Time Travel in Games

-Samer Farag

I’ve made it a goal to beat Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.  I’ve been meaning to since I bought the PS2 version as a kid, and ended up not finishing it due to its difficulty level. Playing it has caused me to consider time travel in games. The key to Prince of Persia is its time travel mechanic. With a press of a button, you can rewind time to prevent mistakes, and fast forward time to defeat a multitude of enemies in a row. The goal of the game is also to reverse time, to prevent the conflict of the game from occurring.

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No no, not *this* Sands of Time

Time travel is not used in games as often as I thought it would it be. This surprises me because effective time travel can be a great element to consider in both a game’s story, and its gameplay. It allows for a variety of interacts that are unconventional in standard gameplay.

By far some of the greatest usage of time travel I’ve seen in a game has come from Chrono Trigger. In it, you travel from era to era, attempting to defeat a monster named Lavos, a parasite that wishes to destroy the world. The protagonists find out that this attack will happen in their era, when they are accidentally pushed into a future in which the world has already been destroyed. 

The game shuffles you from era to era for quite a while, before giving you a vehicle that allows you to fly to any era that you choose. Near the game’s beginning, you must save a queen from being kidnapped and killed, or one of your party members (who is of the queen’s heir line) will cease to exist. This is a very clever plot device, while also slowly easing the player-who may never have encountered the concept of time travel before-into considering its aspects. 

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“Yeah, I can’t wait to completely unravel the fabric of time, you guys!”

It is when you get this vehicle, the Epoch, that the aspects of time travel that you learn from the game’s beginning, are used to their fullest. By this point in the game, you are well versed in how time affects gameplay, and are able to use to gain items, change characters’ fates, and even get entirely different endings, depending on when you fight the final boss, whom you can technically fight at any point you wish. 

Time travel can be used in videogames in two ways:

Gameplay: As mentioned with Prince of Persia, time travel presents new ways in which one can improve gameplay for the player. Were Sands of Time void of its time travel mechanic, it would simply be another platformer. However, rewinding and fast forwarding time alters the game in dynamic ways. Mario, the definitive platformer, does not allow one to rewind if they accidentally run into a Goomba. But Braid, a time travel platformer,does, and utilizes this mechanic for its puzzles.

Storyline: Time is the basis of Chrono Trigger. It is the key to saving the world in the game. This isn’t the only way in which time travel can be implemented into plot, however. Radiant Historia is a (highly underrated) game that also involves time travel. It takes Chrono Trigger’s mechanics and takes them much further, allowing the protaginist to jump forwards and backwards to any point in time of their choosing. There, they can make choices that drastically change the timeline of history. This is done to create a “true” timeline that the player wishes to create. Combined with a tale of political intrigue, time travel significantly impacts the plot of the game in creative ways. 

I still get stressed just looking at this thing.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, uses a combination of both storyline and gameplay related time travel, to prevent a disaster, similar to Chrono Trigger. Link is able to alter the flow of time and prevent or allow events to occur. The fact that the game’s primary hub is in a small town, allows the player to feel they are making large impacts on the lives of the NPCs who live there. 

In the future, I hope to see more games that utilize time travel, in the ways above, and new ways that I haven’t considered.