Friday, August 26, 2011

Replaying Phantom Hourglass

I admit that I'm really overdoing it with all the replaying lately. It all started innocently last December, when I decided to play through Spirit Tracks again. More and more games would follow and there's no turning back now. I do this to celebrate the 25th Anniversary and to prepare for Skyward Sword, which will be released this November. By now only few games are left and one of them was Phantom Hourglass.

However, replaying it proved to be a rather problematic case. The issue was, that the cartridge only got two savegames instead of the usual three. It's one of three Zelda games to do this, the other ones being Majora's Mask and Spirit Tracks. In case of Majora's Mask that never really was a problem. Deleting a savegame there doesn't hurt much and I also got three different copies of the game (N64, Collector's Edition and Virtual Console), so that's six savegames alltogether (even more if I use multiple memory and SD cards). But in case of Phantom Hourglass I only got this one copy and I already used both savegames, both of them with a lot of "personality" in them. It might sound strange, but I didn't want to delete either one of them. See, the first savegame was my first playthrough. It still got lots and lots of notes on the maps, for example a nice sketch of the Uncharted Island, solutions to puzzles, paths of the Phantoms, locations of all red and golden pots in the Temple of the Ocean King or sometimes just funny comments. These are all memories of my first time playing the game and that's not something you want to delete. During my second playthrough I wouldn't take much notes and usually delete them afterwards. But in my second savegame I got this huuuuuge ship part collection. I was down to one last part but I couldn't get it (the Tropical Prow, only worth 50 Rupees, lol). So I kept collecting and collecting and collecting until I finally got it. And until then I would gather tons of ship parts, more than half of them are in the double digits. And that's also something you wouldn't want to delete. Not to mention the fact, that both savegames are 100% ones - and especially collecting all 64 ship parts is so much work, you don't want to delete such a file, because otherwise would have to do it all over again.

So, what did I do? The solution was pretty simple, I just rented the game. It sounds stupid to rent a game, which you already own, but it only cost me 2 Euro and this had three main advantages. First of all, I could replay the game without having to delete my old savegames. And because I wasn't going to keep the new savegame anyway, I didn't have to bother with the 100% again, I would just return to my completely finished savegames and enjoy them.

Like in my previous playthrough of Phantom Hourglass I tried getting both the 3rd and the 4th Seachart in the same run. And it turned out to be quite challenging, I got caught by Phantoms multiple times, which costs you 30 seconds with every hit. Without Bombchus and the Grappling Hook you're missing vital shortcuts and you have to spend quite some time outside of Save Zones. When I reached the 13th Bottom Floor I would only have 40 seconds left on my clock! That was a close one. Normally I could beat the dungeon with a full hourglass at the end, 25:00 Best Time. But as challenging this might have been, it's also very rewarding. After this both the 3rd and the 4th sea are fully open to you, you can visit all the islands and play all three Temples in any order you want. And the best thing, you don't have to return to the Ocean King Temple until the end of the game, where you already got the Phantom Sword and the temple gets easy. Usually people complain about having to return to the Ocean King Temple so many times, but with this strategy you avoid one visit and you can play three normal dungeons in a row, that's the entire second half of the game. This really adds to the replay value of Phantom Hourglass.

What also adds to the replay value is the non-linearity of the game's second half. There are six different orders of the temples and naturally I tried a different one this time. I would go for the Ice Temple first, because the Grappling Hook is very useful on many islands. Then I would go for Mutoh's Temple, the Hammer makes fighting much easier, especially in the Goron Temple, which I would play last. It's these kind of options which made the early Zelda games fun and I like it that Phantom Hourglass isn't so linear as the rest of the modern Zelda games.

And I have to say that it was overall much more fun than replaying Spirit Tracks. If you go into a Zelda forum you normally will get the opinion that Phantom Hourglass is the worst Zelda game ever. This game gets a lot of hate from the community. But I have to admit that I don't agree with this, I really like the game despite its flaws like the easy dungeons or the random collectibles. When the game came out I really praised it, even ranked it Top 5 of my Zelda charts. I wouldn't go as far today, but I still enjoy the challenge of the Ocean King Temple, I think the game has a unique charm even with the minimalist music tracks and I like the collectibles, especially the Spirit Gem abilities and the customization of your ship. In my recent Phantom Hourglass vs. Spirit Tracks article I said that I consider both games to be equally good or bad, but after this replay I would say that I like Phantom Hourglass more. Well, at least it got the higher replay value, mainly because the game isn't plagued by slow train travelling. The boat goes slow as well, yes, but you can warp and that way you can reach every place within a minute. Replaying Spirit Tracks took me days because going from A to B takes forever. Phantom Hourglass on the other hand went smoothly, I was able to beat this game within two days including most of the sidequests.

I also have to add that the bosses in Phantom Hourglass are much more fun, I enjoyed battling all of them, while I hated some of the bosses in Spirit Tracks. This game should have a boss rush mode like Spirit Tracks does, it would be much more fun.

And it really felt like a relief, that when picking up a Boss Key no Key Masters would appear. The adrenaline was already rushing through my body, but then all I had to do was carrying the key to the goal without any trouble. While I despise the lack of challenge, I really, really hate the Key Masters in Spirit Tracks (and Zant's Hands in Twilight Princess) and I was glad, that Phantom Hourglass didn't have them. Also, Phantom Eyes do not respawn here, that was also a big relief.

And the Ghost Ship gets really easy, if you know what switches and treasure chests to avoid. Only one Reapling will patrol the ship, the other ones won't appear, which makes the dungeon much easier.

The only thing that really annoyed me was Jolene. She would ambush me so many times, that Linebeck actually ran out of money. She would always come for me. But at the end of the game, where she finally wants a final confrontation, she wouldn't show up.... I had to travel through all four seas to finally meet her. But she is by far not as annoying as the Dark Trains in Spirit Tracks for example.

What I really love about Phantom Hourglass are the Spirit Gems and their related abilities. The red and blue ones are basically your optional sword and shield upgrades, each Zelda game should have something like it. And they are similar to the Red and Blue Mail in Link's Awakening DX or the Red and Blue Ring from the Oracles. You can only chose one, but you also have a third option here with the Sword Beam. I think it's a nice system and collecting Spirit Gems is fun too, because they can be found everywhere. It's not like in Spirit Tracks, where most collectibles like the bunnies are bound to the train travelling and their positions are too predictable.

And I'm always impressed by the Isle of Ruins, I guess it's already a preview of what we can expect from Skyward Sword, where the overworld is said to be one giant dungeon. It's also something that Spirit Tracks doesn't have, most stations there are very small and you access the dungeons directly with your train.

Renting the game also came with some disadvantages. When I rent something, I always want to return it as fast as possible, so I really rushed through the game and also missed quite some Spirit Gems and Treasure Maps on my way, which I normally wouldn't. However, there was no point in collecting every item anyway, because I wasn't keeping the file. But I'm that kind of Zelda player, who always tries to get everything, that's just how I play Zelda games and it's also the reason why I never would do a Three Heart Run. So, I still went for the sidequests except for the ones that involved random factors like collecting ship parts and fishing. And as soon as you start collecting Spirit Gems and what not else you get invested. You're investing time in completing this savegame, but then you have to give it away. I really had to pull the break and return the game as soon as the credits rolled...

Overall I would say that the replay value of Phantom Hourglass is certainly not bad, definitely better than Spirit Tracks. However, my judgement was clouded by the fact that I didn't have to collect all 64 Ship Parts again. By the time the credits rolled I collected 24 of 64 Ship Parts not counting any duplicates (and I got quite of them), that's not even half. And collecting all parts again would have taken forever in a boring and repetitive process of playing the archery minigame and the Temple of the Ocean King over and over again... that was one peace of work and I'm glad I didn't have to do it again during this replay. An option where I could transfer Ship Parts from one savegame to the other would have been nice. Because that way I could have transferred all the Ship Parts from my second savegame to the first, delete the second savegame for my replay and then transfer the Ship Parts back. That would have been nice and save me the trouble of ever collecting Ship Parts again or renting the game.

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