been continuing to work my way through the zelda series. although i’ve skipped a few along the way, i decided to finish the legend of zelda: phantom hourglass next, even though i’d really disliked wind waker way back when, not for the visuals, but for the gameplay. in that game i’d found the sailing to be incredibly dull and the dungeons uninspired, so i approached phantom hourglass with some trepidation.
in many ways hourglass fixes some key problems with wind waker. although some people complain that you don’t get to actually steer the ship, using the stylus to draw out the ship’s route puts the DS’s touchscreen to good use and makes travelling much less of a chore. the mini-game to recover sunken treasure is quite tedious, though. it’s been a while since i’ve played wind waker so i don’t have many more direct comparisons to that game, but the world of hourglass feels smaller than that of WW (and most of the other zelda games actually), and dungeons are almost painfully linear. there’s also a dungeon that you have to return to several times that is timed (as measured by the eponymous item), a first for the series and a design decision that was also much more tedious than interesting, especially since in those areas the gameplay centers around stealth as opposed to action, which i find fairly boring in general. customizable ships and collectable ship parts were added fluff that i didn’t pay much attention to, and due to lack of zelda friends (aww) i haven’t yet touched the unique multi-player game.
it’s no secret that, as with many other games of late, nintendo was trying to use this game to reach out to the casual market, and with the almost completely touchscreen-centric gameplay (which, incidentally, works extremely well) i have a feeling they probably succeeded. attacking an enemy is as easy as tapping it with the stylus, and link automatically uses his shield to deflect enemies’ attacks. many critics at that time claimed that although many such concessions were made to make the game easier overall, the “zelda experience” didn’t suffer too much as a consequence, but i’m not quite sure i agree. part of what makes zelda games unique are their epic feel, and although the majority of items get recycled from game to game there are usually a few surprises. hourglass is apparently the first in the series that doesn’t include any new items, and although controlling link’s weapons with the stylus adds a new dimension to them, it’s not nearly novel enough for diehard fans who have been using them for two decades now. there are some occasional surprises, such as some new faces (and even a couple of new races) and some fun map-drawing-based puzzles, but even with the novelty of the well-implemented touchscreen controls the sum just isn’t quite enough to make the overall experience feel fresh. the lack of innovation in long-running nintendo series has been a recurring complaint of mine lately, although games succeed and fail to varying degrees. hourglass easily beats out wind waker and minish cap for me, but in doing so it still winds up near the middle to bottom of my list of favorite zelda games. i’ve got four or so more to go, though, and it seems like spirit tracks could be an improvement on hourglass. i have a feeling the train travelling isn’t going to be much more interesting than travelling by boat, but at least i won’t have to suffer through that sunken treasure mini-game again!
not-so-phantom phantom hourglass links:
– the official site has some wallpapers
– entry at zeldawiki.org
– entry at zeldauniverse.net
– entry at zeldadungeon.net
– entry at wikipedia
– PDF of instruction manual at replacementdocs.com
– zelda turned 25! 1up.com has a series of retrospective lists that are somewhat entertaining.