I’m honestly surprised that more people don’t know about this game, or at least talk it up at all. Time Hollow is a little known game that was released back in 2008 for the NDS and is actually a visual novel. In fact, it’s one of the first visual novels I’ve ever played, aside from Phoenix Wright. It’s strange because I could have sworn that this game was actually older than the Ace Attorney games, but it turns out that it’s still fairly recent. I likely picked up on Time Hollow because of its cool name, sweet anime art style, and my infatuation with the Ace Attorney titles during my time in high school.
Like any good visual novel, Time Hollow’s claim to fame (if it had any, I suppose) is its amazing story. The plot revolves around a certain Ethan Kairos who finds himself as the wielder of the mysterious Hollow Pen, which allows him to draw portals to the past. Think Chalk Zone, Chrono Cross, and Portal. However, it’s not designed to go eons into the past. Instead, it’s used to peer on the time scale of decades, from what is really a parallel time line. The story of Time Hollow is ultimately an elaborate murder mystery, with a web of differing possibilities that it almost feels puzzle like in scope. It all begins when Ethan’s parents suddenly disappear on his 17th birthday. The reason? History was (almost quite literally) rewritten so that his parents actually died in an accident 12 years prior. Using a mysterious clue tied to his adorable cat Sox, Ethan discovers the Hollow Pen, and the quest to correct history begins.
The gameplay is what you would expect from a visual novel. It is, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent. You just read and choose who to talk to. There are some segments that require you to draw circles with the Hollow Pen to find clues from the past, but that’s about it. But I personally wouldn’t have it any other way. The story and the characters more than make up for any lack of gameplay that there might be. Interestingly, in both the English and Japanese versions of the game, the main characters have names that revolve around the numbers 1-12, like Jack Twombly (English) or Sakutarou Ninomiya (Japanese).
One of the more frustrating aspects of Time Hollow is how easy it is to get stuck, mostly because you often don’t know what to do to trigger the next event. This is a problem in most games of this variety, as I found myself aimlessly wandering around in many an Ace Attorney game too. But the problem is that the trigger events are so random and obscure that logic doesn’t really seem to dictate their placement in any way. To make matters worse, the story is so compelling that the urgency makes you doubly hurried to find the way forward, only to be blocked by random trigger placement.
The graphics themselves are pretty standard fare. They’re nice for what they are, but nothing really jumps out. However, Time Hollow does make use of some impressive anime cutscenes. They look like scenes you would see on a PS2 JRPG, plus they have voice acting too! I also love the clock-related sound effects used for the game’s cog-centric interface, and I think it adds a lot to the atmosphere. It’s about time, after all! The background music is simple with lots of atomspheric piano and arpeggiated stuff, as to not draw to much attention to anything that isn’t the story. A lot of the music actually plays off of the main theme, which is a song that’s used in the opening (it’s also surprisingly in English!).
Time Hollow actually reminds me a lot of Steins;Gate. In Time Hollow, Ethan attempts to repair the timeline to what it once was. However, every time he thinks he has it right, it turns out that his actions have adversely affected someone else he knows. I love stories like this. Well, not the people continually suffering part, but the part that shows how close everyone is intertwined with each other even if they don’t know it and that our actions will always affect others, whether we intend to or not. In Time Hollow, we get to explore all of “what could have been,” like saving your friend’s dog or stopping a girl from committing suicide, and see how everyone’s lives would be different.
A popular metaphor for time is a river. If you try to change its path, it’ll inevitably flow out from somewhere else. The test for Ethan Kairos, whose last name appropriately means “the right time” in Greek, is to find the correct path. But does a correct path even exist? While a time travel expert can likely find gaping plot holes in Time Hollow, I still find much fascination with its story and the character relationships that are delved into throughout the game. Granted, I don’t remember every detail to this day, but I do remember being enamored with its plot from start to finish. While I’m not telling you to go and emulate this game, I highly recommend experiencing the story one way or another.
I’m happy that games like Capcom’s Ace Attorney and even the more recent Zero Escape pair of games are getting to be so popular these days. They offer up a storytelling experience that’s unavailable on any other medium. Still, we should take a second to remember the ones that weren’t so lucky to catch on like Konami’s Time Hollow. I actually just remembered about this game the other day and told myself, “I have to review this game.” That’s how good I think it is, and it most definitely deserves a lot more recognition.
- Easy to get stuck because of the poor plot advancement points.
- Gameplay can be overly simple for those wanting more than a story handed to them.
- A riveting story with plenty of plot twists and turns that will keep you on your feet, yet strapped in your seat at the same time.
- Neat clockwork GUI, ambient music, and modern setting help lure you into its world and creates a very nice atmosphere.