When thinking about the best games from the Legend of Zelda series, many automatically jump straight in at the deep end with the big, home console releases; games such as Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker always seem to make it to the top of peoples' lists. Games often overlooked are those that have appeared on Nintendo's portable consoles such as The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, which has now been released as a Virtual Console title on the Wii U eShop, eight years after its original DS debut. So should this game be forgotten about? Or should we be praising it just as highly?
For those who didn't pick up this game on DS, let's set the scene. The story picks up right where we left off in The Wind Waker. After defeating Ganon, Link and Tetra travel across the Great Sea together until eventually they discover the Ghost Ship. Tetra steps on board to investigate but we immediately hear her scream for help. Link fails to rescue her and is woken from an unconscious state by a fairy named Ciela who found him washed up on an island's shore. Alongside Ciela, an old man called Oshus whom Link meets on this island and (despite his reluctance) a ship owner called Captain Linebeck, Link sets off on a quest to find the Ghost Ship again and save Tetra.
As was the case in The Wind Waker, gameplay is split between on-land, dungeon exploration and sailing across a vast sea. The contrast between these two different styles helps the game to keep flowing along nicely; you can spend as much time as you like travelling across the sea to discover new things but also have the option to stop and run around an island when you feel like doing something else. With travelling ships, unchartered islands and treasure to be discovered there's lots to see and do without even touching the main quest.
Travelling at sea is an unavoidable part of this game. You will often have to travel quite a distance to get from one island to the next – sometimes the game even forces you to go a longer way around in puzzle-based travel – so it is lucky that this is actually really enjoyable. Using the touchscreen to look around you have a 360-degree view of your surroundings, enabling you to take in everything that the cel-shaded graphics have to offer. As the game progresses your sailing experience will evolve – eventually you'll upgrade your ship to have a cannon meaning you can fight enemies whilst at sea. You'll also come across the Cyclone Slate which allows you to warp to various locations by drawing symbols on the touchscreen making travel much quicker.
This same idea is applied to being on land. To walk around you simply use the stylus to touch the direction you want Link to walk in. At first this technique – as opposed to using the D-Pad – may seem a little far-fetched, but once you get used to it it's a natural fit. Fighting enemies is also a stylus-exclusive affair. You can either tap an enemy to make Link jump forwards whilst swinging his sword at them, or you can use various directional strokes to make Link use different attacks. Of course, a Zelda game wouldn't be complete without unlockable items such as bombs, the boomerang and the grappling hook which – as you may have guessed – are also accessible via the touchscreen. The boomerang for example is used by drawing the desired flight path with the stylus. Strangely, only one item can be equipped at a time – without the use of buttons there is a rather limited space for items to be accessible meaning that only a single touchscreen icon is available for them.
The touchscreen can also be used to write yourself notes or draw diagrams on maps. For example – some puzzles may ask you to remember the location of various points on an island. Simply draw them on your map and you'll be fine. Another great use for this is early on in the game when you haven't unlocked particular items yet. You've found a wall that can be blown up but don't have any bombs yet? No problem! Leave yourself a note to come back to it. It's extremely simple but it works really well and creates some rather clever puzzles. This combined with the use of the microphone, which is often used to blow out flames in certain puzzles, shows that Nintendo's legendary EAD team really mastered showcasing the features of the DS with this title – and luckily all of these features are also available with the GamePad.
The dungeons are exactly what you would hope and expect from a Zelda game. The puzzles are great – challenging you to work out how to progress from room to room. Often the dungeon centres around one main idea – usually a particular item which will solve most of the puzzles if you can work out how it needs to be used. A mixture of puzzle solving, enemy battles and exploration is needed to complete each dungeon. Boss fights at the end of these dungeons will typically also require the item that has been the main focus to be used.
Alongside these themed dungeons that are dotted around various islands, there is one dungeon that you will keep returning to called the Temple of the Ocean King – this is arguably where Phantom Hourglass stands up and declares just how special it is. This dungeon contains maps and clues which will help Link in his quest to track down the Ghost Ship. This temple quite literally "sucks the life out of you". When you enter a time limit appears, indicating how long you can last inside the temple before it kills you. Dotted throughout its many floors are safe spots where you can catch your breath and stop the timer from falling. These spots also protect you from Phantoms that walk around the temple. These cannot be defeated, leaving a stealth approach as your only option. The temples' safe spots soon become your best friend so use them wisely.
After your first trek through this dungeon you'll acquire the Phantom Hourglass. From now on, each time you defeat a boss from the game's other dungeons you'll collect more sand to fill up your hourglass. More sand equals more time available to you in the Temple of the Ocean King, allowing you to delve further and further into its depths as you progress through the game. As you unlock more and more items you'll also be able to utilise shortcuts in this temple that weren't available to you beforehand meaning that you don't have to complete every single puzzle in the temple each time you enter. The time limit can make puzzle solving extremely tense – you'll start to get annoyed with yourself if you can't work out what you need to do whilst the time is ticking down. It's nerve-racking, it's a thrill, it's brilliant.
With the game being so focused on touchscreen activity, having the GamePad act as the DS' touchscreen with your TV dedicated to being the top screen is probably the best Virtual Console set up. This allows you to be much more accurate with controlling Link – the other views available make the touchscreen so small that you'll often make mistakes. The one drawback to this however is that it is incredibly easy to get so soaked up in the action on the GamePad that you ignore the TV screen – which sometimes provides you with hints and information that can be easily missed.
The original DS version of this game also had a one-on-one multiplayer Battle mode. This saw one player controlling Link – who must take a Force gem and carry it to his base – whilst another controlled three Phantom Guardians who had to catch him before he managed it. This used either the local multiplayer functionality, Download Play or the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection available at the time but unfortunately these aren't supported on Virtual Console. Whilst it's a shame that this mode can't exist on the Wii U version, it wasn't a major part of the original release and doesn't affect the main story of the game in any way.
Phantom Hourglass has everything you would expect from a Legend of Zelda game and is very much a worthy successor to the critically acclaimed, fan favourite, The Wind Waker. Great use of the touchscreen in every aspect of the game combined with the layout, structure and design typical of the Zelda franchise makes this feel like a familiar yet fresh entry to the series.
Eight years may have now passed since this game's release but it hasn't aged a day. If you missed this title when it was first released this is a wonderful opportunity to experience what is undoubtedly a fantastic adventure.
I always felt that this game got a harsh reputation, though that's probably to do with the quality of of series as a whole that this inevitably gets compared to. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's excellent, even considering the standards in 2007 and the hardware it was released on, but it is nevertheless still very, very good.
I still feel the ds entries were the weakest of the whole franchise. With that said they still are good games just not great imo!
It's a good game. The graphics are lovely, and it plays rather well with the stylus too.
EU/UK e-shop... of course. I saw this and was excited because I didn't remember seeing this and thought I missed it... but I should have guess to more likely.
I didn't like the stylus controls for this, yet I loved the Wii controls for Twilight Princess. Links movement just felt a little slow for me too and I didn't like the sailing sections as you didn't have the same level of control when sailing like The Wind Waker. Still a good game but not one I plan on revisiting.
I feel like Phantom Hourglass handled things better than Spirit Tracks, it carried on the Wind Waker sense of adventure fairly well, had a nice assortment of activities and nice dungeons.
I even liked the Temple of the Ocean King, yes you visit it often but observant players are rewarded by taking the shortcuts laid out.
Spirit Tracks I simply cannot enjoy because of the ridiculous mythos (train people??), the train conducting itself, and the pan flute.
All of these are huge detractors and even combine to detract from the final boss.
I liked this game hated spirit tracks haven't even completed that but might try again one day , just link on a train didn't feel right at all!
I would purchase this in a heartbeat if it were an option in Tennessee.
spirit tracks next?
@sandman89 the train part was odd but the dungeons was great.
That sounds pretty good actually. Playing on the Gamepad while the map is on the TV seems a bit backwards, but I could get used to it. My boys watched me play WW HD so I could let them play this.
Hey Reggie, get this out before Christmas and you've got yourself a sale. Probably a lot more than 1.
This have been one of the more underrated Zelda titles for me. The only things I really found annoying was repeating the Temple of the Ocean King, and how you triggered summersaults. Besides those things I had a blast.
Hope to see a Spirit Tracks review as well.
I didn't buy this or Spirit Tracks when they had their initial discounts. I may purchase them if they're reduced in future. €10 is too much. I could play them on my DS for nothing. They look kinda fugly to me.
I just finished a 3-heart run of this last week, and yeah, I consider it and Spirit Tracks underrated DS gems.
Definitely not my favorite in the series but a good game nonetheless. Only one of three Zelda games I never finished actually...I should get on that. (the others being Spirit Tracks and Zelda 2)
I know alot of people were turned off by the fact that you had to return to the temple multiple times throughout the game but I really didn't mind at all since everything else in the game was absolutely top notch Zelda quality. Wind Waker being one of my favorite Zelda games likely played a role in this since I loved sailing around, charting courses, and defeating enemies along the way to my destination, and this game was lengthier than most handheld Zelda games to boot! I still have the cart so I will be waiting for Spirit Tracks since I have yet to play that one!
LOL I was thinking of downloading this game this morning on my Wii U. Was checking NL to see if there was a updated review about it. There wasn't. In the end I decided to downloaded it anyway and i've already played some of it. Suddenly this review pops up. What a coincidence!
Seems it wasn't a bad choice after all.
Integrating the stylus was a great idea; too bad most of us didn't have the patience to struggle through it. Desperately needed d-pad support.
Definitely one of my favourite DS games as well.
@RyanCraddock I assume you played the Wii U version for this review, I can't help but wonder, how does the closing mechanic of the DS work in the Wii U version?
I'm enjoying this much more than Link Between Worlds. The stylus control is clever and intuitive for me. It's wonderful.
@Octane Press the home button to 'close the DS'
This was a really great handheld Zelda...I was skeptical about the stylus controls, but they really worked flawlessly. Interesting characters too. Not the biggest or the grandest Zelda game, but it's on a handheld. It was just pure fun the whole time. It's a shame they aren't doing a DS VC on the 3DS like they're doing a Wii VC on the WiiU, because I think this game is really best suited for a portable.
I still can't believe that Nintendo doesn't release DS VC games on the 3DS. It's a complete insult to 3DS owners.
Glad to see this review gives the Temple of the Ocean King due respect; I always thought that really tied the game together excellently, and am disappointed at how much dislike it seems to get.
The one big criticism I remember having of this game was that save for Linebeck (and maybe the fairy?), none of the NPC's (I think there were some, though I honestly can't recall) had any characterization or point whatsoever, making the world just... soulless.
I made the mistake of starting this game last year just a couple of days before Hyrule Warriors dropped. As a consequence, I only played the first 5 or 6 hours of the game before getting swept up in HW. I did enjoy what I played and this review has made me really want to go back to it.
Sorry, this game is a 7, the sequel is an 8. Very low dungeon count, touch game play is a novelty that wears off quick with these DS Zelda games. This is the low point of the series for me, with the exception of Tri Force heroes, which is fun but requires so much work to play properly (3 player local coop, when you get old like me, it's hard to find fellow gamers and Internet experience is poor to say the least). I hope Zelda doesn't become a series that tries to change so much; it doesn't need to, the core experience is great.
@TheLastLugia Honestly, I was expecting a sequel to this for the 3DS.
I agree, this is a really underrated game and its my favorite game of all time!
"As was the case in The Wind Waker, gameplay is split between on-land, dungeon exploration and sailing across a vast sea."
Aw no, really? Damn, maybe I shouldn't have bought it right after the last Direct.
I found the sailing part annoying in Wind Waker already, but thought it would only be part of the intro in this game.
Also, I totally dislike the stylus-based movement. It gets uncomfortable and tiring really quickly. Why not with the stick/dpad? Or at least both so you could choose.
@Spoony_Tech Ever heard of the CD-i?
@KrakenSoup You played AND FINISHED the CD-i games?! I think we need a review of them. Just for fun.
Ho hum. Why aren't there DS download titles for 3DS yet?
Maybe in March with the launch of the account system?
The only Zeldas I mever bothered to play. Touchscreen controls are horrible and takes out too much from what could have been the ultimate Zelda experience on DS. A real shame.
The same can be said about Metroid. Why not a proper 2D Metroid instead that uncomfortable stylus-based empty FPS?
I never really got in to this game. To think it's already been eight years.
Please bring this to the US, it's probably my favorite of the DS Zelda titles.
I loved the multiplayer a better game than triforce heroes!
I never understood the monumental praise this received. For me using the touch screen only was a horribly un-fun limitation that made this hardly as good as it could have been. Then you've got the fact that the positively gorgeous pixel art of Minish Cap was replaced with ugly 3D sprites, and while we're talking about it, that awful dungeon you have to do over and over again.
I'm glad everyone else liked it, but oy vey, this game disappointed me. No Zelda game should be "sorta fun, I guess."
I regret selling my ds Zelda games. Phantom Hourglass is much better than Spirit tracks IMO. I'm not a fan of how ds games play on the WiiU though. Would love to replay this on my 3ds.
Alright! This is one of my favorite Zelda games; glad to see someone else appreciates it amidst all of the criticism it gets.
Definitely a recommended title.
Pathetic Nintendo rip off. Why can't Nintendo provide 2x resolution and filtering as an option in their DS emulator as seen on other platforms? DS games can actually look passable at a higher res.
You are all fools for giving Nintendo money to continue with their lazy emulation strategy.
I love this!!! One of my favorite games ever.
And I have not played Spirit Tracks! Wohoo!!! It will ease the wait fo the next Zelda perfectly.
I would give this game the same score. A 3DS eShop release would give it the missing tenth star.
I hated the fact that you had to use the stylus to move link around. Ruined this game along with spirit tracks in my opinion.
The stylus control meant that my wife played this to completion. I think it's the only game she has done so.
I loved it too
Really liked this one when I was playing it. I thought fighting with the stylus was a little too easy, but the puzzles were great, and writing on the map was a game changer. Coming back to the temple of the Ocean King with more time and knowledge of shortcuts made you feel more powerful each time, so I thought it was a great mechanic. I also think Linebeck may be my favorite Zelda assistant character. He legitimately amused me.
I enjoyed Spirit Tracks too, but it always felt a little too modern a setting for a Zelda game, and the overworld exploration felt stilted because it was literally on rails. I like the effort to expand Zelda to a more recent historical context, but I think it missed the mark a little bit by adding just a little too much magical-ness to the idea of a train. Magic sword? Sure. Magic ships? Absolutely. Magic trains... yeah, you're losing me. Mostly, I really loved the train musical theme. That music may be my favorite from any Zelda game.
I forced myself to play this in ds. Game may have been great, but I hated the controls. Holding a ds 1 handed to play for this or idk metroid hunters made it hard for me to play. I might have liked hunters, but no. I normally love nintendos use of controls, but not for ds touch screen being used as a analog stick.
I was actually enjoying this as one of my favourite Zelda games, until I basically got stuck having to go back to that main temple place again and again, as it got harder and harder each time, and eventually I just gave up. Other than that, I really thought it was a great Zelda game, and it was a great use of the touch screen for things like the general controls as well as drawing on the map and stuff.
Can you play the whole game with just touchscreen?
despite the forced use of the touchscreen for controls (i can hear the collective groan from people reading this), the game is STILL 100percent worth playing. and the ability to write on the maps and make notes (if a bit limited due to pen vs map size) is one of the best thing included in any game ever.
seriously nintendo, writable maps in every zelda, esp with the gamepad, duh.
Both this and Spirit Tracks are highly underrated. The touch screen controls at times feel a bit gimmicky, but become (for the most part) more intuitive as time goes on. Also, for those that like collecting, there are many ways to customize your ship.
Plus, there's Linebeck. If all else fails, at least play the game for Linebeck.
I do feel that Spirit Tracks is the stronger of the two in many ways, mainly because it fixed many things that were wrong with Phantom Hourglass. (No repeat temple sections, better rolling mechanic, more creative bosses, etc.)
I bought a DS to play this game & couldnt stand the controls. Traded it in soon after
Can't wait to revisit this classic six months from now. Its not in my top five as far as Zelda titles go, but I still enjoyed it.
This game is great minus one HUGE flaw: the phantom hourglass dungeons. Big, frustrating dungeons with an annoying gimmick were a huge fun stopper for me.
I never played much of this the first time around, i got it when it came out and was instantly turned off by having to control Link with the stylus, should have least had an option to use the D-pad, recently i went back to it and played through the first dungeon, it felt good after i had given it a chance, but there are a few frustrating moments when in combat using the stylus, i re-bought the game a few weeks ago when Nintendo had the deal with Spirit Tracks, (buy one get the 2nd half price)
@shani Sailing takes a lot less time in this game, it's just a matter of dragging a line across the screen and it usually takes less than 2 minutes since the map is so small
@Totaldude911 Ah ok, that's good to hear! Haven't had time to play the game really so far.
I actually found the sailing mechanic and everything well-executed in Wind Waker, but still very inconvenient, probably because of the nature of water. I prefer riding Epona. But if you can sail so easily and quickly, it's okay for me.
I still need to finish Spirit Tracks before I start this one. Though I'll probably get a physical copy. Cause I'm weird like that.
I have a cartridge of this game. It's enjoyable despite of the annoying need of the stylus to do anything. Some puzzles are extremely boring. I would give it a 6 out of 10.
How do you beat the puzzle where you had to close your ds to stamp the map?
It was a good game, but having to go through the temple of the ocean king what felt like a million times ruined it for me.
I honestly didn't liked this in the end. I dont remember any dungeon, probably because they were boring.
But I might give this a try again, considering there's a mod that removes the lol stylus controls so you can use the dpad and other buttons to move around.
It's more like a 7, still good but one of the weakest Zelda titles. Spirit tracks is the better DS game.
Right, localization can't come soon enough... But I wouldn't be caught dead in a Gamestop, not when so many other scam-free places exist in the world!
Haha, u too!
It seems to have become a popular thing to bash PH but I love it still. Whilst I wouldn't say its an undisputed classic I feel it's great fun and a solid handheld Zelda. Also, Linebeck. That man is beautiful.
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