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Time Hollow
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Genre: Graphic Adventure
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 09/23/08
Japan 03/19/08
Official Site: Japanese Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 90%
Sound: 80%
Gameplay: 80%
Control: 90%
Story: 80%
Overall: 83%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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The pen is mightier than the sword!
 
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Unfortunately, the game does not let you use the space-time continuum to look up girls' skirts.
 
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A time bending pen would be great to speed up slow dinner conversations.
 
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Why? It's probably just some mushy love letter someone tossed in the garbage.
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Neal Chandran
Time Hollow
10/21/08
Neal Chandran

Along with the PC, Nintendo's DS is the platform of choice for graphic adventures, particularly Japanese adventure games. The visual novel style of graphic adventure has found life on the DS in America via games such as Ace Attorney (be it Phoenix Wright or Apollo Justice), Hotel Dusk: Room 215, and the vastly underrated Lifesigns: Surgical Unit to name a few. One game that almost completely slipped under the radar is Time Hollow. This Konami adventure game features gorgeous animated cutscenes by the anime studio AIC (Blood+, Gun X Sword), cool character designs, fun gameplay, and a contemporary story that would not be out of place in the anime and manga readily available today.

Story

The story follows Ethan Kairos, a high school student living a happy and contented life with his parents until the fateful night before his 17th birthday. Ethan has a frighteningly realistic nightmare and wakes up the next morning in a cold sweat only to discover that his room is different. It is the same bedroom in the same house he has always known, but with many seemingly minor but unnerving differences. The only familiar entity is his cat, Sox. All of a sudden, uncle Derek's voice rattles Ethan to his senses. Uncle Derek? It seems in this reality, Ethan's parents died 12 years ago and uncle Derek's been grudgingly taking care of him. Happy Birthday Ethan!

The only clue to this mystery is a strange pen Ethan finds attached to Sox's collar with a cryptic note from his parents. His parents? But aren't they dead in this reality? Anyway, this pen is the Hollow Pen and it allows Ethan to open up small holes into parallel worlds under exacting circumstances. Perhaps this will allow him to figure out what is going on and what happened to his parents.

As expected, Ethan will face many obstacles and roadblocks in his search for Mom and Dad. Each chapter is a new challenge for Ethan and the story plays out like an interactive anime series. Ethan's day may start out perfectly, but then he'll have some mysterious flashbacks and the day will reset with more tragic circumstances in place. For example, in an early chapter, Ethan and his friends Vin Threet, Ben Fourier, and Morris Fivet are hanging out at the Chronos coffee shop when their favorite waitress, Olivia Eights, mentions being nearly hit by a refrigerator that fell off a flatbed truck while cycling home from work last night. Ethan suddenly has flashbacks and is thrust into a changed reality where Olivia actually was hit by the fridge and killed. Something fishy is going on, and according to a mysterious girl named Kori Twelves, someone else is tampering with the past in malicious ways.

The story contains some decent character drama and some great moments of suspense, but it is far from original since the themes of time travel, parallel worlds, and the desire to rewrite the past are nothing new. In addition, the symbolism in the game is extremely heavy handed, such as Ethan's obsession with timepieces and all the characters having number-themed last names. That being said, though, I think that Time Hollow's storyline and premise could convert well to a mainstream anime or manga series, provided it be longer than the seven chapters presented in the game, further flesh out the characters, let some events simmer before moving forward, and tie up some of the loose ends in a smoother and less harried manner. This is one story that could have, and in my opinion should have, been longer.

Graphics

There is an old saying that a book should never be judged by its cover. However, sometimes the cover is far more interesting than the book. This holds true here because although the story was far from original, I kept playing because the game looked beautiful. I'm more willing to spend time with video game characters if they are aesthetically pleasing, and the game's character art totally appealed to me. The game has a contemporary visual style that I really like. Eyes are expressive without being overly shiny and the size of dinner plates. Hair looks cool without abnormally defying gravity and possessing neon colors. Faces give off a serious vibe without overly angular and pointy features. Clothing looks stylish without looking goofy or exaggerated. Time Hollow's character designs are proof that characters can look original without looking wacky and look believable without looking boring.

The in-game graphics do not follow the traditional visual novel look of flat 2D portraits pasted atop a backdrop. Here, the characters are integrated into the detailed backgrounds lending a more dynamic anime and manga look. When a character is clicked on to initiate a conversation, faces pop up and these faces animate and change expression as the character is talking. Major events are shown via beautiful anime cutscenes. I am willing to say that the anime intro for Time Hollow is one of the best I have seen since Wild ARMs. There's no two ways about it: Time Hollow is a gorgeous graphic adventure that looks great on the DS.

Sound

The soundtrack starts off with promise. The vocal song during the introduction and end credits is very good, with dynamic and varied instrumentation along with a fantastic English vocal. Unfortunately, the in-game music is the standard fare synthesized atmospheric music that punctuates the mood of the scene. The music sounds appropriate while playing the game, but would be forgettable on its own since there is nothing truly original or dynamic about the compositions or instrumentation. I know the DS's soundchip is not the world's greatest, but some variation in the instrumentation and complexity to the compositions would have really gone a long way. The music merely gets the job done and nothing else.

There is some voice acting in the game, but it is limited to the anime cutscenes. The voice acting is in English and though it is good, it is the same voices by the same voice actors I have heard time and time again in anime and video games. Perhaps the career field of cartoon voice acting in the US needs to sweeten its appeal and broaden its horizons and accessibility so that a more diverse pool of talent can be recruited and subsequently selected from so we as consumers are not stuck listening to the same voices in every anime and video game. Don't get me wrong, these voice actors have talent and skill, but hearing them is like eating pizza every day for a month. Pizza's good and you like it (it's my favorite food) but after a week or so, you tire of it.

Gameplay

Gameplay should be familiar to genre fans. Players must use the stylus to click on various objects in the environment and talk to various people in order to advance the game. The beginning of each chapter presents Ethan with a series of flashbacks, and he needs to gather as much data as he can about each flashback so that he can use the Hollow Pen at their specific locations to alter reality and time. As Ethan gathers data, it is important to go into the menu to read any new information about flashbacks, character profiles, items, and other data Ethan has collected. Ethan may have gathered all the information, but if it is not confirmed in the menu, he may get stuck. Basically, players need to go everywhere, tap everything, talk to everyone, frequently check the menu, and do it all again if something has been missed. Although the game gives players clear goals and locations to go to, players have freedom to check out other locations if they want.

Once all the information has been gathered and confirmed, it is time to Dig. In order to Dig, Ethan must go to a key location where the Hollow Pen glows and stops time. Using the image of the past on the top screen as a reference, players must use the stylus to draw a small circle to open a hole at a particular hotspot. Now comes the fun part doing some alterations in that hotspot to change the past. One example of a Dig has Ethan slyly slipping something a girl is looking for into her locker as she is opening it so that a devastating event never happens to her. It is important to note that the Hollow Pen has limited uses per chapter, and some hotspots can be tough to find, so Dig wisely or it's Game Over when the pen runs out. If the pen is running low on uses, players should search around town for Sox, who seems to have an affinity for finding restorative green orbs for the Hollow Pen.

Doing all of this is quite easy and intuitive with the stylus-driven interface. Players can use the buttons as well to navigate most aspects of the game, but the button functions feel awkward and tacked-on. Players are better off just using the stylus for everything since this type of game lends itself well to fully stylus-driven gameplay.

Conclusion

Time Hollow is not the best Japanese graphic adventure I've played on the DS or the best I've played period, but it was an enjoyable experience for me. It was fun to play, had some great production values, and sported a contemporary anime vibe. This is one game that I feel has a lot of potential and I would like to see more out of the Time Hollow intellectual property in the future.



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