Despite having once claimed that I was “tired of Zelda’s legend”, things started out well for me in regards to The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass on the Nintendo DS. The Wind Waker visual style (“LOL! More like CELDA!”) works very well on the DS, and the stylus-exclusive control scheme is downright fantastic. The story and gameplay are “lite” enough to make for a good portable RPG, without feeling like a Fisher-Price “My First RPG” waste of time. The game seems to be good for whether you only have 15 minutes or 2 hours to play. However, I’ll be goddamned if this title isn’t about to drive me crazy…
See, for as well done as Phantom Hourglass is overall, there’s one piss-poor design choice the developers made that kind of negates all that is good with this title: “The Temple of the Ocean King”. From the first moment that you acquire access to a ship, you’ll discover that the ocean isn’t wide open to you. Aside from various creatures, obstacles and weather conditions preventing you from achieving maritime adventuring of Columbus-like proportions, the lack of sea charts will as well. These sea charts allow you to open up new areas of the ocean, and they can only be found, one-at-a-time, at the Temple of the Ocean King.
Now, this would be all well and good, if not for a few things. First of all, the Temple isn’t some nice little antiquated architecture that you can visit for a minute and have a sea chart handed to you by a nice old sage. No, it’s a full-blown dungeon that takes longer and longer to get through each time you have to revisit it. To make matters worse, the temple sucks the life-energy out of Link for every second that he’s in it, it’s patrolled by invincible “Phantom Guards”, it contains several puzzle-doors that have to be reopened with each visit, and should you die while making your way through, the whole thing resets. (Oh yeah, and those Phantom Guards have Metal Gear Solid-ish “cones of vision” that you have to sneak around, and if they manage to get one hit on you, you’re toast.) It’s like The Legend of Zelda mixed with Metal Gear Solid, covered with a steaming pile of bullshite.
Despite this massive irritation with the temple, I’ve had a strong desire to see this game through, so I have dealt with having to redo this portion of the game whenever it comes up. But today, it has pissed me off so incredibly, that I’m not sure if I’m even going to fire the damn thing up again.
See, I had just paid a visit to the island on which the game begins, looking to outfit my ship with some new handrails that I had picked up. After the installation of the rails, I made my way back to the ship and attempted to board, when the ship’s captain, Linebeck, informed me that I needed to go to the temple first and get the next sea chart. I sighed heavily to myself, but knew that it had to be done and made my way back to the temple.
My first attempt through the temple ultimately ended up in failure, as I was killed due to the loss of life from the temple-timer/Phantom Guard combo of extreme suck. My second attempt went much better, until I reached what I suspected to be an obstacle close to the finish line: a red door requiring a symbol to be drawn upon it with the stylus. Now, since I came across nothing in the temple that gave me a hint as to what this needed symbol was, nor could I recall ever finding such information in my travels around the world proper, I sought protips from the Intarwebs and found it. “Ahhhh, yes…a Triforce”, I thought to myself. “That should be simple enough to draw.” And it was, although no matter how well I drew the damn thing, the door would never open. Upon further investigation, I discovered that no matter how well the Triforce was drawn, it would not work until after you had visited Zauz’s island and had him tell you about it.
So apparently, one of two things has happened here; either I was able to take a route in the temple that wasn’t meant to be traveled at that point in the game, or I merely missed having an important follow-up conversation with this Zauz character. If it’s the former, then the temple shouldn’t have been designed that way; allowing multiple paths to be accessible when some of them aren’t meant to be used until further in the game. If it’s the latter, then that bastard Linebeck shouldn’t be so persistent on prompting you to get the sea chart from the temple when there’s no way in hell that you ever could.
Of course, the whole thing just reeks of shoddy game design — developed by Nintendo or not. This requirement to replay such a cheap area over and over is nothing more than a blatant attempt at prolonging the game’s running-time, and as such, it is monumentally weak. Whatever the case, this much is clear: The game really goes out of its way to be a prick to the player.