The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - Staff Review  

The Half-Full Hourglass
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
10-15 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Just shy of three years after the release of the Nintendo DS, the system has finally received its first game in the Legend of Zelda series. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is a direct sequel to the 2003 GameCube title The Wind Waker and features the game's cel-shaded character designs. With Phantom Hourglass, Nintendo attempts to give the series new life by molding an experience that is based completely around the DS touch screen. While the game has some painful and obvious flaws, it is innovative. The question remains: does it live up to its full potential?

   The major aspect of any Zelda title is the battle system, as players are directly controlling Link's actions. The unique touch screen interface of Phantom Hourglass makes combat amazingly simple at times and completely frustrating at others. To attack with Link's sword, all that is required is a quick tap of the stylus and Link will move to attack the tapped enemy. Most creatures can be dispatched in one or two hits, but when Link encounters something that blocks his direct attack he must patiently wait for the enemy to charge and then attempt to attack from behind. This is easier said than done. Gone are the glorious back attacks that Link was able to use in The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. While the touch screen control doesn't allow for much depth in sword combat, the use of other items is wonderfully simple and accurate. Firing an arrow just requires holding down a trigger button and tapping the intended target to complete; it is almost effortless. The boomerang is easy to use as well. All that is required is to draw the desired path, no matter how complex, and watch it fly. There are also bombs and the path-following bombchus which have never been more accurate. Phantom Hourglass's astounding effectiveness in combat makes up for its lack of depth.

Linebeck The true star of the game. Linebeck.

   As effective as the battle system of Phantom Hourglass can be, the interface could use some improvements. One major complaint relates to the swapping of items. This should be a simple process, but is made into an awkward mess. While tapping the Items button in the bottom right corner of the screen is easy enough, it is not fluid because Link cannot be controlled during this transition. The items and menu buttons on screen get in the way, at times hindering movement and combat. Responsiveness is also an issue, especially for combat while sailing. Because the touch screen is used both to steer and to fire the cannon, oftentimes the two will get mixed up. Though these problems are frustrating, it is worth remembering that this is the first attempt at a completely touch-controlled Zelda adventure, and it does many things right as well. Phantom Hourglass makes full use of both DS screens, giving a map across the top or offering a unique viewpoint during boss battles. Area maps can be brought down to the bottom screen and can be annotated so that important details are stored for later use. This is a tremendous help throughout the quest. Sailing has also been made less of a hassle, since plotting a course is as easy as drawing it on the sea chart. Use of the microphone is required in order to blow out candles or to shout to people in the game. Some puzzles even evoke unexpected uses of the DS's mechanics. Even though the major issues with control can be a source of frustration, overall interaction is highly original and does a wonderful job of laying a foundation that can be improved on.

   Plot tends to be the weakest area of Zelda games, and Phantom Hourglass is no exception. The story begins with Link searching for the pirate Tetra after a disastrous encounter with a mysterious ghost ship. Link finds himself washed up on Mercay Island with an amnesiac fairy named Ciela floating around him. Ciela takes him to see her wise, old grandfather Oshus. Oshus attempts to discourage Link from venturing after the ghost ship, claiming that it is too dangerous. Link, not wanting to abandon Tetra, hunts down Captain Linebeck; thus the adventure begins. Linebeck turns out to be a big chicken and makes every excuse not to help Link directly, but he still hangs around thanks to his desire for treasure. While Linebeck's laughable cowardice and humorous bickering with Ciela provide for some quality entertainment, the overall plot is not too deep.

Hourglass How do you get more sand in there?

   Using the same artistic, cel-shaded style found in Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass does a decent job transitioning to the Nintendo DS. The world, characters, and enemies are all finely detailed, but this portable version does lack the variety that the GameCube title offered. Dungeons look bland and the world's different islands do not really stand apart from each other like they should. Though the game is bright and the character models look good, Phantom Hourglass just has so little to offer visually that it is disappointing. Much like the visuals, Phantom Hourglass is lacking in the way of sound effects and music. The music is low quality MIDI and the effects are repetitive and uninspired. The sound effects and soundtrack leave a lot to be desired. The DS has been shown to be capable of fairly impressive visuals and high quality sound, but Phantom Hourglass really doesn't present either very well.

   The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is simple and not very lengthy, clocking in at around 10 to 15 hours. Though this is one of the most original Zelda titles in terms of gameplay, it would be more accurately titled as The Half-Full Hourglass. The game borders on the edge of greatness, but is constantly knocked back because it lacks the polish it truly deserves. If the developers would take this foundation and build upon it with a deep story, a variety of visuals, some quality audio, and longer gameplay, they would likely have a masterpiece on their hands. As for now, Phantom Hourglass is a solid first try, but it just needs more sand.

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