The flow of Time is a recurring element in The Legend of Zelda series.
Role in the Series
Flow and manipulation
In most of the 3D games, the time of day flows in a similar way to real life. Depending on the current time, some events may or may not be available, and some places may be open or closed. Resultingly, there are characters who perform actions and provide particular information at specific times or during specific intervals, following schedules.
In games where time plays a key role, there is typically a way to manipulate it. Link may learn songs that allow him to turn day into night and vice versa. In Oracle of Ages, time travel allows the young hero to explore the land of Labrynna through different ages.
Countdowns and Timers
A broader manifestation of time in a game is present in events that Link must complete within a time limit. When it comes to minigames or long-term events, a countdown appears on the screen and continually indicates how much time remains; conversely, there are minigames Link must beat as fast as he can, and in these cases the time counter shows how long has passed since the beginning.
If the event is too short (as in the case of puzzles that must be solved quickly), a timer is not shown; instead, a sound effect is heard faster and faster as less time remains.
Internal Clock Usage
Neither Phantom Hourglass nor Spirit Tracks implemented an in-game day/night system, meaning that the time of day is constant. Instead, the games are sensitive to the current real life time thanks to the internal clock of the Nintendo DS. What Beedle sells depends on the day, and Link cannot buy more than what he currently offers. His masked counterpart, who appears only in Phantom Hourglass, only appears at key hours of the day: From 10:00pm to 12:00am on weekdays, and from 10:00am to 12:00pm on weekends. The treasure merchandise sold in regular shops also changes depending on the day. Finally, for the same reasons, lottery results and some mail letters are delivered to Link according to the literally indicated days for reception ("the next day", "at midnight", etc.).
Games that extensively use the concept of time
Ocarina of Time
Ocarina of Time introduced the concept of a day/night cycle and the general flow of time. The days and nights lasted for a certain amount of time and depending on what time it was, various enemies would appear in some places, certain buildings would close until night, and various characters will change locations or leave entirely until the next day. In select locations, such as towns, dungeons, or Lon Lon Ranch, time does not flow at all, while in open areas, such as Hyrule Field and Lake Hylia, time continues to flow. Certain parts of the plotline must take place in the day time, or require that Link waits until sunrise. Link can use the Sun's Song to call upon the Sun or Moon, therefore changing the time of day.
Striking a Gossip Stone with a sword will cause it to give Link the current time in 24-hour format. A few soldiers will also give Link the time in the same format, such as the ones found in Kakariko Village as young Link.
Each day in game lasts two minutes and thirty seconds in real time (making each hour last twelve seconds). Night time, however, lasts only one minute and twenty seconds (making each hour at night only six seconds).
Majora's Mask has the most elaborate time cycle in all The Legend of Zelda games. Many characters are scheduled around it. The time flow of Majora's Mask revolves around a three-day cycle at the end of which the Moon crashes down upon Clock Town. Link can play the Song of Time at any point in this three-day cycle to return to the beginning of the cycle. The flow of time itself is not constant. In the initial three day cycle, it takes 27 seconds for each game hour, which is just over a half hour for the entire cycle. For every single cycle after that, each game hour takes 45 seconds; 54 minutes for the whole cycle. This also means that the days and the nights both flow slower than in Ocarina of Time. Link can play the Inverted Song of Time to slow the flow of time which will slow it down to 150 seconds (two and a half minutes) for each game hour, exactly three hours for an entire cycle. The only places that do not have any time flow are the Lost Woods, the Portal, the inside of the Clock Tower, the boss rooms immediately after the boss has been defeated, and the Moon.
The current time is indicated by an on-screen clock, or by any clock on many of the walls in Clock Town, even the Clock Tower. Unlike in Ocarina of Time, striking a Gossip Stone with a sword will not cause it to give Link the current time in a 24-hour format, but instead will tell the amount of time left in the cycle in hours and minutes. The Happy Mask Man will also tell Link how many hours remain if he is talked to.
The Wind Waker
The Wind Waker has time flow more akin to that in Ocarina of Time, but retaining the extended length as seen in Majora's Mask. When sailing, the time is indicated by a hidable icon that seems to flip out from under the on-screen compass. Tingle, through the Tingle Tuner will make comments when the time of day changes to dusk, dawn, midnight, and noon. He will also give Link the time in 24-hour format through an item on the Tuner.
Each day, the phase of the moon changes, having seven in total. This affects various things like Legendary Pictographs, the location of the Ghost Ship, and some Light Rings. Other light rings will appear at any night. Various buildings and shops close at night and most characters leave until morning. Moreover, some things, such as the Auction only take place at night. When the young hero learns the Song of Passing, he can switch between day and night, like in previous titles.
Time does not flow in most any interior or around certain major islands. Islands where time does not flow have a special icon in place of the time icon while sailing. There are also moments in the game where time is unnaturally frozen: When Link visits Greatfish Isle, a curse that causes the day to remain in an infinite night is on, and can only be broken after Jabun is found; this curse reappears when the Forsaken Fortress is visited for a second time, and is finally lifted forever after defeat of Helmaroc King and escape of Ganondorf. When Link visited Hyrule at first, the gods had suspended time in the submerged land, preventing anything from being able to move, until the Master Sword was removed from its pedestal to break the seal.
In Twilight Princess, the flow of time is smooth and closer to how it worked in Ocarina of Time, with a few of the extra features seen in the other 3D titles; however, there is no UI indication of what time it is other than the sky. As in The Wind Waker, the moon changes its phase, having eight in total; seven visible phases and a new moon phase. Certain enemies, such as Poes and Stalhounds, only appear at night, and various businesses also close at night, similar to previous Zelda games. There is no direct way to change the time of day in this game; however, whenever Midna warps Link out of any dungeon, it will always be midday, regardless of the time when he went inside.
None of the handheld games have made use of a day/night flow system. Therefore, in Phantom Hourglass, the main notion of time comes from the titular Phantom Hourglass, which allows the young hero to survive inside the Temple of the Ocean King for as long as the available Sand of Hours within the Hourglass can. The only instance where Link can manipulate time is during two phases of the final battle, when Ciela grants him Phantom Spheres that can freeze time for a short period.
In Skyward Sword, day and night do not alternate on their own, like in Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, The Wind Waker or Twilight Princess. In order to change the time of day, Link must travel to The Sky and find a bed to sleep in. Link cannot fly his Loftwing at night, and cannot find a bed on The Surface. This means that The Surface can never be explored at night time.
Whenever a Timeshift Stone is hit in Lanayru Desert, it transforms the surrounding area into how it was in a past era. Namely, the sandy and rocky environments in the present turn back into the green and industrial state it was before the decline and extinction of the Ancient Robot race. Timeshift Orbs have the same properties as Timeshift Stones, but are small enough to be carried by Link, causing the environment around him to change constantly.
- "On this ground, time flows normally. But time stands still while you are in Lon Lon Ranch or in a town. If you want time to pass normally, you'll need to leave town." — Kaepora Gaebora (Ocarina of Time)
- "Though we never could figure out the power of the Triforce, we had almost completed our study of controlling time with the tones of ocarinas. Uh, I mean... Actually, we did complete that study!" — Either of the Composer Brothers (Ocarina of Time)
- "To tell the truth, each of us was studying a different song, one to summon the sun and another to summon the moon." — Either of the Composer Brothers (Ocarina of Time)
- "BOINNG! BOINNG! The current time is: ##:##!" — Gossip Stone (Ocarina of Time)
- "Ding dong, ding dong! I'm a clock soldier of Kakariko! The current time is: ##:##." — A soldier (Ocarina of Time)
- "It seems that if you play that mysterious song backward, you can slow the passage of time." — Pierre (Majora's Mask)
- "Only ##:## remaining!" — A Gossip Stone (Majora's Mask)
- "And if you play each note twice in a row, you can move a half day forward through time." — Pierre (Majora's Mask)
- "All right, Link... I'll need you to listen to me for a moment. The item you seek is hidden somewhere in this castle. To find it, you must find the entrance to the basement. But...that entrance has been blocked by a mighty threshold, firmly sealed to prevent evil from ever gaining access." — King of Red Lions (The Wind Waker)
- "Listen up. Loftwings can't fly at night! They have terrible night vision, and only the few who have received special training can fly in the dark. If you really need to fly, you'll just have to wait for daylight." — Rescue Knight (Skyward Sword)