They say time flies when you’re having fun, and it seems as though a number of developers have taken this message to heart when incorporating dynamic day and night cycles into their games, many of which represent much more than just a visual novelty. Some of these titles use the mechanic to place a keen focus on survival, wherein the change in night and day can mark the difference between life and death. In other instances, night represents an opportunity to interact with the world in new and interesting ways, as if experiencing an entirely different game when exploring in the dark. The following ten games all feature day-night cycles which meaningfully enhance the overall experience and make exploring their worlds that much more enjoyable.
As is true with every game in the series, Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s day-night cycle follows that of the real world, or at least the time stated on your 3DS’ built-in clock. If you want to hit up the shops before they close for the night, for instance, you’ll need to time your gaming hours accordingly. Similarly, anyone who yearns to dance the night away at the town’s local nightclub will have to wait until 8pm their time, which may be a problem for anyone planning to attend an actual nightclub that same evening (though you could probably sneak your 3DS in with you). As a result, Animal Crossing: New Leaf requires a patient, planned approach to progression, and its 24 hour cycle is sure to be rewarding for anyone with great time management skills.
It is unlikely that the cavemen of the Paleolithic era had a very comprehensive grasp on the concept of time, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t affected by it either, as Ubisoft’s Far Cry Primal goes to show. Playing as Takkar during the day is a rather pleasant experience made up of hunting, gathering and hitting people over the head with rocks, but the world of Oros starts to feel very different come nightfall. While rare animals such as Tapirs become available to hunt at night, it’s also the time in which packs of predators are out on the prowl. Fire, the common caveman’s best friend, becomes Takkar’s only friend at night, as it can be used to scare off the less intelligent beasties stalking you among the darkness. Overall, Far Cry Primal’s day-night cycle adds a much better sense of time and place to Oros, and makes the Stone Age simulation that much more engaging and entertaining to play through.
Keeping track of the time in Dragon’s Dogma is essential. As the game itself cryptically forebodes, you either “let the fire burn, or the darkness consume you”. That’s essentially fantasy-speak for “make sure you have a torch at night, or you’re in for a whole lot of trouble.” That said, while certain creatures such as ghosts surface only at night, particular skills like “Bloodlust” will enhance your strength exclusively when the moon is in the sky, creating a risk-reward dynamic for adventuring in the midnight hours. What’s more, the various constellations which adorn the night sky can be interpreted by the more inquisitive of players to actually figure out the time of day, which is useful considering there is no in-game clock to speak of. We recommend keeping one eye at ground level at all times, however, as this is a game featuring zombies and ogres after all.
Generation II in the Pokémon videogame series was the first to introduce the idea of time as a factor, and developer Game Freak used the mechanic to add a number of new layers to the gameplay itself. “Catching them all” now required catching them at different times of the day, as particular Pokémon would appear only during specific time periods. Some creatures, such as Eevee, would even transform into different evolutions depending on what time of day you maxed out your friendship with her. Of course, any seasoned trainer will be aware of the common strategy to head-butt trees at night (as you do) in order to knock down any Pokemon who had happily been sleeping amongst their branches. Even through kooky additions such as this one, Pokémon Gold & Silver offered real, meaningful differences in the way it portrays night and day, which was mighty impressive for a Gameboy Color title released at the beginning of the new millennium.
Avoiding starvation is hard enough as it is, regardless of the time of day, but Klei Entertainment shows little mercy towards players looking to endure in the world of Don’t Starve. Surviving each day is by no means an easy task, but the darkness of the night itself has the capacity to quite literally hurt your character, should you not have any form of lighting to remove yourself from its unforgiving shroud. Additionally, almost everything is obscured once the sun has set, meaning you could end up bumping into all manner of ghoulish creatures and environmental hazards on your midnight travels. If you’re already scared of the dark, Don’t Starve is thus likely to confirm all your worst fears about what’s lurking under the bed at night.
The world of Metal Gear Solid V authentically and organically reacts to the in-game day-night cycle, as guards will change patrols and carry torches with them for enhanced visibility at dark. For Venom Snake, the darkness is perhaps his greatest ally for his tactical espionage operations (other than D-Dog, perhaps). Players are able to use the obscured perceptibility to gain the upper hand, equipping night vision goggles to see that which the enemy can’t and disabling flood lights to ensure they remain hidden. Alas, it turns out that Venom Snake isn’t the only one who shops at the local army surplus store, as guards will begin equipping night vision gear themselves should you perform too many incursions during the night. They played you like a damn fiddle, Snake.
As a game that was instrumental in popularizing the modern survival genre as we know it today, Minecraft essentially redefined what the difference between night and day could mean in videogames. While the premise might be as simple as “monsters come out at night,” this works to build a great gameplay loop in which you work tirelessly to gather resources and craft your shelter during the day, so as to remain safe against the tide of skeletons, zombies and spiders that come out to play once the sun goes down. This blueprint has since been imitated a dozen times by other titles for good reason, as the cycle makes for an engaging, rewarding and super addictive gameplay loop. Microsoft didn’t pay $2.5 billion for nothing.
Los Santos is a living, breathing city in Rockstar’s most recent installment in the Grand Theft Auto saga, and that extends to the way in which time affects the world too. During the day, players can witness hikers taking selfies atop Mount Chilliad, and body builders working out at Vespucci Beach. At night, take advantage of the scarce traffic and compete in street races, or—if you’re so inclined—find yourself a, um, “night worker” for some company. Rockstar’s world design is full of small, but significant nuances, and Grand Theft Auto V’s day-night cycle is another extension of this commitment to authentic world building.
As you might expect from a game in which the moon represents one of the main antagonists, the day-night cycle plays a very important role in Majora’s Mask. Link only has three days until the moon crashes down upon Clock Town, but players can reset or slow down the course of events as they try to prevent such a cataclysm from occurring. The passage of time is less of a cyclical pleasantry here, and more of an ever-imposing countdown to game over itself. It has been said that time waits for no man, and it apparently waits for no Hyrulian either. Unless you possess an Ocarina of Time, obviously.
The latest zombie romp from Techland brings a fresh spin to the apocalypse scenario, with undead beasts that transform into something else entirely once the sun sets. The result is like playing two completely different games in one virtual 24 hour cycle. Zombies are less of a threat and more of a nuisance as you scale the rooftops of Harran during the day but, come nightfall, you’ll find yourself running for entirely different reasons. This is when the volatile – agile, powerful and predatory zombie types—come out to hunt, turning the typically combat-focused gameplay into a fast-paced survival horror experience. Thanks to this brilliantly unique day-night cycle, Dying Light manages to be a zombie game that is legitimately scary, if you can believe such a thing exists anymore. Play it on nightmare mode to enjoy the blood-rush in its purest form.
Alex Avard is British freelancer who writes about games and politics. You can find him on Twitter at @alexavard95.