Legend of Outer: Majoras Wilds

Outer Wilds is freakin great

I finally got around to playing Outer Wilds "Echoes of the Eye" DLC. There's a lot that has been said about this game and games like it, and theres probably not a lot new I can add to the discussion. Outer Wilds is a masterpiece that everyone should play. The Music (by Andrew Prahlow) is a masterpiece that every should listen to. The ending, to both the base game and DLC, is something that emotionally touched me like few other experiences ever have. Go play it

Anyways, after completing Echoes of the Eye, I thought it would be interesting to go back and play Legend of Zelda: Majoras Mask. Both are quintessential time loop games so I thought it would be interesting to compare the two. Plus I'll take any excuse to play a zelda game. Plus plus (to my shame) I had never actually finished Majoras Mask.

So what did I find? Basically, Majoras Mask walked so Outer Wilds could run. Majoras Mask is still a great game, but its use of the time loop pales in comparison to how Outer Wilds utilized it. For starters Majoras Mask is actually a very linear game. Each of the 4 areas must be completed in order, and although there's a little freedom in initial exploration within the regions the specific required sequences of tasks are also linear. Major items are acquired and follow you through the loop, with the exceptions of stuff like your money (which can be stored at a bank with time traveling powers). The only non-linear events are the many side quests within Clock Town. But many require items only acquired later in the game!

This was surprisingly jarring coming straight from Outer wilds, where you had complete freedom in where you went and explored. Stuck on one planet? Just go to the other. Learn something new? Try it out of all the planets. This got me thinking about ways Outer Wilds design could be applied to Majoras Mask. Heres what I came up with...

Majoras Mask if it had another year of dev time

The ultimate goal would be to allow each of the 4 areas and dungeons to be completed in any order. The first step to do this would be to remove any "main item gates" in central Termina field. Specifically this would include removing the requirements for arrows to reach the north, Epona to the south, and the hookshot to the east. With those out of way players would already would have a way larger area to explore fromt the beginning. You would be able to acquire all 3 core masks, and since the region (baring dungeons) use a small number of the items you could get the player to the 4 dungeons with relatively small additional changes.

Speaking of items, I would convert many of them into masks and ocarina songs. I think I'm ok with Masks following you across time loops, since it keeps a sense of progression and tedium down. However, with songs I would take a page out of Tunic's book. In tunic, there exists a magic "song" like system that is introduced later in the game. There are multiple songs that are long sequences of inputs, and it's up to you to keep track of them outside the game. It felt really good to find a new song and write it down in my notebook. Why not have the songs link learns just be the songs you learn? No more UI that keeps track of your songs, or a required cutscene to learn them. The player would be able to play any song from the very beginning if you knew them. This idea of converting in-game locks into out of game knowledge I think is a core innovation of Outer Wilds, Tunic, and other "metroidBRAINias".

I could keep pulling on this thread forever. Why not place the required song for one region in another? Or have a mask that you can only require late in the last day have uses on the first day? (the game actually explores this idea with the Romani Ranch side quest). In my opinion the great strengths of a time loops in games are

I think my proposed changes would reinforce these pillars.

A stray thought

One thing Majoras Mask does really well is ramping up the pressure as you approach the end of the 3 day loop. The first loop also does a great job setting up the frantic feeling of "I need more time!". Whenever you transition between day/night those iconic "Dawn of Last Day" cards hit with hard clock sounds. The music in Clock Town gets more and more ominous with each passing day. The moon literally gets closer to the ground. My favorite detail though is the occasional rumbling of the earth on the last day, as if the moon is close enough for its gravity to tear everything apart. I think this is something Outer Wilds could have done better, where the sun basically goes from 0 to 100 without any warning.. though I guess that's kind of the point.