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    dumpster_fox's The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)

    [February 9, 2008 06:52:55 AM]

    Phantom Hourglass has delivered standard Zelda fare so far. Although one could enter a Pulp Fiction-esque "little differences" diatribe, the main elements are still there - the puzzles based on environmental details, the constant rewards of varying value for varying tasks, the patterned boss fights, the acquisition of new tools and abilities for the purpose of solving puzzles and opening new paths, and the slow but steady expansion of the game world as the player progresses. As mentioned in the previous post, what sets this game apart from previous Zelda games is its interface and the degree to which it is integrated.

    During the gameplay after my previous post, I encountered several shining examples of the utilization of the DS's capabilities. One such example required the player to create their own map of an island, and then unify the image they've traced with clues as to where to do certain things and in what order. The notion that I would have to be the cartographer myself seemed preposterous at first, as I had been trained by countless previous games that a pre-made map hidden by some omniscient cartographer would inevitably be found within five or so minutes. Once I gave in and decided to try sketching the map with the built-in capabilities that the game offered, however, it seemed a completely natural and logical thing to do, and I felt silly for not considering it straight off.

    Another example of the game using the stylus to better immerse the player is in treasure hunting. Hints are laid around to connect certain points on the map and investigate whatever results, usually leading to some goodie or another. I found this particularly successful at making me feel like I had honestly discovered it on my own, and on a higher mental level than similar treasure situations in previous Zelda games. This resulted in much more satisfaction from the find than usual and gave me a genuine sense of accomplishment.

    Combat, a major facet of the game as well, continues to be fidgety, but I seem to have adapted to the controls a bit more. The serial nature of the control of the player character still presents a problem, but I have become more fluid with it, meaning the transition between movement and attacking is no longer quite as jarring.

    Finally, the characters continue to be deeper and more likable than ones in other Zelda games, with a very noticeable streak of humor present throughout. The player is often offered the chance to respond to non-player character remarks in a binary but often humorously befuddled manner, which drew me in to the world a bit more than I would have expected. The character development is definitely a highlight of this game.


    The high level of integration of the control scheme into the game has a very noticable impact on the game. Puzzles, a major aspect of any Zelda game, are very player-centric, relying on them to keep track of information and transform it into a usable format. As a result, the dungeons have shifted away from the traditional Zelda spatial skillset (block pushing, combat, navigation) and towards one that is based on the ability of the player to draw figures and keep track of multiple pieces of information simultaneously.

    Time-based gameplay is also significant in the game, requiring the player to manage their time resource (the Phantom Hourglass) while in dungeons to avoid damage for just occupying any space but specific safe zones. This means that any space but those safe zones takes on an immediate air of danger and instability, as the timer will count down in there, but stop when in a safe zone. The fact that the player can not regularly recharge or regenerate the timer without leaving the dungeon puts a high priority on the time resource. This puts the player continually on edge while in the dungeons, as the physical space they're occupying is actually trying to kill them.

    The continual deliverance of rewards is always present, as with all Zelda games. The rewards range from small scale and high frequency (a rupee or heart every few seconds, from grass or enemies or some other common source) to large scale and low frequency (the new piece of equipment you pick up in a dungeon, vital to continuing onward, picked up once every few hours). This continually encourages the player and compels them to push onward, as they quickly learn the reward structure and become driven by it. Aside from the unique puzzles that populate Zelda games, the reward structure is perhaps the most important and recognizable aspect of the games, and Phantom Hourglass is no exception.
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    [February 8, 2008 10:36:13 PM]

    The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is a typical hand held Zelda game, meaning that it is a superb overhead adventure game. Where it distances itself from previous iterations, however, is its interface. Players use the stylus to guide their character and make him perform actions, and even use the built-in microphone from time to time. The player is, as usual, tasked with rescuing someone, which is accomplished through successive dungeon crawls filled with puzzles and combat. Useful items are encountered and obtained along the way to aid you in solving puzzles and in combat, many of which are staples of Zelda games, but a few of which are brand new.


    What struck me first about Phantom Hourglass was how much more character-oriented it was than previous Zelda games. You develop a strong (but not necessarily good) relationship with one non-player character fairly early on, with genuine back-and-forth going on between him and your fairy. This kind of dialogue was rare in previous iterations, with characters only speaking directly to you, and even then delivering either convenient advice, critical messages, or throw-away lines. The occurrence of one NPC bantering and bickering with another brought the characters into a new space, one where other characters in the world finally acknowledged each other as occupying the game world. It adds a depth to the characters that I haven't seen in a Zelda game before, filling a void that I honestly didn't even notice until now.

    The gameplay in Phantom Hourglass is aesthetically similar to previous Zelda games, but feels entirely different. This is largely due to the interface-centric design. The entire game was engineered around the unique capabilities of the Nintendo DS, with the character controlled entirely by the stylus and no buttons actually required for gameplay. While interesting, this system doesn't always work out for the best, however. Combat is noticeably awkward, with the player required to either draw lines on the screen to swing the sword or circles to spin attack, meaning that movement is almost entirely out of the question while on the offensive. It also forces all of your actions into a serial format, where you have to stop one action to initiate another, as opposed to a multi-input format (multiple buttons traditionally), where you are allowed to perform separate actions fully independently of each other (movement and attacking, for example).

    The game is easier than previous Zelda games, and I suspect it is because of the previously noted issue. Most of the dungeon and overworld puzzles are based around using the interface in some way, whether it be blowing into the microphone to extinguish candles, marking several points on a map, or drawing lines for your boomerang to fly along. This is, for all intents and purposes, a highly successful integration of the new elements, but it tends to make you feel like the game has either been dumbed down or that the real opponent in the game is the interface itself. I found myself struggling with it in combat more than once, which is very discouraging so early on in the game. Actions such as rolling and slashing frequently fail to execute when I believe that I have given the proper input, and the game is unclear about how exactly to make them work reliably in the first place.

    I am anxious to see if I become to adjusted to the interface as the game continues. It would be very nice to be able to perform actions without difficulty, but the fact that the dungeons are so interface-puzzle-centric suggests that may not happen.
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    dumpster_fox's The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)

    Current Status: Played occasionally

    GameLog started on: Thursday 7 February, 2008

    dumpster_fox's opinion and rating for this game

    No comment, yet.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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