Clock Tower Series Retrospective Part 2: The 2D Clock Tower Games

Clock Tower Series Retrospective Part 2: The 2D Clock Tower Games
Clock Tower Series Retrospective Part 2: The 2D Clock Tower Games

Insert Disk collects Clock Tower for the Super Famicom and PlayStation 1 (PS1) and Wonderswan.

Today’s retro game review is part 2 of a massive 6 part Halloween special. This episode I look at the 2D Clock Tower games. Specifically; Clock Tower on the Super Famicom, Clock Tower on the Wonderswan and Clock Tower: The First Fear: PS1.

This classic horror gaming series took its roots in these 2D versions of the game in Japan. The Clock Tower series introduced us to Jennifer, the Barrows Mansion and of course the notorious Scissorman (Bobby). Join me in this episode as I take a look at how this retro gaming horror series all began.

Greetings and welcome to episode 2 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. If you missed it I recommend going back to watch it first. Don’t worry, I’ll wait here for you. Good, now we’re all caught up let’s get stuck in to perhaps the best loved entry in the series. The original Clock Tower for the Japanese Super Famicom and Wonderswan. For the sake of not making this series too long I’ve also decided to include the game known as “The First Fear” for the PS1 as it is essentially a re-release of this original game. I’ll do my best to distinguish between them though.

Starting on a bit of a low note from my side, the original Japanese Super Famicom version is the only entry that I do not have in physical copy. Instead I opted for the Wonderswan option and the First Fear for the PS1 as they are essentially the same game. To make this episode a bit more accessible though I will also include the English language footage from the translated Super Famicom ROM. At a price tag of over $160 I hope you can understand my decision not to purchase the first edition. So, the first entry in our list, Clock Tower for the Super Famicom.

This 1995 entry introduced us to a rather grim world of 2D point and click survival horror, Jennifer, Barrows Mansion and of course the terrifying Scissorman, also known as Bobby. The plot of the game is based in Norway. Our heroin Jennifer Simpson is an orphan that is being rehomed along with a group of her fellow orphans at the Barrow’s mansion. For those living elsewhere in the world, this is Norway! It’s one of our snowy northern neighbours here in Europe. A rich recluse known as Simon Barrow’s has agreed to rehome the girls in his mansion known as the Clock Tower. Things soon take a turn for the worst as you hear screams and there is the inevitable first appearance of Bobby the Scissorman. A deformed boy that is intent on butchering you. The ultimate aim of the game is to escape the mansion in any way you can whilst also rescuing your friends. It’s likely to not go down too well though as the game is one that really wants you to experience the horror.

Whilst the game is all about puzzle solving there’s also a fear meter system mechanic to manage as you explore the mansion. During the game scissorman will be stalking your every move, the exact path he takes is never certain. Sometimes he will appear upon inspecting an area, at other times he will just randomly engage you. In terms of keeping the game fresh it’s an excellent mechanic. As Jennifer is perused you will have to manage her fear meter. A blue background indicates calm whilst the yellow, orange and red backgrounds indicate her increased fear. Upon gaining the red fear level any attack from the scissorman will be far more difficult to repel. Using Jennifer’s run action also increases her fear level although you can sit calmly to counteract this rising fear. The sustained fear level will have an influence on the game ending so try to keep as calm as you can for the better endings. At times you will face Bobby straight on, at other times it’s best to hide until the he’s gone. Due to the random generation of the mansion rooms you always seem to be on the back foot each time you play the game.

It’s said that the game takes its influence from a range of sources. Dario Argento’s, Phenomena and Suspiria provide the main bulk of the horror whilst Scissorman himself is said to have been influenced by the antagonist of movie The Burning. In which a shear wielding maniac kills his prey. Others have suggested that Jennifer appears to have been influenced by the real word actress Jennifer Connelly. It’s also highly likely that the Scissorman was influenced by the classic German children’s story Struwwelpeter. A story in which children are mutilated by having their thumbs cut off by a scissor wielding antagonist. Europe has quite a dark history with sinister fairy tales by authors such as the Grimm brothers, I think that setting the game in Norway was no coincidence. As mentioned in part 1 there’s a few ways to experience this 2D outing of Clock Tower. Firstly the original Japanese only Super Famicom release, an emulated fan translated ROM, the Wonderswan edition or the First Fear remake for the PS1.

This is the Japanese Wonderswan edition. The Wonderswan edition lacks the detail and additional sound of the Super Famicom but I was really impressed with what I experienced. The game is faithful to the feel of the Super Famicom release and a really solid game in its own right. As you can see by the game play here, all of the right elements are in place, it’s really only the monochrome graphics and resolution that you’ll notice as a gaming experience. The Wonderswan edition is easily the least known about edition of the game (if you exclude the PC port). I find this a bit of a shame as it’s a true hidden gem for the system and an important outing for the Clock Tower series.

The PS1 edition “The First Fear” is a step up from the Super Famicom release. Additional cut scenes and audio have been sparingly supplemented in to the game. All things considered this First Fear re-release of the game is perhaps the best overall package. That’s not to say that you won’t enjoy the original just as much. It’s also worth noting that this is the first edition of the First Fear. Other box designs were available when the game came to budget releases. Trekking through the Barrow’s mansion is an unforgettable experience, the great use of atmospheric sound, distinctive graphics and sense of scale and emptiness of the mansion created something new for Japanese gamers.

What made Clock Tower a great game experience for me was the entirety of the experience. The mechanics of run and hide are simple, the fear meter easy to understand and the graphics and sound hit just the right chord to make this game something really quite special. There’s nothing quite like opening up an area to see the next grisly murder. Overall I’m very much sold on this entry of the game. It’s original, well realised and a really sad footnote in history that this was a Japan exclusive. Had I have played this game back when it was released it would certainly been a long standing favourite.

However, my entanglement with the Clock Tower series began with our next entry on the list though. A game that we called Clock Tower in the UK and US but Clock Tower 2 in Japan. Join me in the next episode as Clock Tower leaves the shores of Japan to bring a murderous 3D rampage to the West.

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