Feb 7, 2015 // 4 minutes
Protagonist, and timepiece connoisseur, Ethan Kairos lives with his parents. No, wait, that isn’t right. Living with his uncle after the disappearance of his parents, he attends Kako High. He likes to spend his time hanging out at the local Cafe Chronos with his friends Ben, Vin and Morris. Today is a rather special as it happens to be Ethan’s 18th birthday. Vin’s sister, Ashley and her best friend Emily even surprise him with a vintage alarm clock. Didn’t they? Hmm, that isn’t right either. What I meant to say was Ashley and Emily got into a fight over what gift to buy causing Ashley ran away. As the number of alterations to the past start to spiral out of control , it becomes obvious that Ethan’s history is being messed with big time, no pun intended.
The game is a light adventure/VN title, using the bottom touch screen for examining 2D environments and selecting dialogue while the top screen displays conversations and extra background art. You won’t be fighting any enemies but if you like time travel stories with great twists, it should keep you invested. Upon waking up on his 18th birthday, Ethan notices a strange pen along with a note tucked under the collar of Sox, his cat. The note describes the Hollow Pen which Ethan can use to alter the course of past events.
When Ethan ’s past changes, both himself and any other Hollow Pen users, receive flashbacks of the events that have been altered. Once you receive those flashbacks, your goal is to find out more information about the event. You might discover crucial details through conversation or it might be as simple as a visit to the library to search the newspaper archives. Once Ethan has gathered enough details, such as the date, time and location of the flashback, then his Hollow Pen will start to glow.
There isn ’t proper time travelling as such, it’s more about altering the outcome of events. The Hollow Pen can be used to draw a circle, literally by drawing a circle on the touch screen, which will essentially tear a hole in time and space. Ethan can reach into the hole where you might alter an event by leaving a note or taking an item. There’s no worrying about being spotted as time freezes on both sides of the hole.
Oh, I should have mentioned that the environments have a slight parallax effect. Due to the way that foreground and background elements sometimes slightly overlap, there are a few optional items normally hidden unless you view the scene from the right angle. It’s entirely possible to spot these objects that come into play in the future, snatch them and completely skip a future alteration all together. They’re all just optional extras to mess about with in subsequent playthroughs. You can even trigger an alternate ending near the start of your second playthrough.
The town that you ’ll be spending your time in is small but the game is able to keep things fairly fresh by messing with the characters. One minute they might their usual self then suddenly they have an entirely different occupation or maybe they are even dead! The characters themselves aren ’t really built up too much but I feel like it wouldn’t be worth much anyway with events changing that often. They aren’t really meant to be people who you get to know in-depth but rather, they just mainly serve to drive the story which I was ok with. My main draw was the time travel, I wasn’t exactly after character drama. I ’d say the designer intended that to be the case too with goofy numerical last names like Onegin, Twombly, Threet, Fourier and so on.
Speaking of the designer, Time Hollow was actually directed, written and designed by Junko Kawano. Her previous work, Shadow of Memories, also dealt with time travel. That title was more about proper time travel while its spiritual successor Time Hollow is more about the consequences of time manipulation. She did get to produce one more adventure title for the Nintendo DS after Time Hollow but since then, she seems to have just disappeared completely. I’d love to see another spiritual successor to Time Hollow which is one of my favourite games but given how lackluster the sales for the game were, I’m guessing Konami will be very wary before giving the green-light to anything niche.