Concerning time travel, Chrono Trigger is to video games as Back to the Future is to movies. The concept has probably existed in civilizations for thousands of years, but the first piece of work to popularize the concept in media was H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine in 1895. The purpose of this article is to examine twelve examples of time travel in games since CT just turned twenty. Let’s get started.
The focus for time travel, in many games, is to showcase the past, or future with the present in some form. First, let’s look at Teenage Mutant Turtles: Turtles in Time for the Super Nintendo. Half of the game is a normal brawler through New York City. Upon confronting Shredder, the Turtles are sucked into a portal back to the dinosaur age and beyond.
Ape Escape is another game that uses this type of storytelling. Apes break out of a laboratory, sending the hero back in time, tasked with capturing the rampaging creatures. Alternately, video games can have it both ways with Onimusha 3: Demon Siege. A feudal samurai, Samanosuke, is sent to the future present Paris, whereas a police officer, Jacques, is sent back to Samanosuke’s period, creating a brilliant use of the fish out of water cliché.
Bioshock Infinite also uses time travel to juxtapose pop culture with 1912 society. For example, there’s an inventor who used the rift powers of the female protagonist, Elizabeth, to steal music from the future. A few examples include Fortunate Son and Tainted Love. However, Elizabeth’s talent is first showcased opening up a rift to Paris, where players can see a billboard for Star Wars in the background.
Stories within the genre are great, but gamers want to actually manipulate time. One of the most prominent examples, aside from Chrono Trigger, is Ocarina of Time. A young Link is given a special ocarina he then uses to travel to the future and back in order to save the world from Ganondorf. Since then, the Zelda series is somewhat known for its continued usage of time travel in some capacity.
Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time also uses a way to navigate through time. In this case, the brothers go back and forth between the present and past via wells, assisting their younger selves in stopping an alien horde. Radiant Historia also lets players travel through time via a book. However, time here is more like a puzzle. In order to overcome an obstacle, there’s a point in one of the timelines that can fix it and it’s more of an obscure, tricky element.
Let’s continue on with portable games a bit longer with Half-Minute Hero. There are three campaigns, each centered on beating a level in 30 seconds. In order to do so, players have to bribe a time goddess to reset time in half-minute intervals until they become strong enough to complete the stage. The PSP port of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together included a mechanic that let players travel in-between story junctions. The game itself has nothing to with time travel, but this inclusion saves the hassle of having to fully replay the game dozens of time just to see every scenario possible. And yes, there are a lot.
Final Fantasy has even dabbled in time travel. The most recent example is Final Fantasy XIII-2. Lightning’s sister, Serah, and a mysterious stranger, Noel, are tasked with putting back a corrupted timeline. Like Chrono Trigger, changing something in one period will affect another. Also on PS3, Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time grants Clank the ability to manipulate time. He can slow down time in order to move on a normally fast walkway, or create multiple selves in order to solve a riddle that typically would require multiple characters.
Last but not least, Life is Strange. A young girl, Max, discovers she can rewind time when she sees a girl get shot. The goal, at first, is to untangle a butterfly weave of choices in order to save the victim, but there’s a bigger picture, of course. Unlike the other examples, Max doesn’t require the use of any outside means in order to control time.
This writer could go on and on about time travel in games, but twelve examples is efficient enough for now. Video games have touched myriad of ways to use the genre to their advantage, but there’s still so much potential in the genre. What will be the next great time traveling video game? Only time, pun intended, will tell.
Special Notes: Check out the video history on time travel games on the accompanying YouTube Channel, ReActionExaminer.