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by Hernando Vallejo - September 4, 2015

The ever-popular survival horror genre has seen a many entries since the '80s. Ranging from interactive horror novellas to innovative formulas that combine unconventional elements with popular gameplay, it has become about creativity to help the game reach the famed atmosphere they're named after. It's worth mentioning that most of the developers were influenced at the time with the Cthulhu mythos, born from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft, and later by Edogawa Rampo. Both authors focused their efforts into detective-like characters, who step on to dangerous grounds to uncover a mystery.

As times progressed, Western cinema started to emphasize slasher flicks, providing thrilling experiences surrounding an inescapable death dealer, who'd leave splattered crime scenes straight out of a coroner's nightmare. The Asian counterparts came in the form of psychological horror that better played with emotions and setting dark tones to instill fear and paranoia into the viewers. Both concepts saw hybrid incarnations in late '80s gaming that tried to approach every aspect known at the time without being able to actually set a standard.

This "standard" was supposedly born with Resident Evil in 1996 (the game which eventually defined the genre as "survival horror"). Capcom's masterpiece borrowed elements from classics such as Sweet Home (released by Capcom too, in 1989) and Infogrames' Alone in the Dark (which by 1992 had effectively blended puzzle solving and real-time combat in 3D environments) into a cinematic experience with the best from both games, combined with a clever B-Movie feel, even using live-action cut-scenes with horrible acting to boot. Most games later on tried similar formulas (like Blue Stinger or Silent Hill) and while many survived and became even better than Resident Evil itself, most others became action games with a "horror" setting only as a theme.

But before deviating further from the '90s, let's talk about our main subject. Human Corporation was a Japanese companywell known for their unique and innovative games. In the late '90s their library was expansive, with mostly sports games, especially the Fire Pro Wrestling series, and also games with unconventional themes, such as The Firemen or Septentrion.

Long before the company folded and their crew started working with cousin enterprise Spike (among others) with similar titles and interactive novel-like games for the PS1 (like the Twilight Syndrome saga), young director Hifumi Kono created a little gem on the SNES, one which would soon become one of the milestones of survival horror: Clock Tower.

Clock Tower (Super Famicom)

Clock Tower (Super Famicom)

Clock Tower (Super Famicom)

Clock Tower / Clock Tower: The First Fear - Super Famicom, PlayStation, Windows, WonderSwan (1995)

Super Famicom Cover

PlayStation Cover

Windows Cover

Near the end of September in 1995, Human released Clock Tower for the Super Famicom. The game tells the story of four girls from the Granite Orphanage (a place in-game located in the valley of Romsdalen, Norway) who are adopted by the wealthy Ms. Mary Barrows. The girls are soon taken to the Barrows Mansion on the outskirts of the city, an awe inspiring Victorian manor, which is overshadowed only by an amazing clock tower that's built into one of its wings. Upon arriving, the new foster mother departs to look for her husband while some of the girls gossip about in the living room. The heroine, Jennifer, wanders off to look for Ms. Barrows, only to return and find that everyone has disappeared during her absence. Now alone, Jennifer is tasked with surviving and solving the mystery surrounding eerie mansion she's supposed to call "home".

As the game progresses, you'll uncover many parts of the plot. You'll find your friends dead (or endangered) one after another. There are a number of branching paths and scenarios, so some of them can be saved, if certain conditions are met. While stumbling around, you'll also learn about the sordid Barrows clan, Ms. Barrows's sinister plan to feed the newly adopted girls to her other children, and Jennifer's own past. Everything comes together beautifully over the course of the game's short length. Every decision or discovery Jennifer makes has grave consequences in the end.

Clock Tower plays like a point n' click interactive novella. The player directs Jennifer via a cursor and can interact with hot spots. Much of the game is spent exploring and inspecting items around the mansion, though there is some quick dialogue with surviving characters and briefly animated (but well executed) cutscenes.

Left on your own, you're to check every corner of the mansion to find clues, solve puzzles, obtain items to advance the plot, and avoid the game's main stalker, the Scissorman. This 10 year-old garden shears-wielding incarnation of horror is Ms. Barrows' son and main executioner through the whole adventure. Setting an unlikely effective tone for horror, "Bobby", as is technically his name, cannot be killed by any means (at least, until the end) and must be avoided. Thanks to the point and click interface and some imagination, you should be able to find objects or hiding spots within any of the manor's rooms to trap the killer or otherwise allow you to escape. This proves to be one of the cleverest ways of inflicting panic into the player, by making Jennifer unable to defend herself from the armed killer (which is fairly realistic given the circumstances), and forcing you to find sanctuary within the backgrounds.

But be warned: not every place is safe. With this said, sometimes your cover will be blown (with horrible consequences) and extreme measures will force you to fight back. This is where the game highlights another clever mechanic - the Panic button. When faced with immediate death, Jennifer's portrait will flash (indicating the "Panic Mode"), prompting you to mash one of the controller's buttons in order to avoid danger. While not all hazards require you to mash buttons (others will have you equipping items, clicking hotspots at key times, and even using perfume to fool a guard dog's nose), it will make you feel that your life is on the edge.

Clock Tower had to have convincing visuals and sound in order to achieve the necessary mood, and the game does a pretty good job of it. Akiyoshi Iijima's crew creates the Barrows estate as gracefully as possible given the limits of the Super Famicom. Every piece of pseudo-Victorian furniture, particle of glass, smoke and even the most mundane stacks of hay are faithful pixel renditions of their real counterparts. There are in-game cutscenes, and some of them are even animated. Additionally, all of the rooms can have random or fixed events. Sometimes paintings will cry blood, glowing eyes will be seen through a window, or curtains will be randomly blow in the wind, all scaring the hell out of Jennifer, who will react accordingly.

There are portraits for each of the characters during dialogue, many of which seem to be based on digitized photos. The character sprites look fairly decent with some annoying inconsistences (such as Jennifer being the only one who has eyes while the others are either faceless or have a "line" of darker tone of their skin) but are well animated, especially the Scissorman. Artist Kuniomi Yoshida created a very lively killer, with a wide variety of animations - he can get his scissors stuck in doors (and subsequently tear the door off its hinges), gets into blade-to-hand struggles while attempting to kill Jennifer, falling out of and jumping from many dark places, even doing a little victory dance when successfully knocking her down. He's a completely twisted piece of work.

As for the sound, composers Kouji Niikura and Kaori Takazoe do a fantastic job with the soundtrack. "Don't Cry Jennifer" (the Scissorman theme when stalking you) is the most iconic tune since it's the one that breaks the mansion's silence and forces you to deviate from your current task in order to stay alive. The sound effects are equally as effective. The victim's screams are piercingly painful, mechanical laughs haunt many situations, rats scurry about cages, and unnerving old mannequins groan. The dry clasp of the scissors coming to tear Jennifer's flesh will forever serve as a warning of the impending doom that roams around every dark corner.

It is no secret that Clock Tower borrows many things out of Italian cinema. To be more specific, Dario Argento's films. Phenomena and Disturbia were landmarks of what would later take shape inside of the head of Hifumi Kono, who has mentioned in previous interviews his love for old horror movies and how he wanted Clock Tower to feel like one.

While Clock Tower doesn't follow these movies exactly, it does contain some key references that the director probably felt he could use during given situations, making it not only a more "scary ride", but to actually achieve a more "movie-like" experience that would add that special touch that has made Clock Tower such an important game for the genre. So many details are obvious, like the setting, which pits adopted orphaned girls living in a huge building during the late '70s (under the tutelage of woman who Ms. Mary eerie resembles), and also the killer, who in both cases is a deformed or burned infant wielding deadly weapons. Additionally, the developers modeled the characters of the game to look like the ones in the movie. For instance, Jennifer Simpson is obviously based on Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly's character) from Phenomena while the Scissorman is lifted nearly directly from 1981's movie The Burning.

In a nutshell, Clock Tower is a box full of unlikely surprises, packed with multiple endings (where most of them have you ending up dead, like expected), clever mechanics, a deep twisting plot and randomized item/room placement that keeps itself fresh every time you play. Breaking so many rules at the time, this game manages become a paragon for future horror games to look up to, and still holds the banner of being one of the most thrilling experiences the genre can offer.

There are four different incarnations of Clock Tower. After being released on the Super Famicom, it was later ported to the PlayStation, Windows PCs, and the Wonderswan with the added subtitle "The First Fear". These make minor changes, including the addition of a few full motion videos (in the CD versions), an added dagger weapon (dummied out of the SFC release) that can be used to take down a new enemy, and an additional location behind a door that was previously locked. There are also a few other minor scenario additions.

The graphics have been slightly upgraded for the PlayStation and Windows ports, but the changes are so minor as to be almost imperceptible. Some effects are noticeably different though, like the way the steam is rendered in the bathroom. The sound is also different across each version, with the Windows version stuck with MIDI music, and the effects in the PS1 version sounding slightly less satisfying than the SFC release.

The Wonderswan version is obviously the weakest one, having been reduced to black and white graphics and using only chiptune sound effects. It plays much slower too. Most of the atmosphere is ruined too, though it is interesting to see how such a complex game is rendered on much less powerful hardware.

None of these versions were ever officially released outside of Japan, however, the Super Famicom version was translated into English by fans.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

Director:

  • Hifumi Kohno

Genre:

Themes:


Clock Tower (Super Famicom)

Clock Tower (Super Famicom)

Clock Tower (Super Famicom)

Clock Tower (Super Famicom)

Clock Tower (Super Famicom)

Clock Tower (Super Famicom)

Clock Tower (Super Famicom)


Comparison Screenshots


Additional Screenshots


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Clock Tower 2 / Clock Tower - PlayStation (1996)

Japanese Cover

American Cover

Taking place two years after the original, Clock Tower 2 is the first game in the franchise to be released in the West, where it was renamed simply Clock Tower, causing a bit of confusion in the long run. It is a direct continuation of the first game, though it does recap its events in order to make sense of the madness.

After Jennifer's narrow escape from the Barrows Mansion in the first game, she flees to Oslo, the nearest populated city. Alerting the locals about the massacre she just survived, the police and the news begin to swarm the mansion. One after the other the corpses of every victim parade through the manor's door in front of the eyes of the surprised journalists, who create a whole media sensation: "The Scissorman Murders". Roughly one year later, we find a new, more confident Jennifer Simpson, who now works under the wing of research assistant Helen Maxwell. Undergoing therapy, mostly to shed some light on the slaughter that happened at the manor, she finds herself constantly pestered by the renowned Professor Samuel Barton and his sneaky assistant Harris Chapman. Together they are becoming increasingly obsessed not only with the murders, but the Scissorman's modus operandi, even keeping a dangerously real replica of the fabled shears he used to kill his victims.

Clock Tower II (PlayStation)

Suddenly, an unlikely survivor comes into play: a lively youngster named Edward. Now under the care of a woman plainly named "Kay" (who is implied to be staff from the Granite Orphanage where Jennifer had lived) was found among the pile of dead bodies inside of the mansion. He starts undergoing treatment himself in order to reveal his puzzling connection and sudden appearance in the middle of the "Scissorman Murders" case.

With the police's Inspector Stan Gotts behind the case and news media hack Nolan Campbell creating a whole storm about it, the sensation resumes as an alleged copycat of the Scissorman starts to fill graves with all the people surrounding Jennifer. Forced to escape once again from the shear-wielding nightmare, she does everything in her power to uncover the whole story behind this new stalker and his ultimate intentions.

The point and click interface is back, and it features a rather clumsy item menu, which requires that you to drag the pointer to the upper edge of the screen to summon a drop-down inventory. This is compared to the SFC version, where you just pressed a button and the cursor automatically highlighted your goodies. The dialogue portraits are gone, the lower part of the screen is reserved for text (dialogue/prompts) and instead your current character's health is seen as the color of the pointer - white (good), yellow (caution) and red (danger). When entering "Panic Mode", the cursor will blink in red/blue tones, urging you to mash the Panic Button or find something on the screen to help you escape death.

Clock Tower II (PlayStation)

Among the new features, for the first time you will be allowed to play as several different characters. Certain decisions in-game will prompt you to play two different storylines with two different heroines: Jennifer Simpson or Helen Maxwell. Their plots are broken down into "Intermissions" and "Scenarios". The "Intermissions" serve as plot development, as you interact with a map of your current location in Norway, with several points of interest for you to visit to find clues and speak with other characters, among other things that will further shape the outcome into one of the 10 possible endings. Unfortunately, these sections often tend to be confusing, as it's not always clear what you need to accomplish in order to move on with the game, so you need to tediously try and retry different actions until you proceed.

Then, there are "Scenarios", which is where the actions occurs. The game goes back to the basics, as you scavenge through the levels while surviving a gauntlet of traps and avoiding the fabled Scissorman. It's worth mentioning that this is also the first Clock Tower where you can use firearms against their stalkers. The copycats will be wounded, but the REAL Scissorman is impervious to bullets. There are other violent methods to counter his assaults (such as hitting him with a broom or tricking him into pits), but finding sanctuary is still the most effective way of driving him off.

Unfortunately, being on a new platform at the beginning of the generation, Clock Tower adapted to the PlayStation by updating its carefully crafted sprites into blocky polygonal messes. The camera is often set at a side-view perspective, to emulate the first game's 2D feel, making it easier for the player to scan the area for hotspots and items. Other times, the camera rotates and shifts dynamically in order to highlight new spots or give the impression of depth.

Clock Tower II (PlayStation)

Just like the FMVs in the updated version of First Fear, the cutscenes are incredibly basic, with blocky characters (who barely look like their in-game counterparts apart from their hair and clothes) and extremely wooden motions. It is worth mentioning again that there are NO portraits of anyone anymore, so you're left to recognize every character by their 3D model.

On the other hand, the PlayStation is also stronger in the sound department, and Kaori Takazoe from the previous game returned for the sound design. From the intro sequence all the way to the climax, the game's identity stands strongly, with familiar cues and proper effects for each situation. The Scissorman has now two themes: the "Shiver" theme that plays when he appears suddenly, and the "Reprise", which starts when you've been hanging around for too long and the game "punishes" you by randomly spawning the stalker to force you to keep moving. The voice acting, predictably, is subpar, giving a B-movie likeness most times when it's not downright wooden and raising some eyebrows over how silly it can become (Jennifer will get "Assistant" Inspector Gotts' title wrong only so many times it becomes a running gag), but generally has a charm of fitting of an early 32-bit survival horror game.

Altogether, Clock Tower 2 has better music, larger body count and a more elaborate plot that gives the false impression of closure. Still, the game has lost some of the cryptic plot elements and random flashes of creativity that made the first one so unique, in exchange for a more developed but straightforward experience. With this said, it isn't a bad game by any means, but its shortcomings will probably drive players back to the first game as a severe reminder of who's still the mother of survival horror games.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

Director:

  • Hifumi Kawano

Genre:

Themes:


Clock Tower II (PlayStation)

Clock Tower II (PlayStation)

Clock Tower II (PlayStation)

Clock Tower II (PlayStation)

Clock Tower II (PlayStation)

Clock Tower II (PlayStation)

Clock Tower II (PlayStation)

Clock Tower II (PlayStation)


<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Clock Tower
Clock Tower II

Page 2:
Clock Tower: Ghost Head
Clock Tower 3

Page 3:
Haunting Ground

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