You may have heard that The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is the most challenging Zelda game, or the most stressful, weirdest, and saddest. Most of that is correct. It's also a great game that has now been remade for the Nintendo 3DS. If you decide to play the very good remake (you should!), here are some almost entirely spoiler-free tips:
It is true the game only gives you 72 hours (closer to 72 minutes) to save the world of Termina before the moon crushes it, and it is true that you cannot save the world of Termina in your first 72-"hour" attempt. Nor in the second, third or fourth. You will have to jump back in time and try again and again.
You will experience Termina's final three days of existence—each with darkening skies, telltale music and numerous civilians moving along pre-determined three-day routes—multiple times. You'll learn those 72 hours. You'll get used to the fact that it rains on day two. You'll begin to recognize the postman's route. You'll see the paths and the patterns, and you will interact with as much of that stuff as possible, but, yes, you will not be able to get to it all and, sometimes, you'll have to re-do things you've already done as you play through the game's 72-hour cycle.
But please don't worry.
The game is designed so that, if you're playing it well, you actually have to replay very little. That's in part because you don't lose key items and masks when you go back in time, and the things you retain will help you shortcut past previous tasks you've accomplished the next time you go through the cycle. Without getting too specific, for example, one of the game's 24 collectible masks lets you bypass a specific sequence that you only have to play once. Don't wear it and you have to play a several-minute chase sequence. Wear it and, for story reasons, the characters who wanted to chase you will beg off.
This is the most important tip! Do this. Find a scarecrow (there's more than one). Talk to him. He will tell you a tip that will cut your stress in half. Trust me. And the thing he teaches you? Do it every time you start a new 72-hour cycle.
The chief wonder of Majora's Mask is its central town and the clockwork movement of its citizens through it. Every character you see in Clock Town has a story. Each of them does certain things throughout the 72-hour cycle. And nearly all of them, along with several characters who live outside of the central town, will be added to your Bomber's Notebook. The game will show you how this works. Make sure you understand it.
If you meet a character with whom you can have a gameplay-significant interaction, they'll be added as a new timeline in your notebook. If you see a darkened strip on their timeline, that's an indication of when in the 72-hour cycle you can have a gameplay-significant interaction with them, so try to interact with them at that time (if you can find them then, which is half the challenge). And once you've done everything you can with the character, there will be a red badge next to their portrait. Congrats! You're done with them—unless interacting with them was required to set up interactions with another character in the notebook.
All of these helpful notebook annotations survive your trips back in time, but do be aware that anything you did with those characters is undone when you go back, because, you know, that's how time travel works.
OK, let me show you something, though I was thinking maybe I shouldn't for fear of scaring you off. No, I'll show you. You can handle this:
This is how the Bomber's Notebook appears on the top screen of the 3DS, once you've pressed start to open it up.
- The first guy here has a dark timeline marker, because I've met him but haven't interacted with him at the right moment.
- The second guy has a blue timeline and a red badge, because I interacted with him successfully at the right moments.
- The third guy has a red timeline, because I interacted with him at the right moment but failed at the expected interaction. I now have a good indication of when I need to go back to him and try again.
- The couple are people I've interacted with successfully on days one and two, but I have no badge next to them because, having played the game before on the N64, I know that I have to interact with them on the third day, too (if you're wondering why the game doesn't give me a black timeline for that to at least hint at the possibility, I'm not sure—I'm not clear on why you'll sometimes get a black timeline marker, which is essentially a hint, and why you sometimes won't).
OK, so, yeah, that's somewhat confusing, but you'll get it as you play. And you'll be helped by the fact that the 3DS' lower screen displays helpful info about whatever part of the timeline you've highlighted on the top screen.
For example, here's what was on the lower screen looked like when I captured the timeline image above:
Crap. I just scared some of you off from playing the game, didn't I? Don't mind me.
Do this for the reasons mentioned in the previous tip and because, really, that's the point of Majora's Mask. Its citizens are its best puzzles. Its dungeons are secondary.
The little kids wandering around town will always point you towards one of the side-quests that make up about 70% of Majora's Mask. You can talk to all five of them, once each cycle, for new notebook entries that point you towards an interesting occurrence. They didn't do this in the N64 version, but it's a handy way in the 3DS remake to get vague hints about some of the game's best secrets.
In the 3DS remake, you can set an in-game alarm that you can use to remind you when, say, it's time to go sneak into the hotel at night to have a secret conversation with a key character. This is a good upgrade. Use it.
This won't make sense until you've gotten a mask that transforms you into something else, watched the animation that happens, done the transformations a few more times, seen the animations a few more times and wondered, man, are these animations going to play every single time? Yes, they are. But if you tap the mask icon—or one of the 3DS face buttons—when they start playing, they'll skip to the end.
Considered possibly the greatest sidequest of all time, the Majora's Mask sidequest involving Anju and Kafei is also fairly complex and not solvable until you've been able to access the game's fourth major zone (the one in the east). So save yourself some time and don't plunge too deeply into that quest until you've gotten that far. But, let me tell you, it'll be worth it!
By the time you're going to the game's aquatic zone, you should have three bottles. (Our own Jason Schreier only had two and had a poor experience as a result). Having three will save you some backtracking. If you don't have three, can I recommend you do anything you can at the ranch?
Unless you get really lost, you should only need one or two in-game days to get through any of the game's dungeons. You will want to finish a dungeon before the end of the 72-hour cycle, though, so plan accordingly. Veteran players should be able to clear any of the game's dungeons in a day, in part because veteran players spoke to the scarecrow.
You want to leave yourself some time after you complete each dungeon, because that usually causes significant changes in the surrounding area. But if you end up besting the boss seconds before the doomsday timer appears, don't worry. Next time you visit the dungeon on your next cycle, you can skip straight to the boss by standing on the glowing mask platform at the entrance.
You may be so stressed by the game's timer that you don't want to look for the 15 fairies hidden in each of the game's dungeons. Toughen up. Also, be aware that wearing the mask won't just help you find them (your "hair" will levitate and sparkle when you're in a room with an unobtained fairy) it'll draw the fairies to you. Well, it'll draw them to you unless the fairy is in a bubble, in which case you'll want to puncture that bubble possibly with your bow and arrow and then have the fairy fly toward you because you are a smart gamer and are wearing the great fairy mask. The rewards you get for getting 15 fairies in a dungeon are optional but useful.
The locations of any fairies you found will be marked on your map forever, even if you go back in time. Thanks, Nintendo!
The last thing you should do during any playthrough of the 72-hour cycle? Go to the banker who is set up across from the fast-travel point in Clock Town. Deposit your money. You'll be able to withdraw it when you start the cycle again. He gives you some helpful rewards if you do this, hint hint.
The best way to deal with the stress of the ticking timer in Majora's Mask is to have at least a rough idea of what you want to accomplish on each three-day cycle. So each time you jump back through time, decide whether this time around you want to go do a bunch of sidequests, or complete a dungeon, or go save some cows. You don't have to stick rigidly to every plan, but it'll help to at least know what you want to get done.
Save your game. Then let the clock run out. Let the world end, just to see what it's like.
This won't help you do better in the game, but, when you're playing the game's Ocarina, don't just press the buttons that the game asks you to press. Play with some of the other control inputs on the 3DS as you play a note. See what happens. Or, rather, listen.
Got tips of your own? Share them below.