Clock Tower Series Retrospective Part 3: Clock Tower Goes 3D

Clock Tower Series Retrospective Part 3: Clock Tower Goes 3D
Clock Tower Series Retrospective Part 3: Clock Tower Goes 3D

Insert Disk collects Clock Tower (UK/US) and Clock Tower 2 (JP) for the PlayStation 1 (PS1).

Today’s retro game review is part 3 of a massive 6 part Halloween special. This episode I look at the first 3D Clock Tower game. Specifically; Clock Tower for the Play Station 1 (PS1).

This classic horror gaming series may have taken its roots in 2D but it was the 3D versions of the game that first started to migrate out of Japan. As the Clock Tower series  took it’s leap on to the PlayStation 1 the technology allowed for more survival horror and a chance to confront your nemesis “Scissorman” once more.

Greetings and welcome to episode 3 of this special 6 part miniseries of Clock Tower. In part 1 we covered an overview of the series, mapping out the series timeline and inconsistent naming by region whilst in part 2 we took at look at the first entry on the list. If you missed either I recommend going back to watch it first. Don’t worry, I’ll wait here for you. So here we are making the first jump to 3D in the Clock Tower series.

In Japan the game was marketed as Clock Tower 2 although in the UK and US this was the first game in the series to be released so simply carried the title Clock Tower. Following on from the events of the first Clock Tower game Jennifer has been adopted by Helen Maxwell, an assistant professor of criminal psychology in Oslo, Norway. It’s now one year later after the events of the first game and a series murders is shocking the country. Helen is relying on Jennifer’s past experience with the scissorman to unlock any clues as to how to stop the killer. The game takes a drastic shift from 2D in to 3D although the main mechanics have remained the same. Jennifer must interact to collect items, speak with the people around here and foiled the scissorman should he appear.

Early on in the game the action is set around simply getting out of the police headquarters alive. You’ll be exploring new areas and picking up useful items to aid your escape. One of the criticisms of the game is the pace compared to the first entry in the series. I’d have to agree to some extent, you will be playing a good 30minutes before anything exciting happens. The build-up is slow and far more narrative driven than the First Fear but the wait is worth it. There are some excellent set pieces here and you’ll never quite know when scissorman will appear so there’s some great tension for the player. There’s some obvious horror clichés thrown in for good measure but overall the game seems to have a gruesome charm all of its own. The point and click nature of the game is quite unusual for the PS1 and takes some getting used to at first. In my opinion it does help build the tension though as you feel that you are steering your character with pre-planned intent.

Once the scissorman arrives the game is genuinely tense, where will he be? Where will I hide? The core feel of the first game is retained in here. The overall aesthetic of the game will be quite a divisive point for some. The First Fear was undoubtedly very well illustrated and the cinematic nature a real draw for horror fans. This 3D reimagining of the game has several challenges. As a reasonably early 3D game the models are noticeably jaggy with a modest polygon count. This extends to the environments, at times the rooms seem much more like a theatre stage than a real world environment. This was at least partially due to the constraints of the PS1 technology. Scissorman himself has a major rehaul in appearance. Previously we had seen him as a creepy deformed young boy. Just 1 year later he seems much larger and lunging in his movements. In terms of game play Clock Tower has a lot to offer. It’s really great to see three elements in particular. A story driven narrative, a multi branching story line and also a genuine attempt to create intense scenarios for the player.

Clock Tower also gets something else very right that I feel other games in the series are missing and that something is continuity. Having established in the First Fear the background story this 3D outing of Clock Tower builds upon the source material. In this example our decision whether to track down a person ourselves or let someone else do the leg work enables a split in the story telling. We now get to see the scissorman story from a different perspective. Up until now it’s really only been scissorman chasing the young girls. This scene here though not only establishes a sense of horror but also starts to solidify the idea that scissorman is more of a supernatural character being able to take several gun shots at short range. Having established that scissorman really can’t be fought off the context of running and hiding is given a little more meaning. You’ll need to hide too as scissorman will relentlessly track you down and kill you again… and again…

In some ways the failure to survive can be a little frustrating, on the other hand though there’s always a little entertainment value in death scenes. For me this was the first Clock Tower game I played so the graphics, models and pacing are no issue. I can see why the transition may be a little too drastic for some though. When looking at whether this sequel is a good game though it comes down to game play and the scares. This version of Clock Tower certainly builds on the formula of the first and I’m inclined to say that the atmosphere, although not as isolated as the mansion does provide enough of an open world to feel stalked in.

When it comes to the collecting here’s what to look out for. This is the UK PAL edition of the game featuring the gruesome image of the scissorman. The game CD and inserts are rather standard.
The manual does a really good job of explaining everything from the controls, panic mode to character descriptions. All in all a nice item to collect. I believe that the US edition is very similar with only small text and logo changes on the box to reflect the NTSC region and US laws. When it comes to the Japanese release expect a departure from the UK and US artwork. The main game is dark and atmospheric. My preference is for the Japanese cover, it just seems to reflect the tone of the game more accurately. Inside you get the registration card and CD. Note the reference to “2nd” on the CD. The manual contains much of the same content as the English version although obviously in Japanese kanji. Overall the Japanese release feel a more solid collectable than the UK and US packaging.

For the completionists you will also need to look out for the limited production run demo of Clock Tower 2. This was a not for sale item and was used for promotion of the upcoming game. The biggest difference you will notice is the game title, although it is Clock Tower 2 the game clearly carries the title “The Door of Fear”. This was to be the games name before it was dropped in favour of just the numeric sequel title. At the time this would have made a lot more sense for international sales as Human entertainment could have release “The First Fear” and “The Door of Fear” as internationally consistent titles. The Fisrt Fear and The Door of Fear would also have lined up their cover imagery. In the limited edition demo the CD artwork is lacking in imagery in favour of text only. For a full complement look for the spine card. This is perhaps one of the harder items to find if you are a collector as they are easily lost. The idea of the spine card is that it’s larger size would allow collectors to transfer the game to a standard PS1 case. The demo comes with what I’d describe as a promotional manual. It’s essentially a marketing foldout to get you up and running. There’s also an advert for Twilight Syndrome, a game I may cover at a later date.

As a collector I did find The Door of Fear demo worth collecting. There are minor changes from the final release but it’s the scarce nature of the demo that most collectors will find appealing. For many collectors it’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps us going. So, is Clock Tower, Clock Tower 2, Clock Tower Door of Fear worth collecting? Here’s where things get tricky. Here in the UK, PAL edition now regularly sell in excess of £100 on the auction sites (That’s around $160). A US NTSC edition will set you back around $80. Although these prices are high there’s good news if you are collecting the Japanese releases. Clock Tower 2 will cost you around £5 (under $10). The Door of Fear demo can be bought for around £15 (up to around $25). Particularly in the UK collecting prices of this game have spiralled ever upwards. I paid just £30 for mine, since then prices have increased by an extra £10 each year. The trend seems to continue at least here in the UK. It’s quite literally the price we pay for being an island nation of gamers.

So is Clock Tower worth it? I’d have to give this game a thumbs up. If I’m brutally honest I do prefer the First Fear but the Door of Fear isn’t a game that you should pass up. It’s slow moving and a bit clunky but for a Halloween weekend it’s a sure thing. There’s a blend of jump scares and tension making it an overall enjoyable experience. If I’ve learnt anything by the experience it’s that it can be very tricky to defend yourself with an umbrella.

What came next in the series, I don’t think anyone expected. Stick with us in episode 4 as we leave Norway and travel in to ever darker territory of Japan with the black sheep of the series, Clock Tower Ghost Head, also known as Clock Tower 2 in the US.

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