Time Hollow (DS) review
"On the night preceding his seventeenth birthday, Ethan Kairos' peaceful slumber is interrupted by a fiery nightmare. He sees his father and mother struggling to escape a raging inferno. The next morning, he bolts awake into a reality where that dream appears to be truth. Now, he possesses foreign memories of his parents disappearing twelve years ago, along with ones of growing up in the care of his secretive, hotheaded uncle. Yet, the remnants of his original life clearly remain in his consc..."
On the night preceding his seventeenth birthday, Ethan Kairos' peaceful slumber is interrupted by a fiery nightmare. He sees his father and mother struggling to escape a raging inferno. The next morning, he bolts awake into a reality where that dream appears to be truth. Now, he possesses foreign memories of his parents disappearing twelve years ago, along with ones of growing up in the care of his secretive, hotheaded uncle. Yet, the remnants of his original life clearly remain in his consciousness. Time Hollow, styled like a visual novel, assigns you to help repair the fabric of time and return Ethan's life to normal.
The tool needed to accomplish that goal immediately falls into the lap of young Kairos. The Hollow Pen allows him to manipulate past events, even to push and pull objects through the space/time continuum. But the very existence of this power illuminates a distinct possibility: there must be someone else out there with a similar ability targeting the Kairos family. That becomes a certainty as misfortune follows Ethan's every move. One of his friends mysteriously disappears. When he fixes that, acquaintances start to die in suspicious accidents. Murders begin to occur as soon as those tragedies are undone. Everyone Ethan knows turns up dead at some point in the story. Eventually, the logic spirals into some irreconcilable paradoxes and twisted logic, but the urgent motivation increases at a perfect pace. Ethan can't remain in a world where anyone close to him will suffer or perish.
The letdown comes for aspiring time detectives, even those looking for the benign item and fact collection seen in the likes of Phoenix Wright. Whenever the past is perverted, Ethan experiences flashbacks of memories created from the new reality. These are the key to undoing the damage. The Hollow Pen activates once you obtain the context, date, time, and location seen in the flashback. When it glows, time freezes and the process of making new history commences. However, Ethan lives in a small Japanese neighborhood: one school, one park, one train station, one cafe, one library. Most of these places only span a couple of screens, and there aren't many ways to interact with the environment. Clicking around the map and questioning Ethan's handful of friends never takes long. In fact, the game extends itself by making you ask the exact same questions multiple times, but it still doesn't last past single-digit hours. In the worst cases, he simply has to stroll into the library, politely request a newspaper article, and he's instantly ready to right the (current) world's wrongs.
There is a possibility you'll run out of chances to dig into the past. The Hollow Pen can only draw relatively small holes, and confusion can arise about exactly where to outline a portal. For example, Ethan has to slip a note into a particular school locker, but they're not labeled and you have to guess the one he needs. Using the pen haphazardly can quickly lead to a game over. However, the main objective of a dig is always clear. In fact, you can rarely interact with a flashback in more than one way; as you tap around the screen Ethan flat out states if an object is interesting or not. Even though you're given a tiny menu of actions along with an equally sized inventory of items, Ethan sometimes works automatically. When he has to disable a bicycle, you just designate it with the stylus and he takes care of the details.
You're occasionally allowed to make minor choices, not affecting the linear story, but the fact that Ethan's range of actions are so narrow stands as a huge negative point. You make his move and live with its consequences. I would've liked to see more misdirection, more chronological puzzles, and more consideration for the effects of different methods. Time Hollow presents a compelling narrative, and it includes some impressive anime-quality full motion video to break up its static talking heads. Weigh its heavy storyline against its simpleminded gameplay, though, and it measures in light.
Community review by woodhouse (October 10, 2008)
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