasn’t particularly challenging for my setup, but it was epic enough to feel fitting. Start to finish, all of it a great game that I truly adored.

I’m happy to call Persona 5 the best Persona game. I’m even happy to call it the best game in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise as well as the best game of 2017 so far. But I’m even happier to go further than that: I’m happy to call Persona 5 my favourite JRPG ever. I firmly believe it sets the new benchmark to beat and will be talked about in the years to come in the same manner as games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 7, and yes, Persona 4 are now. As said above, I’d just about call it my Perfect Game. It’s hit me so hard that it is skewing how I play and enjoy games afterwards.

So that’s that. Now I need to find a way out of this funk and to keep moving forward with the games progression. Things I need to write soon: proper in-depth review for Persona 5’s game elements, more discussion about SMT4:A (especially compared to SMT4 and other SMT games), a discussion about character narratives using P5 and Trails of Cold Steel as comparisons, coverage of Enderal, and also chatting a little about my random dabblings in Elder Scrolls Online. And all while writing this, I need to find a new game that’ll keep my attention that can be chalked off the Backlog, because Heroes of the Storm cannot qualify for such a thing.

Look forward to all of that soon… hopefully.

NieR-ly Amazing

Yesterday I finished my playthrough of NieR: Automata, completing all five of the primary endings and seeing the “true conclusion”. It was a really enjoyable experience and, overall, a great game. It’s receiving a lot of positive feedback from many sources, including a number of friends and other people I chat with about such things. Some people are quick to call it Game of the Year material, but personally I wouldn’t even call it the Game of the Month — that title rests with Horizon in my eyes. That doesn’t detract from its quality or the fact that I’m glad it exists, and I’d highly encourage most to play it.

So let’s talk about it. First: gameplay. It’s got a fairly enjoyable combat system which is drawn from the standard Platinum Games formula – flashy and dynamic action combat with an emphasis on timing evasions in order to execute retaliation combos. Unlike Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising, however, the combat is somewhat basic. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it generally gets the job done nicely, but ultimately it lacks a lot of the depth and complexity of those games.

Instead, it combines the top down shooter aspect that Yoko Taro is so known for to add bullet hell elements to the game, both for you and for enemies. That keeps you pressing the R1 button in addition to your combos, but said combos are relatively sparse and don’t require too much in order to maximise them, tapping the dodge button just in time from the well telegraphed attacks in order to dodge and retaliate.

The combat is further simplified by the fact that it’s not merely an action game, but also an action RPG. As such, with so much of your power and survivability derived from numerical stats, it’s pretty easy to outscale enemies in the process of exploration and side quests. This is further compounded by the ability to customise your “programming” (you are an android character, after all) to supplement it with extra buffs and effects. In my case, I just combined the ability to heal when my HP gets low, gain HP regen after not taking damage for a few seconds, and gaining HP based on % of damage I dealt, and from then on combat was a simple matter. I was only playing on Normal difficulty though; I hear it gets pretty brutal on the higher settings, but that’s normally not my focus and I was satisfied with the gameplay.

Besides, the gameplay is largely the side dishes and condiments to the plot and narrative in NieR: Automata compared to the reverse being true in the average game. I’ve dabbled in Yoko Taro’s writing before with the first game and he’s been held in well regard before, but this was the first time I dove headfirst into it. It’s a fairly common theme in a lot of Japanese fiction to experiment with concepts of existentialism, but Taro clearly enjoys taking it even further, combining this with general weird situations and questions that you likely won’t encounter in your average video game.

Let me give you an example: I witnessed a constantly spawning pile of machines pouring into the arena with me, screaming “THIS CANNOT CONTINUE” repeatedly until they all suddenly stopped, started moving to combine into a strange egg-shaped structure… which then cracked open like an egg, spitting out strange fluid within which was a naked genital-less man that looked like Sephiroth from FF7. To say that scene was expected and typical to things I have encountered before would be a blatant lie.

There are a lot of strange and unexpected scenes like this, with a large number of interesting set pieces and encounters that are both enjoyable to play through and fun to contemplate. Much contemplation is had, too, since the writing asks all kinds of philosophical, existential questions. After all, you’re playing as androids fighting as machines, both of which have aspects and responses that you wouldn’t expect of them. It asks questions about what makes you guys so different, what makes humanity so different, and how one can define a life or many lives in certain contexts.

Perhaps the biggest complaint I have with the game is that while many of these philosophical questions are presented, it quite rarely takes the time to explore them fully. If I were being disingenuous, I’d say that it’s more or less setting up a dart board of philosophical concepts and throwing darts at them until it sticks, but I don’t think that’s the case. Rather, I feel like these could have been explored but there simply wasn’t the time or budget in order to make it so. Or, perhaps, NieR chooses instead to handwave those with the comment “Not all questions need to be answered”, which appears as a direct quote in the game; I’d like to think that the quote was merely used in the present context at the time, however, rather than applying to the whole game.

Instead, a number of cool ideas are brought up, and a number of plot twists or events occur that both intrigue the player, but only a few are properly dove in to or expanded on. This means that a number of interesting side characters (and even some bosses!) get lots of exploration, but others are just left by the wayside almost as soon as they’re brought up.

Still, you could say that it’s a credit to the quality of the writing that I wanted more of it by the end, but ultimately I did enjoy what I experienced. There were some logical inconsistencies between character reactions in between events — lead characters such as 2B and 9S will take turns considering the machines as more than enemies while the other reminds them that they’re just soulless foes, only to swap stances a few minutes later. In addition, some of the characters were kind of flat, with the lead character 2B coming off as aloof and standoffish with little in the way of personality. While there are definitely plot reasons for that which are elaborated on, it still ends up meaning that you have less direct attachment to her (and instead people on the internet are relying on the physical aspects instead).

By contrast, 9S is an extremely interesting and believable character, even if he occasionally comes across as whiny… but when he does, it makes perfect sense, and you really feel for the guy by the end of the tale. I’d say that the game focuses on him more so than even 2B, and a lot of people underrate 9S in the process.

Nonetheless, the game presents a lot of interesting and emotional scenes, and touches on or elaborates a lot of elements from the first NieR that returning fans will be extremely pleased to see. I wasn’t always sold on what was happening, but I did get quite invested and want to push on to the end, and the ending left me quite satisfied. In fact, the final “true” ending culminated in one of the better conclusions to a video game I remember in recent times. So many games are kind of abrupt or half-hearted with their endings, but NieR: Automata goes out of its way to touch at the player’s heart strings, even reaching out to them through the fourth wall and drawing them into the process. If you decide to play the game, it is absolutely worth pushing on to the E path ending, just for the combination of satisfying conclusion, excellent music, and other elements that would be spoiled to elaborate on.

So overall, it should be clear that I quite liked the game and enjoyed it greatly. It’s not perfect in any sense, but I’m glad it exists and I’m really glad I played it.

And it’s kind of surprising that it DOES exist, when you think about it. Yoko Taro’s games have largely been mediocre affairs developed by a B-team of Square Enix devs and carried by left of centre writing and dark, philosophically driven plots. NieR was generally received with less than stellar responses, but developed a cult classic following based on the stories it offered. Yet somehow, it was given a sequel in a collaboration of the well-loved but “in a slump” Platinum Games and built on not a huge budget provided from the dregs of Final Fantasy XV development, released in the wake of that massive launch. And despite all these strange and unlikely circumstances, a really surprisingly good, enjoyable, and thoughtful experience has emerged.

It might not be the best game of the year/month, but it’s nonetheless a real surprise and I’m truly glad it exists. More games like it need to be made; games from well known and not-indie developers that are willing to break the mould and try something experimental or touch on different and interesting narratives.

So, with NieR finished, I’m more or less just dabbling in other games and filling time with Final Fantasy 14 until Persona 5 is released. Less than a week left, and then that’ll be my primary focus for a while I’d imagine. It’s finally starting to sink in that it’s almost here, and hype is beginning despite my best efforts to the contrary. Exciting. Soon!~

Dawn of Another Day – A Second Opinion

While I have many games to talk about in the coming days, I’ve been neglecting to post one important thing. Following up on my write-up regarding Majora’s Mask and how I felt about it, the friend that I played the game with chose to write his own thoughts on the matter as well. This turned into a rather lengthy but interesting discourse about the key differences between Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, including what each does best.

Since it’s such an interesting read and in keeping with the general spirit of this blog, he’s requested that it be posted here and I am only too happy to do so. He’s chosen to remain anonymous, but nonetheless, the rest of the post beneath the cut is all his writing.

Continue reading “Dawn of Another Day – A Second Opinion”

Dawn of A New Day

It took three separate purchases, multiple years, and countless attempts before I finally stuck with it and completed it, but it’s done at last: I have beaten Majora’s Mask. Strike one off the backlog, and particularly off the Bucket List.

It’s hard to say much about this game that hasn’t been said in the decade and a half since the game first debuted. There are two particularly vocal stances on how the game was received: either that it was good, but Ocarina of Time was better; or that it’s the pinnacle of the Zelda series because it eschews much of the formula in order to tell a very different and darker kind of narrative. I can see where both schools of thought would rise from, but my opinion is much more moderate than them.

I’ll cover some logistics about my playthrough first, because it’s relevant to how I approached it. Rather than play this solo, the entirety of the game was played in tandem with a good friend of mine, and while he’d finished the game many years ago he didn’t remember all the details so it was still fresh enough for us to experience unhindered. We were both present for the whole game, watched the entire thing, and just swapped controllers every so often. It was helpful to get extra opinions and suggestions for some of the trickier puzzles, and it meant we had somebody attempting new things while the other was looking up answers so we didn’t get completely complacent and reliant on guides.

This was a pretty good setup for playing the game. My friend holds Ocarina of Time in extremely high regard, so he was interested in replaying Majora’s Mask to see how it held up by contrast, and I had never experienced the game, so we both had different viewpoints that we could discuss as we progressed. It also meant that if we got stuck or frustrated, or else were doing tedious filler tasks and grinding, we could pass the controller back and forth in order to keep focused. Quite frankly, had we not been doing so, I imagine it would have taken much, much longer to finish alone – hence why I haven’t finished it before despite multiple attempts.

Nonetheless, with this setup in play, we finished the game in about four extended play sessions. We didn’t 100% the game, but we did get to the point that we considered effectively “complete” – we got all the masks, including the Fierce Deity mask, we completed most of the major sidequests in the Bomber’s Notebook (especially the legendary Anju and Kafei quest), and we made sure to beat the final boss before getting that final mask so it was still actually a challenge. Clearing it afterwards with the mask was absolutely laughable – that thing is utterly disgusting in how overpowered it is but I guess that’s the point.

So, my experience with Zelda games is actually different from many, as I usually find a lot more enjoyment in the 2D games. If I had to pick three personal favourites, they’d be Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Ages, and Wind Waker, which is different from what many consider the best entries in the series. I did enjoy Ocarina of Time and I cannot deny that it earns much of the praise it gets, but it took me almost as many attempts to finish as Majora’s Mask did, so I can hardly say that it gripped me right to the end. In fact, that’s the case with most of the non-2D Zelda games – it takes me a tremendous amount of time to stick with them long enough to see them through to the end. I don’t know if that’s anything to do with the series or just my personal approach to playing.

Regardless, Majora’s Mask is an interesting experience, but not enough to actually break that habit of not being able to stick with it. I don’t really know what that means for how the game performs as a whole. It definitely stands out in contrast to the other major Zelda games though, in the sense that the overall game experience is much more focused. Rather than the biggest, most sprawling world it can manage at the time, Majora’s Mask covers a smaller (but still sizable) area and has you focus on it and its intricacies in a more… let’s say intimate fashion.

Clock Town felt more personable to me than any part in Ocarina of Time, for example, because I spent so much time interacting with it in different ways and learning its secrets. Most importantly though, I learnt about the secrets, habits, interests and lives of the occupants. With most of the models and features lifted completely from the sister game, any developments in graphics went instead to making these characters more interesting.

Each of them had a story to tell, and the Anju and Kafei sidequest showcases that best: gradually uncovering the relationship of these two characters with their own troubles and problems, helping them out with them, and then finally being there to witness their joyous reunion literally moments before the world is ending. Their insistence on being together and waiting for each other to uphold their promise was quite touching. While it’s the major sidequest of the game, there are a number of other small examples of it throughout the game, and it really made the world of Termina feel much more personal than the average Hyrule visit.

It’s this element of delivering the narrative that allows Majora’s to really keep my attention slightly more than other Zelda games, I feel. Generally, the standard Zelda game will have you know roughly how the game is going to play out, since you’re eventually going to get all the pieces of X in order to solve Y and fight Ganon, whether that’s assembling the Triforce or finding some other means to solve the plot. Even if there’s sometimes padding between this, or the actual item gathering is split in half (like Ocarina seeing the first third of the game opening the Temple of Time, and then the second half unifying the Sages), this is generally how it pans out.

This happens in Majora’s Mask as well – restore the four spirits of the land in order to stop the moon from falling. You know that’s the objective from the end of the first three days, where Skull Kid makes it perfectly clear that the confrontation with him will be the end and everything you do works towards that. But the extra stories of the various characters across the world and how they interact or interplay with one another made it feel just that little bit more personal and appreciable to me, and I think that aids Majora’s narrative as well.

It’s also quite a dark and mature game by Zelda standards. Sure, Ocarina of Time sees the world fall to darkness under seven years of Ganondorf’s tyrannical rule, but even then the people in Kakariko Village and elsewhere are living their lives and functioning to a point. By contrast, Clock Town can see their inevitable end and knows that it will arrive in just a matter of days, with each day seeing them more and more panicked and divided on whether to flee, or whether to embrace their end.

The areas themselves are also dark, dreary and somewhat uninviting compared to their counterparts. The frozen mountain of the Gorons is cold, desolate, and lacking their leader. The Zora are depressed because their singer has lost her voice. Ikana Canyon is a desolate wasteland inhabited only by the undead and living in the shadow of their fallen kingdom – coincidentally, this was probably my favourite area in the game, since it really portrayed that sense of darkness and despair best. It was also quite sad that each transformation mask came from the death of a hero or strong representative of the race, and they all acknowledge you as that fallen person despite them actually being gone – Link gets little direct credit for much of what he accomplishes, and at the end who they believe to be their hero will be dead and gone regardless of what you accomplish.

Despite all this dreariness, it still pushed me to want to learn and explore more, and helping the residents with their issues in order to access more of the world felt much more relatable than other Zelda games. It was that extra touch that made the narrative more enjoyable to me, and so I can definitely see why it’s Majora’s Mask that is praised for being the deepest and most interesting Zelda game, if not the best in terms of gameplay.

So in gameplay, did it hold up? I think so. The core elements and items that are basically on the Zelda checklist all make their appearance, what with the bow and various magical arrows, the hookshot, the mirror shield, an instrument… but I liked that the transformation masks were all both familiar yet added new layers of complexity to the game. Goron rolling quickly became our default mode of transportation, the Zora form was useful for its interesting boomerang mechanics and awesome swimming, and fast moving, area damaging and high flying Deku Scrub can’t be understated. Swapping between masks and utilising Ocarina songs in quick succession could be awkward and irritating in places, but nothing I wasn’t able to get over quickly.

In addition, the dungeons were well designed, interesting to explore, offered a number of little exploration challenges in finding the stray fairies, and so on. I also liked that most of the key items actually came from not the primary four Temples, and the treasure of each was either the bow or a new type of arrow that behaved differently. It made it feel that you could go and explore the world more without necessarily having to go clear each dungeon sequentially, even if that’s what you did. It also allowed for a lot of time in between dungeons to be spent finding the new areas or seeing what it allowed us to do in order to better aid an NPC’s requests.

I think I’ve waxed on about the game for a bit now, so I’ll take a moment to bring up a few quick cons. Again, there were times where rapidly swapping between masks and trying to play songs frequently could get somewhat tedious, notably in the Stone Tower and subsequent Temple where you had to play the Elegy of Emptiness multiple times to hit several switches at once. The Zora behaved very awkwardly in combat, even underwater.

There was one or two puzzles that were really obtuse and needed a guide, such as allowing yourself to get grappled by an enemy in order to be thrown up to a key, even though you’d instinctively defeat the enemy each time. And a few of the sidequests relating to people were on such tight schedules and performances that it required multiple resets back to the First Day in order to complete it… though that said, with the Song of Inverted Time, I rarely felt that the time limit was otherwise too imposing or worrisome and cleared the dungeons in time.

One big thing was that many of the boss fights were extremely hit or miss. The first boss in the Woodfall Temple (don’t remember his name) was complicated and interesting. The Goron rolling chase that was Goht was a lot of fun. Fighting the skeleton bosses in the throne room of Ikana Castle was awesome, and the final boss was quite enjoyable and suitably challenging until I properly learned the pattern – I got a suitable thrill and cheer out of beating him with only a heart to spare.

But otherwise, many of the bosses were extremely weak and plain. The worms in the Stone Tower were awe-inspiring to fight even after you became Giant to combat them, but they were otherwise super simple and dull, though I understand that this fight was made more complicated and fun in the 3DS version. The fish boss in the Termina Bay Temple was dull and uninteresting, and did way too much damage for what it was. Quite a few of them just felt like a letdown.

Still, many of these are ultimately little annoyances. At the end of the day, I quite enjoyed my time in Majora’s Mask. It was an interesting narrative experience, had some well designed puzzles and dungeons, had a few good fights, and overall was an enjoyable game to play.

That said… I’m fairly certain everyone has known that since 2000. Oh well!

It’s the end of January and we’re hitting the first influx of newly released high priority games this year, so I’ll be picking up and going through as many of these as I can. Look out for my thoughts on those in the coming days.