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Top Ten Video Game Time Loops

by Justin Mikos on Mar 25, 2015 at 01:23 PM

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Time loops are confusing, but that is what makes them so much fun. A good time loop might resolve a central mystery or provide poignant insight into the characters trapped within it. Other times they are just fun to play around with or are so ludicrously constructed that you can’t help but laugh. Since time loops are often integral to a plot, character, or mystery beware – there are MASSIVE SPOILERS ahead. You’ve been warned.

Here are ten of the best time loops in video games.

10. Ghosts N Goblins

Ghosts N Goblins’ time loop is worthy of mention for being downright cruel to the player. You are doomed to repeat the last two levels of the game until you acquire a cross weapon to defeat the final boss. To truly beat Ghosts N Goblins you must use the cross to defeat Satan which sends you all the way back to the beginning and the already difficult game becomes even more brutal. Only by killing Satan a second time can you actually rescue Princess Prin Prin. Super Ghouls N Ghosts also featured a similar twist, and you can get a sense of how difficult these games by looking into our Stress Test of the game.

9. Escape from Monkey Island

In The Mysts o’Tyme Marshe, Guybrush meets another version of himself from the future who gives him useful items. After wandering around for a while, you’ll stumble upon your past self and must repeat the conversation you had exactly lest you cause a time paradox and get a game over. In an interesting twist, the items you receive from your future self are random and one of them could be a gun. Should you decide to shoot your future self you will inevitably be killed by your past self later on.

8. Breakdown

Derrick Cole is sent to investigate an underground complex called Site Zero that contains ties to a mysterious alien force called the T’Lan. Time starts behaving oddly as you proceed farther into the mission. In one memorable instance, you’ll run through a long twisting series of hallways and then run into yourself wandering through them. Towards the end of the game it is revealed that you have been reliving your forgotten memories in preparation to be sent back in time to try to alter the outcome. The good ending surprisingly sees you choose to remain in the same time loop to try to stop the alien menace once and for all.

7. Shadow of Memories

In Shadow of Memories you play as Eike Kusch who one day walks out of a diner and is immediately stabbed to death. Thankfully a supernatural being named Homunculus (who is voiced by Mario’s voice actor, Charles Martinet) comes to your rescue. At this point you keep getting sent back in time to relive the hours before your death and try to figure out who attacked you and how to prevent it. Shadow of Memories isn’t just restricted to the present day, as you can travel from 2001 back to 1980, 1902, and 1580 and use objects and knowledge from those eras to alter the present and take action.

6. BioShock Infinite

The time loop in BioShock Infinite is heavily intertwined with jumping across parallel worlds, which makes it hard to keep track of. The events leading up to the time loop begin when an infertile Comstock decided he wanted to have a child by kidnapping his own from another dimension. The time loop comes from the Lutece Twins and later Elizabeth calling in different Bookers who lost their child from across dimensions over and over again to defeat Comstock. Every time you die in BioShock Infinite you experience the loop because you start over as another Booker who made all the same choices as the previous version, but you are allowed to diverge by not dying in battle. The loop is successfully completed when another Elizabeth reaches the lighthouses and can begin killing the Comstocks across the dimensions before they were born.

On the next page, we look at Final Fantasy, Zelda, and more!

5. Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy VIII

In the original Final Fantasy, the first boss you fight is a man named Garland who has kidnapped Princess Sara. At first glance he appears as a mere footnote in your quest to challenge the Four Fiends to bring peace to the land. When you defeat them and go back in time to fight the source of evil, Chaos, he turns out to be Garland himself! This idea of creating and destroying your own mortal enemy in a time loop was played with again in Final Fantasy VIII when you fight the sorceress Ultimecia. When you kill her, she escapes into the past to possess the sorceress Edea, but not before you are able to relay the message of how to form SEED to finish her off, which establishes why Squall’s journey took place.

4. BlazBlue

Events in BlazBlue seemingly contradict themselves until you realize that each game functions as its own time loop that you need to break out of in order to move the world forward. In this manner, every good and bad ending essentially becomes canon to an extent. Even if some events don’t happen in the true timeline, you still get to learn a lot about the characters by exploring each possibility. Things get really crazy when you learn the backstory of the series was also a time loop you had been working towards completing by traveling through the first three games. Ultimately, each time you manage to break out of the various loops, the world inevitably slides deeper into chaos.

3. Virtue’s Last Reward

Virtue’s Last Reward may contain the most complicated series of time loops of all time. You play as Sigma, a college student who is abducted while sitting in his car in a parking lot and dragged into a life-and-death struggle called the Nonary Game. While that appears to be what happened, the truth is far more ludicrous as you actually swap minds with yourself from the future. You’ll then be constantly jumping around time to solve all the puzzles in the Nonary Game that could otherwise not be completed. After breaking out of that time loop to complete the Nonary Game, you then swap minds with yourself again after the future self who had abducted you has failed to complete his life’s work in preventing the apocalypse. It is then up to you to work towards establishing everything that will happen in order to give you another shot at preventing the apocalypse and averting a time paradox. Will the cycle ever be broken? Hopefully Zero Escape 3 will figure it out.

2. Braid

Tim’s adventure begins when he walks out of a doorway, and after traveling through the worlds, Tim reaches the final level (level 1) where he must rescue the princess. When you finally reach her bedside window, suddenly time can no longer go forward and you are forced to rewind time to see the true order of events, where you are the villain attempting to kidnap the princess. The game ends with you walking out the same door you started with. This loop is significant because it denies you the typical satisfying ending where you are the hero. Only by collecting the seven stars, which will likely require you to erase your save file to start over, can you bend reality to your will to break out of the loop and see the game’s true and even more shocking ending.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

Majora’s Mask features a three day time limit that you repeat over and over again by reversing time. By reliving these three days you are able to gather the equipment and allies you need to confront the Skull Kid and prevent the moon from crashing into the Earth. What’s most fascinating about Majora’s Mask compared to others on this list is you can freely explore the entire world and learn about the people living in it. While the game starts peacefully enough on the first day, by the final hours the structure of the town has collapsed and everyone is in total panic. Even though you gain permanent rewards for saving individuals, their status resets with each loop, which can be crushing. Ultimately, there is no way to truly help everyone. Considering all the intricacies that contribute to the greater time loop, it’s no wonder why Majora’s Mask stands as the greatest time loop in video games.

What are your favorite time loops in video games? Be sure to share in the comments below!