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New Legend-Based Video Games Don't Disappoint

The video-game industry tosses around the word "legend" pretty freely.

This year alone has brought "The Legend of Dragon," "Soulcalibur Legends," "Power Rangers: Super Legends," "The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night," "Kengo: Legend of the 9," "Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja" and "The Legend of Heroes III."

Most of these games have been lackluster, suggesting an alternate reality in which "legend" means "bland, generic story."

But one video-game legend delivers every time: Nintendo's always inspired, innovative "Legend of Zelda" series.

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I can't even begin to outline the twisted mythology behind the "Zelda" games, even though I've played at least a dozen of them.

All I know is that I look forward to each new chapter, and finish each new adventure with the feeling that I've gotten my money's worth.

If the other two games reviewed here can live up to that standard, they may became legends in their own right.

—"The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass" (Nintendo, for the DS, $34.99): The first "Zelda" title for the DS is a sequel to 2003's "The Wind Waker," and it shares that game's cute, cartoony art style.

The hero, Link, his pal Tetra and her pirate band are cruising the high seas when they're approached by a ghost ship; after Tetra and the ship disappear, Link's mission is to hunt them down.

"Phantom Hourglass" is considerably more light-hearted than last year's "Twilight Princess," due to its more colorful graphics and sun-drenched island setting.

The monsters are a little less intimidating, but the dungeons, while smaller, are as puzzling as ever.

The main story is relatively short, but you can while away hours searching every nook and cranny for treasure.

What makes "Phantom Hourglass" indispensable is its exemplary use of the DS hardware.

Every action, from attacking enemies to throwing your boomerang, is controlled with the stylus, and after about 10 minutes it feels completely natural.

You also use the stylus to draw on maps, marking traps and treasures or plotting your course from island to island.

"Phantom Hourglass" will appeal to "Zelda" vets and newbies alike, and it's one of the best games on the system.

Four stars out of four.

—"Folklore" (Sony, for the PlayStation 3, $59.99): Here's one of the year's more distinctive games, an effort to create a new mythology from bits and pieces of Western legends.

It's set in a town called Doolin, a gathering place for fairies and home of a portal to the Netherworld, where the living can talk to the dead.

Two humans, a teenage girl and a male journalist, are summoned to Doolin.

Both are connected to a mystery, and they need the wisdom of the dead to solve it. So it's off to the Netherworld, where they gather clues and fight monsters.

The battles are oddly fascinating: Instead of swinging a weapon, you have to subdue creatures and then get them to fight for you.

You may become obsessed with capturing all the Netherworld monsters, but it's the fresh storytelling that makes "Folklore" special.

It's a creepy tale with a unique — and disturbing — angle on what may happen to your loved ones after they're gone.

Three stars.

—"Eternal Sonata" (Konami, for the Xbox 360, $59.99): The hero of this bizarre role-playing game is a real-life legend: Frederic Chopin, the great Polish composer.

As he's lying on his deathbed in Paris, Chopin feverishly dreams of a more colorful world where all the characters have musical names like Polka, Allegretto and Viola.

They're engaged in a rebellion against the megalomaniacal Count Waltz, and they need help from Chopin and his trusty conductor's wand.

The composer's presence adds some depth to the usual fight-the-power plot, which is broken up by vignettes from Chopin's life.

It also helps that his dream world is unusually vivid, and that his companions are some of the most charming characters you'll ever spend a long journey with.

Add an intriguing battle system, in which sunlight and shade determine which attacks you can use, and you've got a solid RPG.

I wish "Eternal Sonata" played up the musical angle a little more, but it's still a refreshing change of pace.

Three stars.