Time Hollow: Time-Traveling Done Right

I don’t really do game reviews on Pandoralive, especially for emulated games, but I have to make an exception here to talk about Time Hollow, a Nintendo DS game I have just recently completed for the second time on the Pandora (after playing it on DS a couple of years ago… and playing it even before its release at one of the previous TGS). Thumbs up to Konami for making this great game, and to DraStic and Exophase for making this possible on Pandora.

Time Hollow is an adventure game set in the present world. You play Hollow (apparently called Ethan in the English version), a Japanese teenager who has a pretty normal life while he is fascinated by clocks. Well, why not. One day, something weird happens. As he wakes up, he sees a couple of flashbacks in his mind, and he realizes that the world around him has changed. His parents have disappeared years ago (died in an accident) and he now lives alone with his moody-loser uncle. Lost, you fail to understand what happened, when your cat comes by, with a pen a message attached to its neck. The message says that you can use the pen to change the past and therefore the present… by creating portals between the past and present.

The pen idea neatly ties with the original DS concept: in a first-person view mode, you use the DS pen to create a portal that will show what the past looked like… and you can interact with the past through that portal, by taking, removing objects, or talking to people who were there.

But the trick is, you cannot just create a portal anytime. Portals are linked to flashbacks. You need to find out where the flashback took place, at what exact time, and what was the event it described. And then you can go to the current place to see your pen glowing and allowing you to create the said portal to the past. Once you are done “fixing” a past event, you close the portal and you get new flashbacks as the world changes around you. The idea is that you need to get your real past back progressively by fixing everything that went wrong…

By why did things turn sour in the first place? What was the real root cause?

The idea is very original and honestly, brilliant. It circumvents the usual time-traveling stories by avoiding loopholes (chicken and egg issues) since your character stays static in a world that changes through his actions. The first couple of flashback situations are easy to understand and act as tutorials, but the story really takes another dimension later in the game when you realize that the situations you were trying to fix in the past somehow keep turning for the worse – as if your actions had unintended consequences.

And there you see the hero starting to freak out because he fails to understand what is actually happening (just like us)… and worse, even when you think you managed to fix something for good, flashbacks occur by themselves without you doing anything.

More reasons to freak out. What the %$ยต^ is happening ?

And what about this newcomer in your class at school, who seems to know about the pen and what it does ? Where does she come from ? Why does she know so much ?

I certainly won’t spoil the story for you here, but let me just tell you it’s one of the best out there, at the intersection between the non-interactive Japanese visual novels and the real adventure games. It’s great because it’s not just a teenager-teenager story, it says a lot about cross-generation gaps and conflicts, and about what makes people come closer together and forge relationships over time. You won’t be doing tons of stuff but there’s still enough investigation to keep you going and entertained as the story unfolds, and it will sometimes challenge you as to what you should do when you open a portal next. The art is top notch as well, be it the backgrounds, the characters or the soundtrack, very, very memorable.

You can play this game in English (there was a US version released) while I’d recommend anyone to stick with the Japanese version if they can, to enjoy the excellent original voice acting and the particular bits of cultural details which are lost in translation.

Time to get your stylus out!

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