Why Majora’s Mask 3D is Nintendo’s Folly

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Remakes.  Lately, it seems to be the cool thing to do.  And why the hell not?  Judging by the sales numbers of the next-gen versions of The Last of Us andGrand Theft Auto V, as well as the resounding success of Pokemon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby, people will buy them.  You can say all you want about the negative impact remakes might have on diversity in the industry and any perceived laziness they might suggest about developers, or what these impressive sales numbers say about gamers in general…but that’s a topic for another time.  This article focuses on the merits (or lack thereof) of one remake coming to the 3DS next Spring: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.  Ever since Ocarina of Time was revamped for the 3DS (perhaps even before), fans of the game have been clamoring for Nintendo to give Majora’s Mask similar treatment.  They finally got their wish, as Nintendo announced on November 5th during a Direct that Majora’s Mask would indeed be making its way to the 3DS with a few upgrades.  This caused an explosion on the internet as fans voiced their excitement through a plethora of digital means.  The voice of the fans, apparently, was heard.

It seems that Majora’s Mask will be another sure-fire hit for Nintendo’s unstoppable handheld…

Yeah, not so much.  Let’s look at why not…

Majora’s Mask has Never Sold Well

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Though Majora’s Mask has a strong cult following and is beloved within the Zelda community, it is not a game known for being very accessible or resonating with the casual Zelda fan.  Ocarina of Time is the franchise’s best-selling game, andMajora’s Mask was the first console Zelda to follow in its footsteps.  You’d think that a game riding the coattails of what some call the greatest game of all time would fly inexorably off the shelves and into a record-breaking amount of living rooms.  You’d think.  Majora’s Mask was a critical hit with almost every known publication at the time (save GameShark and GameSpot), but they all had the same thing to say; it’s not as easy to play as Ocarina of Time.  Apparently, this was enough to dissuade the droves of gamers in love with Ocarina of Time, and Majora’s Mask posted subpar sales numbers.  To this day it remains the least-selling console Zelda game (not counting The Wind Waker HD) at 3.36 million.  Those are obviously not bad numbers, but considering Ocarina of Time has sold 7.6 million, 3.36 million is meh-worthy when looking at the franchise.  Even Zelda II: Adventure of Link, a game notorious for being a vast departure from established Zelda convention and falsely perceived to be a bad game, sold more copies than Majora’s Mask.   It is also worth noting that while almost a quarter of N64 owners purchased Ocarina of Time, only about 10% of them purchasedMajora’s Mask.

There’s no excuse you can make for Majora’s Mask not selling well other than “it’s not as accessible as the rest of the franchise.”  Waning interest in the franchise?  Hard to believe when the franchise’s best-selling entry released on the same console only two years prior.  Perhaps one argument you can make is that the N64 was nearing the end of its lifetime and the audience was losing interest in the console as a whole…but then, what about the sales of more recent versions of Majora’s Mask?  Even examining the admittedly sketchy sales estimates of FADE analysts shows that Majora’s Mask remains second fiddle to Ocarina of Time in terms of popularity.  So why the perception that Majora’s Mask is popular?  It’s likely a case of projection and generalization.  Fans of the game are taking their own love for the game and assigning it popularity based on that.  It doesn’t help that many of these fans are editors/writers for prominent Zelda community sites like Zelda Dungeon and Zelda Informer.  Unfortunately for them, saying something is popular does not make it so.  When it comes down to being able to judge a game’s popularity in no uncertain terms, one must look at the sales data.  In the case of Majora’s Mask, the numbers tell us all we really need to know when determining the game’s real place amongst its peers.  Frankly, it’s the IDEA of Majora’s Mask that people like, not the game itself.

 

The Perception that Majora’s Mask 3D has Been in High Demand is False

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There are plenty of reasons to do a remake that make sense both financially and for the sake of fans; high demand, a large market, limited availability, fixing problems that severely impact the enjoyment of a game, limitations of hardware that prevented a game’s full realization,  etc.   Majora’s Mask does not fall into any of these categories.  The game is being made with the singular purpose of satisfying the demands of an incredibly vocal and obnoxious minority.  There is a perception that Majora’s Mask remake has been in high demand.  I suppose you can make that argument, but you’d have to play pretty loose with your definition of “high.”  The fan movement known as “Operation Moonfall” (barf) is responsible for most of the whining within the community to get Majora’s Mask remade.  Since they have a name, they must be pretty prolific, right?  If you call less than 50,000 likes on Facebook and fewer than 6,000 on twitter prolific, sure buddy.  Operation Moonfall started a petition in 2011 to have Majora’s Mask remade, and by the time petitioning had ended, just over 10,000 signatures had been given.  Now, Reggie Fils-Aime has stated that Nintendo does not place much stock in such things when deciding to make/localize/remake/whatever their games, but even if they did…10,000 signatures?  That’s fewer than the amount of people that bought The Wonderful 101.  And believe me, as a Zelda fan that spends a considerable amount of time looking for things Zelda-related, there has been no shortage of advertisement for Operation Moonfall.  The lack of signatures is not due to a lack of exposure.  Rather, it’s due to a lack of motivation or interest.

Its Development is Taking Up Time That Could be Spent Making New Games

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The remake’s development is being handled by Grezzo, the same team that did OoT3D as well as The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition and Flower Garden (Street Plaza game).   Founded in 2006, Grezzo has been used by Nintendo for mostly throw-away purposes thus far.

“We need to release another Zelda game this year…what should we do?”

“Let’s get that one team remake one of the older ones.  We’ll let them do all the hard stuff while we micromanage.”

“Oh, that’s a super idea!”

…yeah.  Grezzo is headed by Koichi Ishii, the man responsible for creating the Mana series of Square/Square Enix RPGs.  Remember Secret of Mana?  Yeah, that guy.  What is this man doing remaking Zelda games?  Nintendo has one of the industry geniuses at its supposed disposal, and he’s being told to up the resolution on re-releases.  Derp.

Additionally, it’s quite obvious that Nintendo is not simply passing the development baton.  They’re overseeing the project with the eye of Sauron.  The Zelda franchise may have become something of a watered-down experience thanks to overexposure, but the franchise is definitely Aonuma and Miyamoto’s baby in the end.  They wouldn’t let Grezzo change anything without asking two or three times.  Why else are Iwata and Aonuma the only one’s publically saying anything about the game?  Recently, Aonuma stated that MM3D has been in development since 2011.  2011, people.  What the bloody hell is taking them so long to remake a game that will be 15 years old next year?  It’s possible that Nintendo deliberately timed MM3D to land between major Zelda releases, in order to propagate the idea of an annualized franchise, which Zelda most certainly is.  Whatever the case, that’s four years Grezzo could have spent coming up with something new and exciting.

Gamers Didn’t Buy Majora’s Mask in 2000, They Won’t Buy it in 2015

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Building off of the notion that Majora’s Mask is not an accessible game, there’s no reason to expect the current generation of gamers to jump on the Majora’s Mask bandwagon.  What’s changed since 2000?  Have gamers gotten smarter/opened their minds to unorthodox experiences?  Have Nintendo gamers realized they were wrong to ignore Majora’s Mask back in the day? I’m not sure how anyone has any grounds to make such an argument.  Consider the grievances most commonly held against MM; a save system limited to certain locations on the map, a three day cycle that requires a reset before the end of the world (causing careless players to lose much of their progress), and little-to-no explanation as to how certain items are obtained.  These all contribute to an overall lack of accessibility, especially from the perspective of the casual Zelda fan or casual gamer in general.  Some of these things may be altered prior to MM3D’s release, but I highly doubt the core mechanic (the three day cycle) will be drastically changed.  Despite its unorthodoxy, it is THE defining characteristic of the game and the backbone of both the gameplay and narrative.  To alter that in order to appeal to a larger audience seems unlikely, and its returning presence will once again scare off casual gamers.

Yes, the game has a very faithful cult following.  But that’s all it is; a niche audience that loudly proclaims their love for the game.  Within the grand scheme of Nintendo gamers, perhaps even specifically 3DS owners, there’s no evidence suggesting Majora’s Mask will have widespread appeal or anything greater than the interest gamers have expressed since 2000.  You have more evidence to argue that FEWER people will buy Majora’s Mask this time around.  Using history for reference and taking into account the current trend in Zelda game sales and the nature of those games (Ocarina of Time 3DS, Skyward Sword and A Link Between Worlds are all very accessible and cater to the core Zelda fan), Majora’s Mask will tank.  Ocarina of Time 3DS sold 3.36 million (coincidentally the same as MM on the N64), Skyward Sword 3.76, and A Link Between Worlds 2.07.  You want to talk about a waning interest in the franchise?  Those numbers are all very middle-of-the-road compared to the rest of the franchise.  Those numbers are especially telling when you consider the install base for both the Wii (when SS released) and the 3DS was/is greater than the N64’s by the time Majora’s Mask released.  If history repeats itself (and I believe it will), Majora’s Mask 3D will struggle to make it beyond 1 million units sold.

 

Majora’s Mask Is Already a Fantastic Game and is Readily Available on Nintendo’s Current-Gen Console

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Beating a dead horse, Majora’s Mask is a strange entry in the Zelda series.  It presents very differently than Ocarina of Time (as a prototypical example) and does not feature the standard “Zelda Formula.”  Rather than featuring a linear level/dungeon format and “save Zelda from Ganon” narrative made standard by A Link to the Past, Majora’s Mask instead delves deeper into thematic storytelling and time management-centered gameplay.  Yes, you’ll inevitably be tasked with conquering dungeons and their bosses in order to obtain important items in traditional Zelda fashion, but you’ll spend just as much time talking to NPCs and unraveling the mystery surrounding the Skull Kid and Termina while searching for the various masks both necessary and nonessential.  This process can quickly become tedious, but for the dedicated gamer, Majora’s Mask offers the deepest narrative experience in the series to date, rivaled only by Link’s Awakening.  The three day cycle may be initially frustrating, but as I mentioned before, it is the backbone of what makes Majora’s Mask so unique and magical.  It presents some incredibly emotional situations as the citizens of Termina ignorantly live out their lives in repeat as Link races to prevent their imminent doom.  Click on the link above to read my review of the game (it should dispel any idea that I don’t like Majora’s Mask).

The save system that everyone complains about is only an inconvenience for people that get pissed off when they have to wait 5 minutes for their microwaveable meals (another reason why MM will not be popular with today’s gamer generation).  The graphics, those glorious, jagged, jerky graphics, work beautifully to create a flawlessly macabre atmosphere.

Blatant subjectivism; the updated graphics in the 3DS version look non-threatening and downright goofy compared to the original N64 graphics.  That creepy, hollow atmosphere present in the original is an essential part of the MM experience, and based on the initial trailer, and Nintendo has already taken steps to tone it down.  Even revamping the save system will take something away from the unique experience that is Majora’s Mask.  The game is so beloved among its followers for the very things Nintendo looks to be changing.

One argument supporters of the game have tried to make is “remaking the game will make it available to a generation of gamers that never got to experience it on the N64.”  That’s asinine, considering Majora’s Mask has been available on EVERY HOME NINTENDO CONSOLE SINCE THE N64.  GameCube: The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition.  Wii: Virtual Console.  Wii U: see Wii. If you have not playedMajora’s Mask in this day and age, your only excuse is “I didn’t buy a N64/GameCube/Wii/Wii U.”  The people that missed out on Majora’s Mask have done so by nobody’s fault other than their own.  For that, I have no sympathy.  If you really wanted to play Majora’s Mask, you didn’t have to wait this long; you CHOSE to.

And lastly…

Majora’s Mask 3D Will Draw/Has Drawn Attention Away from New IPs

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During the Direct, viewer reactions could be read as onlookers typed out their poorly worded/spelled thoughts in the chat box next to the live stream.  The excitement for MM3D completely overtook the space, and the rest of the Direct may as well have been the reveal trailer on repeat.  Can anyone remember what else happened during the Nov. 5th Direct?  Probably not, but it featured extended looks at two new IPs coming exclusively to Nintendo consoles.  Codename S.T.E.A.M. and Splatoon are coming to the 3DS and Wii U respectively next year, but don’t expect the typical Nintendo fan to pay much attention.  Stifling my bile long enough to read through the comment stream during the Nov. 5th Direct revealed what goes on in the mind of Nintendo fan boys*:

“Who gives a sh!t about this game (S.T.E.A.M.)? MM HYPE!”

“OH MAGAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWDD!DEM GWAPHIX THANKS BASED REGGIE!”

“This is dumb (S.T.E.A.M.), show us more Majora! MOAR MAJORA! Why does Nintendo even bother showing us this? SHOW MORE MAJORA erbgnveryhbgjvneilgyhvjszdggulesbtinlbj”

…That’s super.

There’s more I have to say on the subject, but I believe this has already become a bit long.  You get the idea.  Obviously, this is subjective and the opinion of a few individuals who are quite passionate in regards to this subject.  If you read this whole thing…I’m impressed, and you have my sincerest thanks.

*A special shout out to C-Money/I am the liquor  for his brilliant take on the Direct Stream quotes, as well as RezJames, and everyone else that participated in the dialogue that eventually turned into this blog.

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2 thoughts on “Why Majora’s Mask 3D is Nintendo’s Folly

  1. I read the whole thing, and so far it looks like you’re right. The game has reached over half a million sales, but that’s still a ways to go to reach a million. It’ll probably reach it, but not 1.5 or 2 million for awhile if ever. I also realize that remakes on a handheld don’t usually sell as well as they do on their original home console, and it doesn’t help that this remake happened to get very little new content and no additional difficulty settings (like Hero Mode).

    I want to point out though that virtual console games still have their outdated game mechanics and graphics intact, so newer gamers aren’t as interested in them. Old gamers often don’t want to buy a game that they already own or played and have it be tied to that one system aside from doing a complete system transfer. There’s also the piracy element for older games. So with all those factors, a remake receives much more hype than something that is getting released on the virtual console, and ultimately more money and sales.

  2. 2 years later and it’s sold 2.41 million so it did pretty good, but still not as good as the original at 3.36 million. By comparison, Ocarina of Time 3D has sold 4.72 million and the original sold 7.60 million.

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