Tag Archives: Completionism

My Journey with The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has been on my radar screen for years.  The game is the quick-turnaround sequel to smash hit The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time from 1998.  It takes place after child Link rides off into the sunset to look for his companion, Navi.

Majora's Mask 3D logo
The title logo for The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

While riding through the forest, Link encounters the Skull Kid, a normally kind and whimsical forest imp.  But something is different.  The Skull Kid is wearing a disturbing mask inhabited by the dark spirit of Majora.  This power is too much for Skull Kid, who torments Link and turns him into a lowly Deku Scrub.

After falling down a tree trunk, seemingly into another world, Link finds the Happy Mask Salesman.  The Happy Mask Salesman was the original owner of the mask, and after teaching Link a song that turns him back the normal, he charges him with getting the Mask back.  Link finds himself in the land of Termina, consisting of Clock Town, The Great Bay, Snowhead, the Southern Swamp, and Ikana Valley.  The reason it’s called Termina is because the Skull Kid has set the moon itself on a collision course with the world, about to destroy everything and everyone in three days’ time.

Just as the world is about to end, Link discovers that he can play the Song of Time to return to his first moment in Termina.  In doing so, everything that has occurred over the three days is effectively reset.  However, not everything is undone.  In Groundhog Day fashion, the player must constantly re-live the same period of time in different ways to put an end to the Skull Kid’s madness.

Link on horseback
Link riding off into the fog.

When Majora’s Mask came out for Nintendo 3DS in 2015, I went out and bought it right away.  I never played past the first dungeon.  Frankly, I didn’t understand how the game worked at first, even after playing it for a few hours.  I finally found out that you can learn songs to skip ahead in time and slow it down to half-speed.  At this point I finally found some momentum.

I decided in summer of 2017 that I just wanted to finish the game.  But the meat of Majora’s Mask is its side quests.  There are only four “dungeons” in the game.  These dungeons are creative, complex, and unique.  The only non-essential chests in each dungeon house Stray Fairies, which you trade for Great Fairy upgrades.  They’re an example of quality over quantity, and I found them brilliant.  But they’re meant to be few and far between.  The rest of the game involves doing things for other people in Termina, which is a point  I’ll explore a little later.

Just about every quest in the game yields rupees, heart pieces (which increase life) or masks.  Masks are basically tokens of gratitude with different properties for the wearer.  Soon enough I found myself finishing a lot of quests.  They were so creative and interesting that they were almost irresistible.  Plus, the Bombers, a club of kids in Clock Town, clue you in to Rumored Events that point you in the right direction.

My collection finally grew to the point where I decided to go for 100% completion.  This meant collecting every Piece of Heart, every Mask, every item, and completing every quest.  I wrote an article about completionism, but I rarely do it myself.  I’d never done this kind of thing with a Zelda game before, not even Twilight Princess.  It meant a lot of attempts at long side quests, and a lot of skipping around different times.  Ultimately, despite how grueling it was at times, I did it.  I finished The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask with everything done.

I got quite emotional watching the ending of the game.  It took me back to when I was about seven years old playing Zelda with my family.  There’s something special about the story of Majora’s Mask that makes it one of the best in the series, and now I feel like I finally understand why,

At the most basic level, Majora’s Mask is about the soul.  It’s about healing wounds, old and new.  It’s about hope, and picking people up when they’re down.  The game barely has a villain.  Skull Kid may have been possessed by a chaotic spirit, but he was by no means a villain.  He was only angry because he was lonely.  His whimsy made him an outsider, and his guardian friends, the Giants, had to leave him behind out of duty.

The conflict of Majora’s Mask lies in the tragedy of those with no one to rely upon.  Writ large, this is the player’s motivation for whatever they do in the game.  There are no quests that ultimately involve screwing over unsuspecting people.  Those in need are there for the player to help.  In part, that’s why I decided to complete every quest in the game.

Link and Skull Kid
A carving of Link and the Skull Kid.

To be honest, I sometimes identify with the plight of Skull Kid.  Every so often I have a bad day when, in spite of my knowledge and better judgement, I feel alone.  Sometimes my interests and personality make me feel like an outsider, and as such, I try not to take my friendships for granted.  My greatest fear is being alone, and my friends and family, whether they know it or not, help remind me that I’m not.

This is exactly the role that the player fills in Majora’s Mask: a friend.  To Skull Kid, to Anju and Kafei, to Cremia…everyone.  By completing this game 100%, I felt like I was doing everything in my power to help.  I didn’t have to, but I did it because that’s what friends do.

Playing through Majora’s Mask was a unique experience.  I didn’t go into much depth about the gameplay in this article.  Perhaps I’ll do so in the future.  But when I have such a personal experience with a game, I feel the need to talk about it.  I could talk about specific mechanics all day, but the central goal of game design is to create a certain feeling.  What this game made me feel was extraordinary, and I see now why it’s regarded as a masterpiece.

Crash Bandicoot, Completionism, and Depth

This past summer I was lucky enough to get my hands on an old PlayStation 1 copy of Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped.  I’m a life-long fan of Crash games.  While Crash 2 remains my favorite, I believe Warped to be the best of the trilogy in terms of design, variety, and quality.  But that’s not quite what I want to talk about.

Crash 3 logo
The Crash Bandicoot logo as seen in Crash Bandicoot: Warped. (Byron Cabrera via YouTube)

Playing all this Crash Bandicoot got me thinking about the nature of replayability in games like Crash.  They’re pretty straightforward on the surface.  There is no open world in early Crash, unlike in contemporaries such as Super Mario 64.  There aren’t hundreds of stars for you to collect.  Instead, it’s very much a game of going from point A to point B, playing through level after inventive level.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but it leads to the question of why this game is so fun.  I wonder why I come back to it time and time again.

Although Crash games are fairly short and straightforward, the depth of the game doesn’t lie in simply getting from the first level to the last level.  The depth is in scouring every level for all of the game’s hidden treasures.  Sometimes you have to hunt down a secret path in a given level.  Sometimes you have to find a hidden path in one level to find another in a completely different level.

In Warped, a big part of getting collectibles is just speed-running levels for relics.  Therefore, you need to know each one inside and out.  I think this is the beauty of Crash Bandicoot.  Sure, it can be a great game for people who don’t play video games a lot.  But within it lies a spectacular challenge: completing everything the game has to offer.  That’s why I think this game is a perfect example to use for talking about completionism.

“Completionism” isn’t a very well-known term yet, but it’s a gaming term coined by Jirard Khalil, nicknamed The Completionist, whose YouTube channel is dedicated to beating every possible challenge in various games and making videos breaking down the games and the challenge of tackling everything they have to offer.  Everything from Chester Cheetah to Skyrim is fair game.

The fact that he’s able to do this with any kind of regularity is extremely impressive by itself, but what intrigues me is that at the end of every review, he gives a rating of whether to play it, finish it, or complete it 100%.  Games don’t always get the “complete it” rating for various reasons, but the most common reason is that total completion of a game is a hassle, except over a very long period of time.

Crash Bandicoot games, meanwhile, beg for 100% completion.  They use creativity to make a limited number of assets go a long way.  Gems are often hidden behind unconventional solutions and secrets, and time trials test your reflexes and skills to the core.  As a result, the game encourages players to beat it multiple times, and makes it possible to get a lot of mileage out of playing the same game for the promise of a secret ending, bragging rights, and satisfaction.  That goes to show that a game’s appeal and longevity don’t have to come from an open world or hundreds of levels to finish.  This is the meaning of depth in a game.

Crash Bandicoot finds a secret path.
You need to stay alive to find some secret paths! (Photo: ReaperHunter via YouTube)

In fact, one of my favorite things about Crash 2 and Crash 3 specifically is that they fall into a rare breed of games where it’s possible to get over 100% completion.  For example, in Crash 3, the maximum completion possible is 105%.  You obtain this completion by beating every level, obtaining every crystal, and finding every gem.   This means finding every box and secret paths, and obtaining every gold relic obtained from time trials.  You also can’t forget the five extra levels and the two secret levels hidden within other stages.  Even then, it’s possible to go for platinum relics on every stage, which basically require perfect time trial runs.

The amount of stuff you can challenge yourself with in Crash games is inspiring.  Games like these, where you can literally push past the boundary of 100% through your own wit and skill, are uniquely rewarding.

Crash pulling some dangerous stunts. (ReaperHunter via YouTube)

The original Crash trilogy is being remastered by Vicarious Visions and is going to be released in 2017.  This is massive news not only because it’s af treat for the fanbase, but could also lead to a revival of the franchise.  I truly hope that these remasters remain faithful to the series legacy of short-but-deep level design.  If not, I think it will be a shame, because the development of Crash Bandicoot is an incredible story of repeatedly making something out of nothing.

Andy Gavin, co-founder of Naughty Dog and Crash Bandicoot creator, tells the full story of development on his website, and it’s an awesome read that I recommend you check out if you want to get into game design!