Though not as acclaimed as The Wind Waker or The Minish Cap, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures amassed a following of its own when it was released in 2004. It successfully expanded on Four Swords, allowing the multiplayer gameplay to stand on its own. Satisfied with their work, the team that worked on Four Swords Adventures reassembled for a new project in May of 2004. During this time, much speculation surrounded the release of Nintendo’s newest handheld console: the DS. In stark contrast to the Game Boy product line, this console was to feature two screens. While the top screen boasted a standard design, the bottom one was a touch screen. One month before the DS’s North American launch, Shigeru Miyamoto expressed interest in bringing Four Swords to the new console.
In an interview at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2005, Eiji Aonuma, who had directed the series’ 3D installments, confirmed that a new entry in their The Legend of Zelda franchise was indeed being produced. However, though the team had discovered the potential of cel-shaded graphics on the DS, they opted to create a single-player experience instead. When asked about this shift, Mr. Aonuma remarked that the idea never reached the development phase. Any further speculation was put to rest at the Game Developers Conference of 2006 wherein this project had a name: The Legend of Zelda: Hourglass of Fantasies – or Phantom Hourglass as it was to be called internationally.
Though the comparatively disappointing sales of The Wind Waker affected Mr. Aonuma on a personal level, he wished to continue the game’s style in another form. During the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2007, he claimed that the gameplay of Phantom Hourglass would be exactly what the aging Zelda formula needed to stay relevant in a new generation. It didn’t take long for enthusiasts to learn what he was talking about. Phantom Hourglass was to forego a traditional control scheme in favor of having the players exclusively use the touch screen to control Link. It was around the time of the release of Twilight Princess in 2006 that The Wind Waker received a reevaluation of sorts. Suddenly, the game fans dismissed was being hailed as one of the GameCube’s finest offerings. Having the same art style as The Wind Waker along with boasting a novel control scheme made Phantom Hourglass the new handheld console’s most anticipated game.
Due to Mr. Miyamoto dedicating a lot of his time to developing Twilight Princess, he had not been able to get involved with Phantom Hourglass at all. Twilight Princess was delayed numerous times due to Eiji Aonuma wishing to implement an entirely new control scheme for the game’s Wii version. By the time they released Twilight Princess, Phantom Hourglass was in a nearly complete beta form. Such was the extent of his enthusiasm that he begged Satoru Iwata to delay the game so he could get involved with the creative process. Mr. Miyamoto apologized to fans, but promised the title would be “much better”.
Phantom Hourglass was released domestically in June of 2007 before debuting internationally the following October. The praise for this game was nearly unanimous with several websites naming it the greatest DS game of 2007. By March of 2008, four million copies had been sold worldwide. Nonetheless, even in the face of its positive reception, certain publications were a bit skeptical, believing Nintendo had been attempting to draw in only causal enthusiasts, offering nothing to longtime players. Was Nintendo’s return to the Zelda franchise’s handheld scene able to stand in the face of its three predecessors?