Of Masks, A Moon, And Melancholy (page 2)

[one_third]The two stealth sections featured in the Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask feel like the ultimate expression of what Nintendo started in The Ocarina of Time. So why can they be completely cheated?[/one_third]

The only way in is down.

The second stealth scenario is an evolution of what began within Gerudo Fortress in The Ocarina of Time and, fittingly, finds you infiltrating another Pirate Fortress. A pattern is starting to emerge here – the castle and palace of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask share a similar camera perspective and evoke a similar level of difficulty, acting as baby steps towards the bigger, more expansive stealth moments that show up later on in both games.

The choice of the word “Fortress” is important, too. It suggests a heavily fortified and protected building and instantly tells the player what they’re getting into. Even simply finding the Pirate Fortress requires diving underwater as a Zora and smashing through a crude wooden covering at the bottom of the sea floor.

While both Fortresses are designed around the same basic mechanics and are structured similarly, the Pirate Fortress demonstrates Nintendo’s leaps and bounds in ambience. As simple and fun as Gerudo Fortress was, it felt like you were literally walking in the front door at times. The Pirate Fortress, in comparison, has you diving into a great lake of water and swimming through the waterways of the fortress itself, making your way from the very bottom of the fortress all the way to the top. The level design presents a much more convincing experience of sneaking into a heavily guarded compound, and the greater amount of guards provide a much-needed challenge.

The main hub of the Pirate Fortress is a vast circular ring, surrounded by guards

While managing your noise levels continues to be a bafflingly ignored by the game’s stealth system, the extra guards are an appreciated gesture, even if the ramifications of being caught still resemble a slap on the wrist. The surprise, mandatory fights of Gerudo Fortress pop up again in the Pirate Fortress, but here the pirates (honestly, they’re simply palette-swapped Gerudo) have a special sword technique that, should it hit you, instantly ends the fight and has you thrown out of the compound. It adds a bigger threat to the otherwise effortless bow and arrow exploration of the main fortress.

The Stone Mask renders Link invisible to everyone around him at no personal cost to his abilities.

As much as the masks add depth to the experience, one mask in particular turns out to be anathema to stealth gameplay. The Stone Mask renders Link invisible to everyone around him at no personal cost to his abilities, making the Pirate Fortress laughably easy to complete. With it equipped, Link can walk right up to a guard, wave his sword, and have them fall to the ground with no repercussions. While its inclusion was an obvious move to provide an easier way to handle the enforced stealth-based mission for the players who struggled with it, its unbound freedom undermined all the work Nintendo did to develop the systems in the first place. See how it breaks the stealth section eight minutes into the video below.

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Majora’s Mask has the most fascinating stealth-based moments of the entire franchise and it’s sad to see them left undeveloped in subsequent Zelda instalments. Whilst Wind Waker would go on to be the most complete – and feature the most rich – system of stealth ever developed for The Legend of Zelda, Majora’s Mask’s focus on subterfuge and disguise gave it an unmistakable identity.

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