Often overshadowed by the likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, Clock Tower stands out as a hidden gem from Japan. Does it hold up, though?
|Console||Super Famicom, PlayStation, WonderSwan|
|Genre||Point-and-click, Survival horror|
|Purchase (Super Famicom)||Purchase from Amazon.|
|Purchase (PlayStation)||Purchase from eBay.|
There was a point when horror games weren’t so common like with today’s market. To this day, series like Resident Evil and Silent Hill were considered to be the big groundbreakers of horror gaming. And thus, they’re still remembered as being the big names of the horror genre.
Of course, there are plenty of other games that made a pretty big name in horror gaming over the years. Alone in the Dark, System Shock, Corpse Party, Bioshock, Fatal Frame, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Slender, Outlast…
Five Nights at Freddy’s. Unfortunately.
GIMME SOME CHEWING TOBACCO, BITCH!
The point is that horror gaming is more accessible than ever and has given us some truly terrifying experiences. Which is more than I can say than today’s jumpscare-heavy horror movies…
But BIG SHOCKER! Japan had been holding out on us….
So may I present to you: the Clock Tower series.
A Hidden Gem from Japan
Anyone outside of Japan may recognize the Clock Tower games on the PlayStation and PlayStation 2. Some might have played them. Some may have never even heard of them. Or you might have watched a JonTron video and kind of familiarized yourself with it already.
Well, guess what? Today, we are going to talk about the same game.
The original Clock Tower came out on the Super Famicom. It’s not to be confused with the game on the PlayStation also called Clock Tower, which is actually the second game of the series. This game was innovative for its time, functioning as a point-and-click game but adding in a slasher villain to relentlessly pursue you.
An improved port of this game was released for the PlayStation, titled Clock Tower: The First Fear. Though they are essentially the same game, the PlayStation version had some improved visuals, sound, and some extra content. I will be basing this review off of this particular version of the game. I also used a fan-made English patch so I can get a better understanding of the menus and dialogue.
Our story begins with a short prologue, introducing our characters. Our heroine is Jennifer Simpson, a black-haired beauty whose character is based on Jennifer Corvino in Phenomena, played by Jennifer Connelly.
What? She was cute.
Jennifer Simpson is from the Granite Orphanage—gee, nice name—, along with her friends Laura, Anne, and Lotte. The four girls have recently been adopted by a Mr. Barrows, a man who apparently owns a mansion called the Clock Tower. And guess what? It has a clock tower. Neat-o, right?
Their teacher, whom they referred to as Miss Mary, takes the girls to the mansion to introduce them to their new “father.” She leaves them behind in the main foyer where they talk among themselves, mostly asking how this Mr. Barrows will be like.
Jennifer tries to follow Mary. But almost as soon as she leaves the foyer, she hears a scream. Jennifer investigates and find out that her friends have disappeared and that the lights have been turned off.
So now, it’s up to Jennifer to discover the whereabouts of her friends and Miss Mary.
By this point, you will notice that the graphics are actually pretty decent for the Super Nintendo era. The cutscenes and the character portraits have a more photorealistic look while the rest of the game looks like your typical point-and-click style of graphics. Some nice little details here and there, especially the individual rooms. The look and feel of the game really help set the mood.
This is also one of those games where you need to have the controls explained to you, even though the game itself doesn’t do that. It’s not very often you play a point-and-click game on a controller.
As a reminder, I played the PlayStation version of this game. This is what I understand from the controls.
- The D-pad controls the cursor on the screen.
- The shoulder buttons move Jennifer left or right.
- One button that lets you select objects with the cursor, which is needed in order to investigate noticeable objects.
- One button pulls up the inventory and a menu to save the game.
- One button allows Jennifer to come to a full stop while she’s walking.
- One button initially does nothing but is the “panic button,” which you press many times and very fast whenever Jennifer enters a panicked state.
Exploring the Clock Tower
So as with a typical point-and-click game, you move the cursor around the current scenery. Whenever there is a point of interest nearby, the cursor animates and snaps to that particular point. Selecting the point gives you some dialogue and possibly find an important item.
Some of these items you find can be used to complete specific puzzles, such as using a sharp stone to break down a weakened wall.
Jennifer’s portrait acts like some sort of health/sanity meter. The background color represents her current state.
- Blue – Great
- Green/Yellow – Good
- Orange – Okay
- Red – Bad
Being in a better shape allows her to fight back whenever she needs to, as well as being less likely to get discovered.
To restore the meter, have Jennifer come to a full stop and wait a few seconds before she sits down. This sometimes works for me, for whatever reason. I have no idea why but there are times when she just doesn’t do it.
When Jennifer’s portrait flashes in different colors, she has entered a panicked state. When this happens, you must mash the panic button as many times and as fast as you can.
You may also notice that Jennifer moves pretty slow too. So of course, you would want to speed up and run to each location, right? Well, not necessarily. When you constantly run around, your portrait will turn red. So you can either play it safe and move slow or be more daring and move fast. Jennifer’s slowness is especially apparent when she walks on stairs.
Yeah, Jenny? I don’t know how to put this more delicately but MOVE YOUR ASS!
This is especially painful when you have no choice but to go upstairs. You have to do a lot of backtracking in order to get anywhere, so the rest of the game feels slow as a result.
But as you witness some paranormal activities going about (like a hand reaching out of a mirror or a painting bleeding through its eyes), you eventually meet the big show-stealer.
This gangly, little person moves pretty slow, but he is more than eager in skewering you like a shish-kebab. Or literally slice you in half. Or give you the meanest paper cut. He can literally appear out of nowhere, popping out of strange hiding spots that you would never thought he’d be in. Out of a piano, out of a random box, behind a curtain. The only way to lose him is to find a good hiding spot, which some rooms may have. It could be under a bed or behind a cabinet. Beware, he sometimes checks hiding spots…
There are times when you can fight back. By selecting him with the cursor and mashing the panic button, you can temporarily fight him off and make your escape. This comes in handy when he has you cornered.
But be careful. It won’t protect you forever.
As you play through the game, you notice that the sound design is pretty minimal. You can hear the sound of your footsteps throughout the mansion and some ambient noise. Though there is music, it is used very sparingly. Personally, I was hoping for more sounds overall. But considering this is a reasonably early horror game, I’ll be more forgiving and say that the sound design is good for its era.
The most recognizable piece is easily the one called “Don’t Cry Jennifer,” also known as the Scissorman’s theme.
The rest of the story is paced like a typical slasher flick, like Friday the 13th, Halloween, or A Nightmare on Elm Street. You’re forced to explore some sinister-looking hallways, decrepit old rooms, and a LOT of poorly lit areas. You don’t know when the Scissorman will strike or whatever horror lies ahead.
And of course, along your journey of trial and error, you may come across this often.
Dead end? Where? Is there some sort of unfinished construction somewhere?
Actually, that is the Game Over screen. I’m not quite sure why it went with “dead end” though.
This game has multiple endings. Depending on which actions you performed in a certain order, the game’s events will change and will lead to one of the nine endings. Yes, NINE ALTERNATE ENDINGS. That’s pretty innovative for a game of this era.
While you do learn a LITTLE bit about the mansion and its residents, it leaves more to be desired. Let me explain what I mean, if you don’t mind spoilers.
The Scissorman in this game is known as Bobby Barrows, a deformed 9-year old boy who was the twin brother of Dan Barrows. They’re essentially demonic spawns and the two sons of Mary Barrows, who we know as “Miss Mary.” As you know, this is Bobby Barrows.
But holy shit, how did Dan turn into this pile of fuck?
Even though I had to look this up on the series’ wikia since I can’t find much story context in the game itself, Mary Barrows turns out to be a cultist/witch who comes from a family of people with similar interests. Therefore, she’s evil. And that’s basically it. There’s not much more to it.
Her main goal in the game is to use the four girls as a sacrifice to Dan. Why? The game never explains it. Instead, the game’s director, Hifumi Kono, gave an explanation.
Dan is in that grotesque form because of these sacrifices, but it’s actually more or less like a shell or egg of sorts. This is further explored in the PlayStation version; at the climax of the game, Dan is set on fire and has presumably perished. However, a smaller human-shaped creature rises from the charred sludge—setting up the events of the next game in the series. But this only shows up in the PlayStation version.
Hmm. Looks like one of the regular enemies from Splatterhouse.
Though it’s more implied, apparently both Bobby and Dan are meant to die at some point due to their deformities. But somehow, the Clock Tower has the power to prevent this by sort of stopping time for them.
Time is made to adhere.
So during the climax, Jennifer climbs up the mansion’s clock tower while Mary and Bobby are on her tail. Mary dies either by falling from a tall height or electrocution. Jennifer starts up the clock tower, which seems to cause Bobby pain. Then Bobby ends up falling off the tower, presumably to his death.
So… I guess the clock tower is enchanted or something. But why? Did Mary Barrows cast some sort of spell on it and somehow defied Father Time just so her sons can live? Did she plan to murder four innocent young girls to keep her sons alive?
This was sadly never explained in full, but I guess part of the fun of this game is to find the layers of subtext in what little narrative you can get.
In conclusion, this is not a half bad game. It has a little bit of replay value, but each story route is only slightly different from one another. Most of the endings are about the same too, but perhaps those small touches are worth it just to experience the game in full. But I have to admit, this is a pretty interesting game. Not only does it predate Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but it showed that video games from that era can have a good horror atmosphere. The game is visually pleasing and the idea of having a slasher follow you during point-and-click segments is a fascinating idea. It put a different spin into what was essentially trial and error.
So if you’re a fan of horror gaming, I would certainly play this game at least once.
Clock Tower: The First FearPrice Varies
- If you're a fan of classic slasher horror movies, this game fits right up your alley.
- The point-and-click mechanics mixed with elements of survival horror are interesting.
- The graphics look really good for the SNES era, looking like vintage photorealism at times.
- The Scissorman is an interesting villain with a recognizable weapon of choice and a strangely giddy disposition that shows he is more than eager to kill you.
- There are a total of nine alternate endings, giving the game a little bit of replay value.
- The controls are difficult to figure out without a manual or guide.
- Jennifer's default moving speed is agonizingly slow. Every time you have to move through staircases, it takes at least 20 seconds for the sequence to finish.
- The story is fairly vague and a lot of important plot details is never explained in the game itself.