There is a bunch of games where your task is to stop the end of the world, but instead of structuring the game as a corridor of events leading to the final showdown, it is open. You can go and do whatever you want. In these cases I invariably feel I can’t just go about doing whatever. A big part of me always feels this need to finish the quest. I can’t go screwing around when the world is ending!
Take Skyrim for instance. Alduin the World Eater is flying around waking up dragons. You are the only one who can stop him. On my first playthrough I did minimal of the sidequests, I really leaned into those main quests though. I just felt I couldn’t mess around while Alduin is supposed to make things shittier by the minute. But you could fuck around for years in the game without anything really changing. It breaks some of the immersion for me, and so I need to stop the end of the world. Fast.
Morrowind was better at that. Your very first quest is to deliver a package. When you do so, the recipient Caius Cosades turns out to be a member of a spy network. The package contains a letter saying you are supposed to become a member of the network. The first mission he gives you? “Go out and do whatever. Join a guild or something, fight some bandits. Just do stuff to make an alibi, this spy network is secret.” No “you have to stop Dagoth Ur fast or he will destroy the world!”. In the context of the story of that game you are free to just do whatever you want. Hell, you are encouraged to!
This brings me to Majora’s Mask. Recently remastered and released on 3DS, a lot of people have shouted out both in favor of it and against it. I am part of the crowd who love it. A part of the smaller subset who thinks it is the best Zelda game out there. And a part of the even smaller subset who thinks it is one of the ten best games I have ever played. One of the main gripes people have with the game is
the “three day restriction”.
The game works like this: You arrive in Termina three days before the moon is to hit the ground. You literally have exactly three in-game days to stop the end of the world. These three days pass on rather fast. A quick Google search yielded this chart:
1 Termina hour = 45 seconds
4 Termina hours = 3 minutes
12 Termina hours = 9 minutes
1 Termina day = 18 minutes
2 Termina days = 36 minutes
3 Termina days = 54 minutes
Inverted Song of Time – Triple the amount of real time
1 slow Termina hour = 2 minutes 15 seconds
4 slow Termina hours = 9 minutes
12 slow Termina hours = 27 minutes
1 slow Termina day = 54 minutes
2 slow Termina days = 1 hour 48 minutes
3 slow Termina days = 2 hours 42 minutes
So without messing with the time, which is easier to realize you can do in the 3DS version, you only get 54 minutes to save the world. I can see how people figure that out and think “hell no, this fucking sucks”. Even with the Inverted Song of Time you only got 2 hours 42 minutes. Not that long time, right? Well, with that you can finish dungeons without any problems. I actually only learned about the Inverted Song of Time after beating the first two dungeons back in the day. And I was like… 12 years old or something. So it can be done on the normal time as well. How you say?
You don’t have just 54 minutes/2 hours 42 minutes to beat the game. When you play the Song of Time you can travel back in time to the first day. Everything is reset, except certain items. You keep your bow, but your arrows disappear. You keep your bomb bag, but no bombs. Your upgraded wallet remains, but all your rupees poof. If you spent your last three day cycle getting to the entrance of a temple, finding the Owl Statue there, you can simply warp there right away. So the time constraint isn’t “save the world in three days”, it’s “do whatever you want/need in three days”. Want to beat a temple? You got three days. You want to roam around gathering rupees? You got three days.
And this is one of the reasons why I love this game. It has a time constraint that actually works. The world will end in three days. It actually will end, killing you and everyone else, forcing you to reload. In any other game I can think of the end of the world never happens, as it has not been scripted in to actually happen after a set amount of time (if there are any games I would love to hear about them! Ah, just remembered Fallout has that, so I can think of one game.).
If you only had those three days, the game would be super stressful. Even if those three days was real-time days. But with the Song of Time, a crucial part of the story, you sidestep the stress once you learn how it works. The first few cycles of days I was really stressed out. “Ok, I am at the beginning again, but I only have three days to beat this temple now! FUCK!”. But you quickly figure out that you got plenty of time. Hell, you got all the time in the world. This also gives you an in-game reason why you can just fuck around for a long time. If you want you can spend a three-day cycle just unwinding. Taking in the sights. Have a vacation so to speak, without breaking the immersion. I know I would do that from time to time.
So the three-day cycle, one of the reasons why a lot of people dislike the game, is actually one of the main reasons why I love it so. It’s like a perfect blend of “THE WORLD IS ENDING SOON” and “Eh, do whatever you want man, it’s all good”. And yet I understand why it turns people off the game. But for me, it is one of the greatest games out there.