Monday, March 10, 2008
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: PHANTOM HOURGLASS (NDS)
Before joining the videogame industry I worked in the tv for some years. During that time I didn’t pay much attention to games in general, and consoles in particular. So I missed the golden years of Nintendo’s consoles, Playstation 1 and part of Playstation 2.
As a consequence, I didn’t experience some classic games of that era, including all Zelda games. I was intrigued by the complete devotion of its followers, and since Ocarina of Time ranked as the best game of all times in some lists, I tried to play it in my PC using an emulator. It was a bad experience, graphics were clearly out-of-date, the action took too much time to start, some mechanics seemed to be ridiculous (such as cutting grass to get rupees) and I got lost almost at the start.
As a result, I was quite skeptic about that series. Minish Cup was not a bad thing to play, but Gameboy’s graphics were so cheesy that I couldn’t give much credit to the game. However, since so much people that I respected were so devoted to that Link guy, I decided to give it another try buying Wii’s Twilight princes. My opinion about the series clearly improved, but so far I’m still unable to finish it for a number of reasons.
Anyway, in 2006’s E3 I played a small demo of the multiplayer mod of Phantom Hourglass, and I like both the graphic style and the camera. Considering my current devotion for portable consoles, I decided that game will be my Zelda, and eventually it was. Here are my impressions of the first Zelda game I ever finished:
Zelda games are apparently unique in its genre. There are not much competitors. It’s a mix of basic fighting, RPG, exploration and puzzles, and we could say the final result is pure adventure. The extension of the game is huge, there are usually lots and lots of areas to explore, puzzles to solve and enemies to fight.
Phantom Hourglass is the first Zelda for DS. It takes its graphic style from the not-so-well-sold The Windwaker (Gamecube), and that was a wise decision. It perfectly fits with the type of DS gamers, and I think can attract other players as well.
The game uses all the conventions of the epic tales: Eden-like paradise invaded by evil forces, an heroic main character using a mighty sword, magical creatures, unexplored universe filled with all types of dangers...
The plotline appears to be the same in all Zelda games: A young blonde elf-like fellow lives happily in a small town. For some reason evil magic forces take control of his world, and an old man reveals the big secret: He’s that mythical hero of past times, Link!. Not a big surprise for the player, though, all Links look more or less similar. In the very moment you begin playing you know you’re going to be discovered as that ancient hero, and the main character’s surprise expression when he realizes who he is looks almost stupid for your eyes.
The tactile screen is wisely used, particularly applied to all the player actions. It’s basically Diablo style (if you click on the field, the character goes there. If you click over an enemy, the character attacks). They’re easy to remember and most of them are consistent with your mental mapping for that action. Only rolling (present in other Zelda games) is not properly integrated into the game.
One of my bosses at Pyro used to say ‘Less is more’. He was one of those Sony-let’s-make-it-casual guys that insisted in having just one cool game mechanic and build the game completely out of it. Zelda is clearly in the other side. It has lots and lots of different mechanics. I know, this game is quite unique, but thank god it exists. Otherwise the gaming world will be based only on Singstars and so on.
Another remarkable mechanic of the Zelda series is its role element. Instead of allowing players to set their characters using indirect RPG options (stamina, intellect, slot-based inventory...) that require the player to micro-manage their characters in order to do special things, or leveling abilities until they’re really powerful, players get new equipment with special usages, each one allowing a unique and cool use (generally associated to puzzle solving).
If there is a minor aspect that I dislike from Zelda puzzles is the fact that there is only one way to solve them. Sometimes you feel there is another possible choice (in fact it makes more sense) but since the puzzles was conceived to use other objects/equipment you’re stuck wondering why the game doesn’t make sense. Or simply you don’t understand what you’re supposed to do. I think all puzzle games should have their own walkthrough inside the game (maybe you lose rupees or special content if you use it too much). I just don’t see the point of making one of your customers leave the game unfinished if he paid for all of it.
Frankly I got stuck 2-3 times. When internet didn’t exist that meant the game was over for me. Thanks to the net, I just took a look at the walkthroughs, found the way to solve the problem and keep having fun.
I didn’t like AT ALL the use they made of the Temple of the ocean king. You’re forced to play it up to 5 times (if I remeber correctly), going through all its dungeons over and over, and play it against a timer. Yes, new tools make the journey easier. Yes, along with the story you get more time to play with and yes, at some point you get a teleport portal that saves you some dungeons. But anyway it’s boring. The only justification to do so is to artificially enlarge the game’s experience.
Conclusion: I’d give it an 8. It was a real challenge to bring Zelda series to DS, and they excelled. Great game, nice experience and not that long (I think it took me like 15 hours all together). I really felt into the game universe and I even tried to solve some optional missions (fishing, treasures). Since it’s partially a puzzle game, I got stuck and had to check internet walkthroughs to keep going, but most of the time I managed to solve problems by myself. Highly recommendable for DS players, adventure lovers and by all means anyone who likes Zelda series.