Majora’s Mask’s time travel mechanic adds depth to the Zelda formula, and it unintentionally made problematically static video game NPCs immersive.
Immersion is one of the most integral aspects of video games, but even the most immersive games are simply programs with limitations. No matter how many lines of dialogue, nearly every video game NPC has a finite number things to say and activities to indulge in. NPC variety and quality has improved with industry technology, but The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask bypassed this gaming limitation early. Through its distinctive and complex three-day time travel cycle, Majora’s Mask fixed one of gaming’s inherent problems.
Most The Legend of Zelda titles aren’t the most challenging or intense games ever made. They’re typically lighthearted and whimsical adventures, with epic undertones sprinkled throughout. However, Majora’s Mask is one of the most unique games in the series. It features a three-day time limit that ticks down constantly, and the moon will come crashing down if the player allows it to reach zero. The catch is that players can reset this time limit by warping back to the beginning of the cycle, which resets all quest and dungeon progress.
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Majora’s Mask is also one of the most side quest-intensive entries in the franchise. This means there are many NPCs to talk to, all of which have their own schedules to follow throughout each cycle. In order to complete the game’s quests, players need to figure out who to help, when to help them, and how to help them. This is pretty typical of video games, though – especially today – so what about Majora’s Mask‘s NPCs make it such an immersive experience, compared to other games?
How Time Travel Makes Majora’s Mask More Immersive
NPCs in Majora’s Mask act exactly like they do in other Zelda games. They follow their schedules for the day and repeat the same blurbs of dialogue every time they’re spoken to. Majora’s Mask isn’t more immersive because it changed how NPCs work; rather, it’s because the repeating time cycle brings context to why they always repeat the same actions. In games like Ocarina of Time, for example, it hardly makes sense for characters to stand in the exact same corner for eternity, spiting out the same text when spoken to. In Majora’s Mask, NPCs do this because the player literally warped back in time to before they originally said and did those things.
Majora’s Mask‘s time travel also gives context to typical video game fail states. It’s possible to completely mess up a quest and see what happens if Link were to fail, but players can then reset the three-day cycle and attempt it again with that knowledge. Characters even overlap into multiple quests, which makes the population of Termina feel interconnected and community-centric. Sakon robs the bomb merchant, but he’s also an integral part of the Anju and Kafei quest, since he stole Kafei’s wedding mask.
The three-day cycle is inherently immersive, too, because it places pressure on both Link and the player. Nothing is more stressful than fighting towards the boss of a dungeon as the timer reaches the final day. In this sense, Link and the player are both on the same page, since he’s likely just as stressed by the short amount of time remaining. Still, the timer’s greatest achievement is how effectively it hides the limited capabilities of the game’s NPCs. Tingle is hilarious and lovable, and the context of Termina’s timed cycle is part of what brings his character to life. Few other games provide such a convincing explanation as to why NPCs constantly repeat the same actions, and it’s yet another reason The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is still distinguished today.
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