I first played The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask in a small, dark hotel room that offered rentals on all of the hottest N64 games, Expansion Pak and all. I don't remember where we were or even how old I was, but I do recall convincing my parents to let us rent Majora's Mask for 24 hours.
This was probably a bad idea. See, I was the type of kid who liked playing games slowly. I grew up with big, sprawling RPGs like Final Fantasy VI and Secret of Mana and Lufia II — games where you didn't really have to rush to save the world. My idea of a good time was walking around a new town and finding all the nooks and crannies, not rushing through quests to save the world as quickly as possible. So between the 24-hour hotel time limit and what I would soon discover was a ticking in-game clock that never stopped, Majora's Mask stressed me the fuck out. I gave up after a few minutes.
Some 15 years later, I'm glad I gave it another shot, and I'm kinda glad I waited. Twenty-seven-year-old Jason appreciates this game far more than 12-year-old Jason would have. Majora's Mask has aged beautifully — although, granted, the 3DS tweaks and overhauls sure help — and over the past few weeks, I've grown to really appreciate why so many people are so quick to lavish it with praise, to the point where some say it's even better than that most sacred of sacred cows, Ocarina of Time.
In fact, I think I agree. Ocarina of Time might be the perfect hero's journey, but Majora's Mask is just so unsettling and melancholy and stressful and different. It's unlike any other Zelda game — really, it's unlike any other game in how it purports to have a time limit but instead uses time as a dimension for you to explore. When you play Majora's Mask, you don't just have to think about where or how far you're going, you have to think about when you'll be there and how long it will take. Forget 3D — they should have called it Majora's Mask 4D.
But I'm sure you've already read plenty about why this game is so good. What I'm here to tell you is that if, like me, you skipped Majora's Mask because the timer freaked you out, you should know that it is not an impediment and in fact it's the very reason this game is so stellar. I wish other Zelda games would play with time in this way, weaving sidequests and character arcs through one large temporal yarn. The constant presence of a ticking clock turned me off as a kid, but as an adult with way more experience and way better taste, I'm really glad it's there. It's still stressful, but in a good way.
Consider this: I, a huge Zelda fan, have finished every game in the series (with the exception of the first two on NES, which I've played extensively but not beaten, and of course the CD-I games because who counts those?) except for Majora's Mask, which I started for the first time in mid-January. Now, inexplicably, it's become one of my favourite Zeldas. Who would have thought?