“Woah! That’s a huge waterwheel!”
These were the words Tatl spoke last night when I entered the first proper room of the Great Bay Temple, which featured an especially large rotating waterwheel. In fact, the moment I entered the room, Tatl announced this message without any prompting by me, and some repositioning of the camera only emphasized the existence of a waterwheel to me.
Though this was a perfect example of events my Redundant Information, Gameplay Interruption (GPI), and Companion GPI counters were designed to keep track of, it was also found it to be one of the exceptionally few times when Majora’s Mask tried to hold my hand. In fact, at over 17 hours into my playthrough of Majora’s Mask, I’ve encountered only four instances of Redundant Information, yet at 17 hours into Skyward Sword, I had encountered 23.
I won’t go into too much detail about the other counters until my full analysis of Majora’s Mask — which will be posted here next Sunday — but I think the tremendous differences in Redundant Information counters at 17 hours into each game highlight just how different Skyward Sword and Majora’s Mask are. They are similar in many ways, but the way these two games approach user interfaces, gameplay controls, exposition and handholding are worlds apart.
Because I have not beat Majora’s Mask yet, and cannot properly analyze the data gathered from it, this week’s update will focus on my impressions of Majora’s Mask so far, as well as provide some insight into how I’m conducting this audit. I hope this keeps my evaluation process as transparent as possible, and can at least hold some of you over next week’s serving of statistics to gnaw on.
Impressions of Tatl
I wrote in my article announcing this handholding audit that I remembered Tatl as a companion with a sassy attitude. Yes, Tatl’s quotes carry a bit of snark, but she’s really quite removed from most of this game. Unlike Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, Majora’s Mask provides players with no hotkey for chatting with their companion. In fact, I’ve found I have no way of communicating directly with Tatl for the purpose of finding out what my next goal should be; she can only provide me with information about targeted enemies, information about my surroundings during an occasional GPI, or a sudden, spontaneous reminder of my overarching objective if I spend too much time on side quests.
Granted, Tatl also comments during some cutscenes and occasionally speaks for Link during conversations with other characters, but she ultimately feels less like a companion and more like a lore-based explanation for why floating triangles appear around any object Link focuses on with Z-targeting. So far, I don’t feel like Tatl is holding my hand in terms of gameplay, although I feel like the only piece of information I can reliably extract from her at all is enemy weaknesses.
One thing Tatl does that Fi never would do, however, is a behavior I call Highlighting; flying out from under Link’s hood to hoover over an enemy or a point of interest, where she will glow a corresponding color upon arrival and remain there until Link moves out of range. Tatl constantly Highlights things in the environments I navigate Link through, whether I want her to or not. Though Highlighting never interrupts gameplay or suspends player control, one could very well make an argument that Highlighting is perhaps handholding in its most blatant form. This makes Tatl feel even less like a fairy companion and more like just a glittering ball of light meant to passively draw the player’s attention to points of interest as Link passes them.
While I personally have never thought of Highlighting as a form of handholding before this audit, I strongly believe that Majora’s Mask would be a much more challenging game if Tatl had no Highlighting behavior, or if her Highlighting behavior were restricted to enemies and people for the purpose of Z-targeting them. Nonetheless, Highlighting remains a consistently reliable method for players to distinguish between points of interest and static pieces of the environment. And since The Wind Waker replaced Highlighting fairies with a mechanic where Link himself would turn his head and passively look at points of interest as he approaches them, Highlighting is still present in Zelda games as recent as Skyward Sword, and I expect it to return in Zelda U.
Of course, a flying, glowing fairy hovering over points of interest is definitely much more noticeable than our green-clad hero turning his head, so I did make an attempt to measure instances of Highlighting in Majora’s Mask.
I stopped counting after Tatl Highlighted nine points of interest in half an hour.
Highlighting his happens a lot. Way too much for me to count. In fact, Tatl Highlights so many things in Majora’s Mask that I found myself overwhelmed with keeping track of them all to prevent myself from over-counting instances of Highlighting. If I ran Link back and forth between an area with a Highlighted mailbox twice, I didn’t want to make two tallies for the single mailbox.
Suffice to say that while I will not count instances of Highlighting during this audit, I will consider Highlighting with a fairy to be a very strong form of handholding, if only because Majora’s Mask would be a much more difficult game without it.