*Released: October 1st, 2007
*Genre(s): action, adventure
*Platform: Nintendo DS (you know, the first one that came out)
Phantom Hourglass was the fist Zelda game to be released on the Nintendo DS, the first console to be released since Nintendo had reached the end of its Gameboy series. It forever changed how video games could be played with its fully functional touch screen controls. This was truly something to behold back in 2007 before smart phones became a part of everyday life.
A direct sequel to Windwaker, this game takes place a mere few days or weeks after Link sets off on his long journey with Tetra and her band of pirates. Phantom Hourglass opens up with Niko (one of the pirates from the last game who makes me wonder if someone in his family had an affair with a rat) recapping the events of the last installment with a series of colorful paper cutouts. Despite being one of the dumbest pirates in all of existence, he got skills. But Link doesn’t see or hear any of this because he starts this game off asleep too! Our hero, folks.
But anyway, it turns out that our intrepid crew are not just aimlessly sailing the high seas in search of adventure. They’re actually investigating the rumors about an evil ghost ship and all the treasure that’s supposedly onboard. The idea of a haunted ship naturally gets everyone on edge except for Link, who’s still half asleep, and Tetra, who doesn’t believe in ghosts and is more interested in the prospect of scoring some treasure. (Guess long-distance sea travel ain’t cheap.) And while everyone argues about what they should do next, that very same ghost ship just so happens to miraculously appear right alongside them. Tetra sees this as a golden opportunity to find out the truth once and for all, charges aboard without hesitation. . . and disappears. Link tries to go after her but ends up falling into the waves below.
Link later wakes up on Mercay Island where he is found by a fairy named Celia, the in-game companion/navigator for this quest, who quickly agrees to help him find the ghost ship and save Tetra from its evil clutches. The two are then joined on their journey by Linebeck, a sailor who despite being a bit of a douche will prove to be a valuable asset for two reasons:
- His ship and
- his exploitable greed. He’ll put himself in all sorts of danger if it means even a whiff of vast riches.
It’s another high-stakes adventure on the high seas. There’s a vast ocean full of danger to explore, dotted with tiny little islands with tons of secrets and treasures to find.
‘Phantom Hourglass’ pretty much has the same look and feel as ‘Windwaker.’ It has the same cartoony, cel-shaded art style with Link remaining as that same genderless waif that Zelda fans have come to know and love over the years. As a Zelda game, it really doesn’t alter that classic formula too much:
*confronting an ancient and recurring evil and putting it to rest. . . at least until the next game
*a hero clad in green rescuing the titular princess legend
There’s really nothing new here. Basically the same story in a different era with different places and people.
Even though I just said all of that, I can honestly say that this game wasn’t like any other Zelda game I had ever played. Well, at least before its successor, ‘Spirit Tracks’, was released in 2009−but that’s an entirely different story that I’m not going into right now. Well, the first thing that made ‘Phantom Hourglass’ so unique around the time of its release was definitely the−
Anywhere from 95 to 99% of this game is played using the Nintendo DS’s (or 3DS’s, for everyone who missed the first system) touch screen and stylus. As I said earlier, touch screen technology was a huge deal. Virtually everything you’ll ever do on a playthrough is carried out using your trusty stylus: movement, combat, interacting with objects and people, using items, and navigating the menus. The DS’s d-pad/3DS’s circle pad and buttons are basically there for mere decoration. The touch-based system is so fleshed out that there are even options for left- or right-handed gameplay. I’m not really sure why this is given their purely cosmetic nature, but I think they’re a nice touch.
Even sailing the seas with Linebeck’s ship is completely dependent on using the touch screen. Unlike the last game where you had to take control of the winds to make your way on the Great Sea, this time you simply draw a line from your current position to your destination and let the ship do the rest. It’s a lot less epic than the ‘Windwaker’ method of sailing, but it does come in handy when dealing with all of the hazards you will face at sea.
It’s especially useful in the face of the most menacing and outright annoying hazard of them all: Jolene, the she-pirate/ultimate stalker. Any time you decide to visit any corner of the ocean, she’s usually not far behind. Jolene is after Linbeck for some reason and she will not stop chasing him (and you, by extension) until you meet some very specific conditions within the game. I wasn’t aiming for a story-heavy review this time around, but jeeze! This chick is just way too obsessed for me not to warn people about and she WILL be a literal pain in your rudder throughout most of your adventuring.
You can unlock more of the ship’s features as you play through the game. Here’s a list of them all.
- Cannon: self explanatory. Lets you defend yourself from all of the hostile, sea faring creatures you’ll encounter. And Jolene.
- Slate: a magical . . .er . . .chalkboard that lets you ride cyclones to different parts of the ocean when you draw certain symbols upon it.
- Salvage arm: mechanical arm used to recover treasures from beneath the waves. Salvaging things in the previous game was such an easy, straightforward process, but there is a lot more involvement here. You are fully in control of the arm for the entire time as it makes its way all the way down to the ocean floor and back up to the surface. You’ll have to keep it from hitting the octomines (sea critters that explode at the slightest contact) as well as anything else. The salvage arm becomes useless if it takes too much damage and will have to be repaired before your next treasure hunt.
The second thing that made this game so unique was−
*The Temple of the Ocean King*
Holy jumping fismen, this place has got to be the most treacherous locations in the Zeldaverse! Just standing anywhere within its walls is enough to kill you. Slowly.
I should really start from the beginning when going over the ins and outs of this place. The Temple of the Ocean King is the most important location in the whole game. This is where the most crucial items in ‘Phantom Hourglass’ can be found: sea charts that open up new areas of the sea, granting you access to all of the islands that dot it. There are four in total.
The Ocean King’s Temple is also home to untold riches like rupees, force gems, ship parts, and various treasure maps. So Linebeck really WAS onto something in his misguided raid at the beginning of the game. All those goodies are yours for the taking . . .if you can solve all the puzzles and avoid all the traps that the Temple is riddled with. Which is cursed, by the way. Yeah, I kinda forgot to mention that.
The getting-the-life-sucked-out-of-you thing that I briefly touched on earlier is only half of that curse. The other half would be the phantoms, the deathless guards that stalk the halls on their endless search for intruders. The absolute last thing you want is one of these monstrosities on your ass because if you’re caught . . .I’ll explain in a moment.
Now, I know all of that sounds awful. That’s because it is; the Temple of the Ocean King truly is an awful place. Descending deeper and deeper into is the most troublesome thing about ‘Phantom Hourglass.’ That, and getting stalked all around the seas by Jolene the she-pirate. In fact, there’s even more messed up things about this place:
*the floors that chime when you run across them (the sound draws the phantoms’ attention)
*the floating eyeballs that rat you out to the phantoms if they see you (don’t worry, you actually can kill those)
*the invisible reaper-type monsters
*the horribleness that is the last room at the very bottom of the temple: defeating 9 phantoms to gain access to that final door
*worst of all: having to revisit the Temple multiple times, dealing with all of this nonsense over and over again
There is so much more I could say about the horrors of the Ocean King’s Temple. I could go on and on. However, what I could never say is that conquering it is impossible. Saying such would be a lie. Sure, it’s a hair-pulling, DS-shutting, headache of an experience, but it IS doable. There are a few aids the game will afford you to make your descent a little less harrowing.
- The Phantom Hourglass. The game’s namesake, it is given to you by Old Man Oshus on your second trip into the Temple. It is filled with the Sand of Hours, your only protection against its cursed halls. You start out with very little of this sand which only allows a few minutes of this protection. You can increase the amount of sand in the hourglass throughout your adventure by defeating dungeon bosses and salvaging it from the ocean depths, yet another reason why it is so important to find those treasure maps and keep you salvage arm in good condition.
I had gathered 23 minutes worth of sand by the end of my playthrough and it was a huge asset in making my way to the bottom floor to slay the big evil of this game: Bellum. Kinda makes you miss Ganondorf, doesn’t it?
- Safe zones. Safe zones are the baby pink/lilac areas within the Temple that no evil can ever get to. (They just might be leftover Master Sword bits for all I know.) They render you invisible to phantoms and all of the other nasties lurking around. The sands of the Phantom Hourglass also stop moving when you’re inside these areas. The safe zones are the perfect places to stop and catch your breath and wisely plan your next move.
You’ll also find red pots scattered everywhere that can be shattered in order to create what I’ve taken to calling mini safe zones. I’m not sure what’s even in those pots, but they are great whenever you hide from phantoms or whatever else happens to be chasing you.
- The Phantom Sword. Play through ‘Phantom Hourglass’ long enough and I can almost guarantee that eventually your number wish will be the ability to kill phantoms. That wish can be satisfied once you get your hands on the Phantom Sword. Described in-game as the only blade that can put an end to Bellum and, by extension, his minions/creations. Especially the phantoms.
The first thing I wanted to do when I finally got the sword was to go on a phantom-killing rampage. I was gonna pay those bastards back for being forced to run and hide nearly all the way through the whole game. I took to stabbing them in their backs from the safety zones and I don’t thing that I left a single one alive on my final run through the Temple. I truly enjoyed being the hunter instead of the hunted. Oh, and here’s a fun fact for everyone: you get treasure every time you clear a floor of all phantoms.
While ‘Phantom Hourglass’ isn’t the most epic Zelda game in the series, it offers some of the most unique gameplay I have ever experienced. Playing through it back in 2007 was the first time I had ever played a game where almost all of the gameplay is dependent on a touch screen. It also the Zelda game in my impressive collection that I have played the least. Playing it again for this review is only my second time completing it. Naturally, I had forgotten a lot of this game’s content. But on the other hand, there was much that I could never forget. Even if I wanted to.
I would still happily recommend this game to pretty much anyone who is a hardcore fan of the Zelda franchise. Despite its few glaring flaws and the fact that the graphics have not aged very well, this is one I have enjoyed immensely and look forward to playing again in the future. In about another eight years or so . . .