Time Hollow is a visual novel game by Tenky and Konami for the DS. Like Trace Memory that came before it, this is one of the more obscure games but in Konami’s library. Time Hollow is considered to be a successor of the PS2 game Shadow Of Memories. It is also created by Tenky and it is a time traveling game, with a similar concept and premise.
The story, written by mangaka Takehiko Hata and Tenky developer Junko Kawno is interesting and engaging. The game has up to six chapters including a prologue and epilogue, each with its own unique and strange scenario that mostly takes place in the entirety of one day. Ethan Kairos is the main character of the story. He is the typical teenager who just turned 17 and is a student as Kako High school. On his 17th birthday, he discovers that his parents have mysteriously vanished 12 years ago. Once he wakes up after a bizarre nightmare in cold sweat, he comes across a mysterious pen called the “hollow pen”. The pen which is a Kairos family heirloom allows him to change certain events in the past by opening up portals and rewriting history. Only he really seems know about the truth of what really is happening while everyone else is unaware. He is helped by his childhood friends attending the same high school to solve the mysteries in each chapter.
The gameplay is very simple its mainly a point and click game with a large emphasis on story. The control system is very simple and easy to use and the game is mainly used on the touch screen. Puzzle solving is a key element of the game from choosing the right dialogue to using certain items for whenever you are using the hollow pen.
The Hollow Pen is a mysterious pen that only one person can see and use to manipulate the past to change the present and to a certain extent, the future. With the hollow pen, you are able to change certain events of the story and you can only use it once you have found out the location of where the flashback has taken place, and when you have finally received all of the information beforehand. That is when the hollow pen will start to glow.
You can use a map to travel to any location in the game at any time. The map is clear and concise and it is very simple to use. You can visit up to 10 different locations in the game. Traveling locations in the game is transitions seamlessly without long loading times.
The story is told from a first person perspective and you can slide from left to right on the bottom screen with the D pad or the thumbstick on the 3DS. The top screen shows conversations and cutscenes while the bottom shows your current location. By touching the screen with the stylus, you can interact with the world around, from moving around to interacting with people or objects. Ethan, the main protagonist, always has something to comment about in his inner monologue.
The clockwork art design of the user interface is creative and very easy to use even for newcomers to visual novels. You can be able to find flashbacks and key details from characters, items and story moments with easy straight to the point information.
Throughout the game you explore through different locations gathering information and talking to others to learn more about the events from the past and present in order to solve the mystery of the chapter you are in. With the time hollow pen, you can use the stylus to draw portals in a circular manner to find certain items or clues from the past in areas where flashbacks have taken place in. The hollow pen freezes time while you are digging up portals and once you have found what you are looking for, you can interact with the item from the past. In order to prevent certain things occurring in the past, such as preventing one of your friends from falling down a ladder, you can use a new string on the ladder to make it stable and safe.
Depending on the situation when using the time traveling pen, you have multiple options to look, examine, place an item or even talk to someone in the past. Each situation is different from the other and provides a variety of ways to interact with the world. Drawing a portal uses a small portion Ethan's health and if his health runs out you have to load up to the latest save point. This provides some minor challenges in the game. Finding Ethan’s pet cat Sox in certain locations like outside of the antique shop Aeon will give you greenish orbs called “Chrons” to restore health so this is useful. It can also be used to open more holes in the game as you collect them throughout your mission during the day. After you complete an objective, you must close the portal and this is when the present starts to become very different and things change pretty unexpectedly, either good or bad.
Throughout the game Ethan has multiple flashbacks from key events in each scenario. Each flashback shown has no information behind it initially so Ethan must travel across from area to area talking to characters or visiting the library to learn more about the flashback. If certain flashbacks are not correct, it will repeat itself and you have to reopen the portal again. Once the changes have been rectified, the story will eventually move forward and the changes will be reflected in the current reality of the story.
You can look through each flashback on the menu screen to take a look at the information that you gathered. Once you get all of the information while in the mission, it becomes a confirmed flashback that is now resolved and this will help you along the way in the quest to finding Ethan’s parents.
The games anime character design and hand drawn anime art style are impressive, and the characters expressions are convincing. It was done by Studio Aic, the studio for Gundam and it was also directed by Mitsuo Fukada the director Gundam Seed fame in collaboration with the producers of Blood + and Gun X Sword. The animations for each full motion video cutscene in the game is nicely animated.
The backdrop for the locations is a good mix of 3D digital backgrounds and anime art style. The characters blend in quite seamlessly in the backgrounds instead of being just pasted on in 2D. It also is very detailed and quite colorful to look and each location you visit is unique and has its own flashback to tell. The graphics and visuals are nicely detailed and certainly look pretty good for its time.
The themes of time traveling and how each decision can be disastrous in the past and in the future means that each choice in the game is not to be taken lightly no matter how trivial it may appear. Other themes such as different existences and fate are played into the main story. What would you have done in order to change the past and what would have really been different if you went another path in life. They were played out in an interesting manner and it what makes the game a very unique concept. Each chapter of the game focuses on a different mystery as part of an overarching story.
Ethan uses the hollow pen to solve problems in the past and present. As he progresses through the game, he learns more about time traveling and the mysterious pen and the strange circumstances behind the disappearance of his parents and what really happened. In addition, he also learns that he is not the only one who can use a hollow pen and that somebody else is mysteriously messing with his life and the present timeline he is in behind the shadows. With the use of the Hollow pen, he creates alternate timelines and rewritten history at certain points in the story where things play out in a different way either negatively or positively. The consequences through each action Ethan makes are unpredictable plot twists that are played off in an effective manner.
The story does have a sense of mystery and suspense into it and the atmosphere is paranormal and strange with dark undertones in it. There are also pretty grim and tragic moments in the game too such as suicide, murder and revenge. You do feel a sense of sympathy for Ethan for the strange and dark things he goes through at times. He keeps on going in order to find out the truth and to save his parents and friends and to put a stop to whoever is behind this series of strange events.
Outside of the main chapters there is some small sub plots for you to engage in outside of the main storyline. These include doing things such as misplacing items on purpose or going to create accidents for other characters to fall under. This does allow some player choice in the game changing the past in small ways that eventually affect the storyline later on.
Relationships of the characters you interact with are dynamic depending on the choices that Ethan makes. This can lead to pretty interesting character moments at times seeing how they react to the changes around them and act like it almost never happened. The interactions between characters are fairly believable and dynamic depending on the choices you make. Emily is something of a fortune teller in the game and she gives off subtle hints that indirectly help Ethan in each scenario he is in. The most intriguing relationship in the game is between the mysterious female protagonist Kori Twelves and Ethan. They both have similar goals and her cool calm and smart nature balances out Ethan’s over eager personality. There is good chemistry between Ethan and Kori Twelves and they both work to solve the mysteries they encounter relating to their pasts.
Each version of the game is in both Japanese and English. Locations and the last names of characters are references to numbers and time. Ethan’s last name Kairos is Greek for opportunity or decisive moment. Two of the stores, the café Chronos and antique store Aeon are also Greek references to time.
The voice acting is serviceable and fairly believable. Much of the game is told through dialogue text boxes and dialogue selection scenes for asking questions in certain parts of the game. The dialogue is funny at times flows fairly naturally. Sometimes the game uses fully animated cutscenes with full voice acting.
In terms of replay value, the game has a second playthrough where it leads to multiple different endings depending on the choices you make, and a conclusive one where none of the events of the game has happened in order to prevent a time paradox. New stories will also occur in the second playthrough giving you different ways to reach the multiple different endings of the game.
Some Easter eggs are also there to discover throughout the story so it is pretty gratifying to find stuff out in the game, such as if you leave the house before going through the portal in the prologue, you will find your pet cat Sox everywhere in the game and it has secret conversations with Ethan.
Music wise the games soundtrack was dramatic and brooding which fits well with the mysterious and brooding atmosphere. The opening cutscene and the main theme used in the opening is pretty well done and catchy.
The game has its downsides to it much of it is related to its gameplay and story at times. Most of the characters are more than often one sided and cookie cutter cutouts seen in other anime, manga and games. Personalities are stock and not fully established backgrounds for characters. This can lead to apathy towards any character since they can be thrown away at any minute and not mentioned again. Having a small cast worked well for this game as its mainly focused on Ethan. This allowed to tell a more personal story rather than jumping from one character to another and having multiple story lines. One character in particular Derek, the uncle of Ethan Kairos, is very impulsive and hot headed to the point where he causes more harm than good. Ethan has the best intentions with the pen trying to solve everyone's problems, but he can be pretty naïve and careless at times with the hollow pen. He always assumes the best at times and doesn’t appear to be concerned much with the consequences around him such as if one of his friends or family members would be killed or badly injured.
The gameplay is very linear and this makes the game feel really restrictive and not allowing you to play however you see fit. Sometimes you go back and forth to the same places multiple times just to finish a certain objective and get some clues that can be used to solve puzzles. Instead of picking it up beforehand, you have to go through multiple hoops and this creates unnecessary back tracking at times. Other times you get stuck and there is no clear indicator on where to go next if you don’t pay attention closely to the dialogue. In addition, sometimes you may have to ask the same questions in the dialogue multiple times just to progress.
The game is fairly short so it can take just about a day to finish through a single playthrough with about 4 hours for completion. The story also has had some unresolved plot threads such as who was it that really sent Ethan the hollow pen. The music and audio quality while good, can be repetitive at times in certain sections as there is not much selection of it.
The game is extremely easy even more so than Trace Memory. Solutions are almost obvious at a glance and it instantly tells you what to do next after solving each puzzle instead of figuring things out for yourself on what to do next. Much of the puzzles in the game are the same thing, opening portals and finding the right portal to open and talking to people in order to figure out what the flashback really is.
Overall, I enjoyed the game but it was too short and not challenging enough.
It gets 3 stars out of 5.
If you can find a copy of it and you are interested in puzzle solving mystery and point and click visual novels, you could have fun with this game. Science fiction and paranormal time traveling fans could get some enjoyment out this game too.