Posted on July 08 2011 by Legacy Staff
Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks are very similar, yet there are different opinions surrounding them. Some people thought Phantom Hourglass wasn’t very good for a Zelda game, and others thought, at first, that Spirit Tracks was too technological (although that opinion has deteriorated over time). They are considered by some to be among the lowest rated Zelda games. Regardless of these conceptions, the two are still quite different. In fact, many gamers prefer one over the other. This begs the question: “How could people like one so much more than the other?”
Similarities in these games range from gameplay mechanics, to the general method in which Link carries out his quest, to even certain enemies and background music. Even some characters and races are the same in both games, like Niko and Linebeck, and the Gorons and the Anouki. The fundamental design is also similar. In Phantom Hourglass, Link was required to journey to the Temple of the Ocean King in order to obtain the Sea Chart that would allow him to travel to the island where the next dungeon was located. Then, after clearing said dungeon, he would return to the Ocean King’s Temple to get the next Sea Chart, and the process would repeat itself. In Spirit Tracks, the quest is exactly the same, only there are towns instead of islands, rail maps in place of sea charts, and the temple Link must return to after each dungeon is the Tower of Spirits. Both hub dungeons contain the same thing as well: Phantoms, the guardian knights that stalk the hallways of the temple or tower. In both games, the Phantoms cannot be defeated upon first entry of the citadel.
Both Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks also had a certain type of challenge mode. Here, the gamer could contend with another swordsman, seeing how many hits they could land before taking three hits, similar to Orca’s training in the Wind Waker. A pirate raid was a part of both games, too. In Phantom Hourglass, Jolene continuously attacked Link’s ship in an attempt to find Linebeck. In Spirit Tracks, bandits attacked Link’s train in order to capture the Lokomo, Carben. The player must also control other characters instead of just Link in both titles. In Phantom Hourglass, the player had to switch between controlling Link and Gongoron in order to complete various parts of the Goron Temple, including the boss fight against Dongorongo. In Spirit Tracks, one could take control of Zelda in almost the same way. She also helped Link in the boss fight against Byrne. Beedle, the traveling merchant, was also present in both games.
As I’ve made clear, Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass have similar gameplay elements. However, they are regarded differently by many people. There are still plenty of distinctions that really separate the two games from each other, not including the general plot, storyline, and antagonists.
Phantom Hourglass offers Spirit Gems as a collectable item. These allowed Link to gain different abilities, such as a flaming sword for the Power Gems, double defense for the Wisdom Gems, and sword beams for the Courage Gems. The player could switch between these three attributes, once these abilities were acquired by collecting enough of the specific Gem. They would each come in handy in different situations, like fighting enemies or bosses.
Gimmicks and items were also utilized differently. One thing that some people found tedious was blowing into the michrophone of the system in order to play the Spirit Flute. The Blower, the dungeon item obtained in Spirit Tracks’ Forest Temple, requires the player to blow into the microphone just to use it. This, among other things, turned some people away from the game. Phantom Hourglass required you to blow into the microphone occasionally to solve a puzzle, and speaking into the microphone was a must to advance beyond certain points, like getting Astrid’s attention as she’s locked up in the basement of her home.
In Sprit Tracks, the Ocean Temple provides you with the Whip, which was not only a item vital to solving puzzles and clearing obstacles, but also served as an attack weapon. The Grappling Hook in PH, while far more useful the the one featured in it’s prequel, the Wind Waker, was not very reliable when it comes to attacking. Despite this, the Grappling Hook had some new and handy features; Link could use it as a tightrope to cross certain gaps, and could also reflect an arrow off of a rope already put in place. It was even possible to use other items while balancing on the rope, and could use it as a sort of catapult. This design led to quite a few new and innovative gameplay mechanics. The Whip’s handyness in multiple situations definately earns it some credit when it comes to innovation as well. As such, similar items handled differently in both games but were also innovative across the board.
Spirit Tracks requires Link to travel across the overworld on a train, which is restricted to the train tracks. In Phantom Hourglass, there is more freedom of movement, as Link is sailing the open seas on a ship. However, this still has its disadvantages, and the control scheme for sea travel isn’t exactly perfect. Also, in Spirit Tracks, Zelda herself is the partner character that travels with Link throughout his quest, whereas Phantom Hourglass had no equivalent.
Spirit Tracks had the “Take ‘Em All On” challenge, which is unlocked after one completes the first dungeon. This challenge requires the player to fight many enemies consecutively. The gamer also fights bosses that have already been beaten.
The biggest difference between the games, however, is the two hub dungeons: the Temple of the Ocean King and the Tower of Spirits. While they are similar, as they both are dungeons Link must continue to go back to, they are distinct in many ways. The Temple of the Ocean King is basically a large labyrinth that continues down for several floors. Phantoms are scattered across each floor, except for the floors where Link gains a new chart or information that will come in handy to his quest. The very bottom of the temple is where the game’s antagonist, Bellum, has made his lair. Also, the floors which the Phantoms are patrolling are “cursed”. This curse causes Link’s health to slowly drain away. Once Link gets the Phantom Hourglass, however, he is protected from the curse as long as sand remains in the top of the Hourglass. Once time runs out, the sand will have completely drained to the bottom, the curse is put back into effect and Link must leave the temple in order to restore power to the Hourglass. In addition, in order to reach certain legs of the temple, Link needs the power of a Spirit, who is rescued after the completion of each of the first three dungeons.
The Tower of Spirits is quite like the Temple of the Ocean King, except there’s no curse and the temple goes upward instead of down. There are still multiple floors with Phantoms patrolling the halls. In order to reach certain levels of the tower, Link needs to travel to the temples in the four corners of the land and complete them, thus restoring enough power to the Tower of Spirits to reconnect a section of the tower. Then, Link must journey up the tower and get ahold of the Rail Map, which sort of acts like the Sea Charts in PH. In addition , Zelda can posses the Phantoms in order to help Link solve puzzles and fight enemies as he makes his way through the Tower.
And perhaps the biggest difference of all was the fact that PH requires the player to replay each floor whenever it’s traversed. Every trap resets, and it becomes as if Link had never gone there to begin with. The Tower of Spirits did not require the gamer to replay each floor, as each individual level of the tower is connected by the staircase. This eliminated the need for the backtracking that seemed so tedious in PH. This is one of the aspects that caused some people to choose ST over PH.
Overall, the games are quite similar, yet they have their obvious and significant differences. So why do many people prefer one over the other? There are many different opinions out there, but two that really stood out to me were these:
Hachi: “I think Handheld Zelda made a triumphant return with Spirit Tracks, and the game felt like it took what PH was trying to do and perfected it.”
Atheistbigred: “overall i thought it improved on every one of Phantom Hourglass’ flaws and had the difficulty all the Zelda games should have. The puzzles were great and frustrating at times but that is what makes it better to me. I love Spirit Tracks because of everything it had, i didn’t like Phantom Hourglass so much because of the feel of it, it did not feel like a Zelda game to me.”
There are many characteristics of both games that makes them so lovable. Phantom Hourglass introduced gameplay that took full advantage of the Nintendo DS’s interactive touch screen, and brought the Zelda series to a place it had never been before. The game was riddled with interesting plot devices, colorful characters, and some good, innovative puzzles that really helped bring the story to life. Spirit Tracks not only took advantage of the DS’s touch screen, it also utilized the microphone funtion as well, and this made the “link” between player and game a little more existant, as it actually felt like you were playing the Spirit Flute at times. Combine that with a wonderful story filled with interesting and innovative challenges, puzzles and boss fights, not to mention the many fun characters and equipment, and you have a truely great Zelda game. That gives Spirit Tracks a slight advantage over Phantom Hourglass, but this does not change the fact that they are both very good games with plenty to like about them.