- Fantastic atmosphere
- Taught suspense all throughout.
- Great use of the Super Famicom stereo abilities
- Haunting Giallo inspired story
- Surprising amount of replayability for the alternate endings
- Bobby is a memorable villain
- Lots of tasteful references to Italian horror maker, Dario Argento that will tickle fans of his pink.
- Absolutely criminal that it was never released in English
- Game can be beaten fairly quickly, both to its advantage and disadvantage.
- Would have benefited from the SFC/SNES mouse
- Obtuse and annoying "Requirements" for certain areas
- Moving place to place can be slow and frustrating
- Somewhat dated graphics for a late SFC/SNES game.
- Confusing layout and samey-looking rooms
**The Bottom Line**
For most of you in English speaking countries, the first encounter with the "Clock Tower" series you would have had was the 1996 PlayStation game, simply by that title alone in the states. Yet you have been deceived - that one is not
the first Clock Tower game. This is the first Clock Tower game, sometimes referred to as "The First Fear" - and damn, is it worth a look. The only problem you might run into? Well, if you don't speak Japanese or own a Famicom... tough titty - you can't play this one.
It's a damned shame really, practically criminal, because while the first sequel was memorable (Though Ghost Head/Clock Tower II (In US)
was awful, and #3
was good - but was very, very different in style.) the most memorable in the series is indeed the original.
For those who are unfamiliar with the idea behind Clock Tower, let me give you the skinny. For the most part - Clock Tower plays like a point and click adventure game. You use a cursor based interface and "click" around your environment to move your character, Jennifer and of course interact with objects. However, there's a bit of a twist to it that we'll get to in a minute...
But first - the plot. The game was heavily inspired by the works of Dario Argento, an Italian director famed for inventing the "Giallo" thriller, a form of murder mystery that revolves around a fractured set-up. In fact fans of Argento will notice many nods to his films - an early and good example would be a death involving a woman falling through a stained glass ceiling, a reference to the notorious "Most Brutal death scene ever filmed" from Argento's classic 'Suspiria,' and there are many other references - especially to his film "Phenomena."
In the game, you play as Jennifer - a teen aged female orphan who, along with fellow orphans Lotte, Ann, and Laura are adopted by the Burroughs family. Mrs. Burroughs takes you to their estate, a large mansion with its most notable feature being a tall clock tower. Before Mrs. Burroughs can bring her husband to meet them though, a scream is heard and Jennifer's friends scatter. After witnessing the aforementioned stained glass death, we get the first glimpse of the games villain: Bobby, and while he may not sound threatening - maybe his massive shears will convince you otherwise. This is where the gameplay gets interesting...
See, along with being a point and click adventure - this is also a survival horror game, and I'll be honest and straight up say that while many consider Resident Evil
the first "great" horror game, to me Clock Tower was. Resident Evil wasn't scary - Clock Tower is. What makes it scary is the absolutely perfect atmosphere and suspense.
Atmosphere is a very important aspect of a game, and until 1999's Silent Hill,
Clock Tower was the only game that managed to give me a sense of true atmosphere and fear in a game. What makes it so great is not just the surprisingly well done sound design (The Stereo function and a headset is a must) but one simple fact: You are an average teenager. There aren't any guns, and even if there was - you have no idea how to use one. You aren't keen on excercise or working on physical strength, so you might have troubles swinging or throwing heavy enough objects at Bobby - and getting in close is begging for a swift bifurcation. So what CAN you do as a teenager?
Run. Hide. Pray Bobby doesn't find you. The game is always taught and rife with suspense, because you never - let me reiterate - NEVER
know when or where Bobby might initiate an attack, and once you have escaped him the first time or so and know of his unpredictability - you will be in constant fear that he may hide around that corner or may have lured you in to a trap. When he does give chase, there will be little to no music just one sound you will learn to loathe and fear: The constant grinding of his sharp shears opening and closing, just waiting to cut into your lithe supple frame. You must lock or barricade doors, hide in trunks and boxes, or simply run as far as you can and pray you can escape him. It's scary enough waiting for him to show up, it's literally terrifying when he does.
One of a couple majour problem that can be attributed to the game is length. The length of the game is both handled well and handled poorly. The game can be beaten round-about 4 hours, and that is pretty damned short - but there IS one benefit to that. The game has around 10 different endings, and you will have to find each one to fully piece together the fractured and intriguing story. This adds to its replay value, and in fairness to the game - the shortness means that you can stick around to see multiple endings without wasting too much of your life. Still, it would have been nice to have a little more length to the title.
Another majour problem is an annoying habit of the game locking you in an area until you look at a specific object. It can not only be confusing, but annoying to figure out what it is. In an early scene, you must talk to all 3 of the other girls twice and investigate the locked door on the otherside of the room before you can proceed to search for Mrs. Burroughs. This happens numerous times, and it can be quite frustrating.
Besides the fantastic sound effects - it can be said that the production values are somewhat underwhelming. The game doesn't look terrible, and the animations are extremely good, but the actual definition is very poor - even for a Super Famicom game, and one from 1995 for that matter. The pixelation can be noticed more than in most games of its time on the system, and it can be hard to notice certain objects due to that fact. Also, many corridors and rooms look samey - and while the confusion of being stuck in a massive mansion adds to the atmosphere, it becomes frustrating when you run down a bunch of corridors that have no way of standing out from others and will end up running more laps than you would like.
The controls are a bit cumbersome, as I said - it uses a point and click interface. It's still fairly simplistic, and the inventory is well handled and very easily streamlined and it is somewhat intuitive that to get Jennifer to run, you simply click twice on where you want her to go. However - controlling a mouse pointer with the D-Pad is somewhat of a nuisance, especially when trying to move the cursor in a circle or precise angles. It would have really been nice if the game had allowed you to use the SFC mouse. At least the PS1 sequel let you lose the PS mouse. It is somewhat nice that the cursor "locks on" to objects or characters you need to interact with if you come close enough in their vicinity, or they are at a hard angle to situate the cursor over - but sometimes it will lock on to something you don't want it to, and many times when running from Bobby while frantically clicking away from him it may lock on to say, a table, and you'll end up having Jennifer turn around and stop at the table allowing him to catch up.
If you speak Japanese and have an SFC lying around, or plan on getting one - this is a must play. It is a genuinely scary experience with an intriguing plot and still holds up well to this day. I played it back when it was released, and remember being sad that I kept blathering to my friends back in the states about it and of course, learning that they had no way of playing it. It's downright criminal. If you get that small chance though - take it and enjoy one of the most underrated and frightening horror games ever made.