Humans have, for centuries, enjoyed hobbies that allow them an escape from the toils of everyday life — whether through paintings of magical other realms, stories of universes beyond our own, or songs of mystical plains and the gods who rule them. Through the advent of videogames, we are lucky enough to be alive in the golden age of escapism, with countless publishers offering ever more immersive looks into fictional worlds and the wonderful beings who might inhabit them.
That being said, for many years, and even now to a degree, there is often the realisation that you, the player, are the driving force of the world you’re interacting with. It’s a phenomenon most obvious on roleplaying games, where any given individual in a township offers two or three snippets of dialogue until you’ve progressed the plot and given them a new event or detail to comment upon. We’re offered these magnificent worlds but they all too often move to the beat of our drum.
As I found upon its release — that isn’t the case with Majora’s Mask
There is much to admire about Nintendo’s follow-up to Ocarina of Time, but for me, nothing is more impressive, or progressive, as the use of time and their creation of a living, breathing world in which Link is merely ‘just another inhabitant’.
I remember the first time I turned it on and meandered my way into Clock Town, I was giddy at the sight of characters going about their own business and the lives being played out that weren’t my own. You are so quickly dropped into the society of Termina — arguments on the safety of the town, arrangements for its possible evacuation, an ill-fated wedding, squabbling merchants — the place immediately feels alive.
It’s a game centred around social interactions that highlighted story-telling as much as enjoyable gameplay — arguably to a different level than any Zelda game before. I think the greatest moments by far are the various interactions you encounter whilst trying to reunite the lovers Anju and Kafei — there’s a depth of character shown in those moments that I would argue have never since been replicated in the franchise.
The sense of the world moving on without you is of course driven by the wonderful time mechanic, without which Majora’s Mask wouldn’t work at all. I remember being floored by the changing of night and day in Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time, and how various interactions changed dependant on the time, so imagine my excitement in finding that the entire world of Termina was driven by a real time. It was nothing short of magnificent.
I’m not ashamed to say that the time mechanic actually caught me napping that first time through. When I got into Clock Town, I undertook my usual tactic of wandering the area, chatting to various characters and trying to get the lay of the land — before I knew it, I was greeted by the message “Dawn of The Final Day” and I had to get my butt in gear to avoid being smashed to smithereens by the moon. From that point on, everything I did in Majora’s Mask was with the sense of urgency that is in keeping with a hero looking to save the world — no lollygagging, chopping every bit of grass and smashing every pot — I was a hero and I had work to do. It was a subtle alteration that hugely impacts how the game plays.
In hindsight, it can be argued that the cast of characters is relatively limited and that the scale of the story and timeline is short, but I will always be impressed by how immersive and self-perpetuating the universe felt on that first play through. Nintendo took a chance by altering the formula a little, but long may Majora’s Mask shine as what can be achieved when we wish to create a beautiful place to escape. We can only hope that Breath of the Wild fills us with that same sense of wonderment.