The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass is the first entry to be released on the Nintendo DS handheld videogame system. It is the fourteenth entry in the series and a sequel to GameCubes Wind Waker.
After the events of the Wind Waker Hyrule is flooded and Link and Tetra are crossing the ocean on their boat, they come across the Ghost Ship and climb aboard looking for treasure. On board Tetra screams as she is stolen and turned to stone, the ship vanishes leaving Link floating in the Sea before he is washed ashore on an island and rescued by a fairy called Ceila.
He finds a ghostly hourglass which holds the sands of time and speaks with an old man named Oshus who sends him on a quest with the help of Captain Linebeck to travel the new ocean, defeat the phantom Bellum and rescue Tetra so they can continue in their adventures.
The gameplay is very similar to the average top down Zelda game with hidden temples needing to be completed, each filled with a numerous amount of puzzles and a boss fight, these are each found on islands which you can sail towards on your boat.
Exploring the Sea in this is slightly lacking when compared to its predecessor due to the fact that while you can technically explore freely you can not physically move the boat but instead you draw a path which is then followed via an on rails segment, you can still jump obstacles and shoot down enemies so there is some entertainment value to these changes.
Speaking of gameplay changes I think the ambition to have the game completely controlled via the touch screen needs to be discussed because I have mixed feelings on this.
The use of touchscreen controls definitely had its advantages when it came to combat, simply tapping or swiping enemies worked really well when combined with using the screen for general movement as well.
My issues with this unfortunately came with swapping between items and drawing symbols.
Symbols are used throughout the game for various purposes, the main function is teleportation between the different areas of the Great Sea and finally for accessing certain parts of temples.
I had a lot of difficulty with getting some of these to work meaning that I had to do multiple attempts, the issue I think lies with how they are drawn, I found that I would draw the symbol perfectly and have no luck but if I drew the same symbol in a slightly different way it would work better.
This issue was so bad that at one point that I literally had to go to google to see if I had missed something but no it was just not drawing the image correctly even though it looked exactly the same as what I was meant to draw!
As for swapping items this worked fine enough but I do wish there was a way to apply some to buttons as near the end game it is necessary to swap items in a shorter space of time.
What caught me by surprise was that the game really focussed on the main story and held back on the side content. This worked so much more in its favour when compared to Wind Waker, this time around a longer campaign with a few memorable side quests was a much more enjoyable experience when compared to the repetitiveness of what we got before.
My favourite side quest involved finding a mermaid for a fisherman which would then end with us being awarded the fishing rod.
Other really interesting side content involved secret puzzles, near the end game a maze island is unlocked which gives you time limits to get through mazes which are full of puzzles and obstacles.
The puzzle on the whale shaped island was really unique having to sketch the islands layout based on clues before finally discovering how to open the doors to the Golden Frog King who teaches us about Golden Frog fast travel points.
Mini games are a staple of the series and here we get the obvious target games and bow and arrow ranges but these games now play an important role in how we explore the open sea.
Fishing allows us to catch fish which we can then take to the fisherman to be rated earning us prizes, I loved this as you needed to physically reel in the rod and pull on the touch screen to make sure you didn’t lose your catch.
The other new mechanic is how we use the salvage arm, here we can use a mechanical device to reach the bottom of the Ocean floor and can pull up lost treasure chests, this will result in either parts for your ship or treasures that you can sell for Rupees.
Customising your ship was a pretty cool new mechanic of the game, it wasn’t anything substantially amazing but allowing us to customize our ship did help me make my game unique to myself.
The use of 3D cell shading helps to maintain the cartoony and more family friendly look of the Wind Waker while also helping to enhance the graphic capabilities of the Nintendo DS considering that it was substantially more limited compared to graphically superior GameCube.
There is a large variety of different layouts and colour choices for the different temples but for me my favourite visuals were definitely the boss designs, each fight was unique and visually memorable my favourite was Gleeok the two headed Dragon followed by Bellum in the end game.
The soundtrack takes heavy inspiration from the Wind Waker it still uses the happier melodies help to maintain the less serious direction this chapter in the series was taking, a lot of the music here is somewhat cheerful but can get a little more intense during temples and boss fights but compared to other entries it always maintains its innocence and sense of wonder and even the re-used tracks from Wind Waker such as Outset Island sound fantastic even with the DS’s barriers when it came to its audio outputs.
Phantom Hourglass is a game I feel is often forgotten about by Zelda fans, Growing up I don’t ever recall anyone owning it and everyone played the Wind Waker.
This was my first ever playthrough of the game and I was left really surprised by it, when I first started playing the touch screen controls definitely took some time to get used too but ultimately worked in the games favour minus the issue with drawing symbols I mentioned earlier.
The plot focussing on the ghost ship was unexpected and introducing a new villain instead of resurrecting Ganondorf again was a really great way of making this game feel unique as an entry to the series.
I loved the introduction to touch screen interactivity with the fishing and salvage arm, it made success feel much more satisfying and rewarding
The visuals and audio are both equally as charming and both used the DS to the best of its capabilities giving us some truly fantastic and memorable musical tracks and creative lands to explore.
Overall Phantom Hourglass is to me what I wanted Wind wWker to be because this game really focussed on that main questline and took on a design approach similar to other 2D games in the series, the few side content that was there was lots of fun but didn’t take much focus away from the main goal, it definitely had its problems but for a game as ambitious as this was its really hard to not recommend it, it followed on from a beloved entry in the series that today is often considered to be a fan favourite and while this one has somewhat been lost the sea of Zelda games not only is it worth playing but I would argue that in a sense and only by a small margin I think this one may just be a little bit better. 7.6/10
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