Clock Tower Retrospective – Part II
on Jan 15 by

Clock Tower Retrospective – Part II

After Human Entertainment closed down, Capcom bought the Clock Tower franchise. No one knew if Capcom, the company responsible for some of the best action horror games out there, could continue making titles that heavily focused on hiding instead of shooting your opponents.

 
 

This is part two of the Clock Tower retrospective, for the first part click here.

 

Thankfully the Clock Tower games that Capcom made are a lot more polished than the previous two PlayStation titles. Capcom even steered the series from Resident Evil formula seen in “Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within” even though they could have easily gone down that route.

 

What we got was, while not flawless, an experience that was at the end more enjoyable. The games finally started to glow from the amount of polish they received. Capcom even injected them with some of its design philosophy evident in the Resident Evil like puzzles, no longer forcing you to use a guide to complete them.

 

The Clock Tower franchise now gave all the control to the user, no longer forcing you to move a cursor around. This change was long due and it was a perfect way for the series to begin on the new platform, the PlayStation 2.

 
 


Clock Tower 3 (2002)

 


Despite its name Clock Tower 3 is the fourth game in the franchise and is called the same in all regions. The game finally withdrew from its point and click roots and brought free movement to the series. Unfortunately the game strays too far from the beaten path introducing far too many unneeded elements in the process.

 

Clock Tower 3 - Sledgehammer chase

You follow Alyssa Hamilton (not the Alyssa from Clock Tower II). One day at boarding school she receives a letter from her mother telling her not to come home in the next couple of days. Of course this means Alyssa immediately comes home. After getting molested by some old creepy guy at home and being told that her mother is not there, she immediately starts searching the same house. Then she opens one door and ends up in WWII London with bombs falling all over the place, meets Casper the friendly ghost and is chased by a giant man with a hammer. Did I mention that the story makes no sense? Fortunately, latter on the majority of these things are tackled and you do get quite a bit of exposition. Most of these are in the forms of logs and many of them are fully voiced which serve as a nice way to get the player into the plot.

 

Since the first two Clock Tower games were very short both clocking in at under 2 hours, Capcom decided to introduce multiple killers that stalk you. Each one with his/her own individual backstory and location, finally ending in an epic boss fight. Did I say epic boss battles, sorry I meant magic school girl scenes where you transform and throw magic arrows in the opponent’s faces, serving as a quick resolution for every stalker. While this is the first time there are boss battles in a Clock Tower game, it could have been done much better.

 

Clock Tower 3 - Chopper chase

Being chased isn’t as frightening as it used to be. Previously you were running from an unstoppable killer midget, who while slower than you somehow always manages to be right on your heels. Now the killer is a brute that while runs faster than you, is easily stunned by holy water. Hiding is super easy this time around, since the enemies have the memory of a goldfish. You can easily hide behind a curtain right in front of them while they are chasing you and not be caught. But this doesn’t make the game easy. Enemies respawn every 1-2 minutes meaning by the time you run through the linear level and reach the point of interest the chase scene begins again. The lack of hiding spaces forces you to backtrack large chunks of levels in order to hide, so now you will likely be doing puzzles while the enemy chases you. There was a part where the enemy started his attack animation and Alyssa interacted with a power box, opened it, put on gloves, did the puzzle where you put the wires in the correct order, and closed the box. All this while the enemy is frozen in a jumping attack next to her. These kinds of things, along with the consistent on-screen panic meter and holy water supply really take you out of the experience and remind you that this is all just a game.

 

Aside from the typical puzzle solving and hiding you now have the opportunity to save ghosts. This is done by locating their corpse and giving it the item it requires to move on to the other world. You have to read logs in order to find out what was the persons last wish, which is quite an interesting twist. This all ties nicely into the plot, that is until the plot totally forgets about it. You are told that you have to go to specific time periods in order to save people’s souls, and this is how you gain power for the boss battle. In reality the game forgets this halfway through making you just go through random locations including the killer’s house, making this innovative idea half baked. The reward for saving a ghost is just a one time use item that is not even relevant to the plot.

 

Clock Tower 3 - Boss battle

The locations don’t fare much better. Remember the impressive mansion from the first game. How about the big castle from the PlayStation title? Don’t expect that scale here. The majority of levels are just 1-2 tiny houses linked by a street. All the levels save for the last are perfectly linear with little to no additional paths. Your house from the beginning of the game is just used as an intermission never allowing you to fully explore it or even be chased there. The game has only a single ending and no secrets so there isn’t much incentive to ever play through it again.

 

One thing that is noteworthy are the graphics. The game looks really impressive and the quality and polish of the game are far ahead of its previous two predecessors. The lighting and materials look realistic even for a PlayStation 2 game. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the animations which usually look way too overemphasized.

 

Clock Tower 3 is not a bad game, but the changes it brought make it deviate from what made the series entertaining. Even though it has a lot more polish then the PlayStation 1 titles, the cheap scares and no replay value make it a bit disappointing especially considering that it could have been a real reboot to the franchise.

 
 


Haunting Ground (2005)
Demento (Japan)

 


While Haunting Ground was initially planned to be called Clock Tower 4 it was soon retitled because of the differences from the original series. And though this is considered a spin-off it is the closest game to the original SNES Clock Tower in the whole series. It has a huge creepy mansion, a helpless girl, and lays off the on screen menus bringing back the immersive original look. This would have been the rebirth for the whole series if it weren’t for a couple of issues that creep up in the second half of the game.

 

The game starts out in a fantastic manner, the atmosphere is creepy, and the puzzles are on par with the best Capcom survival horror games. What’s better is that the game has a very interesting element. You are followed by Hewie, a dog you saved, who helps you by attacking your assailant. He has a variety of other uses; he warns you of traps, helps you with puzzles, and even sniffs out hidden items.

 

Haunting Ground - Debilitas vs dog

Having Hewie is a very innovative concept. It allows for a companion, but unlike a human still leaves a bit of the feeling of isolation, since you can’t have a conversation with him. You can order Hewie to attack, to stay or even to search the nearby area. Whenever Hewie does something good or bad you can either praise him or punish him, even kick him if you are feeling extra malicious. Depending on the relationship with Hewie he will be more or less helpful. If you have been particularly nasty to him he may even become disobedient attacking you instead of the pursuers.

 

Unlike Clock Tower 3 there is no holy-water to help you so you will have to rely on Hewie. The items you find range from simple healing items that lower your panic, to dog treats, to damage inflicting items. With these destructive items you can slow your enemy down or even send him running in the other direction. The boss battles are a giant leap from the previous game. There are no magic arrows, boss life bars or even ridiculously laid out arenas. Boss battles are now essentially a puzzle, which must be solved in order to defeat the assailant. This is quite a stark contrast to what the majority expect from a typical boss battle, but never the less it fits in with the whole premise of the game perfectly.

 

The atmosphere is amazing. Whenever Fiona gets scared the screen begins to throb becoming less saturated. Finally when Fiona becomes too frightened she goes franticly into panic mode where she runs faster, but stumbles upon any contact with the surroundings. This gives the player an additional sense of panic. Just like in the original, the first glimpse of most of the locations will be more of a dash through it while the killer is on your heels.

 

Haunting Ground - Hiding

You truly feel like your life is at stake from the first minute of the game. You wake up in a tiny jail cell naked only with a silk sheet. The game does touch on the topic of rape a few times making it all the more creepy, especially knowing that one of the pursuers is out to get your womb. The story is all over the place. It never feels particularly interesting, but at the same time it could have been far worse.

 

The graphics are stellar. They are really impressive and are on par if not even better than some PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 horror games (I’m looking at you Deadly Premonition). The fixed camera angles along with the really gritty architecture design makes all the environments jaw-dropping.

 

The music, while far from the memorable tunes from the original title, still manages to make you extremely paranoid. Each location has its own ambiental music which mutes when the killer is nearby, changing into the chase theme when he finds you. The period of time when there is no music is particularly nerve wrecking, since you never know from which door the killer will come, or if he will come at all. Another nice touch is the way Hewie barks when he notices that a pursuer is coming, which perfectly complements the parts when there are no other sounds.

 

Haunting Ground - Chase scene

 

From the way it’s put you might consider this a phenomenal game and up to the halfway point it really is. But then the problems start to come. Enemies go from scary, to creepy, to generic, to outright laughable. The puzzles go from intelligent to cryptic, some items even being unusable. Locations start out as believable inhabitable locations and end up being places where I can’t imagine anyone living. Objects in the level could be used as diversions but later levels quickly remove this mechanic never mentioning it again. The second half of the game even lacks panic mode, since the enemy instantly kills you with gun fire never allowing Fiona to get too scared. Another issue is the way Hewie keeps wandering away. There are sections where Hewie was needed and he was nowhere to be found. If you close doors in order to slow down your pursuers Hewie is also blocked, forcing you to have to wait for quite a while before he will join you again. As for the replay value it’s almost null. Once you complete the game you get a few alternative costumes and a skin for Hewie but that’s it. Three of the four endings are exactly the same while the fourth happens at the halfway point. Fortunately the game takes around 10 hours to complete so it is the longest in the series.

 

Haunting Ground is a great game brining in the old Clock Tower atmosphere. There are so many elements that are done so well. But the game starts to shatter at the half way mark ignoring most of excellent things it did before. As it stands, up to the half-way point this is one of the best horror games out there, after that it becomes one of the most unrealized games. Haunting Ground is costly, but if you can get your hands onto it, it’s worth every penny. This is the best clock tower game in the series after the original title and should not be missed if you are a horror game fan.

 
 


 

After Haunting Ground in 2005 the series went off the radar. Capcom buried it along with its many other older popular titles, but that’s a story for some other time. The only hint we have that Capcom hasn’t forgot about the series is an ending from Tatsunoko vs Capcom. There were a few talks about a film adaptation but nothing was ever made. The series also inspired Kickstarter projects but many of them went unrealized. As it stands Haunting Ground is the last Clock Tower game, but also it’s the one which most deserves that title.

 

Clock Tower Retrospective Part I