|You have once again stepped into the world of Laughable Horror.
So I went out looking for the sequel to Clock Tower, the impressive horror game for the SNES that never made its way to the English-speaking world. So naturally, when I see the title "Clock Tower 2", I immediately downl legally purchase it from my local reputable software vendor. And it turns out I have been hornswaggled. When Human released Clock Tower for the PlayStation in America , it wasn't the original SNES version. It was the actual sequel , but they didn't bother denoting it with a "2" - since the first game had only been released in Japan , they decided to just try to pretend that one didn't exist and start over from scratch here. In other words , they pulled a Final Fantasy on us silly round-eyes. The "Clock Tower 2" released in NA and other English speaking parts of the world is actually the third game in the series. It was released in Japan with the subtitle "Ghost Head" , and here it is known as "The Struggle Within". So, got all that? Good, moving on.
Ghost Head / The Struggle / Whatever does not continue the story of the Scissorman and young Jennifer. It goes off in a completely new direction with new characters and a totally unrelated story, but retains the same basic point and click gameplay (and the basic concept of being hunted around a house by some psycho killer intent on stabbin' you). This time out , we play as Alyssa , a young Japanese girl who is sent to stay with her aunt and uncle for reasons unknown. Arriving at their house she finds no one about. A quick exploration of the ground floor turns up nasty yellow ichor all over the place, green zombie limbs sticking out of the toilet and in the bathtub, and a mysterious insane child's giggle heard off in the distance....
So Alyssa will explore the house attempting to find out what the hell happened here and why zombie arms are being served up for dinner. Fortunately Alyssa is accustomed to unusual shit such as this. You see, she has a violent (and rather badass) alter ego known only as Bates. Alyssa controls Bates via the Amulet she carries around. However, if she loses it or puts it down , Bates will come out and take over her body whenever she's panicked or in danger.
Alyssa will need the help of Bates more than once , as it turns out that the youngest daughter of the family has turned into a crazed little monster and is running around the house stabbing everything that moves. The little girl, Stephanie, basically plays the role of Scissorman in this one. Though she actually runs after you , she's still quite a bit less menacing than the popular scissor-wielding freak.
Stephanie and the house are only the first chapter of the game though. Figure out a way to defeat the crazy girl, and you move on to the rest of the game - first a hospital, then a pharmaceutical research lab. So you face off against more than one psycho/monster/killer in this one. Geez , busy day.
Gameplay is point-n'-click style like the previous entries in the series. You walk Alyssa around by clicking on her destination , double click on it to run there. If an object can be used or you're on an exit to the room, the icon changes to a triangle shape. Extremely simple adventure style controls. You also have an inventory that is accessed at the top of the screen.
The puzzles of the game are extremely straightforward - there are almost no real puzzles per se. You mostly just find locked doors , then run around in other areas until you find the keys for said doors. The challenge is supposed to come from evading the killer(s) when they find you, but that is laughably easy in this one. Stephanie sometimes does enter rooms at random , but I only noticed it happen if you'd been standing around in the same place for a long time. The only surefire way to trigger her is either at certain points in the plot where she has to appear or clicking on certain objects in the house. This is a bit irritating as you have to go around clicking on all the objects in order to find keys and stuff , and though it is easy to run away from Stephanie there are only several places throughout the house where you can use an object to knock her out, and only one place to hide from her. It turns into irritating trial and error as you click on random furniture looking for stuff, then the game mumbles "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU", then Stephanie pops up and you have to run around in Benny Hill style until you get back to a point where you can knock her ass out or hide.
The only other challenger in the first chapter is the Samurai Armor, which does not chase you and only has a random chance of appearing in a few rooms when you walk in. Leaving the room and re-entering usually clears this guy. He's a minor nuisance at best, but a lot more impressive looking than the little ragamuffin.
Later chapters get worse. The second chapter is filled with zombies (yeah , zombies ... we'll get back to that in a minute). There is only one place in the whole building to reliably kill them - so when one gets on your tail, you have to tediously lure them back to the women's bathroom in order to clobber them over the head with a broom. The third chapter has another random killer that can pop up unexpectedly - Mr. Karate from King of Fighters. But in addition to him, there are also scores more zombies .... and only two places to reliably kill them. So you end up having to do the same tedious lure tactics again to get through the Chapter.
If you're transformed into Bates, you can find guns about and use them. Guns kill the zombies outright and stun the major killers long enough to get them off your tail. The downside of this is that there is very limited ammo in the game. If Bates runs out of ammo he is helpless, because he can't use random objects like the broom or the fire extinguisher to kill critters. The whole Bates transformation thing was not handled very well - you have to be him to get past certain parts of the game , but you can also get killed instantly and get bad endings if you talk to the wrong people while transformed into him. More irritating trial and error for j00.
I'd like to say the plot is at least interesting to keep you going, but it's not. It's pretty poorly translated, there are gigantic gaps in logic and unexplained events, and the characters are flat as cardboard. Actually, the only character worth a damn is Bates despite his clunky transformations - the dude is 100% badass and not intimidated by the psycho killers at all. He talks shit to them, he kicks giant samurai zombies squah in the nuts, he stabs annoying little psycho girls with their own knives, and he's the only one who has a voice actor who's worth a damn - sounds kind of like a more evil Solid Snake.
The monsters and psychos are pretty crappy as well. The programming is kind of weak - when you open a door to go to another room while being chased, they just kind of stop and stand there politely while you leave. They'll pick up the chase again in the next room, but it's goofy and silly and kills a lot of the tension. With the exception of Stephanie they're also all really slow and easy to dust - and also dumb. In open areas, you can easily lure them to one side then run around them.
The first chapter is actually probably the best as far as scares and tension - Stephanie is somewhat creepy, and that giant Samurai is badass even if mostly harmless. But then ... we get to the zombies. Yes , Human decided to take their original and exceptional horror series which was 100x better than Resident Evil ... and try to change it into Resident Evil. I mentioned the gunplay already , which is even worse than the clunky system used in the first RE. The zombies here are also really stupid looking, just human models with their skin tinted laughably bright green. I was impressed by the fact that these zombies can open doors, and even operate elevators. Oh, and Mr. Karate at the end was a bit of a step up ... but he's just as dumb as the average zombie and doesn't do anything special. He's also very polite about stopping the chase while you open a door and walk through it. And nobody ever just pops out of closets , windows , etc.... either they just randomly walk through a door , or they're triggered to come into the room by an event.
The sound and music are about the only things that keep somewhat of an atmosphere of tension and suspense. The music is done in the horror-techno style of the first two games , and a lot of the tunes are reminiscent of the famous Scissorman theme. Sound effects are largely missing , but there's an occasional good one like the creepy child's chuckle off in the distance. The voice acting is roundly awful though ... I kept expecting to hear someone start talking about Jill Sandwiches or something.
The worst aspect of the game is just the general tedium in running around and having to do everything via trial and error. I can't imagine trying to complete this without using a walkthrough at some point. There are 13 different endings , but 12 of them involve you getting killed brutally. It's easy to do something to accidentally trigger "Bad End" without knowing it, then save and get stuck and have to start over again. Bleh. Honestly, I didn't finish this, and I'm not going to bother to. I got up to the third chapter , ended up having to read a walkthrough almost word for word to get halfway through that one , then decided that this was just too tedious and repetitive and quit. So I don't know what happens in Happy End , but I sure saw plenty of the Morbid Ends.
Overall quite a disappointment given the name it bears.