The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Review by RDFakan
"The First Truly Awful (Official) Zelda Game"
Link has finally made his way onto the DS. The Legend of Zelda had been a solid series since it started way back in the NES era and, along with Mario and his assorted crew, has kept Nintendo neck-and-neck with its competitors. A Zelda game for the DS is a no-brainer, next to Mario and Metroid games, but has Nintendo dropped the ball this time? The answer is a guttural scream of Yes!
Phantom Hourglass is a gimmick game if there ever was one. It forces the touch screen down your throat until you're screaming curses at Link and his stubby little legs. No, you won't be using the D-pad here. No, you don't even get the option to change from touch control to D-pad control. Not only do the controls mock you, the story and the premise are ridiculously lacking, even for Zelda. I know, it's a simple action/adventure game that's supposed to be fun and easy to play, not a complicated novel, but even the Oracle games had more engaging plotlines than this.
Phantom Hourglass takes place some time after Wind Waker (meaning it's the fourth game in this particular timeline, following Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, and the aforementioned Wind Waker, which this game directly mimics). Link, Tetra and the pirates are traveling the open sea in search of, well, whatever they were interested in at the end of Wind Waker. It's not really discussed in this game. They're just out sailing. The pirates are slacking, Link's bored out of his mind, and Tetra's yelling at everyone; typical behavior. Then everything gets foggy, a ghost ship appears, Tetra jumps aboard to investigate, and Link follows after her when the mysterious ship starts to sail away. After a few moments of black screens, the most horrifying scene in the game occurs: the voice of Navi returns to haunt your dreams. Any Ocarina of Time veterans can attest to the pain that little fairy's voice causes. The new fairy Ciela doesn't disappoint. I admit, I'm exaggerating, but it's still frightening to hear HEY! HEY! HEY! after being done with OaT years ago. Nintendo gods be praised, Ciela speaks in sound bites so very rarely. Her introduction scene is the only one in which she emphatically makes her presence known. From here on, the story doesn't get any more interesting. Link meets up with a narcissistic sea captain named Linebeck and a wise old sage named Oshus, but aside from the bickering between Linebeck and Ciela, along with a few one-dimensional side characters, there isn't any significant character interaction or development. A few races make a return, along with a new deer-like people, but doesn't affect the story itself. There's a new ultimate evil guy, but he's no Ganon. He's not even anthropomorphic. I can't say anything else without giving (unexistent) spoilers, but you will be disappointed.
Here's the issue that everyone takes up arms about. The controls, oh boy, the controls. The stylus moves you everywhere and controls everything. Put the stylus on one side of the screen and Link will walk/run there, depending on your proximity to him. Draw lines on screen for stabbing/slicing, draw circles to spin attack, and makes circles on the edge of the screen for rolls. It doesn't sound that bad in theory, but the execution is seriously lacking. If you're walking to the side opposite your dominant hand, you're going to cover up a lot of the screen, and that makes things pretty difficult when you're surrounded by several enemies shooting bones and bombs at you simultaneously. If you're trying to run around enemies and dodge their attacks, too much wiggling of the stylus will often make Link attack with a stab or slash rather than run where you're telling him to go. Rolling is a joke, and thank goodness the only purpose it actually serves in the game is to hit trees--trees which always seem to be precariously perched beside the ocean. You'll roll more often accidentally than deliberately. Attacking isn't that big a deal, since you can just tap on enemies to make Link poke them or dive attack them, but attacking a fast moving enemy with your sword is borderline madness (which is coincidentally one of the first tasks you're forced to do). Picking up objects and throwing them works on the same principles. While I liked having the ability to decide exactly where I'd throw bombs, telling Link what to pick up becomes aggravating when you can't tell if he's making a run for a bomb plant or getting smacked around by an enemy--it gives the game a logic hiccup that's hard to decipher. Now, I admit the stylus controls get easier to use as time goes on--they're annoying but not impossible--but the game's setup just seems to punish you as you continue: hit the rat carrying a key before getting any items that would help you? An ice level where Link disregards what you tell him to do? Even a dead guy you find tells you he'd rather use the D-pad; what fun. Speaking of which, the D-pad works as extra ways to access the various menus in the game, menus which have buttons in the bottom two corners of your screen, along with an item icon in the upper right corner. These buttons frequently get in the way when trying to accomplish, well, anything. Want to aim your bow or cannon in the corner? Have fun with that! All the items in this game (aside from the hourglass) came from previous games, and they all basically serve as tools, aside from the boomerang. The ability to tell the boomerang exactly where you want it to go is not the fun and easy activity it was advertised as. While you're drawing the path (with a screen that likes to overreact), enemies continue to hunt you down and hurt you. I do, however, like drawing paths for bombchus; time stops while you draw the path, and you don't have to wait for it to reach the target before starting to move again. Lastly, there's the Tower of the Ocean King, where the Phantom Hourglass comes into play. You can only stay in there for minutes at a time, but in all honesty, you're never seriously pressed for time. Ever. At the end of the game, I had a max limit of 23 minutes, and I reached the end, after getting into a serious screw up in the final area, with nearly eleven minutes remaining. Time is never an issue, which makes the Phantom Hourglass even sillier and more insignificant than the Wind Waker.
I thoroughly enjoyed the art direction in Wind Waker, so I was glad it made a return in Phantom Hourglass. That being said, I was disappointed it wasn't taken advantage of more. The only time I made serious notice of it was when catching fish. Lame, but at least the game still looks good. Phantom Hourglass looks like an N64 game, but it's a handheld, so that's really not a bad thing to say. I honestly can't complain about the game's appearance. It's not exactly pretty, but for a handheld game, it's pretty darn good. Can't say the same for the sound, though. Phantom Hourglass is still running off the exact same sound bites from Ocarina of Time, the same sound bites we've been hearing in Wind Waker, Minish Cap, and Smash Bros. (Any others, I haven't played yet.) A new voice actor once in a while might liven things up, but they did that for Twilight Princess. Most of the music is remixes of what we've been hearing in every previous installment, and even then it seems disappointing. Any new music isn't memorable. The jingles range from familiar to fairy dance disaster. I suppose that's forgivable, but I expect better from Koji Kondo. The only thing in this section that really thrilled me were the paper cut-outs. One of the deck hands gives the back story by way of dramatic monologue and construction paper pictures of a dopey Link battling Ganon. The credits show similar pictures depicting the events of Phantom Hourglass. It's adorable.
I'd say this is the shortest game in the series, but I haven't played the Oracle games in quite a while. If you get most of the extra stuff and have a general sense of what you're supposed to do, the game is short. I'd guess about 15-20 hours sounds about right. If you go for a perfect game, well, that'll take much longer, but there's no point. Bonus stuff to find include ship parts (which, aside from slightly increasing the health of your ship, are completely useless and optional), heart containers (but no heart pieces, which would have really increased the game's lifespan--er, no pun intended), and gems for your fairies. The gems are the only significant bonus items. Power gems double sword strength, wisdom gems double defense, and courage gems (notice a pattern?) shoot lasers from your sword (not as exciting as it sounds). You only need ten of twenty to get the effects, and getting all twenty of a particular gem just boosts the effect more, which is completely unnecessary to beat the game. I won with over ten of each gem, about a third of the ship parts (because they all repeat), and with four hearts missing. Easy. Is the game worth replaying? It was barely worth playing the first time. It's basically an updated version of Link's Awakening, but without the dream comedy.
To be perfectly honest, I went into this game with low expectations, which was a bit unfair. The game isn't completely awful. The controls get much easier over time and mostly only suffer from the inability to read your mind and understand exactly what you're trying to do. Use of the D-pad for character movement would have saved this game, but Nintendo's gimmick pushing struck the final nail in the coffin. The graphics are great for a handheld and it's not like you expect a great story from Zelda games anyway. It's just unfortunately short and it will throw you off cliffs far more often than in any previous Zelda game, guaranteed. (And I didn't even discuss the abysmal salvaging controls or the random frequent boss fights with Jolene or the whack-a-mole boss battles. I admit I cant review the multiplayer, but if I had the capabilities, I wouldnt force it on anyone.) If you feel the need to play every Zelda game ever made, rent it or borrow it, but remember that you won't miss a thing story-wise if you pass it up. If you get it as a gift, give it a try. All I can say is, I've played and beaten every official Zelda game except for Majora's Mask and Twilight Princess, and this is the first Zelda game that I honestly hated. Try harder next time, Nintendo.
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 01/06/08
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (US, 10/01/07)
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