Review by Zantriel
"Not quite as epic as one would hope, but a fun couple of hours nonetheless."
When I was eight years old, the original Legend Of Zelda was released, and it was awe-inspiring. Breathtaking graphics, a huge world, an enormous quest, gameplay unlike any that had ever been seen up to that point. I've been what could be called a "fanboy" ever since then. I've played every Zelda title released, barring the Phillips CD+I games.
Thus, two years ago, when Phantom Hourglass was announced, I went out and bought a Nintendo DS in anticipation. The game was pushed back, so I filled my time with things like New Super Mario, Brain Age, and Puzzle Quest. Good games in their own right, but just filler until I could finally get my hands on the new Zelda. I'd heard that it was a sequel to Wind Waker, and I was all right with that. Not my favorite in the lineage, but still a pretty darn good game. And so I waited. And it was pushed back. And I waited. And it was pushed back. I told myself "Hey, Nintendo is KNOWN for pushing back major titles not because they're lazy, but because they will accept nothing less than the release of a perfect product." And finally, after all this waiting, the game finally hit our shores.
I give it a resounding "Meh."
Don't get me wrong. It's not a bad game at all. It has its merits, and they are excellent. But it also has its flaws, and they are huge and disappointing. Allow me to explain:
Wow. Simply WOW. Easily the most gorgeous game for the DS. The polygons, the color palette, the art design, all completely breathtaking. Keep in mind, I'm an old school gamer that can remember the original four-shades-of-grey Gameboy. So I suppose with handheld titles, I'm easily impressed. But this game is absolutely gorgeous. No flaws here whatsoever. It looks almost exactly like The Wind Waker, if a teensy bit more pixellated, a little less shadow effect, but overall amazing.
A lot of people blasted this game because it was another "Save The Damsel In Distress" storyline. I can't help wondering if these people really played all the way through the game. The damsel in distress (Tetra, the Princess Zelda-turned-pirate from the first game) is not the object of the game, merely the catalyst. The plot involves a dark entity named Bellum draining the life and soul out of the land, and trying to restore the power of the Ocean King. Honestly, I really liked it. A nice change of pace from the usual "Assemble the triforce to fight Ganon" storyline. I will say, however, that the ending was a bit lame and brief. The game is hinted at being tied in with another, much much older portable Zelda title. But still, not bad.
The characters were all right. A lot of overly cartoony characters as in Wind Waker (though in this one, a strange amount of them looked like muppets), but most of them likable enough, and you cared about most of them. One that took me by surprise was the fairy, Ciela. For once, I LIKED the fairy character in the game, and they actually gave her some real backstory and a personality! The only character I really couldn't stand is the one most people seemed to love. I honestly could have gone the entire game without Linebeck, the arrogant yet cowardly treasure hunter. He is nothing but an annoyance in the game, the source of many dead weight jokes and banal dialogue. The designers added him for comic relief, but I would have been just as happy tooling around the ocean in King once again.
Ehhh....this one's a love it or hate it kind of situation. As I'm sure you've heard by now, Phantom Hourglass is 90% controlled by the stylus. Buttons are only ever used to call up subscreens and your maps. A bold approach, I feel. Does it work? Most of the time, yes. I found it nearly impossible to intentionally duck-and-roll, yet found myself doing it by accident fairly often. Beyond that, it worked. Tap on an enemy to execute a downward slash, cut a line between you and an enemy for a sideways swipe, etc. Point and hold the stylus in the direction you want Link to go. Tap to fire an arrow or your ship cannon. There were times it felt gimmicky, but there were also times that I went "Wow, this makes SO much more sense than using a D-Pad!" I loved the accuracy of just tapping where I wanted to throw a bomb, instead of hurling it in the general direction and hoping the distance was right. So yes, the controls worked overall.
However, they weren't perfect. In most of the game, the view is a top-down isometric view. This works perfectly with the stylus. There were often issues of wanting Link to run or walk, but he was too close to the edge of the screen for it to register well. He'd often walk when I wanted him to run, or vice versa. Also, for some boss battles, the view slants downward to an over-the-shoulder view. The stylus becomes MUCH harder to use, trying to plot out a path in 3D.
Ahh, this is where the game very nearly fails. Is the game overall fun? Yes. Sometimes. This section will be LONG, because it's where most of the game's flaws lay.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of this game is that it is insanely easy. The first four dungeons took no more than 20 minutes to complete. There are no challenging puzzles in the game. If a puzzle looks like it's going to be challenging, the game will spell it all out for you with a series of cutscenes showing you key items of interest. I beat this game in well under 20 hours, which is sad for a Zelda title. The later dungeons are a bit longer, and pose some clever traps and puzzles, but they almost fail to make up for the first few dungeons in the game.
The biggest annoyance in the game is the Temple Of The Ocean King. I'm sure that you've heard about it. The ToTOK is a 13-floor dungeon that you have to revisit between almost every single main dungeon, to progress to the next. And you have to go through it all from the beginning, redoing all of the puzzles. The worst part is, it's a HORRIBLE attempt at Zelda Stealth. Guards walk around, and if they see you, it's a one-hit kill. Whoopee. It's not a challenge, it's just a huge annoyance. Yes, after you hit the halfway point, there's a teleport so you don't have to go through the first five or six floors again. But it's almost insulting, because those are the ones you can breeze through in a matter of minutes. The long multi-floor annoying puzzles are still below. I really wish they had left this entire aspect out.
Also, people might disagree with me on this, but I felt the world was WAY too small. Yes, it's four huge maps of open ocean and islands. But it's nothing but water, the occasional rock, and two to three islands to visit per map, most of which are small. There's no feeling of exploration. There's no Lost Woods or Gerudo Desert or Kakariko Village or anything like them. Just tiny islands with three or four huts, usually a cave, and a treasure chest or two. In each map, there is also ONE traveller's ship, ONE Beedle ship, and four or five different enemies. Oh and this irritating pirate chick who stalks Linebeck, and you have to fight her off. I REALLY could have done without her.
I should note the seafaring. It's generic. Not terrible, I won't give it a 1/10, but it maintains the 5/10 rating. You draw your route on the map, and hit "go". You have no more control than that. You click on enemies to fire your cannon from the boat. You start with four hearts, but by swapping out ship parts, you can raise that number to....I believe eight, but I wouldn't know. I never needed more than four. I almost would have been happier if they'd left out sailing altogether.
I was sorely disappointed in the game's sidequests. There were barely any to begin with, and the ones that were there really weren't worth doing. Useless rewards for tedious, not fun quests. Whoopee.
The game DOES have some Pros. It had fun minigames, I'll give it that. I kind of enjoyed the Salvage Crane minigame...the fishing would have been fun if it wasn't such a pain to track down fish shadows. The cannon game and the arrow shooting gallery were fun. I also thoroughly enjoyed being able to draw on my map. Adding notes, writing down clues, keeping track of the warp runes, etc. That was handy and fun. And most, if not all, of the Boss battles were epic in concept, even if they were way too easy in execution. I particularly loved the battle where you saw through the eyes of the giant invisible crab.
I never bothered with the Multiplayer, because it just sounded dumb. It's a four-player version of the Temple Of The Ocean King, with one person playing Link, trying to get Force Gems, and three players taking the role of the guards trying to stop him. I'll pass. Thanks
I'll probably never replay this game. There's no reason to.
This game wasn't terrible. It really wasn't. I played it all the way through, never felt the need to throw it down out of frustration. It has some pros, it has a decent storyline, etc. But I guess I just expected more from a Nintendo Zelda title. If this had been one of the Capcom series like Minish Cap or Oracle of Seasons/Ages, I may have been a bit more forgiving, but honestly those games were much better than this. I wanted epic, I got a couple hours of distraction. The first portable Zelda title, Link's Awakening, was infinitely better than this game. It had more challenges, more exploration. This was just not everything I wanted it to be. But again, it is overall a fun game, and definitely worth playing through just for the heck of it. Borrow it or rent it if you can, or buy it used. If none of those options are available, then I suppose you wouldn't feel TOTALLY ripped off if you paid full price for it, but you probably won't remember this game by this time next year.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/16/07
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (US, 10/01/07)
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