Celebrating its 15 year anniversaryThe Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is the DS’s most ambitious attempt at a Legend of Zelda game. Not only is it a sequel to the beloved Wind Wakerbut it also features many concepts and ideas that had not been attempted before in a Zelda game. But PH continues to be a game many fans look down upon.
However, the game does have a dedicated crowd of followers who find the game not just enjoyable, but laudable. With more than 15 years between its initial release and now, the game has been explored long enough for all of its best attributes to truly shine, particularly in the face of later releases that are just as controversial.
The Phantom Hourglass Itself Is Unique
One of the most unique aspects of the game is the titular hourglass, which can be used to stop time. This mechanic has a brief period of use, but it is one of the most unusual mechanics in the Zelda franchise. Much like the Twilight Princess shape-changing or the masks from Major’s Maskit is a mechanic that some view poorly.
It is often viewed as a gimmick that lacks meaningful use or interpretation, but the fact remains that this is a tool that has many uses throughout the game, from puzzles in dungeons to quests for townpeople. The Hourglass provides the game with a standout tool that is creative and interesting.
Stealth Was Innovative
Thanks to the above timestop mechanic, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass was able to provide some actual challenges to the stealth that was found easy or boring in Wind Waker. In Wind WakerLink would often be captured or placed into a position where stealth was the only option.
TLoZ: PH builds upon this aspect of the game very well, providing Link with the tool to freeze time. This allows for a much more creative and interesting design for stealth, as well as many decisions about when to use the power, how much to save, and more.
Multiplayer Was Great
While the Zelda games are no stranger to a multiplayer experience, thanks to the Four Swords games, they have long been focused on a single-player experience. This is clearly working, but many wish for more opportunities to share in the games with their friends and family.
TLoZ: PH provides a multiplayer experience outside of the main game with the Battle Mode. This game mode allows players to compete in a capture-the-flag style game in which one person controls Phantom Statues to defend their gems, while the other player controls Link and tries to gather them.
The Cooperative Tag Mode
Similar to the Multiplayer mode, this game provided players with a unique way to interact with others who were working on the game. The Tag Mode offered a way to exchange ship parts, allowing upgrades and unique options to those who used the mode on Beedles Barge.
No other Zelda game has given this kind of cooperative option to players. While Breath of the Wild features the option of using Amiibos to gain in-game items, a cooperative trading mode would be an incredible way of developing a community around the game, as well as affording players with help and options.
Its Humor Was Charming
Many critics of the game find it too cartoonish and childish. While the art style is certainly in the cartoon realm, it’s not unfair to point out that the Phantom Hourglass game has a much lighter and more comedic tone in how it treats the main and many side quests.
The best defense against this criticism is the humor itself. While many Zelda titles in recent years have been far more tonally serious, humor has always been baked into the series – for better or worse. From bad jokes like Tingle to good ones like Tingle’s RupeeLand, childish humor is a good thing in the Zelda Series.
The Final Boss Was Terrifying
While players aren’t introduced to the true final boss until more than halfway through the game, Bellum is a very intimidating and terrifying creature to face. The eldritch nature of a god-like beast that consumes the life force of humans and gods alike is terrifying.
The squid-like Bellum has some of the standard characteristics of a classic Zelda boss, like a single brightly-colored large eye. But the boss also has a lot of unique faces that make him stand out. For instance, he’s cunning, creating the Phantom Pirate Ship legend to draw victims in. He also possesses people, leading to very horrifying realizations and decisions regarding how to excise him.
The Map Is Huge – But Feels Compact
One of the major draws of Wind Waker was the Great Sea setting, in which there are dozens of islands and places to go. Phantom Hourglass builds upon this idea with a world that feels larger, particularly with the islands that Link can visit on his adventure. Each island feels very populated and lively.
Wind Waker has a massive map, but much of that map is taken up by empty space. This is excellent for providing players with the feeling of adventure and the great unknown. But as a sequel, Phantom Hourglass doesn’t need to build on that same feeling, allowing it to place more emphasis on the islands themselves.
The Soundtrack Is Epic
In Wind Waker, the music of the game takes center stage thanks to the use of the magical Wind Waker baton itself. This provided the game with a very good way to integrate music into the gameplay and make players more aware of the music. While PH lacks this same sort of mechanic, it builds on the soundtrack in its own ways.
Many tracks in Phantom Hourglass are very reminiscent of the Wind Waker soundtrack – from the ocean-faring theme to the boss music. This soundtrack would be fantastic on its own merits, but the similarity to Wind Waker likely hurts it, as returning players feel like they’ve already heard it.
It Has A Fishing Minigame
In what is quickly becoming a standard element in all Zelda video games, the fishing minigame in Phantom Hourglass is one of the best in the series. Ocarina of Time set a high standard, and Phantom Hourglass passes that standard with flying colors, providing hours of entertainment outside of the standard gameplay.
PH‘s fishing is very interactive, making excellent use of the stylus and DS’s screen controls. The game involves pulling actively on the fishing line and working quickly to draw in the fish. While the variety of fish available could use some improvements, this minigame remains one of the best.
It Began The Customization Craze
Breath of the Wild and Spirit Tracks are two Zelda games that provide players with a massive amount of customization. BotW Link has many armor options, as well as dyes to use. Spirit Tracks provides players with control over the Spirit Train’s appearance and abilities via customization. Both of these have roots in Phantom Hourglass.
While there are many fair criticisms of the ocean-faring in PH, it can’t be understood how enjoyable it is to be able to create and change the ship’s appearance, abilities, and controls. Providing players with customization options brings out something new and exciting in the Zelda series – creative expression and player agency.
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