Capsule Review: Time Hollow

A visual novel with adventure game elements. You play as a teenage boy who can reach back in time to certain key moments and change history - but it soon becomes clear you’re not the only one who can alter the past. You must manipulate time to save your friends and family members from various disasters while learning who is meddling with your own history and why.

Gameplay consists mostly of visiting locations and talking to people, punctuated by the occasional time travel sequence. This has you using the DS’s stylus to draw a portal into the past version of the location you’re in, allowing you to reach through and modify things on the other side. The story is on rails and doesn’t give the player much opportunity to figure things out for themselves - at its worst moments the game forces the player to try incorrect solutions before they can try the correct one, even if they’ve figured things out ahead of the characters. This can be frustrating but it’s basically okay as long as you go in expecting to experience a story rather than steer or create one.

The story has intrigue and some likeable characters but doesn’t reach its potential. Some characters are only interesting long enough for you to fix their problems and then fade into the background once they’re no longer important to the plot. Several of the problems you need to resolve are caused by characters suddenly acting in extreme and implausible ways. The ethical ramifications of altering people’s histories is brought up but not actually addressed. The motivations behind some of the most important character actions don’t make much sense. It’s hard to know how much of this is due to translation problems, but regardless the story is less satisfying than it could be. It also unravels under close examination - while time travel works in a particular way for most of the game, a few very important events break the established rules.

The biggest flaw, though, is that while there is a character with a significant and interesting arc, it’s not the player character, who doesn’t really learn or grow over the course of the game, leading to a fairly abrupt and unsatisfying ending. The game could have been improved a lot by rearranging plot elements to ensure the viewpoint character was the one with the arc.

All that said, there’s enough enjoyment here to justify the six or seven hours of playtime. Most characters are likeable, the mystery is compelling and well paced with questions being answered while introducing new ones until the end which wraps up almost everything. I was propelled through the game by always wanting to know what was going to happen next.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished the story. I didn’t go back for any alternate endings; from reading online the changes mostly sounded minor.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

You can get it or learn more here.