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    Jan 15th, 2008 at 01:38:02     -    The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)

    “The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass” (Nintendo DS)

    Gamelog entry #2:

    GAMEPLAY

    As I play the game more, I note that everything about “Phantom Hourglass” is well done and polished, in design, gameplay, and presentation, right down to the in-game cutscenes, which employ sweeping camera moves for an epic feel. The story seems to be standard "Zelda" adventuring fare, which is to say that it is just a narrative framework on which to hang mini quests and puzzles. The Princess is kind of like the MacGuffin in a Hitchcock film; she is the instrument of the story that drives the characters and sets the plot in motion. As the “object” of Link’s larger quest, she is swappable with treasure, a magic map, the Ocarina of Time, etc. Perhaps if I knew her better (having not played “The Wind Waker” yet), or felt more of an emotional connection between the Princess and Link, but…I digress—these are cartoon characters. I don’t play Zelda games for the story; the gameplay and overall craft is more interesting to me.

    This game is extremely addictive, because there is always just…one…more…mini quest…until you get stuck! :-( I managed to get off the island and make my way to another island, one with an imprisoned fortuneteller. The game incorporated the use of the built-in DS microphone for the first time. I said out loud, “Who’s there?” and the fortuneteller responded. Pretty cool! I seem to be at a bit of an impasse at the moment, however, after freeing the fortuneteller. I am to make my way to the summit of the island, where there is an active volcano. I can’t seem to blow out the candles next to the gate allowing passage to the summit, and I’m not sure how. It is at crossroads like this that I turn to hints online! :-) (EDIT: I just read another GameLog entry stating that blowing on the microphone will blow out the candles! Of course! D'oh! :-)

    DESIGN

    The implementation of the stylus in the game is a real innovation. One of the nicer features of "Phantom Hourglass" is the ability to draw on maps using the stylus; this saves the player from having to take written notes outside the game. The ability to write with the stylus is not a gimmick, but integral to the game design, as the first few minutes on the island make clear. Link must find Oshus' (the father figure/“Grandpa” to Link) sword, but it is hidden in a chamber protected by a blank “sign” that requires a “password.” As the fairy, Ciela, instructs Link, the player must write the number of palm trees on the island (7) with the stylus on the sign in order to enter the chamber and retrieve the sword.

    Playing the game for another hour or so, the stylus disappeared from my awareness, allowing me to manipulate the game directly. I initially found that it obscured some of my view of the screen when traveling, and while that is still the case, it is a minor trade-off for a more intuitive design.

    The only maneuver I’m having slight difficulty with performing is the roll, executed with swift small circular motions of the stylus. While I eventually got Link to perform it, it took some trial and error. He would instead occasionally launch into a spin attack with his sword. Luckily, I don’t seem to need to use this maneuver very much in the game.

    “Phantom Hourglass” is a textbook example of how best to implement the dual screens of the DS in the design of a game, enabling a map, or a sea chart, to be displayed on the top screen while the bottom touch-screen hosts the main game action. This makes knowing where Link is at any given moment very convenient.

    There is also a multiplayer "Battle Mode" that I have not yet tried. It allows one to play against anyone in the world over Nintendo WiFi connection. I’ll leave it until after I complete the Adventure Mode.

    This entry has been edited 4 times. It was last edited on Jan 15th, 2008 at 01:56:05.

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    Jan 15th, 2008 at 01:31:03     -    The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)

    “The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass” (Nintendo DS)

    GameLog entry #1:

    SUMMARY (quotes taken from game manual)

    "The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass" (2007) for Nintendo DS is an action/adventure role-playing game in which the player controls the protagonist, Link ("the boy in green"), from a third-person 3D perspective using the DS stylus and touch screen. Picking up its story where the GameCube's "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker" (2003) ended, Link must rescue Tetra (aka Princess Zelda of the Kingdom of Hyrule) from the evil Ghost Ship, which vanished into the ocean fog soon after she boarded it "to investigate." In an attempt to rescue her, Link fell into the sea, washing ashore on a nearby island, where the game begins...

    GAMEPLAY

    "Phantom Hourglass" is the first DS game I have played, and I was impressed by how easy the system is to use and enjoy. The stylus controls everything in the game, and it is to the designers' credit that it has been implemented so well you don't want to go back to fiddling with the control pad or A/B/X/Y buttons. Want Link to attack an enemy? Just tap the stylus on the enemy, and Link does the rest. Want to talk to the shop owner? Tap him. Pick up that chicken? Just tap it. I love the simplicity of this design--I don't have to remember what individual buttons do! This makes for far more engaging gameplay.

    The game can be broken down into multiple "mini quests" that the player embarks upon in service of the larger goal in the story--the rescue of the Princess (a cliché, to be sure, but it works as a "legend" I suppose). The Nintendo designers draw upon the psychological principle of variable reinforcement to pepper these mini quests throughout, thus the game is made compelling to play. For example, Link must charter a ship off the island, but he can't do that until he finds (and frees) the captain, and he can't do that until he has a sword. Completing these mini quests is fun, and compels the player to continue playing.

    As in other Nintendo games I have played ("Super Mario 64" for Nintendo 64 comes to mind), characters in "Phantom Hourglass" like to break the fourth wall. That is, there are times when they are aware they are in a game and are telling Link/the player how to perform a game action ("do this with the stylus to do this"). This is clearly useful to beginning players (and people who skipped reading the game manual), but would be taboo (I would think) in a game striving for realism.

    Link doesn't say much, and it is sometimes a little confusing as to who is talking. All of the dialogue in the game is text (no recorded speech, owing to the limitations of the cartridge format), but that is fine. What is a little awkward is that in a conversation, Link will not say anything, whereupon a character will respond with something like "What?!? You're looking for the Ghost Ship?" We probably know what Link would say, but it breaks the flow of dialogue when we must intuit that Link has spoken.

    Other observations:

    The graphics are in the style of "The Wind Waker" (not the more recent, “realistic,” and less cartoony, "Twilight Princess"). The cel-shaded characters are appealing, particularly Link, with his large, anime eyes. The sprites (blocks of textures on the ground, plants, trees, etc.) remind me fondly of the original NES game, but are, of course, much nicer to look at. The music is also quite well done (as seems to be typical of the Zelda series). I particularly like the delicate "shop" music that plays in interiors on the first island.

    This entry has been edited 2 times. It was last edited on Jan 15th, 2008 at 05:07:27.

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