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A rare yet exhilarating adventure for the Nintendo DS, published by the famous Konami. This point and click adventure/visual novel follows the story of a young boy named Ethan Kairos, who on his 17th birthday awakens to find... his parents have gone missing, and everybody is telling him that they vanished over a decade ago... and he has been living with his uncle ever since.
Not long after this shocking turn of events, he comes by the unusual "hollow pen" which allows the holder to alter events of the past in order to prevent them from happening. Ethan immediately begins to try right some wrongs however, he soon discovers that he has been left with terrible, ethical dilemmas as well as discovering that once you begin meddling with time, you find that it is very difficult to stop.
Throughout the game, the player uses the stylus to draw circles that turn into portals, for the character to leap through. This game is a visual and audio feast for any gamer, with anime style cut scenes as well as a brilliant soundtrack and voice cast, this mysterious adventure is brilliant while it lasts. The only downside being that it is a relatively short game, however if you happen to restart the game, there are some clever alternate endings to explore. Whilst for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the game, I did find myself hungering for more chapters. If you can find it at a relatively good price, (under £15.00) I would say it is worth the money.
As far as the gameplay goes, it is simple; very much of the point and click genre; whilst this may put some veteran gamers off purchasing the game as it may seem a little repetitive at points, I found that if you persevere you will not be disappointing. The soundtrack, I really enjoyed, and really adds atmosphere to the game's events.
After reviewing the dire Back to the Future 3 (Megadrive) on a rival review site I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the time travel video game genre, but on this occasion I would play something decent (if not brilliant) in the form of Time Hollow for the Nintendo DS. Some people would claim that this title can barely be classed as a game as it is heavily story driven with limited player interaction, but whether you want to label it an adventure game or a visual novel it doesn't mean that Time Hollow cannot be a good way to pass the time (no pun intended.)
The player follows the exploits of teenager Ethan Kairos a typical high school student. Typical that is until his seventeenth birthday when he wakes up to see that his life has dramatically changed. His parents, who he was speaking to just the night before, are gone. Apparently they vanished twelve years ago and he now lives with his uncle. Ethan starts to investigate what is going on and eventually finds a Hollow Pen which he can use to create small portals which lead to the past.
Ethan uses this new power to change time with the hopes of turning things back to the way they used to be. Nothing is however as simple as it seems. Changing things in the past can sometimes lead to unexpected changes in the present. To make matters worse when Ethan manages to patch things up some unknown force seems to change the past again often resulting in bad things happening to his friends and family (someone gets killed in a traffic accident for example, another friend gets arrested for murder and so on.) Could fellow student Kori Twelves be involved? Aside from Ethan she seems to be the only one aware of the changes in time.
As the story progresses Ethan uncovers the conspiracy behind the changes to the time stream and how they are linked to him. I'd like to say a bit more, but with the story being such an important part of the game play experience I will keep tight lipped. I'd like to avoid big spoilers as they may ruin the enjoyment for anyone reading this who may subsequently want to check Time Hollow out.
If I had to describe Time Hollow I would say that it reminds me of those old P.C adventure games. The game world has no graphics to speak of, but is instead made up of still pictures. From the map screen you can select where Ethan should go which include his house, school, library, bus station, park, coffee shop and so on. You don't have many places to explore at first, but as you get deeper into the story more places to visit will appear.
Each location is made up of a few pictures. You can explore the area by tapping the appropriate place with the stylus (for example a path, stair case, door etc.) Tapping on any onscreen characters will allow you to talk to them and the same system is used for examining objects more closely. The stylus is used for pretty much everything in this game and I am pleased to report that it works quite well (which is a surprise as I normally hate using the stylus.) As I mentioned before the game feels like an old PC adventure that would be played with a mouse. In a slow paced game like this using the stylus as a substitute mouse works better than moving a pointer with the D-pad.
The stylus is also used to open up portals to the past in order revert the changes to the time stream. When something changes in the past Ethan has a flashback. The aim of the game is to work out where and when the flashback takes place so you can go there to fix things. To open a window to the past you pretend that the stylus is the hollow pen and draw a circle on the touch screen which I though was rather clever. Once the portal is open you can interact with it (tap on something on the other side of the portal, talk to someone or use an object) to patch things up.
GRAPHICS / SOUND
Well in terms of graphics we don't get any sprites, but the still pictures are well drawn. An effort has been made to draw different versions of the locations to indicate that time has changed. When the past is altered for example you will note that the bed sheets in Ethan's room are a different colour or that the decorations have changed. Musically I liked the opening theme (I even downloaded an mp3 of it being the saddo that I am.) The background music is good and changes depending on what is going on at the time (you'll get a sinister track for example when someone gets harmed.)
The story is told mainly through text boxes, but during important events you get animated cut scenes. Even though the DS isn't known for using video clips the cut scenes are of the standard you would a expect of a modern cartoon. The voice work during the cut scenes are good soI didn't have any issues with how the actors delivered their lines. As Time Hollow was made in Japan the artwork has a very anime feel to it which may be a plus or minus depending on your taste (as a fan of manga I approved.)
VALUE FOR MONEY
I cannot recall how long it took me to beat the game, but I would estimate around six hours. This may seem short, but I didn't feel cheated as I wasn't expecting a forty hour epic given the type of game that it is. Games like these don't have much in the way of replay value as once you complete them you know exactly what to do to solve the puzzles. There is an alternate way of beating the game after you complete one run, but the second ending is a case of Ethan knowing what caused the original time changes. With this information he is able to fix things in no time at all so the second ending can reached within a few minutes.
Time Hollow isn't exactly challenging which also explains why it can be finished so quickly. For the most part you just go along with the story and you are only likely to get stuck because you are not sure what location to visit or what character to talk to in order to get things going again. For some reason some of the earlier chapters seemed to be tougher than the later ones as they seemed to give up on puzzles and concentrate on wrapping up the story.
I never saw a game over screen whilst playing, but I think it is possible to lose. It is said that using the hollow pen takes away time from a person's life. To represent this you get an energy bar when using the pen. Every time you open a portal the energy bar goes down so I suppose if you are very sloppy and open many needless portals you will die. I was never close to death though as you can replenish health by tapping on Ethan's cat Sox who appears randomly in different locations.
Unlike other games were having a weak storyline isn't a big deal, whether you like Time Hollow or not depends solely on whether you like the plot or not. With no action and limited puzzles to keep you entertained it falls solely on the suspenseful tale to keep your interest. It's a shame that they didn't fully take advantage of the story's potential. Had they given the player more freedom this could have been a five star game. I would have liked to have had the ability to use the hollow pen wherever I pleased to tackle problems, maybe leading to different endings depending on what you do.
Instead what we get is a light novel spiced up with sound and graphics. As I enjoyed the story and anime presentation I would award the game three and a half stars out of five. If you have a similar taste to me I would certainly recommend Time Hollow. If however science fiction stories or anime aren't your cup of tea you may want to give this a miss (or you can risk buying it should you find a copy somewhere being sold for a bargain price.)
Review originally posted on Ciao (December 2010)
If you haven't figured it out by now, I love anime style games and this one was an obvious choice to play... even if it is a VERY short game... and the game play is extremely linear, though the story redeems it slightly.
The design of the box art is actually very true to the game and the story, and the whole idea of the portal and time freezing on the other side... which I like about this... It is simple and features the main character, Ethan Kairos, who will be the one doing the time-jumping.
Time jumping?? Let me set the scene. Ethan Kairos, on the eve of his sixteenth birthday is told he will receive a present from his father. He finds a magical pen that can open time portals and after a flashback occurs, he finds that his father and mother disappeared over 12 years ago.
Using the pen and clues he finds from people and places, he can unlock all the information of his flashbacks and draw a portal to that time and place, changing the events that occurred. The main story of the game is for Ethan to rescue his parents, but this isn't put in focus until the very end. Side plots stem from this main one, including:
- Saving Ethan's uncle Derek multiple times...
- Saving Kori...
- Saving Ashley...
- Saving Jason's dog...
The game plays out over six chapters, each representing a new day. You begin by getting flashbacks which usually means something is wrong and you must unlock all the information in order to change it.
This is done through travelling to different places via the map, and exiting with the top right icon... I find this extremely tedious and slow although there is no other way!! Speaking to people is easy, although finding them is another matter... Given the limited locations, just trial and error will get you by when you are stuck. In this way, the game play is extremely linear and there is absolutely no room for deviation- you'd just be visiting locations with no events of interest!
Once you have found all the clues, the pen will automatically start glowing in the correct location and you can draw a ring around the area you want to reach through to the past. The "life" bar at the top indicates how many times you can open a portal, and when that is drained, it is game over. I have never ran out of life, not even close, as you can recharge your life by finding Sox (Ethan's cat) around the neighbourhood.
What I do like about this game is the comic book style replay of events and the short movie clips (thankfully voiced) that are shown. This animates the game and makes the story so much more enjoyable to watch. I really like the story and the deja vu element, but as a game it just doesn't work. It is too linear and boring to play. My only motivation was to find the ending!
Speaking about endings, it was not substantial at all. The short ending is unjustified after so much hard work playing it. I don't want to spoil it but it was vague and I wish they'd just made it so that something happens beyond returning to normality!
NOTE: there is a slightly different ending after you've finished the whole game which is interesting to watch, although it doesn't warrant another play through. I advise you find a FAQ, as it can be done within five minutes of the second play through.
~~~CONTROLS AND DIFFICULTY~~~
The game can be controlled by the D-pad and buttons or using the stylus. I prefer using the stylus as it is so much smoother and easier to control.
As the game is so linear, I finished the game within a few days, playing sparsely. This can most likely be completed within 5-10 hours.
~~~GRAPHICS AND SOUND~~~
The anime style drawings of the game are nice and the movie scenes are relayed very well. I just wish there was more of them!! The opening sequence is fantastic and very engrossing. I love the song!!! The music throughout is nothing special, but can be listened to. It adds a slight mysticism but nothing amazing.
This isn't a game. It is an engrossing story that uses game elements for the story to be slowly revealed. It is done in a very un-gamely way which turns out to be a short, linear and boring game. The story however, is deep, engrossing and absolutely fantastic. It has great potential, but the characters lacked depth, the history of the pen was non-existent and the freedom to roam lacking. If only they used the money on the game to make a movie instead.