The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - Staff Review  

A Whale of a Tale Part Two
by Majed "lost_keeper" Athab

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Very Easy
15-25 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   "Got a whale of a tale to tell ya' lads, a whale of a tale part two." These slightly modified lyrics from a particular nautical movie pretty much sum up what The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is all about. The game is the direct sequel to The Wind Waker and is an excellent game worthy of inspiring song and chatter. However, the only inaccuracy with this quote would be that the actual "tale" of Phantom Hourglass is not as great as one would hope. Despite this, the game is pure fun, and DS owners should not miss out on this game.

    The most striking feature of Phantom Hourglass is its unique control scheme. The game is completely controlled via the DS stylus and gamers will find themselves using the stylus to perform every action; this includes everything from attacking, moving, picking up objects, using special items, and opening the menus. The controls are very intuitive and are easy to learn. Attacking enemies is as simple as tapping on them with the stylus, or drawing a circle around Link to make him do his signature spin attack. The game not only utilizes the strengths of the DS by using stylus-controlled battle commands, but also by making good use of the DS microphone and the dual screens. Gamers will have to shout or blow into the DS microphone in order to solve some of the game's puzzles, while the dual screens will be expertly and ingeniously used in boss battles. Another thing, the ability to write notes on maps, is not only a great addition but a practical function that really helps in puzzle heavy games like the Zelda series.

    There are over 16 islands to sail to and eight dungeons to explore. Seven of the dungeons are pretty much the usual Zelda dungeon types, but there is one dungeon that is very different. It's called the Temple of the Ocean King and it happens to be the master dungeon where indestructible guardians protect its depths. A time limit is set in this dungeon whereby Link's life will be slowly drained by the evil that festers within. Only by filling an item called the Phantom Hourglass with sand can one traverse the labyrinth without being harmed. The more sand collected, the more time is added to the timer. When the timer runs down to zero, it's not an instant game over; it just means that Link's life will slowly drain as long as he stays inside the Temple.

Uh, so where do we go now? Uh, so where do we go now?

    As for the game's story, it begins several months after the events of the Wind Waker with Link, Tetra, and the crew sailing off to far-off lands. Their voyage goes awry once a mysterious Ghost Ship appears and takes Tetra away. Link then gives chase, but is soon lost to the sea before washing ashore on a foreign beach. This is where the adventure truly begins.

    Phantom Hourglass, despite being a direct sequel, has little to do with its predecessor other than borrowing a few characters, its visual designs, and the original's overall style. This means that it is not necessary to play Wind Waker before picking up Phantom Hourglass as their stories are really quite separate entities. The only problem here is that there will be a few WW spoilers in the game's introduction where it details what happened previously. The intro, fortunately, can be skipped, so WW spoilers can be avoided.

    Overall, the story of Phantom Hourglass is something that seems a little too much like the previous Zelda games, so the story is not really that original and lacks some fresh material. Despite this, it is still a pretty good story with interesting characters. Zelda games seem to really focus more on innovations in puzzles, dungeons, and general gameplay anyway, rather than story. The game is also a handheld, so a simple story is more suitable for casual, on-the-go gaming. The English localization was handled quite well with dialogue and clues that are both informative and entertaining at the same time. The character Captain Linebeck is probably the most interesting character in the game as he is not only important, but also provides much appreciated comic relief.

Leap for your life. Leap for your life.

    The music in the game is not as compelling or immersive as the musical scores of previous Zelda installments. There's nothing that really captures the essence of the game's story or the feeling of being on the high seas. The soundtrack is pretty generic with no standout compositions. The sound effects are pretty much standard Zelda stuff--nostalgia and all. The visual style, on the other hand, more than makes up for the lack of interesting music. The blend of cel-shaded graphics and the simple yet beautiful art designs just work well with the style of the DS.

    The game's difficulty is very low; in fact the game is way too easy. The time limit set on the Temple of the Ocean King is actually a welcomed boon to the difficulty as without it the game and that particular dungeon would be even easier than it already is. Boss battles do require some extra strategic thinking, but once the winning strategy has been discovered, they become a walk in the park. The puzzles in the dungeons are well thought out and not overly difficult. Some puzzles might make gamers scratch their heads at times, but ultimately most puzzles and dungeons will be completed relatively quickly and with little frustration. The game is not too long at around 15 to 20 hours, which is a pretty good amount of invested time for a handheld game.

    The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is a game that is a must have title for any DS owner. In short, it is a stylish, innovative, and fun game that will not disappoint. As a Zelda title, it is an excellent addition to the series as the gameplay and stylus control really adds something special to the usual tried and tested stuff that Zelda fans are used to.

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