With a title like "Time Hollow: Seeking the Stolen Past (Ubawareta Kako wo Motomete)" I'm sure Konami's latest visual novel game will catch quite a bit of attention. After all, I'm sure the majority of people would be interested to know what it would be like to change the past or travel through time.
The story begins the day just before Hollow Tokio's seventeenth birthday when he is dining with his parents at home. However, that night he has a strange dream where he sees younger versions of his parents surrounded by fire. They appear to be trapped until a hole appears before them. With no other means of escape, his father walks through the hole carrying his mother.
The next moment, it was morning but Hollow finds things have changed. The items in his room are slightly different and no longer was he living with his parents but his uncle. Was what he experienced earlier the real dream? Looking around he also finds a strange pen underneath his bed which reacts to a hole in his room. The very same looking hole his parents had went through. From there, the story picks up as Hollow is sure this pen will help him return to the world he was from by seeking for clues from the past.
Every chapter begins with a number of flashbacks as Hollow finds something changed for the worst in his current time and it's up to him to try and amend history. Basically these "flashback" pictures are past events that act as a guide to where you need to go. All you have is a picture and you must go find clues that help determine the date, time and a description of what happened which usually means chatting with the right people. And as you would expect, navigating the world of Time Hollow just involves a few simple taps of the stylus as you would in a point and click adventure game.
Once you've confirmed the flashbacks by filling in the clues, your Hollow Pen flashes when you're in the right place and the fun part of the game begins. Entering "Digging" mode, the flashback picture of the past is shown on the top screen and the current world is shown on the bottom screen. You must then use the stylus to draw a small circle to reach through to the past and change history.
There are a number of actions available such as literally reaching into the past to grab an item or speaking to someone to change history. TH tries to make things harder by limiting the size of circle you can draw and also the number of times you can do so. Unfortunately, it's very obvious what you need to do most of the time thanks to the obvious hints in the flashbacks and restricted actions.
Besides being allowed to travel to any place shown on the overhead map, there's not much freedom in the game. There are hardly any choices to be made when you speak to people and the game will loop until you make the right one if there are any. It's also a very similar case with the "Digging" mode too because you can't choose where to use the Hollow Pen yourself. This means every time you'll be solving the puzzles without having to worry about the gauge running out. You are very much guided by the hand through the entire game.
The artwork used isn't too badly rendered but feels somewhat a bit lacking in detail compared to other visual novel games. There's really not much to look at at each place. The sparse Anime cutscenes are of better quality in my opinion. However, locations are layered and slide about as you go around exploring, helping to create a fair sense of depth in the environments. Music works well with all the constant strange happenings even though there isn't a great variety of tracks to hear. They really help enhance the atmosphere as the story progresses.
If you're looking for a visual novel game along the lines of the Ace Attorney series of games that have humorous dialogue and requires a bit of dedicated thinking then, Time Hollow may not be for you. There's little of either and all you need is a bit of common sense to speed through the few chapters this game has.
Saying that however, Time Hollow's exploration of time travel and parallel worlds makes the mysterious story a very compelling one with a good number of twist and turns. It maybe a very easy and short game lasting at just over five hours but if the rumours about it reaching Western shores are true, play it for its story. Or if you're Japanese literate already, pick it up over at Play-Asia. It will leave you in wonder.
- A very compelling story.
- Smoothly animated cutscenes.
- Layered, sliding 3D environments give sense of depth.
- "Digging" into the past with the Hollow Pen is pretty fun.
- Chapters are replayable if you want to review a certain part of the story again.
- Guides you by the hand. Don't have to think much about puzzles.
- Too short, only 5 hours.