Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

Written by Joe the Revelator

Rupees, Cooler than Rubles.

Anyone born during the gaming generation is familiar with Princess Zelda and her codependent erstwhile companion, Link. Nintendo’s little green-garbed elf has lost his princess through so many sequels that his children are now doomed to repeat his mistakes, or so it seems from the paper doll puppet show that precedes the game.

And for a Nintendo DS game, Phantom Hourglass has an impressively long opening cinematic, written to snare sympathetic ten-year-olds into the plot; save Zelda. This is reinforced whenever the DS is turned off and reloaded, starting every game with a frantic figure of Zelda begging for help before she is gulped down into a maw of mysterious smoke. So begins the epic quest for pirate-Link to rescue pirate-Zelda.

Once again, Link finds himself unconscious in a village with a freebie sword and a love for smashing pots and hacking down grass stalks. But to make his new job as a lawnmower tolerable, you are given a few samurai-esque slashing maneuvers which take advantage of the DS’s touch screen quite admirably. More touch-based weapons are made available throughout the game, all of which are classics from older Zelda arsenals. The boomerang in particular has become a potent quest solving tool, as it will follow any loopy line you draw on the screen, and can carry items (and flames) back to your character.

Sailing is now the great glue which holds the plot and dungeons together. The mini-map, not so mini, takes up the entire top screen and allows the player to scribble hints and treasure locations whenever it’s convenient. More often though, the game hits you over the head and demands you use this fine feature, making every excuse to withhold simple map markers so you’ll have to rely on your own squiggly incoherent scrawl. The dungeons and puzzles themselves are still very clever, with or without self-drawn hints, and remain one of the best aspects of Zelda gameplay.

The animation may be the part that bugs me the most. I know there is only so many graphics that can be rendered on a handheld game system. But I argue that if you don’t have the marble to carve Michelangelo’s David, then don’t settle for balsawood. I still blame Paper Mario for lowering standards, and everyone’s acceptance of wobbly-necked characters that slide around on the screen like targets at a carnival shooting range. The deficiencies are easy to forget while fighting monsters. But when the screen zooms in for an up-close conversation, the player is stared down by brown polygon faces with massive eyes and features that looked like they were spackled on.

With Full Hearts:

I honestly don’t know how Nintendo does it. I’ve played (nearly) the exact same game every third year, with the exact same weapon selection, viewed through the eyes of the same stunted elf. And I haven’t grown bored of Zelda games. Has the rewarding sound of popping a chest and holding weapons above my head become so engrained in my brain that I can’t help myself? Like a cat that runs into the kitchen at can-opener noises. Maybe Zelda has become my RPG minesweeper or bejeweled; another dungeon cleared with my heart meter beeping away to alert me that the chambers are essentially half full.

I suppose I can recommend this game to anyone above the age of zygote and still keep a clear conscious. It’s fun and even witty at times. And compared to many DS games that see the stylus as a burden to throw minigames at, Zelda actually incorporates it. And although I haven't beat the game yet, I'm still confident that I can guess the ending. I predict Zelda will be saved from the replacement Gannondorf.

And maybe, just maybe, the princess will stay saved this time.


  1. What was your favorite Zelda game? I have to say Majora's Mask took the cake for me. That intense feeling of time always running out and the atmosphere of Armageddon just around the corner... Hard to beat that along with the usual epic dungeons and great gameplay.

  2. I think the story in Majora's Mask was absolutely deeper and a sharp turn from the usual Zelda, but left a feeling of fleeting achievement. Funny to say about a console RPG, but repeating the same 3-day span was like watching Groundhog's Day. For it's innovation, I'd pick Ocarina of Time (Sellout I am). And from my sheltered youth, Link's Awakening.