Saturday, February 2, 2013

Playing it Through: Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass

I got LoZ: Phantom Hourglass for Christmas last year (yes, I know, I am always late to the game on modern stuff), but I was just wrapping up the absolutely amazing Skyward Sword and I was saturated with Zelda goodness.  That was not the time to embark on another Zelda epic.  And I had always heard that PH was an instant classic.  The debut LoZ game for the DS with innovative controls, great story and tricky puzzles, Phantom Hourglass earned the hype it received.  Or so they say.  Me?  I got Spirit Tracks the year it came out (the previous Christmas, no less) and fell in love with the railroad theming and the whimsical game play that takes its cue from Wind Waker (which I hold is a really great game BECAUSE of the sailing, not despite it).  Everything I read said that ST was a veritable clone of PH just with a train instead of a boat.  Well, I loved ST, so if PH is the source material, it must be great, right?

Let's find out.  I had a lot of fun playing through FFVII in the first PiT, and that was a game I had played a million times.  Let's see how it goes with a game I'm playing for the first time.  If you are reading along with me, I'd love to hear your experiences.  Drop me a message in the Comments section.  I'll also take any tips or tricks you might know, but please keep spoilers to a minimum unless I ask for specific information.  Discovery is a great deal of the fun in Zelda games!

After playing Phantom Hourglass for a few hours, I can already see the parallels between it and Spirit Tracks.  Both games feature a frame quest off which the main quests spoke.  In Phantom Hourglass the Temple of Ocean King is the frame quest and as you explore it you unlock the other major quests of the game.  Since Zelda games tend to start at the micro level and work to a much larger scale, I am certain this game will follow suit.

The game starts out with a retelling of Wind Waker, kind of, after which Link shows up on the shore of Mercay Island.  Navi shows up (I know its not really Navi, but you and I both know it pretty much is, so just go with it) and leads Link to the her Grandfather's house, who also happens to be the wise man of the island and, as later events will suggest, more than he appears.  From the outset, the game doesn't really have a tutorial level, per se, but the first parts of the island introduce many of the basic skills that will be required to play the game.  Using the stylus to move isn't exactly intuitive, but you get used to it.  The hardest part is rolling, as into trees.  Scribbling along the edge of the screen tends to just wiggle Link around, not always prompt the desired action.  Combat is pretty simple since tapping a foe causes Link to attack it.

I get through the first cave easily and enter the town.  It is a relief to see that "town" equals about 3 houses.  This will greatly reduce the amount of inane chatter before I can get on with the quest.  The goal is to meet the smarmy and tattered sea captain who will be our dark horse companion for the trip.  His name is Linebeck and he is effectively a foppish ninny.  To that effect he has gone missing in the Temple of the Ocean King and must be rescued.  The Temple is, unsurprisingly, a huge puzzle that lays the groundwork for the game's key gimmick.  Parts of the temple are ensconced in an evil pink fog that will drain your life. Fortunately, there are also safe zones.  The key is to get in and out of the fog while solving the puzzles that will set Linebeck free.  Very standard Zelda stuff.
You called?
The temple is pretty easy and Linebeck is soon free.  Once freed he characteristically flees the Temple forcing Link to follow him back to town, specifically to the dock.  Speaking with Linebeck at the dock prompts the Old Man (not Mister Old Man, mind you, but similar in many ways...) to show up and send Link off to find clues as to the whereabouts of the Ghost Ship that kidnapped Zelda (I failed to mention that this was the point of the game, but this being a Zelda game I assumed you would have already guessed what our objective was).  The first place the Old Man suggests to look is Ember Isle, where there lives a wise soothsayer called Astrid. Since Linebeck is now tied to the quest, his vessel has been volunteered for the job.

Driving the boat has been significantly changed since Wind Waker, and maybe for the best, although I really enjoyed the sailing in that game.  You pretty much just draw a course on your map and then let the boat go along.  You have to pay attention as hazards will crop up and you may have to avoid or jump over them, but for the most part you just let the boat go its way.  On the way to Ember Isle, I ran across Beedle's ship, which wanders the seas selling all manner of interesting things.  I picked up a part for the ship, more on that later, and checked out many other goods a budget of 60 rupees will not support.  Leaving Beedle, I proceed to Ember Isle where a whole new puzzle presents itself.

Astrid appears to be locked in the basement of a house as precautionary measure when the Ghost Ship recently paid a visit to the island.  Her assistant was meant to come let her out after the ship left, but he has not returned.  The secret to opening the door to Astrid's room is to find the three torches on the island and touch the map on the wall outside her chamber where those torches stand.  Clues are pretty obvious and the biggest tip off comes when you meet her assistant's ghost near the first torch.

With the torch locations discovered, Astrid points you toward your next objective: freeing the spirit of Power trapped inside the volcano.  The trek up the volcano is pretty easy, but getting in the door introduces another new kind of puzzle and one of the novel game play aspects the Nintendo DS features.  To open the door of the volcano dungeon you must blow out the candles that flank the door, literally.  By blowing into the microphone on the DS you actually blow out the candles in front of you!  I realize that by now this is old hat to the rest of the universe, but is is still pretty cool.  (A similar game play aspect was utilized when you first meet Astrid as you must call out to her behind the door.  Any noise will suffice, but it's a lot more fun to actually call out)

Once inside, standard Zelda dungeon rules apply.  The puzzles are fun and not overly complicated.  A puzzle with a mouse and a key led to some fits until I figured out exactly the best way to trap the little bastard.  The puzzles get a boost when the boomerang is found.  Here the stylus control really shines as you draw paths for the boomerang to follow to hit triggers and unlock doors.  And in typical Zelda style, the boss fight at the end of the dungeon requires you to use the item found within it to achieve victory.  One nice touch is the boss key gimmick which sees you carrying the key to the door and tossing it in to unlock it.  This adds a new kind of puzzle to the dungeon which is equal parts fun and frustrating.

The final boss of the volcano dungeon is Blaaz, whose name I think wants to be pronounced "blaze'" but looks more like "blas." Blaaz attacks by splitting into three parts and lobbing fire attacks.  As mentioned above, the boomerang is required to smash all of the pieces of Blaaz back together.  Once reunited, bash Blaaz with the sword until he regroups and the whole thing starts over again.  Hit Blaaz enough times and he goes out in a puff of smoke.  Your reward is the freedom of the Spirit of Power and, of course, a heart container.

According to Astrid there are three Spirits:  Power, Wisdom and Courage.  (familiar, much?)  All three must be located and their power drawn upon to reveal the location of the Ghost Ship.  Apparently there are also these tear drop things which can amplify the powers of each spirit.  I have seen a red one like the one you get on Ember Isle in Beedle's shop and another in the shop tent back on Mercay.  They were both really expensive, so I am guessing they are important.  More on that as I play along.

For now, though, it's back to Mercay Island so that the Old Man can tell us where to go next.  On the way back, I make another stop at Beedle's ship and pick up another ship part, a sickle anchor.  On Mercay Island there is a ship builder who can modify your ship (the same goes for the train in Spirit Tracks).  As you collect parts you can visit the builder to upgrade the ship.  Different parts bestow different benefits and if you use all of the parts from a given set you get an extra bonus.  If this is anything like the aforementioned train in Spirit Tracks, this will be a neat addition to the main game.

The Old Man suggests a return trip to the Temple of the Ocean King might help illuminate the next part of the adventure.  Linebeck accompanies for some reason (treasure he says).  Once inside, the Old Man appears and points Link to the pedestal on the second floor of the Temple.  There Link finds the gimmick object for the game: the Phantom Hourglass.  The glass has the power to protect Link from the pink fog in the temple that drains life, but only for a short time.  Once the sands have drained they must be recharged by the sun.  Thus, it must be used sparingly.  Having claimed the Hourglass, the secrets of the Temple can be revealed, slowly over the course of the adventure, that is.  And that's where I left things.  In the Temple, ready to explore the next level.
So far this seems like a pretty standard Zelda adventure.  It borrows much from Wind Waker, and I am hoping for more divergence in the adventure as the game progresses.  I'm in the minority that has no problem with the kid Link adventures or the cell shaded style they are done in.  All I really am looking for is a fun adventure with great puzzles and lots of action.

Follow Link and I through Hyrule after the JUMP!

UPDATE!  11.26.12
Ok, so back at it last night.  As you delve into the Temple of the Ocean King the puzzles get tougher and pretty quickly.  The big mean guardians are brutal (and would show back up in Spirit Tracks) and add a nice addition to the standard Zelda puzzling action.  It took nearly 8 of my 10 minutes in the hourglass for me to complete the puzzle and find the next clue to the location of the Ghost Ship.  I can see where some of these Temple puzzles might get tedious, particularly if the similar puzzles in Spirit Tracks is any indication.
What a cool looking puzzle!

Clue in hand, I am compelled to set sail to the northwest sea to another dungeon where a spirit has been imprisoned.  But before I do that, I head over to Cannon Island to pick up a little offense.  The cannon is lots of fun and also makes traversing the seas far more dangerous!
Turns out you cannot get to the next island because of a dense fog that blankets the north sea and disorients sailors who try to navigate those waters.  All is not lost because on another island in the southwest lies the answer to the mischievous moisture.  Also on this island is the next great item: the shovel.  The shovel is great in this game because almost every time you dig, you get at least one rupee.  Other Zelda games have not been so generous.  The puzzles involving the shovel and not terribly difficult, but they also make great use of the touch screen/stylus note taking feature.  Patches with the best treasure are obvious, but the secret hideout where you get the map through the fog is completely hidden and requires you to figure out the puzzle without hand-holding that is sometimes indicative of these games.

While exploring the island, a secret, hidden island is hinted at somewhere further south.  This kind of thing is the reason I love these games so much. I realize that this "hidden" island is actually the Spirit Shrine that is intrinsic to the plot and explains what the three spirits are all about, but the added fun of having it hidden just adds a level of mystique to the world that greatly enhances the game play.

While on the water, I also ran into another floating merchant.  This time a dude in a helmet who claims he is only in business for a week.  I am curious exactly what that means since this game doesn't seem to have a traditional day/night dynamic.  Again, I love this kind of "random" encounter stuff.  It's like the treasure maps that you can collect. The treasure hunting was one of my favorite parts of Wind Waker and I could sometimes load the game up and just hunt treasure. I  am hoping for the same kind of experience here.  It adds a nice non-linear aspect to the game play that keeps the game fresh for me.

But I digress.  With the map carefully copied on my sea chart (I really dig this feature!), I made my way north and successfully to the Isle of Gust.  Apparently Link has learned a bit from his time in Wind Waker for he no longer needs his leaf to ride the winds; at least not here on Gust Island.  I'm not terribly sorry for this and the puzzles are actually better for it.  Case in point, something nice and new in this game is the fact that you can actually block the gusts by covering the geyser hole with your shovel.  This discovery was a pleasant surprise that is a rare treat for a seasoned Zelda player like myself.  Getting into the Wind Temple was a battle in itself.

Once inside the temple was relatively simple with more puzzles similar to those outside, but still plenty of fun.  Bombs are the reward and are extremely welcome!  They are also the key to defeating the temple's boss.  Another new innovation is the ability to place bombs on gusts and send them into the air.  This device is the solution to several puzzles and the method of knocking the windy squid boss down to the ground to give him a good pounding.  While not hard, this boss fight is a lot of fun, particularly since it makes use of this new bombing method.  Once defeated, the next spirit is freed and the Phantom Hourglass gets two more minutes of sand.  Good thing too because I think I'll probably need them.

Exploration Update 12.2.12!!!

While I haven't advanced the plot, much, I have made a LOT of very cool progress since the last entry.  After completing the Wind Temple, I was tasked with returning to the Temple of the Ocean King once again to gain clues about the location of the next spirit, however, my sea chart featured the locations of two uncharted islands as well as big, documented island to the northeast.  How could I leave these foggy seas without checking all of that out?

I couldn't.

Turns out the first uncharted island was a curious little piece of land inconspicuously shaped like a whale.  The map doesn't show it, because the island is uncharted, but it is shaped like a whale.  The shape is important for in order to unlock the secret of the island you have to solve a puzzle based on the shape of the island and the location of four statues thereupon.  The puzzle itself was pretty cool and had I been less attentive, I might not have caught on to the shape of the island (you'll soon see just how dull I am).  It was the eye that gave it away.

Anyhow, once solved, the island reveals a very curious secret: it is home to a giant yellow frog who calls himself Golden Chief Cyclos.  This bizarre creature apparently governs your ability to warp in the game via  series of underling frogs that roam the seas.  When you find these frogs they teach you a special symbol to draw on your Slate.  Draw the symbol and be transported to the location of that frog.
At first I thought this would be a killjoy, but after having spent some more time in the seas and having tasted a few of the features that are soon to come, using the frog transporters is pretty helpful.  That doesn't make the initial encounter with Cyclos any less unnerving.
There is still one smaller puzzle on the island concerning the statute that sits in the eye of the whale-shape, but I am yet to figure that one out.

After departing from Yellow Frog Whale Island (yeah, I named it), I traveled north to the charted Banana Island.  This island is home to Phantom Hourglass's target game (every modern Zelda game has a shooting skill game).  This target game uses your ship and cannon on a fixed obstacle course.  As an old pro at this sort of thing, I tied the top score on the first try.  Sadly subsequent tries were subjected to my huge ego and proved less fruitful.  For my initial success I won a Bomb Bag, saving me from spending way too much for said item at Beedle's Shop.  Win.  I'm a big fan of target games, so chances are very good I'll be back, repeatedly.
Doing well at the target game nets you a choice of secret prizes!

The third island to the north held a fun treasure hunt that, once again, employed the use of the stylus and the ability to draw upon the map.  The puzzle wasn't terribly difficult, but these kinds of things are always fun.  I believe this is also the island of the Wayfarer, but since he had no use for me yet, nor I for him, it didn't really mean much to me.  The Wayfarer would later send me a letter and a ship part gift, so I have a feeling I'll have need of him soon.

My curiosity satisfied for the time being I made my way back to Mercay Island figuring to tackle that Temple.  However, upon arriving, and making a few ship modifications, that odd buck-toothed mailman showed up with a very important piece of mail:  Cannon Island has completed construction on the salvage arm!  Now those treasure maps can finally be realized!  This is huge news!  Treasure hunting was my favorite part of Wind Waker, so having another shot at such fun is super great!
Needless to say, everything was immediately dropped and the ship weighed anchor and set sail for Cannon Island.  By this time in the game I had collected 5 treasure maps and nothing was going to stop me from dredging each and every treasure chest to the sunny surface.  Little did I realize that treasure hunting had evolved since my last foray.
Everything was going as planned.  I located my first treasure spot (X) and navigated my to it.  Once there I dropped my salvage arm into the crystal waters and got ready for glory.  Then the screen changed. Instead of a briny chest covered in seaweed, what I see is the salvage arm slowly descending into the depths.  It seems treasure hunting has become a mini-game of sorts.  Now, in order to recover the treasure at the bottom of the sea, you must guide the salvage arm past mines and other obstacles until it reaches the sea floor. Once there you still have to land the arm on the chest and then safely return to the surface.  The arm can survive a maximum of 5 collisions before it is wrecked.  If it becomes wrecked, then you must return to Mercay Island and pony up 100 rupees to have it fixed.

Treasure hunting is no longer easy.  In going after 5 chests, I wrecked the arm 3 times.  It is not easy.  Luckily the repair is cheap.  The biggest hassle is just making the trip back to Mercay, which is where the golden frog transporting comes in very handy.  The rewards for treasure hunting are well worth the effort.  Twice I got an extra minute worth of sand for the hourglass, once a spirit gem, once a ship part, and the last treasure was one of the collectible items that you can later sell to the Treasure Teller.

Speaking of the Treasure Teller, once the salvage arm is unlocked, he opens up shop on Mercay Island.  In his hut you can sell any of the treasure items in the game (the Zora Crown, Goron Amber, Pearl Necklace, etc.) or any ship parts that you do not want.  In some instances these treasures are worth a pretty rupee, so I expect to be giving the Treasure Teller a good bit of business.
800 Rupees!!!

Wishing I had more treasure maps doesn't make it so, therefore having exhausted the maps in my possession it was finally time to return to the Temple of the Ocean King.  Armed with more time in my hourglass I made my way into the Temple ready for new puzzles and more of those pain in the ass Guardians.  I had no idea I would be required to work all of the old puzzles over again on the way to the new levels.  While that sounds really boring, the twist is that with your new items (boomerang, bombs, shovel, etc.) you solve the puzzles in new and different ways.  Very cool and a nice way to keep the game fresh, if you are going to make me replay levels.
The new levels introduced the little peahat looking sentinels that spy for the Guardians and alert them to your presence.  Having played Spirit Tracks, these little bastards were not new to me, but this was the first time they showed up in this game.  The puzzles this time around were surprisingly straightforward and simple, but time was against me since I had to clear the earlier levels in addition to the new ones.  It wasn't until after I had reached the room with the spirit clue that I got stumped, and I mean really stumped.

Make no mistake, folks, I am a dullard.  I true dullard.  When you reach the spirit room, the clue is etched on a big wall with a sun emblem on it.  Navi instructs you to press the map against the clue in order to transfer the information to it (the map, subject pronouns are fun!).  Problem is, the clue is an upside down version of the southwestern sea map.  What to do?  I figure it must be similar to previous puzzles of this kind so I start to rub the stylus across my map in the area where the clue is on the wall. Nothing. I try this several times just in case I was somehow doing it wrong.  Nothing.  Frustrated I try to leave the room.  Navi stops me, will not let me leave until I have the clue. She tries desperately to give me a hint, but friends I am far too dim to get the idea.  I return to the wall and try rubbing my map again, and again.  I try blowing into the microphone.  Nothing.  I try to leave again, hoping maybe Navi will give me a more direct clue.  She's been watching this whole time, she has to see how hopeless I am.  But no, same hint.  At this point, I have honestly wasted about 10 minutes trying to figure out what the damn game wants me to do to get this clue.  It turns out my frustration was the key to my inspiration.
Annoyed that this video game had bested me this early into playing it, I was ready to call it quits. I was about to hit the power button and close the lid when it dawned on me.  Close....the.....lid.  The map was upside down.  If you close the lid, they will match.  I thought closing the lid would just put the DS in sleep mode, but no, in fact it was the very solution to the puzzle.  Close...the....lid.  People, I am a dullard.  By the same token, this game is brilliant.  What an incredibly clever puzzle! I realize that the DS is old school by this point, so may in its heyday this kind of solution would have been obvious, but for me, yesterday, this puzzle was delightfully devious!

Humbled, I now have the clue that will take me to the next imprisoned Spirit.  Who knows, maybe I'll score some more treasure maps along the way!

UPDATE! 12.9.12
I haven't had much time to play this week, but I did take down the Temple of Courage last night.  After finding the Sun Key on the sea bed, I hustled my way to the Island where the Sun Mark had been noted earlier.  Getting into the Temple of Courage turned out to be as hard as the temple itself.  Two of those weird lizard warriors guarded an area essential to solving the puzzle that opened the door to the temple and they routinely killed me out right.  One-on-one these brutes are too tough, but two-on-one they are absolutely vicious.  Eventually, I bested them and made my way into the temple.
And what a great temple it is!  The temple is relatively short and you get the bow and arrow fairly early.  This is mostly due to the fact that you are going to need it to solve the puzzles.  The Temple of Courage personifies what makes Phantom Hourglass a top-notch Zelda game.  From the enemies to the puzzles to the boss fight, the Temple of Courage makes full use of the abilities of the DS as well as all of Link's skills.  Pols Voice (at least that is what it looks like) makes an appearance in this temple and in order to stun it, you are required to yell into the microphone (or make some other loud noise).  That is very cool.  The hint is that it hates loud noises.  Underestimating the game, I kept hitting it with bombs to know avail.  Then I remembered that this was DS game (that keeps fooling me!) and gave blowing into the mic a try.  Magic!
The puzzles in the Temple of Courage are great because they require you to use all of Link's weapons and skills accumulated thus far. It had become kind of common in prior Zelda games for the puzzles to all be centered around whatever new item you picked up in a dungeon.  PH breaks the mold a bit because puzzles in the Temple of Courage require bombs, the boomerang, and the newly acquire bow and arrow.  This opens the door to much more interesting puzzles and gives the game more engaging and complex game play.
Finally, the boss fight at the end of this temple is hands down the best thus far.  Both screens are required for success in this fight.  The top screen displays the boss monster's point of view, the lower screen is the standard playfield.  The idea is to watch the action through the boss's view and then use the bow and arrow to shoot it in the face when it charges.  You actually use the top screen to aim the bow and blast the boss!  How freaking cool is that?  Once the boss is stunned, a well placed bomb will crack its shell.  With the shell gone, the vulnerable tail is exposed to attack, but it's not that easy since the boss is quick.  Force the boss to cover its face and then sprint behind and wail on the tail.  A three tiered boss fight that uses three different modes of attack!  Splendid!
Defeating the boss releases the Spirit of Courage, or does it.  Seem that Navi has been the Spirit of Courage all along.  This thing you freed is just a placeholder or something. (reeks of Titanic where the old biddy had that damn necklace all along).  The old man shows up in time to mock Link for his stupidity and reveal Navi's true identity.  He then makes some vague claims about his own identity and the scurries off.  Armed with all three Spirits, the game suggests that it is time to take on the Ghost Ship.  No one who has ever played a video game is stupid enough to fall for that, though, since two whole areas of the map remain unexplored.  But we get on the boat anyway and play along.

Before we can even set sail, an old friend of Linebeck's shows up spoiling for a fight.  The battle is brief, and she makes some allusions to the fact that Linebeck might also not be what he seems.  Later, I would get a letter that is meant to be delivered to her so I seriously doubt she is a straight-up villain.

That encounter behind me, I track down a few treasure related clues including a new treasure map buried under the tree in the old man's yard back on Mercay and a puzzle under Mercay that needed the bow and arrow.  I'm almost sorry I did that though, because it caused me to meet this guy....
Listen, I hate the whole Flower Power thing.  Not peace and love and all of that, but the asinine tie-dyed, flowers everywhere, colored sunglasses, trippy, Grateful Dead crap.  I hate all of that.  So when this guy shows up, I cringe.  I know Zelda games have kind of made a thing of having bizarre characters like Tingle (who I love, by the way), but this guy is just too stupid to be true.  Luckily he seems to be a function of some social aspect of the game where you can trade ship parts and stuff to other gamers; something I will never do.  So this might be the only time in the game I have to see this loser.  Let's hope so.

So I still need to go after the Ghost Ship, but I'm going to head north first and check out my new treasure map and a few other leads like Wayfarer Island.  Once that's done, I'll go get that Ghost Ship and end the game!  Ahem...

UPDATE!  12.12.12
Ok, I'm seriously starting to get fed up with the Temple of the Ocean King.  At first I thought it was interesting to play through the previous floors with new items and so on, but now it is starting to chip my beef.   Mainly because it drains time, precious time, from my hourglass, and as I get deeper into the Temple, the more insidious the puzzles get and the more time I need.  Oh sure, the halfway point is good and all, but you have to start with the amount of time you entered it with.  Ugh.  Not to mention that my current quest has me split between exploring Goron Island and delving deeper into the Temple.  I've opted for Goron Island mainly because the annoyance factor has started to weigh in.

Oh, and surprise surprise!  It turns out I did catch up to the Ghost Ship, I did explore it, and I did rescue Zelda, in a way.  I was shocked to actually pull up alongside the Ghost Ship and board it.  I was ready for a reversal, but no, they actually went ahead and let me tackle the ship.  The puzzles inside the ship were pretty good without being impossible.  However, I knew right away that those "missing sisters" were up to no good.  Unfortunately you still have to complete their quest to rescue Zelda.  The upside is that the boss fight with them is challenging and fun and reminds me a lot of the battles with Ganon in Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time.


Once vanquished, the girls give up Zelda, but it's no sunshine and roses moment.  Zelda has been turned to stone.  What's worse, there is a big bad evil in the world that has caused this and more.  Seems the old man is actually the Ocean King (who I would now like to pummel), or at least his avatar.  The Ocean King is actually trapped at the bottom of the sea locked in battle with this Big Bad.  The only way to defeat the Big Bad is with a special sword that is crafted by a man named Zaus on an island in the north.  But to craft that sword, Zaus needs 3 precious metals that can only be found out in the world.  To explore more of the world, I need to find a new sea chart.  And guess where that is hiding out...


Yep, Temple of the Frustration King.  It took me 8 minutes (of my 16) to get to the new level and the halfway point which only left me with 7 minutes and change to figure out the new puzzle and get the chart.  I failed more than twice trying to just solve the puzzles, which, while challenging are also getting a bit tedious.  The time limit plus some tedious puzzling do not make for a lot of fun.  And in order to get more time to deal with the tedious puzzles, I need to replay and replay better the early levels.  Ugh.  Once I finally get the sea chart, as mentioned above, I am given the opportunity to keep going in the Temple (with 1:42 on the clock) or set sail for Goron Island.  1:42 isn't exactly much time to tackle more tedious sneaking puzzles and I'm already annoyed, so Goron Island it is.
You have to draw this in a single stroke to unlock the next level in the Temple.  It's not as easy as it looks.

However, on the way there I end up in a battle with some kind of bizarre sea creature, run afoul of Linebeck's ex-girlfriend, and track down a new treasure map!  This is the where the fun is.  Will I go back to the Temple? Probably, but I'm going to see what the Gorons have to say first!
I don't know, but shoot the damn thing, a lot!

UPDATE 12.17.12
The Temple of the Ocean King might be the reason I never finish this game. Remember what I said earlier about the charm of playing the early levels over again with new weapons and solving the puzzles in new ways?  The charm is gone.  Long gone.  I don't want to hunt down the force gems all over again.  I don't want to pack those damn shaped crystals all over the place over and over and over and over and over.  I don't want to.  Even with new weapons.  It is tedious.  If the puzzles are going to be that involved and take so long to solve, they need to stay solved.  Find the key, open the door, that's one thing, but these puzzles with multiple floors and various key objects, it is just too much to do over and over.  By the time I get the old puzzle solved I have no time left to work on the new puzzle.  It's very aggravating.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, again.  What makes this game great is that when you are not beating your head against the wall in the Temple of the Ocean King, there are some really great areas and dungeons out there on the world map to explore.  Case in point: Goron Island!

This area was a blast.  From exploring the village, to answering Biggoron's questions, to the dungeon itself, Goron Island was fun from start to finish.  I'm not ashamed to tell you that it took me about a dozen tries to answer Biggoron's questions correctly.  It's not that I'm a buffoon, although earlier tales of my exploits say otherwise.  No, it's because I didn't want to wander all over again to find the answers to mystery questions.  Although I am proud to tell you that I paid attention to the number of rocks in each house, and that was the final question, so I nailed that bad boy!  What's nice is that there are more than 6 questions in his repertoire, so there is no guarantee that you'll get the same ones over and over.  Too often this is the case when a game features a mini-game of this sort.

And then there are the Bombchus!  You know, when these novelty bombs first showed up back in Ocarina of Time they were cute, but essentially useless and tricky to aim in a 3D world.  In Phantom Hourglass they are finally done right!  Drawing the path on the screen and then setting them loose is not only the key to solving many puzzles, it is also a lot of fun!  They are also useful for long range combat, particularly against those statues that come to life.  Yay, Bombchus!

Speaking of puzzles, the ones in the Goron Temple are clever without being frustrating.  The quicksand looks like it is going to be a major pain, but ends up not coming into play as much as I thought.  The best part was the tag-team puzzle solving with the little Goron.  In a flashback to Majora's Mask, I was reminded of how much fun it is to be a Goron.  Little dude was tough!
It was also a nice touch to have him come back for the boss fight.  Dodongo (yeah, I know, but its the same thing and you know it) was pretty tough, but also a little more standard than some of the previous bosses.  Using little Goron to ram him was great, but invariably, Link would find himself in danger and I would have to switch back.  I also liked the use of the Bombchu as the closer to take him out.  At least, take him out round 1!  Dirty bastard had a second wind in him and needed to eat a few more bombs before he was down for the count! 

Flameo, Hotman!

Post Goron Island, I had a few new treasure maps to check out and a new Traveler's Ship to visit.  The treasure salvage turned up 50/50 lame/cool.  Lame because I keep digging up ship parts I already have, but cool because I got a new kind of handrail.  I guess its a Facts of Life kind of thing.   The Traveler's Ship was another story altogether.  Apparently, these Ho Ho cats are all about buying treasure, just like the Treasure Teller back in Mercay.  However they pay outrageous prices for stuff that the Treasure Teller won't touch.  So I unloaded some Dark Pearl Loops on them for big $$$.  They are an odd lot, however.
Oh and Linebeck's girlfriend won't leave me alone.  She keeps hunting me down and wanting to fight.  I have a letter for her, but she will never take it. Nor will that gyrating mailbox, even when he asks me if I have something to mail.  Odd.  I must not be doing it right.
Um, sure you are....

So I wasted like two hours last night trying to find the next sea chart, or at the very least the next clue to a rare metal's location in the Temple of the Ocean King, but as mentioned above, I am stymied by the time limit and the constant redo of the puzzles.  I did go back through and up my halfway checkpoint time by two minutes, so that is helping some, but I'm really not digging the whole do over stuff.

Ah well, we'll see how it goes...

UPDATE 12.22.12
SUCCESS! Once again the joy of acheivement has dispelled the pallor of frustration and the Temple of the Ocean King has been tackled (for now!).  I was getting to the last floor, but was always running out of time.  I ran back through the early levels with a concerted plan and managed to cut my previous time in half!  That was great, but it still took about 4 tries to work out the final puzzles and claim the Northeastern Sea Chart!  I may complete this game yet!

So I set out for the Southeastern Sea again having received an invite from the little Goron, who apparently now runs a new kind of game.  Whilst searching for his island, I ran afoul of Linebeck's girlfriend twice and lots of annoying sea monsters.  And then it appeared on the horizon: a very strange shape.  
Hello, Operator, I'd like to report a really weird island.

As I neared the island it became clear what was going on, something that annoys me unless really well done, usually in a very subtle fashion: in game self-awareness.  Here it is relatively inoffensive, if  a tad bit overdone.  It is more fun once you are actually on the island, but on the open sea it pops you out of the narrative a bit.
Aesthetics aside, the island itself features a fun little mini-game driving the little Goron around a course picking up gems in a timed rally.  The course is fairly simple and, once learned, making a record time isn't too much of a challenge.  My first record-breaking time netted me a Bombchu bag.  Considering how much I am digging the Bombchus in this game, this was a top prize!  Other parts of the island feature smaller puzzles or combat scenarios to play out for small rewards.  Speaking of which, I realize they are key parts of the main game, but Courage, Wisdom and Power gems are disappoint rewards at this point it the game.  So are duplicate ship parts of which I keep salvaging a booty-load.  I did net a nifty new demon cannon and a peaceful cabin.  They may not compliment each other, but they are part of my ship for the foreseeable future!

After leaving Dee Ess Island (yeah, I know), I headed north to see what awaited me in those waters.  I first made for the Island of the Dead since the other island was blocked by a water spout.  The Island of the Dead featured a cool puzzle and a graveyard.  Every great Zelda game ever has had a graveyard of some kind, even in a small way.  The graveyard here was more of a talking monolith yard, but it had that classic graveyard appearance so I was happy.
Turns out this island is part 1 of a two part puzzle that concludes on the aforementioned cyclone-blocked island.  If the nature of this island's puzzle is any indication, this is going to be a fun quest.  But more on that later.

Before heading off to the other island, I decided to tool about the sea a bit and see what was what.  I had two treasure maps to check out and a new Traveler's Ship.  The Traveler's Ship turned out to contain yet another nugget of Japanese weirdness:  The Man of Smiles.  I cleared his pre-school adorned ship of villains and he thanked me and that was pretty much it.  I'm sure our paths will cross again.  Honestly, I fear it.  At least he's not as bad as that hippie.  Shudder.

I was on my way across the northern boundary when another uncharted island came into view.  This one was not shaped like Mario's head or anything, but it turned out to be home to one of the toughest mini-games I have encountered yet.  Although I am beginning to see why my good friend Jon Hamilton has nicknamed this Zelda: Puzzles.  I would say Zelda: Mini-games.  The main quest almost seems to take a back seat to the plethora of mini-game islands that populate the map.  While these games are fun, and in most Zelda games are a pleasant diversion (see Skyward Sword, excluding that stupid Super Happy Island, I hate that game), here they tend to dominate a bit.
Having said that, I really enjoy the challenge of Maze Island.  First, I like it because it harkens back to another maze island in another Zelda game from long ago (perhaps my favorite).  Mazes are not new to the series, but whole island mazes are another story! This maze island presents a true challenge.  I have only completed the first level of difficulty, but that took about 5 tries!  Basically, you have to track down a certain number of conversation stones in a very limited amount of time.  The stones are scattered about the maze in oft hard to reach places that require cunning and skill to reach.  Once all of the stones have been found, you then must race to the center of the island and grab your prize from the treasure chest before time runs out.  It takes a few run-throughs to learn the best possible route and how to take advantage of short cuts.   Even then, knowing what to do and being able to execute are totally different animals.
Again, I have only completed the beginner skill level.  I can only imagine what comes after that.

Upon leaving Maze Island, I was heading for the cyclone gap when I was beset by pirate ships and sunk.  Great.  That's dysfunctional demon cannon and peaceful bridge.  (the disparate combination reduced my ship's stamina).  Oh well, I'll be back on the high seas before you know it!

UPDATE!  1.1.13
Lots of progress, oh my yes! All of the precious metals are now mine!  This part of the game features some of the best puzzles and adventures I have seen yet, so I am going to try not to spoil too much of it or ruin too many puzzles.

The companion island to the Island of the Dead is extremely cool.  A huge maze that is partially submerged (and that's all I'm going to tell you) with several puzzles that keep you guessing, this island is essentially a dungeon without being a dungeon at all.  There is a dungeonous (yeah, I created that word, you are free to use it) element to it and some fabulous puzzles down there as well.  You'll get the hammer which is great for beating pretty much anything in the game senseless.  It is also the key to success in a series of very cool "Lights Out" type puzzles that are new to the Zelda franchise as far as I am aware.  If  you are not familiar, Lights Out is a game where you try to turn all of the lights out by turning each light out in the correct sequence.  In a Lights Out puzzle, when you turn a light off, any light next to it is turned on.  There is usually a correct sequence that will result in all of the lights going out.  Figuring that out can be maddening.  A great version of this game is available for the Atari 2600 called Okie Dokie.
In Phantom Hourglass, the Lights Out puzzle deals with tiles on the floor that are marked with X's and O's.  Some puzzles want you to turn all of the tiles to X or O while others want you to recreate a given pattern.  Both types of puzzles are challenging and some seem impossible, until you realize one very important thing that I figured out about halfway through:  You can hit the floor that is not tiled near the tiled floor and it will still flip certain tiles.  This is the only way to solve a couple of the later puzzles, but the solutions are pretty rewarding.
The boss fight at the end is fascinating as well.  The boss is huge with several vulnerable spots, but to hit them you must launch yourself into the air using the hammer and the spring boards on the floor and then whack away with the hammer.  I'll not spoil the end, but let's just say that the LoZ series has some of the most inventive boss fights around.
Once he is defeated the precious metal is all mine!
Not sure what to do next, as no one is really indicating to me what the next step is, I return to Maze Island and clear out the Normal difficulty prize (I love this game) and then return to Mercay to make some ship alterations and repair my salvage arm (treasure hunting is hard).  Thinking the Temple of the Ocean King might hold the key, and because I am an idiot, I make another run.  While I picked up some previously missed treasures, I didn't learn anything new.

Scanning the sea charts, I remember the ice shrouded island in the Southeastern Sea.  No one has said anything about it, nor have I had cause to visist, but it seems like the only place left on the map that is unexplored.  Upon approach Linebeck suggests that we take aim and blast the ice away from the island in order to gain admittance.  Turns out he's right and after a couple of trips around blasting all the way the iceberg gives up its secrets!
Turns out there is a class war brewing between the two races that inhabit this island.  It seems insidious, but is actually caused by the corruption of one race by an evil spirit.  Of course all of this is revealed slowly and through another interesting logic puzzle that asks you to ferret out an imposter by gathering clues and eliminating suspects.  Its like Clue, but with Hyrulian eskimo guys.
The bad guys on Frost Island are the brainwashed race that live on the eastern part of the island, and it seems they love to eat bombs.  However their diet cause severe digestive distress.  While they are stunned, you can wail away on them and take them out.  These guys look pretty cool and turn out to be rather nice once you break the spell on them. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Frost Island is dotted with lots and lots of those curious poles that have been spotted nearly everywhere else in the game.  With so many, the item required to make use of them has to be in the Temple here.  And it is.  Again, to prevent my enthusiasm from ruining this great dungeon for readers who have not played, all I am going to say is that you do get the item and it is much like the hookshot, but like the hammer it opens up many new and inventive kinds of puzzles that utilize its many versatile functions.  One hint, because I cannot help myself, think sling shot, but think it on a larger scale.
It all starts by jumping onto the posts

One thing I will divulge a bit is with regard to the boss battle.  As I have already told you, I am big time sucker for harkenings to days of yore.  The boss of the Frost Temple is a two-headed Gleeok.  Long time Zelda fans know the Gleeok very well and for one to pop up here is just too freaking cool.  You'll need to use the item you find in this temple very creatively in order to take the Gleeok down, otherwise he'll hot and cold you to death quickly!
With Gleeok in the drink, the precious metal is all mine!

Where I was previously frustrated with the Temple of the Annoyance King, these two levels have restored my faith and my enjoyment in the game.  Armed with all three precious metals I am now on my way to Zaus to see what is next!  Oh and I have several more treasure maps to salvage and I need to get back to Maze Island to take down the Expert level maze!  So much to do!

UPDATE 1.13.12

I forged the Phantom Sword with Zaus and then the Old Man turned the Phantom Hourglass in to the hilt!  Now I'm big time ready for action.  I'm ready to throw down with the Big Bad.  Problem is, no one has told me where he is or what I need to do next.

I think that is my big issue with the game at this point.  There are so many mini-games and things going on that it is hard to know where to go next.  I assume there is someone in the game who is going to point me in the right direction, but I've got a letter for Jolene that no one wants to take, I've got the Temple of the Ocean King waiting for me to gain the ability to kill a Phantom, I've got the Ghost Ship floating around out there somewhere, I think. I like that the game is free roaming enough to allow you to go where you want and check out all of the cool islands.  In that way it reminds me a lot of the original Legend of Zelda.  And I hate when a game spoonfeeds you too much, but there has to be a happy medium.  Thus far, Phantom Hourglass has been pretty straightforward and has guided the plot along for the most part, and I have no doubt that someone will be along in a minute to tell me what to do.  I think I'm just a bit worried about going into the final battle without doing everything I need to do and missing out on something.  For instance, I really want to win the Maze Island game on Expert.  That is going to take some planning however, because the island boasts like 14 statues to find and hit and the time limit is wicked short.

But, let's not lose sight of the fact that I've got the Phantom Sword and I am a badass!

UPDATE! 2.2.13
I thought you were never going to beat this game.  Well, I did, about two weeks ago, but I've been a bit busy, so the update has been in queue, but waiting.

Surprisingly, the end of the game is least enjoyable part of the whole adventure.  The final boss fights are rather unspectacular compared to those earlier in the game and the big ending is ok, but nothing to write home about.  After getting my hands on the sword, I decided to see if this was the weapon that would allow me to take out the Guardians in the Temple of the Ocean King.  Sure enough, it was.  This made that infuriating temple much easier and a lot more fun.  At the bottom of the temple was the first final boss fight.  It was surprisingly easy, required little strategy, and as a big reveal for the Big Bad behind the shenanigans in this game, was underwhelming.  I took him out on the first try and got the false ending, which I knew had to be coming.

Back on the world map, the game urged me to go go go and take down the Ghost Ship once and for all, but I had other plans.  There were still unresolved issues that I needed to check out. The most important one was the Expert Level challenge on Maze Island.  The trick to mastering the Expert level challenge is to pause the game as soon as the challenge starts and mark the location of all of the statues on the map.  With that done, you can chart a path to hit all of the statues in the fastest time.  I started by going up the left side of the island, working my way diagonally down the middle and then back up the right side of the island, coming back to center for the last statue and the chest.  I'm willing to wager that there are many different solutions to this challenge.
Feeling pretty good about myself, I then set sail for the Ghost Ship.  A mild surprise takes place in the cut scenes that set up the final boss fight, but I'll not ruin it for you.  The final boss fight is, again, unspectacular and although it took me two tries to figure out the trick, it is extremely easy.  I honestly expected much better based on the ingenuity of the earlier boss battles.

The ending sequence is really nice and employs that construction paper style used in the intro.  I really like the visuals and imagery here.  The story reminds me a great deal of Link's Awakening, the very first LoZ game for a handheld system (kids, you'll have to look it up).  As a matter of fact, a great deal of Phantom Hourglass looks and feels like that original Gameboy game.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but all in all I think I prefer Spirit Tracks to Phantom Hourglass as DS games go.  Maybe it's because of the order I encountered them in, or maybe ST is the stronger game.  I'm not sure.  I know that the frame game in ST is much more clever and much less frustrating.  I also enjoyed the train aspect more than the boat, which is odd considering how much I enjoyed the boat in Wind Waker.  I guess you can have too much of a good thing.  I also left a lot of things undone in Phantom Hourglass.  I never discovered what to do with the letter to Jolene and I left at least 5 heart containers out there somewhere.  I also never maxed out the membership at Beedle's shop nor found the mermaid the Wayfarer was seeking.  The game never really seemed interested in me doing any of those things.  I think the side quests were a bit too marginalized in this game and there were maybe a few too many of them.

I enjoyed Phantom Hourglass, but it is not one of my favorite Legend of Zelda adventures.  I appreciate what it did for the DS and the innovations that the system brought to the table, but I think the second effort, Spirit Tracks, does an overall better job of being a fun Zelda game.

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