Monday, October 24, 2011

Horror Review: Clock Tower

Clock Tower (The first fear)
Platform: SNES, PS1

It was the start of a new life for four girls from Granite orphanage. Jennifer, Lotte, Ann, and Laura were to be the newest addition to Mary and Simon Barrows' family. Little do the girls know, that the happiness.....will soon TERROR *cue music*

No it's not the plot of any horror film you've seen within the past two decades, it's actually the plot for a video game. Well more like THE videogame that has been noted by many people as one of the scariest games ever. Yes, I'm talking about Clock Tower.

Only Human..
Clock Tower is a point-and-click based survival horror game developed by Human Entertainment for use on the Super Famicom. The game plays similar to the point and click adventures of the time, yet the controls are adjusted for use with the SNES gamepad (although, if you own the mouse accessory which came with Mario Paint, you could use that as well). Human Entertainment has been developing games for years, and you may be familiar with their previous games like Kabuki Quantum Fighter, Monster Party, Vasteel2, Fire pro Wrestling and Vanguard Bandits.

Of course the company folded in 1999 and while properties like Clock Tower were bought up by Capcom (and developed by Sunsoft), Human ent's employees have gone on to form other studios like NudeMaker (infinite Space/ Steel Batallion), Spike (Crimson Tears / DBZ Budokai Tenkaichi 3) and a little known company called Grasshopper Manufacture (Killer 7/Flower sun and rain / No More Heroes). One more little tidbit before I get right into the review; Clock Tower is loosely based on the 1985 Dario Argento film, Phenomena starring Jennifer Conolly (Jennifer, the main character looks just like Conolly it's no wonder why she has her name as well) and the late Donald Pleasence. Now that we have the background information out of the way let's dive into the review.

Come play with me...
Clock Tower plays out like your standard slasher film, as you start out in the parlor of Mansion making small talk with your friends. Naturally you start to wonder what's taking Ms. Mary so long and follow her, only to find that your friends are gone. You have this eerie feeling that someone is watching your every move. As you start walking towards the foyer you get a chill up your spine and get a sinking feeling in your stomach as the eerie music box -like theme begins to play. From here on out you'll encounter 'Scissorman' a delightful little boy who wields enormous hedge clippers and wants to play a game of hide-and-seek with you. If you win, he'll flee only to pop out when you least expect it, but if you lose the game you lose your life!

Somewhere between being hiding and running for your life, you'll have the chance to find clues as to where exactly your friends are and who this strange child is, and the connection between him and the elusive Ms. Mary. As the clues come you find that you may be into something far more sinister than you ever imagined.

The game itself doesn't exactly allow you to control Jennifer as much as the game lets you guide her using the cursor. You can lead her to various clues that pop up, as well as to a suitable hiding spot to elude your would-be murderer long enough to get to the bottom of things. As you guide Jennifer through the mansion. This only adds to the sense of helplessness she has against seemingly overwhelming odds.

There will be various scares and things that will make your blood run cold. If this happens Jennifer's mental state will weaken and if it weakens too much she will react accordingly. She may run in the opposite direction, she may trip while running away from something or someone, or she might be so weak that her next move may be her last. You can tell what mental state she's in by looking at the color surrounding her portrait (the colors range from blue which is good to red which is bad). When her portrait background flashes red and blue this means she's in 'panic mode' and you have to press the B button to help her fight her way out of the situation.

Clock Tower doesn't really have bosses, more like special events that play out
through your use of the panic button to overcome them providing that you're mentally capable enough to handle it. Luckily, she can calm herself down by using the X button to stop her in her tracks then just stand/sit in place
to calm down.

Jenn isn't completely helpless, either. She can use the items she finds around the mansion. She will find rocks, rope, Pesticides, and other things to avoid the traps that await her. survive long enough and she will eventually uncover the secrets of the Barrows' Mansion and reach the conclusion of her harrowing tale.

There are eight endings in total, and Since the game is basically open-ended you can find the clues in any order you want. However, only certain events lead to the clues you'll need to unlock the special ending, that is if you can keep yourself or your friends alive long enough to see a happy ending.

An audio visual masterpiece to die for...
The first thing you'll notice about Clock Tower is it's stunning visuals. The graphics are actually very well done, and the intro sequences and some of the cutscenes give you the impression that they could just be touched up photographs or an elaborate set of digital paintings. Of course this actually adds more

to the game itself than if they were to stick to a more anime or cartoonish design. Likewise the character faces are fantastically done as well. Every character has their own portrait with moving mouth, blinking eyes and expressions which change to suit the situation. Jennifer, who you will actually take control of throughout the course of the game has different expressions showing her constant mental anguish as she tries to survive the night in the mansion.

Jennifer as well as the other characters are animated very well. Characters seem to have a personality about them through their movements, like Lotte's run or the limped walk of 'Scissorman' as he inches towards you.

The Music is very atmospheric and creepy, and it pulls you in at all the right moments. In addition to the music, there are noises for each room you visit that are designed to either creep you out or play havoc with your nerves. This game never lets you rest, or think that you're out of the woods, as each thing you do could very well be the end of you.

Dead End?
Clock Tower is one of those games that attacks you on both senses, and forces you to keep your guard up at all times I've played through the game four times now, and I'm still never sure how the game will end every time I play it. Seriously there are times when I feel that it's the game that's really playing me, not the other way around, and for that I enjoy the experience even more for this. There's something else I've noticed as well when playing this game; Clock Tower tends to be the closest I've ever seen to a game being able to mimic that horror film experience without sacrificing the game's uniqueness to be more 'cinematic'. It follows the beats of a horror film fairly well, and keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time, while you wonder what you have to do next, and the story is simple enough to follow, yet the game retains an open-ended feel that lets you contribute to the story in any order you want. Sure you're going through the motions to get an ending, but you feel like you have some say in the way the story unfolds, and that's really nice considering the current 'story over gameplay' trend going through gaming right now.

If you ever manage to find the PSX version of this game (Clock Tower- The first fear) or just manage to find an emulator and a translated rom of the game, I suggest you give it a try. The game is fairly short, but has enough to where you'd enjoy it on multiple playthroughs. Just remember to breathe deeply and tell yourself it's only a game...

Next Time: the Jennifers are different but the peril stays the same...