Want to discover some games you should spend your all important time on? Here we list 10 of our favourite time manipulation games, be it a game mechanic, or relevant plot device to the story. With so many titles out there involving such a difficult theme to implement and pull off effectively, there will be plenty we have missed out on mentioning that are still worthy of attention. Such honourable mentions I will acknowledge right now are the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy (yes, I love these games), Earthbound and Life is Strange. I hope you discover something new from our list, and dedicate a bit of your time with us to celebrate these wonderful stories.
Considering how much I enjoy the narrative journey and style of both Inside and Limbo, what made me keen on such aesthetics in video games can be traced back to 2008’s Braid. On a quest to save a kidnapped princess (this is Mario for adults after all!), our hero must utilize the manipulation of space and time to reach his destination. Traverse an always changing, beautifully watercoloured world where challenging platformer levels await you. Each level is set in a new location and with a different time manipulation ability, revolving its mechanics around just when you were starting to feel comfortable.
Solve its puzzles through rewinding, pausing time, creating parallel realities and time dilation, to name just a few examples. Unlike just as challenging puzzle platformers such as Meat Boy and The End is Nigh, our player character can never die but instead the challenge is to overcome its many levels by effectively using time manipulation as the only answer. On top of this, the story provides non-linear narration, as multiple consequences can be explored through your actions.
Braid is available on Steam.
Back when I wrote our top 9 mystery visual novels, I owned three copies on three different platforms of Steins;Gate, all unopened. I now learnt my lesson and opened the Switch port of the game, so for now, I hope to right my wrong and dedicate this position to one of the most important and influential visual novel’s ever. There won’t be much I can add that hasn’t already been said about this masterpiece.
You are Rintarou Okabe, a self proclaimed mad scientist, who accidentally invents a time machine in the game’s mechanic of sending messages through his mobile phone to his past self, with a magnitude of consequences due to sending a simple text, and a true ending truly worth raving about. What starts off as a murder mystery quickly escalates into an intense, multi-layered butterfly effect tale, being one of the best stories centred around time bending of any media ever. As a slow burner where consequences stack up playthrough after playthrough, its colourful, charismatic cast are so lovable and human that it makes it easy to grow overly fond of. This makes the journey so difficult to experience to the point of when everything crashes down around both you and Rintarou by the third part of the game, it’s an extremely emotional and unforgettable experience centred on the consequences of disturbing time.
Steins;Gate’s notoriety is not misplaced, so if you made the same mistake as I have and did not play this game until now, do not wait any longer. Steins;Gate is on a plethora of systems; Vita, PS3, PS4, Switch and Steam. What are you waiting for?
YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World
YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World is the remake of the 1996 point-and-click, puzzle adventure classic visual novel. It pioneered the gameplay we would see in future visual novel hits such as 999 with the built in flowchart, and the highly popular time jumping storyline of Steins;Gate taking inspiration from its story structure. Despite its importance to the genre overall and a fan translation released in 2011, YU-NO barely received any attention or recognition in the West due to no official localization being released. That is until now.
While YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World is a watered down version of its original, with its removal of explicit content that has a hand in its character development, any fanatic of the niche genre should experience the title at least once. Its story follows Takuya Arima, a young student whose father, a historian and researcher, suddenly vanishes, leaving behind a package and note for Takuya to stumble upon during his summer break. The letter informs Takuya of the existence of parallel worlds, and the package contains his means of time travelling: a reflector device. Takuya begins to believe the existence of these worlds and sets out on a mission to locate his father.
YU-NO is a highly influential and important visual novel, and being the most available it has ever been for Western players means that there’s been no better time than now to play this one. Get it on PS4, Switch or Steam.
With a humorously ironic name due to being such a forgotten hidden gem on the Xbox 360, PS3 and Steam, Remember Me’s very positive reception does not explain its painful demise in time itself. Many seem to have not played this title or even heard its name before despite having so many elements that make it a worthwhile experience. We play as Nilin on the run from Memorize, the massive corporation who controls their citizens’ memories. Set in a futuristic Neo Paris, Nilin is a former elite memory hunter, an individual able to steal and manipulate memories, but authorities have wiped her memory completely due to being threatened by her abilities and knowledge. Nilin must find her identity and avoid capture once again.
Remember Me’s gameplay is fantastic, with fluidity and quickness that still stands strong to this day. There is a total of 24 Pressens to unlock that adds new fighting moves to change up the player’s combos to whatever format they like. You can play around with it as often as you like and with so many possibilities, there’s a lot of customization available to make each player have a different experience in its fights. The other part of the game, the memory remix, has Nilin manipulate people’s memories, for better, or at other times for worse. Nilin’s journey is a captivating tale in a society potentially not too far off from our own world’s future. You have to experience it to believe it.
Shadow of Memories
Shadow of Memories is an older title originally released on the PS2 but later made available on the Xbox 360. Despite its mostly positive reception, it seems to be a forgotten title under Konami. This is a shame since it’s quite innovate and unconventional.
Our player character is Eike Kusch, who at the beginning of the game, is killed off! Worry not as he is resurrected by a Homunculus, who equips him with a digipad that allows Eike to time travel with energy units located in the fictional town of Lebensbaum, set in Germany. The whole game is set in this one location and spanning four different eras, with one of the most important aspects of it to note is its gameplay; it has no action. Instead of typical HP and attacks, the game utilizes exploring, finding items, and talking to none playable characters as its mechanics in advancing the story.
Shadow of Memories even features a clock system comparable to Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, where players taking too long in one location will end up having Eike killed due to his time of death occurring. The game has eight different endings, with its final two obtainable only when the first six have been completed. The whole eerie and desperate tone of the game is backed up by a penetrating and atmospheric soundtrack, color tones varying depending on the eras ventured into, and a shocking conclusion.
This is the spiritual successor to Shadow of Memories, but does not follow up from the title and is instead a completely original premise but with recurring themes of Shadow of Memories. Junko Kawano who wrote and designed Time Hollow wrote, designed and directed Shadow of Memories, being the lesser known game of hers, with her most remembered work on Suikoden games from 1995 to 2006 instead. Despite how much I adore the unconventional way Shadow of Memories plays through no traditional action, Time Hollows further explores the effects of time manipulation and paradoxes with the added bonus of being more player involved. This is executed by using the DS’s unique touch elements, and as an exclusive of the DS library, it stands as being one of the most innovative.
As a hidden gem on the Nintendo DS and one of the best games on the system in my humble opinion, players use their stylus to open up and interact with portals to see the past, placing and recovering items and people as solutions to puzzles. Due to the sudden disappearance of our protagonist’s parents on his 17th birthday, Ethan Kairos begins experiencing even stranger occurrences and disappearances around him once this tragedy strikes. Use the Hollow Pen to solve these lapses in time, find his parents and discover the reason why they vanished. Time Hollow is an engrossing and thrilling time bending adventure, with a gorgeous art-style and many animated cutscenes topped off with a finale worth being invested in.
Yet another game I experienced far too late when I wrote our 9 best mystery visual novels article, Raging Loop would easily take my 10th choice for the list if I had written it today. Raging Loop is an exceptional visual novel, if not one of the best to have been released more recently. As a visual novel, it uses keys to progress the story, with many routes having to be found and experienced despite knowing it leads to a bad ending to obtain its route key to solve a dead end in a previous route. Raging Loop not only plays around with the established idea of what a visual novel can be, but also in the rules of time travelling.
Each route finished adds another layer on to the suspicious, supernatural happenings surrounding the small village of Yasimuzu where at the beginning of The Feast means for an uncertain amount of bloodshed to occur, resulting in plenty of bodies and mystery. In one of the most intense games of cat and mouse where players find themselves as either a human (or spiritual role from the knowledgeable Monkey or the protective Crow) or werewolf, all these possibilities are explored with each route being painfully intense yet uncomfortably exciting since everyone’s roles are switched with each route. From seeing the effects the time travelling has on our unexpected hero protagonist who gets thrown into this hellish loop to the paranoia circling the room during the interrogation phases and constant surprises pulled off in each loop, Raging Loop is an experience so well done that I want to get everyone else in on the loop too (sorry, not sorry).
Raging Loop is available on Switch and Steam.
I would be doing a massive disservice to many if I did not mention this iconic JRPG in a time manipulation list. After seeing our very own Trent Cannon cover many aspects of what makes Chrono Trigger deserving of being deemed as the classic that it is, such as highlighting the impact of its choices, what’s most important for its placement here is its simple rules its characters obey when it comes to travelling through dimensions, effectively heightening the game’s tension and consequences if they fail their mission. In a story that starts in 1000 A.D. , our protagonist Crono befriends Marle, and when visiting his friend Lucca who is developing a teleportation unit, Marle’s interest in it gets the best of her. With Marle being sent back in time, Crono follows in hot pursuit but due to the game’s time flow, Crono is sent to a different year instead. By obtaining items, recruiting party members, and battling to progress the story, we find out that not only is Marle is danger, but the whole world is.
And being one of the first prolific games to use a New Game+ feature, twelve endings become accessible to you after completing the adventure, reinforcing how massive this world really is with its parallel universes being explored through your consequences of dimension jumping.
Chrono Trigger can be played on Steam or DS.
Radiant Historia, while not as iconic as Chrono Trigger, is just as highly regarded for its RPG gameplay and unusual time travelling story format. The game is set on Vainqueur, a continent divided between the warring nations of Alistel and Granorg. We are the Alistel soldier Stocke, keeper of the White Chronicle tome and key to jumping to multiple timelines, set on a quest to prevent Vainqueur’s destruction, with the only prevention in doing so is by parallel world jumping. Fight enemies on a grid-based battlefield in turn-based combat then travel between two alternate timelines. While making the jumps increases the number of battles fought and length of the story, it also affects the ending, with a multitude of timelines and branching paths to be discovered. Radiant Historia isn’t only challenging in its core RPG portions, but the title itself challenges and constructs a narrative unlike any other RPG.
Radiant Historia is available on the DS with a remaster available digitally on the 3DS.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
This stylish title created by Ace Attorney’s key developer Shu Takumi closed out the lifespan of the DS with a bang. As an exclusive highlight of the DS library for its very unique, vibrant and fluid animation and art style, its plot is just as showy. In Ghost Trick, its first mystery is the identity of yourself and your killer, becoming even wilder the more eccentric characters you meet and the deeper the rabbit hole goes. Solve its puzzles through many trial and errors by altering objects around the environment to rescue the living, but if you fail, don’t worry, because that’s where the benefits of being a ghost comes into play. Rewind time back up to four minutes ago by entering the person’s corpse and find the right solution, since that’s the trick of the game! Even though Ghost Trick appears as the most light hearted, its premise does not shy away from darker themes, but its eventual happy ending is a worthwhile, mind bending trip to see unfold.
What games did I not take the time to recommend? Let us all know in the comments section!
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