The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask’s dungeon design | Boss Keys


Hi, this is Boss Keys. I’m Mark Brown. The dungeons in Majora’s Mask are different,
and really quite good. Shame there’s only four of them… Okay, to be fair, the game was made under
a super strict deadline. Nintendo gave the Zelda team just one year to make a new game,
saying that it could save time by using the same engine, and loads of 3D models from Ocarina
of Time. Which took four years to make. And not only the did the studio finish in the
time limit, but Majora’s Mask is crazy ambitious for a project with such a quick turnaround. The game’s got this bonkers system where you need
to keep going back in time to finish your quest before the moon crashes into Termina.
Which also plays into this mad Groundhog Day-style side quest where you try to help all the citizens
of Clock Town by being in the right place at the right time. It’s also got an incredibly dark and depressing
tone that sticks out from the rest of Zelda canon – especially just after the heroic and fantastical
Ocarina of Time. It would have been easy to play it safe and go for classic Zelda, but
this game is creepy, and unique. And it also sees Link transform into three
different forms, which are featured heavily in the game’s dungeons. Woodfall Temple is
all about Deku Link who can fire himself out of flower pods and fly through the air. Snowhead
Peak centres around Goron Link who can roll into a ball and rocket over ramps. And in Great Bay Temple, we’ll see Zora Link’s swimming powers put to the test. And Stone Tower Temple
features all three. There’s more to these dungeons, though, as
they all seem to feature an overarching trend that sees the dungeons as intricately designed
3D spaces that must be first understood, and then manipulated to successfully traverse
them. Like, take the Great Bay Temple. Here, a water
wheel turns a huge gear, which makes the water of the dungeon’s central room swirl around
in a certain direction. Link can only travel through passages that conform to the current. You need to realise that you need to turn
on various valves to bring water up these red pipes, so you can make the water wheel
turn in the opposite direction, reversing the flow of the water, and letting you enter
areas you could not before. In Snowhead Peak, a giant central pillar stops
you from accessing certain rooms. You need to transform into Goron Link and punch the
pillar from various platforms to lower it and give you passage to those rooms. And in the Stone Tower Temple, which is one
of the most bonkers dungeons in Zelda history, you can fire a light arrow into the symbol
out front to flip the dungeon upside down, letting you walk on what were previously ceilings. So you need to remember, for example, that
this chest is on the ceiling when the dungeon is the right way up. Now you now need to figure
out how to get back to that room when the temple is upside down so you can open the chest and get the key. If you know what you’re doing, the dungeons
aren’t actually that tough. You only need to change the water direction in the Great
Bay Temple once, and you only need to flip Stone Tower Temple upside down once, to finish these
dungeons. And in terms of keys, there are only nine in the entirety of Majora’s Mask:
the same number as a single dungeon in Link’s Awakening. You do do a lot of backtracking with the dungeon’s
items, though weirdly, they’re all arrows. You’ll go back and shoot stuff with arrows
in Woodfall, melt stuff with fire arrows in Snowhead Peak, freeze stuff with ice arrows
in Great Bay, and, er, light stuff with light arrows in Stone Tower. The difficulty, then, largely comes from giving
the player a huge space to explore and asking them to understand how the dungeon works. Only those who think about the layout are rewarded. Those who try to blindly stumble from
room to room will get nowhere. And end up swimming around in circles for half an hour. Two things exasperate this, though. One, is
the three day timer: trying to finish a complex dungeon in about an hour is rough. Especially
if you never learned the inverted song of time which slows it down to about three hours. Then, there are the stray fairies. Each dungeon
hides 15 fairies and if you find the lot, you can trade them in for goodies. Really
helpful stuff like an extended Magic Meter, Enhanced Defense, and the Great Fairy’s Sword. The problem is that, for me, these fairies
almost felt like red herrings. The dungeons are filled with switches and chests and other
puzzle elements that could lead you to a new path or a critical item like a small key:
but often just give you a stray fairy. So this platform in Stone Tower serves no purpose other than to show you this inaccessible
locked door. You need to figure out, either using your map or your spatial reasoning,
where that door is from the other side. That’s cool. It’s another example of Majora’s Mask asking you to understand the layout of the dungeon. It’s getting to that door that’s a pain. The answer is to push this switch to make
a chest with a stray fairy appear, and then grapple hook to the chest. But you have no
way of predicting that a chest will magically phase in when you press the button, so it’s
just a case of exploring everywhere and pressing every button you see. I feel that connection
between the button and the chest could have been a bit more clear. While Majora’s Mask only has four dungeons,
it also has a bunch of tricky areas that feel a bit like dungeons, and this is where you
get the rest of Link’s gear. There’s the Pirate Fortress and Ikana Castle to name a couple. I’m not including these sub areas in my analysis but, hey, they exist. The game has some good single-room puzzles,
but this one in Stone Tower Temple where you flip the room up and down multiple times to
slide a block is particularly memorable: especially because it would be impossible to do in 2D. Even more so than Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask makes tremendous use of the third dimension. The game has loads of mini bosses. Most dungeons
have two, and Stone Tower has three. Some are pretty fun, but this Wizzrobe jerk shows
up way too many times and never really changes up his tactics. As for the actual bosses: they do break the
trend of killing the boss with the item found in the dungeon. Odolwa is vulnerable to lots
of items, Gyorg is defeated by Zora Link, and Twinmold can be fought using either the
Giant’s Mask or just a regular bow. Oh, and not to forget Goht, which is just one of the
most enjoyable boss battles in any Zelda game. Okay, before I go, I want to talk about linearity. In the last video, I talked a fair bit about
how Ocarina of Time was more linear than Link’s Awakening, because Ocarina often makes you
collect keys in a specific order and you never get to choose where to spend a small key. And I’d argue that there is value in giving
the player choices. Mostly because Zelda, as a franchise, was built on non-linearity. Zelda started out as a game about exploration
and freedom, and you were given a lot of choice in the order you tackled the dungeons in the
first game. But while later games
forced you to visit dungeons in a specific order, the actual dungeons themselves could,
for a while, be explored at your own pace. You got to feel like an actual adventurer,
slowly unlocking the mystery of a temple, rather than a video game player moving from
point to point in a predesigned level. That latter approach inevitably leads to stuff
like the Shadow Temple in Ocarina of Time which is like, just look at the critical path.
It’s like Do be do be do be done. Now look at the critical path of the Water Temple which is do be do be do – I don’t know! It’s complicated! And part of that is being given the freedom to
go look for keys out of order, and not locking you in a small area until you’ve got the next
key. But, you’re right, YouTube commenters: being
able to do things out of order is not the only way to make dungeons interesting. And
Majora’s Mask definitely proves that. Most of the dungeons in this game are quote unquote “linear”. You don’t get any choice in the order you pick up keys or the order you do certain actions. Instead, this game finds complexity by asking
the player to figure out the dungeon’s architecture. To understand the relationship between the
red valves and the water wheel in the Great Bay Temple, to remember where a switch is
in Stone Tower Temple, and then come back to it after you have flipped the dungeon,
and to realise that you need to make the platform rise in Woodfall Temple to get access
to this door. Majora’s Mask asks you to see these dungeons
are interlinking 3D spaces, and they won’t reveal their secrets until you can show that
you get how the dungeons work. To me, that makes them pretty fascinating and, ultimately,
one of the high points for the series so far. But we’ve still got a long ways to go. Next
time: it’s two for the price of one as we dive deep into Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. As a reminder, Boss Keys is basically a video
version of my research notes as I play through every Zelda game and dungeon in anticipation
of an episode of Game Maker’s Toolkit on the franchise’s level design. So, thoughts and opinions
are subject to change as I continue on, which is the entire point of research. If you’d
like to help support me in this mad endeavour, please consider checking out my Patreon page.
Cheers!

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