Have you ever wanted to travel back in time and stop yourself from making a mistake? I wish I could step back in time and stop my younger self from wasting money renting Superman 64. Alas, time travel is not yet a reality, but time travel is a fun concept which has seen much application (good and bad) in film, fiction, and video games. Junko Kawano is a video game designer and writer whose work often features themes of time travel.
Kawano’s video game writing debut was the 2001 PS2 title Shadow of Memories, a game centred around the concept of time travel. Shadow of Memories’ protagonist, Elke Kusch, is murdered shortly after the game begins, and spends the remaining length of the game travelling through the past to prevent his own murder. Shadow of Memories is an exceptional adventure game, but it’s also a game that is more concerned with telling an interesting story than it is with being a “fun” game. If you’re patient and like slow-paced adventure games, I can’t recommend Shadow of Memories enough, but I recommend Kawano’s Nintendo DS title Time Hollow more.
Travel with me seven years into the future, from 2001 to 2008. Nintendo’s DS was four years into its lifespan and a hit with gamers of all stripes. 2005’s Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was a surprise hit that bolstered publishers’ confidence in visual novels. Publisher confidence led to the localization of many Japanese visual novels on the Nintendo DS. One such localized Japanese visual novel on the Nintendo DS was Kawano’s second foray into time travel, Time Hollow.
Time Hollow: A Forgotten Classic
Time Hollow is a visual novel about teenager Ethan Kairos and the people in his life. Ethan goes to sleep one night and wakes up the next morning to find himself in a timeline other than his own… a timeline where his parents don’t exist. Confused, Ethan sets off to discover how he ended up in an alternate timeline and what he can do to return to his original timeline. Throughout the progression of Ethan’s adventure, Ethan explores both the past and alternative timelines.
Ethan’s adventure begins in his bedroom on the evening before his 17th birthday, and in Ethan’s bedroom players are introduced to Time Hollow’s “gameplay”. Time Hollow, like other visual novels, isn’t exactly something you play, rather, Time Hollow presents the player a world they can explore through point-and-click mechanics.
Don’t Forget The Hollow Pen
Time Hollow’s world is, in my opinion, its greatest strength. Not only are the beautiful sprite-based graphics easy on the eyes, the player sees the way Ethan’s world changes with the passage of time and transversal of timelines. A business in one timeline may not exist in another timeline, or the business may have different employees in different timelines. Ethan is able to interact directly with characters in the past to influence his present. Seeing Ethan’s world change as he manipulated time gripped me and made it hard for me to pull myself away from Time Hollow. Ethan explores the past and different timelines through the use of a “hollow pen” he is gifted by his dad for Ethan’s 17th birthday.
Ethan’s hollow pen is a Kairos family heirloom gifted to every successive Kairos on their 17th birthday. The hollow pen allows its wielder the ability to draw a “hollow” in the fabric of time. These drawn hollows function as windows to the past. Time Hollow’s gameplay hinges on using the DS’ touch screen to physically draw hollows in Ethan’s world, and using those hollows to manipulate the past and thus alter the present. Of course, you can’t run around Ethan’s world drawing hollows wherever you please; Time Hollow is very restrictive in regards to linearity.
Affecting “fun” factor and replayability most is Time Hollow’s linearity. On one hand, Time Hollow’s strict linearity can make repeated plays a dull affair, but Time Hollow’s strict linearity also streamlines the story, a nice (debatable) feature in a visual novel.
An Adult Story
Time Hollow’s story is often startlingly adult. Time Hollow’s graphics and anime-esque characters may lead one to believe Time Hollow is a predictable, childlike affair, but the story takes surprisingly dark turns. Honestly, I was shocked to discover Time Hollow is rated 7+ by PEGI. Time Hollow features graphic imagery like pools of blood, a dead body with blood spilling out of its head, and characters getting stabbed. Graphic imagery aside, suicide and murder are both prevalent themes in Time Hollow’s narrative. Time Hollow’s story is both dark and serious.
As compelling as Time Hollow’s themes and world may be, the characters are typical anime fodder, but it is interesting to see how the characters change as Ethan travels from one timeline to another. There’s a devious villain, a nerdy, perv friend complete with glasses, a shy girl (who doubles as a psychic) with a crush on Ethan, and a cheesy theme song. The theme song (featured in DDR SuperNOVA 2) is the worst bit of music here though, the remainder of Time Hollow’s soundtrack is great.
Time Hollow is not a perfect game, it got a warm reception from critics and gamers alike, but it is a great experience for fans of visual novels or point-and-click adventures – you shouldn’t miss it.