The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

Link and a pirate leader named Tetra are sailing along the vast blue ocean, when they encounter a mysterious ghost ship. After Tetra boards the ship, she screams for help, with Link attempting to follow, only to fall into the ocean. When he awakes, he finds himself washed ashore on an island, enlisting the help of a fairy named Ciela, an old man named Oshus, a captain named Linebeck, and the mysterious Phantom Hourglass to track down the ghost ship and rescue Tetra. Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass marked the debut of the series on the Nintendo DS, making heavy use of the stylus and touchscreen, although the mandatory stylus control doesn’t always work to the game’s advantage.

Phantom Hourglass features the top-down perspective of older Zelda games, in addition to the heavy stylus control, necessary to perform actions such as moving Link around, attacking enemies with his sword, and using tools necessary to advance through dungeons. Once again, Link has a number of hearts indicating his health that defeating bosses at the end of dungeons can increase, along with performing certain sidequests (this installment doesn’t divide hearts into four pieces like most other entries). As the player advances through the game and increases Link’s arsenal of tools, they must traverse a large dungeon called the Temple of the Ocean King to unlock certain areas of the game’s world and advance further.

Like its predecessor The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass takes place on a large ocean with several islands Link can explore, with a ship being necessary to travel between islands. The player can customize it with various parts, with certain combinations increasing the ship’s HP, which starts out at four hearts. The ship has a cannon for players to fend off nautical enemies (with some bosses fought at sea), and will eventually receive a crane that can allow the player to salvage treasure at the bottom of the ocean.

As with other Zelda games, bosses require some sort of strategy to defeat, usually with the tool acquired in their dungeons. Total stylus control works for certain tools, but it can feel somewhat awkward at times, and make certain parts of the game feel needlessly difficult. Fortunately, Link can carry up to two healing potions in case players don’t have a good handle on the control, which can make bosses more tolerable. The ship customization, though, is a bit of an afterthought, with ship combat being somewhat frustrating if the player can’t increase ship health. Overall, the battle system works okay at times, but mandatory stylus control can be a turnoff.

The controls in Phantom Hourglass work okay for the most part, with a generally easy menu system and a convenient save-anywhere feature, although this installment commits the usual Zelda sins of sometimes not telling the player very well how to advance and not having an internal game clock. Total stylus control can also make certain puzzles needlessly difficult, and in the end, interaction is passable, if nothing more.

Phantom Hourglass attempted to mix up the typical Zelda formula with its total stylus control, making this installment feel distinct from other series entries, though it does continue the storyline started by The Wind Waker and features a cel-shaded visual style as well. Even so, the first DS entry has enough features to feel sufficiently fresh.

Story-wise, Phantom Hourglass begins with a recap of events from The Wind Waker, a boon for those who haven’t played that game, and this entry’s plot offering does have some things going for it, such as some decent twists. Still, the plot is somewhat thinly spread out during the game, and follows the typical Zelda formula of finding plot-driving objects at the end of its various dungeons. All in all, Phantom Hourglass, like other series installments, is more about its gameplay than story.

Phantom Hourglass’s soundtrack could have been better as well, given the reliance upon ambience throughout the game, although there are some decent tracks such as the sailing theme and town theme. There are also some voice clips for Link and a few other characters, but the game’s aural offering is still average at best.

The cel-shaded graphics, similar to those in The Wind Waker, are probably the best part of the game, with nice effects, animation, and scenery, even if the environs and character models are slightly pixelated on close-up. Still, the developers did quite well in the visual department.

Finally, this iteration is short like many other Zeldas, taking about sixteen hours to finish, although getting lost and sidequests can boost playing time even further. Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is a bit of a letdown, given its gimmicky stylus-heavy gameplay, certain to alienate those used to traditional control in the series. The graphics are nice, but all the game’s other aspects leave plenty of room for improvement, even though they’re not without their share of redeeming aspects.

The Good:
+Good graphics.
+Save anywhere feature.

The Bad:
-Total stylus control can be annoying.
-Weak plot.
-Soundtrack is too ambient.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 6/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 5/10
Music/Sound: 5/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 4/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: Less than 20 Hours

Overall: 6/10

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