CLOCK TOWER 3 / Capcom / PS2

Clock Tower For Dummies

If you read about Clock Tower 3 online you'll see terms like "more mass-market appeal" and "simplified" being used to describe it. These are cautious, advertising-friendly ways of saying that Clock Tower 3 has been dumbed down in a pandering attempt to move as much copy as Resident Evil does.

Which should be no surprise, since Capcom acquired the rights to the franchise with this release (though they farmed the actual development out to Sunsoft.) Much of what earned the previous games - well, at least the first two games - their significant cult fanbase is stripped away here, really leaving only the general overall theme of an unarmed mid-teens girl running and hiding from supernatural psycho killers.

A very brief history will be helpful here, for those that are totally new and are contemplating picking this one up simply because used copies are $5-6 now - Clock Tower 3 is actually the fourth game in the series. The first game came out on the SNES, and was never released outside of Japan. That game had a direct sequel on the Playstation, but for some reason it was also called Clock Tower, so the Playstation port of the original SNES release was renamed "Clock Tower: The First Fear." These first two games are the ones that people really like, and they star a Jennifer Connely lookalike named, well, Jennifer, who gets chased about in various settings by a deformed gentleman wielding a giant pair of scissors. The third game was also released on the Playstation, with the subtitle "The Struggle Within", and while it had the exact same gameplay style as the first two games, both Scissorman and Jennifer were gone in place of a chick with multiple personality disorder and zombies. The personality-switching mechanic of it was implemented terribly and the ensemble cast of villains was pretty lame, so fans in general don't like it nearly as much as the first two games. And that brings us to Clock Tower 3, which is another "stand-alone" story that abandons Scissorman and Jennifer yet again.

One of the first things that you see when you fire up the game is a splashy screen declaring the game was "Directed By Kinji Fukasaku." This meant a lot more in Japan than it did in the West, I suppose. Fukasaku is the director of the film adaptation of Battle Royale ... bear in mind he's not the author of the actual novel (which was an amateurish yet compelling reworking of Lord Of The Flies that was taking Japan by storm not long before this game came out), just the guy who made the film adaptation (which wasn't necessarily all that great.) So he's basically like one of those directors that adapts video games to film, just the other way around.

Games-to-film are almost always unfailingly craptacular because some mediocre director who isn't really familiar with the medium (or even the game he's working with) sashays in and decides his "personal vision" and "adaptation" of the source material is far superior than sticking to canon and understanding what the fans really enjoy about the game. So what you end up with is usually a bunch of loose concepts lifted from the game, re-arranged in some messy and stupid way, and a cumulative score of 20% or less on Rotten Tomatoes.

Clock Tower 3 is a lot like that pattern, but instead of game-to-film, it's game-to-game. The source material is Human Entertainment's work on the first three Clock Tower games, and the "film adaptation" is Clock Tower 3 with Fukasaku at the helm and a programming team from Sunsoft backing him up (almost 100% of which had no involvement with the previous Clock Tower games.) What comes out of it isn't total crap, but there's a lot wrong with it, and the things that are wrong with it remind one of the things that are usually wrong with bad video-game-based movies - the game is basically a bunch of concepts pirated from the previous work, but re-done and re-arranged badly.

This one takes place in 2002, and you play as Alyssa, a 14-year-old schoolgirl whose mom inexplicably packed her off to a boarding school when she was eight. She hasn't seen or heard from her since then, but suddenly a letter arrives just before her 15th birthday, telling her to go into hiding until after her birthday is past. She then gets a call from someone claiming to be her mother, but when she actually picks up the phone, there's no one on the other end. Startled into action, Alyssa ignores the letter and heads home tootsweet, only to find some disturbing fat man living in her house saying mysterious things to her.

Pretty soon, she inexplicably finds herself transported back to London in 1942, witnesses a little girl get brutally murdered by some hammer-wielding mutant freak, then gets chased all over the place by said freak. This sets up the general theme of the game - you travel in time to points where innocent people were slaughtered by some supernatural serial killer, then get chased all over the place by said killer while completing chains of "bring item A to point B to get item C which goes to point D" until you find the key item that puts the soul of the murdered at rest. Alyssa can then tap into her Magical Girl Powers to get a magical elf bow that shoots energy arrows, and face the supernatural killer down in a toe-to-toe boss battle.

Well, that's the general theme for the first two chapters, anyway. After that point, apparently the game either went over budget or over schedule, or the writers just ran out of ideas for scenarios. You only end up "redeeming" two murdered souls by traveling in time, then that gameplay convention is abandoned for the final three chapters, which see Alyssa working her way through a set of your typical Spooky Locations (old castle, graveyard, etc.) while taking on the group of supernatural entities responsible for her current predicament.

The game is really at its best in the first two chapters - after that, you almost might as well turn it off. The environments paradoxically get smaller and simpler to navigate and the puzzles (which never started out challenging to begin with) get even more straightforward and easy, yet the killer villains designs get lamer and lamer and the story gets increasingly deus-ex-machina and nonsensical.

Picture Resident Evil 3, but you're a little girl and you have no weapons except for a bit of pepper spray. And 80% of the game consists of the Nemesis chasing you, but he runs constantly, he's a little faster than you and he's hot on your heels most of the time. However, he attacks in the dumbest manner possible, and will always stop and wind up to take some huge swing at you when he gets close, so as long as you continue moving away from him he'll miss you 95% of the time. You can occasionally find an object in the background to knock him out with, but these are few and far between, and can only be used once. The only way to shake him reliably is to use a "hiding spot", which is nearly always behind some opaque surface so you can watch him sniff around the room after you to give you a horror thrill, but also detracts from the horror once you realize you can keep using the same spots over and over so long as the killer doesn't see you enter them, and he'll never once bother checking them for you. Since he's not much of threat to hit you, yet is fast and omnipresent and outpacing him to get to a hiding spot can be difficult, most of the game is spent running around solving simplistic puzzles while this guy is right on your heels, making the whole thing look silly and detracting from the horror aspect even more (the killer always politely stops and waits while you unlock and open doors or pick up items ... my favorite moment was when the hammer-man was literally right on my heels as I stopped to snip a bunch of barbed wire off of a doorway, and nicely just sat there and waited while the task was completed without crushing my melon.) If you can picture that, you can picture what the majority of Clock Tower 3 is like.

This isn't too far off from the basic formula of the first two Clock Tower games, but the small tweaks make all the difference. Scissorman was slower in those games, and his "pop-outs" were more predictable, but the games were still far more challenging and tense. The items you needed were usually hidden in background objects that could also randomly trigger a "pop-out" (and were shuffled up between games), forcing you to search everything while wondering each time if you were about to initiate a chase. The "adventure" portion was stronger because you had more time between chases to explore about unmolested, so the puzzles could be more complex and the environments more expansive. Clock Tower 3 has such a hyper-focus on chase scenes that the puzzles have to be dumbed down as much as possible - the items you need literally are marked with a sparkly glow, so you can't possibly miss them. It'd be impossible to do anything more complex than that, because the killer never gives you more than 30 seconds of time to yourself, and is always significantly faster than you (you'd think Alyssa could do a little better than a casual jog given the circumstances, incidentally.) The writer/director here just seems totally oblivious to the concept of tension and release - they just decided to AMP IT UPPPP in EXTREEEME style by having you get chased constantly, and the constant exposure to it soon makes it lose its dramatic impact.

And then there's the boss battles. Aside from the silliness and arbitrariness of the whole "magical girl" thing, they basically degenerate into a pattern of running around in circles until the boss decides to stop and do something dumb, at which time you charge up an arrow and fire it into his ass. Every boss in the game basically follows this simplistic pattern except for the final one, and he has his own simplistic pattern that really isn't very different.

I was keeping an eye out for Fukasaku's exact involvement with the game when the end credits rolled (after only about 6 total hours of gameplay), and he's listed only under "event planner" and "CGI direction." What I infer from that is that he swung by Sunsoft's studios one day, pooped out a bunch of "concepts" and cut-scenes, and left it to the staff to figure out how to tie all that together into an actual game. Thus, the frequently nonsensical plot, the incredibly incompetent villains and all the stuff that just happens out of nowhere for no apparent or logical reason. Even if you have a massive tolerance for that sort of thing, however, the gameplay will likely leave you wanting more - the chases turn into a simplistic and tiresome routine before long, the boss battles are easy but a repetitive drag, and there's only about six or seven hours of total game experience here even if you're taking it really slow. Clearing the game gets you a "Hard" mode which simply make Alyssa easier to kill, and also unlocks a wardrobe full of disturbingly revealing outfits for a 14 year old girl (stay classy, Japan ... actually, they changed the outfits for the Western release, but from what I can see, they made them even sluttier!) Other than that there's no reason to replay the game - no randomization of rooms or items, no multiple endings, none of the layers of depth that even the troubled Struggle Within offered. Fans of the first two Clock Towers, I expect, will largely be disapponted by this one, and fans of Resident Evil will just be like "WTF HOW DO I SHOT GUNS"

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