Time Bending Pens. Time Travelling Cats. Disappearing Relatives.
Sift through yesterday’s garbage to alter the future! All this and more in Time Hollow, Konami’s latest offering into the lucrative and successful Point and Click/Visual Novel adventure niche. While not as deep as Hotel Dusk or Phoenix Wright, Time Hollow’s has enough going on to please fans of the genre.
The Point and Click adventure, a favorite genre of mine since playing classics like Maniac Mansion and Zak MacKracken and the Alien Mindbenders (next gen remakes anyone??) have enjoyed a resurgence on the Nintendo DS though the DS adventure titles tend to rely more on speaking with other characters and investigation than actual puzzle solving.
Perhaps surprised by the popularity of the first Phoenix Wright title in the US, publishers began releasing more of these text heavy titles, including Phoenix Wright 2 and 3, Apollo Justice, Hotel Dusk Room 215 and Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles.
The story begins with our hero, teenager Ethan Kairos, your average Japanese high school student. On the eve of his 17th birthday, Ethan is told by his father that he has something very important to discuss with him on his birthday, however Ethan will have to wait a while to have that talk with his father. You see when Ethan awakes on his 17th birthday, his parents went missing 12 years ago, he is living with his uncle. His life has changed completely and all that he has is a series of confusing, disjointed flashbacks, and an object called a “hollow pen” to set his history right.
The game play in Time Hollow is very straightforward. Ethan can interact with other characters by visiting various locations using the touch screen. Simply click where Ethan is to go, then touch the characters visible to initiate conversation. Ethan can only fully understand the flashbacks by talking to the supporting characters. When he has gained new information, the System Information button in the lower left corner of the screen will begin to blink. The System Information menu is where the flashback, item, character, save, load, etc. information is accessed and updated. You will do a bit of wondering around not sure where to go next, and from time to time the clue Ethan needs to see for story progression isn’t clear. Slight annoyance. When Ethan has gained enough information to correct the past, the Hollow Pen will begin to glow. A dialogue box then pops up asking if you want to “dig”.this is what the game calls Hollow Pen usage…shouldn’t it then be called the hollow shovel? Anyway,this is where things may get a bit troublesome for some players.
When you start digging, the flashback picture appears at the top of the screen (huge help!!) and the current status of the environment appears at on the bottom screen. You must then “dig” at the appropriate place on the bottom screen. Goes something like this, imagine you accidently threw away a 100.00 bill in the trash yesterday, and you have a flashback of the trash. Simply use the hollow pen, draw a circle where the bill is in the bag, the circle creates a hole in time, reach through and grab the bill, close the hole, now you are no longer 100.00 poorer.
Trouble is, sometimes Ethan knows exactly where to dig, sometimes the game is not so nice in telling Ethan where exactly the digging needs to take place. This however was not a huge problem for two reasons, first is that is was for the most part common sense, second that Ethan will make comments if you are digging in the right place. Once the correct action is taken, you close the hole. Digging wisely is important for Ethan, as each Open-Close action takes away life, which is displayed as a green bar viewed either while digging or in the menu. I did find a way around this…if Ethan putts around the town, he inevitably will run into his cat Sox. Simply touch Sox, and he will replenish the life bar. It is also convenient that Sox has a tendency to hang out in the same place. Now anyone who watches sci fi movies knows that time is not to be fiddled with, so many times Ethan creates more problems than he fixes. It also doesn’t help that Ethan’s nemesis has a Hollow Pen as well, and he trying to wipe Ethan out while Ethan is trying to right the past.
Visually, Tenky, developer of games such as Tokimeki Girls Side and Tennis no Ojisama: Rush and Dream left their fingerprints all over Time Hollow. The characters are well drawn and expressive; the environments Ethan visits are colorful with attention to detail. The voice acting is good, and portions of the story have fully voiced animated cutscenes, however most of the dialogue is not voiced. The translation from Japanese to English is a good one, I didn’t encounter clunky dialogue. The music was okay, not good, not bad. There just isn’t a lot of it so it will loop. This however did not annoy me to the point of turning the sound down.
What I did find to be a major annoyance is One Save File. To whoever is listening, many households own more than one DS, and would like to share games. My daughter wanted to play Time Hollow when I wasn’t, however if she stared a new game and saved, it would completely erase my game. Since most people are not going to purchase multiple copies of Time Hollow, please rethink this with future releases and allow for at least two games per cart.
The story was good enough to keep me playing through to the end to see what happens next, and told well enough so that I actually cared what happened to the characters. Ethan must deal with murder, jealousy, sacrifice, unrequited love and revenge, and these are topics not usually dealt with in a DS title. If you enjoy games that have the visual style of the Tokimeki games, including maps and environments, an interesting Sci Fi lite story, and don’t mind a lot of dialogue ala Phoenix Wright or Hotel Dusk, then Time Hollow will certainly not disappoint. Hand cramps from playing the DS for 5 hours straight equates to gaming goodness.