This is the latest in my reviews of Nintendo DS titles. Lately I have been on a point-and-click kick since the DS is famous for bringing those ol’ PC-style games of the eighties and early nineties back from the dead (my earliest memories of point and click took place with the NES version of Maniac Mansion). It wasn’t until I discovered Dracula The Undead for the Atari Lynx that I got the chance to try another great (albeit somewhat short) point and click adventure. It was an amazing little game, with an aged-photo visual style. Both Maniac Mansion and Dracula the Undead were not easy. You could lose or “die” in both games which kept you on your toes.
Next came Resident Evil, which combined the mystery and slow pace of point and click adventures with run-and-gun shooting action. The combination was a complementary one (like ice cream on cake). But by now, of course, it was almost cliche to focus games like this around a mysterious mansion with a myriad of hallways and a plethora of rooms to explore (I wonder how many housekeepers would need to be hired to clean these massive buildings). Of course, Resident Evil evolved away from its search/explore mold and turned into the run and gun style style that Resident Evil 4 was famous for (not that that was necessarily a bad thing).
The DS, with its stylus, was a natural milieu in which to bring back some of the vibes of yesterday’s mystery games. In 2005, from what I can tell, Phoenix Wright Ace Detective and Trace Memory were the games that rekindled the long-dead fire (although technically Phoenix Wright Ace Detective was originally a Japanese-only Game Boy Advance game from 2001). The game was an immediate hit in Japan, but would the U.S. welcome a game poking some fun at courtrooms and bickering attorneys? It seemed a risk on some level, and Capcom only released a small amount of copies of the game. It proved a hit, and rightfully so. Never since Full Metal Panic Fumoffu did I laugh so much with a manga or anime. Hot on its heels on the DS were two additional great point/click quests: Trace Memory and Time Hollow. I will focus my attention on the latter since that is more super-powered. It stars a young man with a mysterious “weapon” called the Hollow Pen. Oh yeah and it involves time travel.
I was first wowed by the opening song with vocals, as well as the full motion animation. I have not seen much full motion video on the N64, and I wondered if perhaps the DS had more than a few tricks up its sleeve. Once I started the game, I noticed that many segments featured well-acted voices. Almost immediately I heard famous anime voice actor Johnny Yong Bosch talk (he will ALWAYS be Vash the Stampede to me, though). Other famous voice actors include Yuri Lowenthal, Patrick Seitz, and Michelle Ruff.
The storyline was mostly excellent. It was written by Junko Kuwano (of Playstation 2′s Shadow of Memories and Suikoden IV fame).
It wasn’t exactly original, but combining an anime plot line with a video game was great fun. You are Ethan (a 17 year old watch collecter). When you start the game, you soon discover a secret pen. At certain points in the game, you will need to use the stylus to draw circles, allowing you to alter the past and create a more favorable future. The story revolves around an arch nemesis “Jack” who has it out for poor Ethan (if only the real world had “arch” enemies as opposed to the regular kind!).
It is funny that I mentioned Jonesy the cat in my recent super powered review of Aliens: Infestation (also for the Nintendo DS). I made a joke at the time that if they made a video game for the first Alien movie they might have to focus on “finding the cat.” Lo and behold, “finding the cat” is one of the aspects of this game (although the cat’s name here is Sox). If you manage to find him, you accumulate more energy for your Hollow Pen! But come on, Sox? I’m afraid Beverly Cleary already has the rights for that feline handle. Of course, Time Hollow uses the less traditional and arguably more “hip” spelling!
Graphics: The locales look great, including but not limited to Ethan’s house, Vin’s house, library, train station, park, school, and even a coffee shop. The full motion video, however, is where the graphics really shine. While the FMV segments are fairly short, it is still very cool. The FMV sequences were done by IAC Studios (from Blood + and Gun X Sword fame).
Music: The game has its very own theme song with lyrics, which is melodic, catchy, and high quality (by Masanori Akita). The in-game music fits the mood and is quite good as well.
Cons: The game, although an anime/manga, feels that it has been quite “localized.” For example, the character names, such as Ethan, Ashley, Jack, and Derek, were changed. I have a feeling it was censored a bit too. Another con is the extremely linear gameplay. It really does seem to “push” you along from one place to the next. But, with that said, I must add that there is a lot to discover if you DON’T go where you are supposed to go. I discovered that if you don’t go where you are directed to go, and instead revisit all the other buildings on your map (about 5 buildings) first, you will discover all kinds of new conversations and content. For example, there are various encounters with a man named Mr. Twombly, who will give you random quizzes. With that said though, it got repetitive having to explore old areas after every little bit of progress in the game, just to see if there happened to be anything new. There are several alternate realities (based on the time/space ripple effect) and a secret ending is also included.