Continuing my personal top 10 favorite video games ever with #6:
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Majora’s Mask was always the black sheep of the main Zelda series for me. I had tried playing it a few times before, but had never owned it. My only experience with it was using one of those pay-per-hour N64s available in some hotel rooms my family had stayed in. Due to Majora’s Mask’s long introduction, in which you cannot save until the end, usually I had only just completed the introduction by the time my hour was up.
Needless to say, I was not impressed at the time. I felt stifled by the 3-day time limit, but my younger self was simply hoping for more Ocarina of Time instead of opening my mind to a new experience. Thankfully, I came back to the game 5 years ago or so and gave it another change, and I’m grateful I did.
MM changed the Ocarina of Time formula significantly. It changed course from OoT’s huge (for the time) overworld, vast array of dungeons, and linear story progression. Instead, MM features a smaller-feeling but more focused overworld, only 4 main dungeons compared to OoT’s 9, and a unique story progression. It also focuses heavily on sidequests and collecting masks.
Despite re-using assets and essential mechanics from Ocarina, the above changes make MM feel like a totally different game. In fact, it’s one of the most unique entries in the series. It features a darker tone throughout the game’s story and in the atmosphere itself. The moon is about to crash land and destroy the entire land of Termina and all who dwell there. Link must continually go back in time to avoid this fate, and it is only until he has done this many times that he can confront Majora and save Termina.
The cyclic aspect of the 3-day system is a fun addition that forces you to plan out many of your moves ahead of time, especially when completing sidequests. Some sidequests require spanning over multiple cycles. Determining whether or not you have enough time to finish a section of the main story progression can be a test in estimation and make for an intense run through a dungeon on the eve of the 3rd night.
After my most recent playthrough of Majora, I had a difficult time determining if I liked it better than Ocarina, which says a lot of what I think of MM. It carries over Ocarina’s core excellence in dungeon design, puzzles, combat encounters, and a busy overworld. But on top of that, it adds a bevy of sidequests, interesting characters and stories, and innovative mechanics. Not to mention some of the best music in the Zelda series. If you haven’t given Majora a shot due to some of its oddities, I highly recommend you go for it!
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Picking up on a theme here? Yeah, I like Zelda. Twilight Princess was the first Zelda game where I was able to partake in the entire hype cycle. I was absolutely thrilled at the announcement trailer. I was crushed every time the game got delayed. And I was ecstatic picking up the game from GameStop for Wii on launch day. For me, the hype actually held up.
As deftly explained by game critic KingK in his retrospective on the game, TP embodies the spirit of epic adventure. More so than previous Zelda titles, Twilight Princess combines a jam-packed open world with a compelling narrative to produce a fantastic journey. In many ways TP is the truest sequel to Ocarina. Majora’s Mask took Link to the upside-down land of Termina with a 3-day time cycle and dark atmosphere. Wind Waker changed the art style and washed Hyrule away under the Great Sea. In contrast, TP takes place in Hyrule, with a more realistic art direction, with no 3-day time limit in sight.
Even today TP’s world holds up. It may not be as big as modern-day worlds or as seamless (there were frequent short loading screens between zones in the overworld), but it’s full of things to see and do. The addition of horseback riding made traversing the land an absolute blast and set up for some incredibly epic scenes, like chasing down a Moblin king who had kidnapped a child, and defeating him in a match of joust on a narrow bridge across a deep chasm.
For me, TP also presents the greatest traditional Zelda combat in the series (Skyward Sword’s motion controls and Breath of the Wild’s dramatic departure from standard Zeld combat not included). A variety of hidden skills to learn, including a brutal downward-stabbing finisher and a quick-reaction move that struck an instant fatal blow, deepened the combat and showed off some serious style. It just felt cool to be Link.
The dungeons in TP are my favorite in the whole series. Goron Mines represents one of the best linear dungeons in the series. Arbiter’s Grounds was a fantastic merge of the Forest and Shadow temples from Ocarina. The Yetis’ mansion was a innovative take on a dungeon that didn’t appear to be a dungeon. Each dungeon felt compelling and full of interesting puzzles and enemies.
I could go on for a while about Twilight Princess, as it truly is a gem in my eyes. Suffice it to say, it is an epic adventure that holds up today.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
(Skyrim on PC, heavily modded)
Not much more can be said about Skyrim at this point, as it has become a modern classic. Skyrim delivered on the massive hype with a beautiful, huge open world with tons to do. The character customization has been even further streamlined from the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion but the depth still remains. Skyrim truly brought the Elder Scrolls into the modern era with a combat system that, though still weak compared to other Action-RPGs, finally fixed one of the gaping flaws in the series.
The world is well designed, the lore of Skyrim is fantastic, there are too many intriguing quests to count, and the abundance of things to do is insane. I’ve literally purchased the game 3 times and probably spent over 400 hours roaming the breezy plains and blistering mountaintops of Skyrim.
In comparison to Oblivion and Morrowind, Skyrim is certainly the most accessible and simplified of the three. This comes at a cost of some level of depth, but the trade-off paid off. Additions like dual-wielding weapons, dragon shouts, and seemingly minor quality-of-life enhancements to various activities made Skyrim feel fresh.
One change I appreciated about Skyrim is that scaling enemies to your level was reduced a bit from Oblivion; scaling still occurs but you can still enter areas where enemies are significantly more powerful or weaker than your character. This puts Skyrim’s level scaling somewhere between Oblivion’s heavy use of scaling and Morrowind’s total lack of it. I feel it is a pretty good spot. This feature is something I’ll get into more in entries later in the list.
Just as Oblivion, Skyrim on PC provides a ton of replayability and new content through mods. There are some amazing Skyrim mods out there, whether you’re looking to bring the game’s visual into 2018 or seeking to add well-designed new content.
In the end, it’s tough to put Skyrim at #4. It could easily be #1 in my book. If you haven’t played it (or not for a while), I suggest picking up the Switch version if possible. It’s incredibly convenient to be able to play the game portably.
My top 3 are coming in the next post! Hope you enjoyed!