I remember seeing an article in a gaming magazine about Clock Tower for the PlayStation when it first came out. Just the words “clock tower” was enough to pique my interest but the pictures pinned the game into my mind. A young, dark-haired woman pursued by a maniac with a pair of very large, blood splattered scissors through a mansion.
I never got the chance to play Clock Tower for the PS but I was fortunate enough to come across the original on a SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) emulator. The game was never originally released outside of Japan but through the hard work of international fans, the text has been translated and the game found its way into the hands of more people. Also PlayStation released a port of the game for the PS 1 in 1997, there is a PC version as well and can be downloaded in the original Japanese for Nintendo’s Virtual Console on Nintendo Japan’s website. But if you ever have the opportunity to play Clock Tower: The First Fear (as it has come to be known to distinguish it from the other Clock Tower game) then I recommend doing so for those of you who might like an old school survival horror game.
Jennifer Simpson is one of four orphan girls being adopted by the Barrows family. She arrives at the mansion with the other girls, Ann, Laura and Lotte and their adoptive mother, Mary Barrows. The girls speculate about the house as Mary leaves to fetch her husband. As they talk, the girls realize that Mary has been absent for an unusually long time and Jennifer offers to find her. Shortly after entering the hallway, Jennifer hears a scream and rushes back to the parlor only to find the room empty.
Inspecting the rooms in search of her friends can yield different results. In the first floor bathroom, there is a chance of finding the room thick with steam. Throwing aside the shower curtain, Laura is discovered hanging by her hands, dead. But that is not the only surprise, for a young man erupts from the bath water wielding a giant pair of scissors and starts stalking Jennifer.
Of course, the first encounter with Bobby Barrows/the Scissorman could be in second foyer instead. Upon entering that room, the stained glass dome bursts and Bobby is seen with his scissors embedded in Ann’s torso as the pair plummets to the floor.
Jennifer is not in the position to fight back. Unarmed, she’s no match for Bobby. However, in a pinch, mashing the panic button can save her life if she is struggling with the murderer. Jennifer pushes Bobby back and is able to escape. And escape is the object of this game. It is truly about survival.
Hiding is the best option and the Barrows Mansion has many hiding places. My heart thunders as Jennifer scrabbles over boxes to hide behind an old wardrobe or scurry under a bed. Moments later, Bobby enters, snapping together the blades of his scissors. He paces, confused before leaving, disappointed. But Jennifer cannot stay put long, Bobby has an uncanny ability to spring up when least expected, even in a hiding place.
Bobby isn’t the only danger found in the mansion. In one bedroom, there is a mirror where Jennifer’s reflection can reach out and strangle her to death. The same room has a potentially homicidal parrot. A hallway in one of the wings has weak floor boards and if Jennifer is running, she can fall through and it’s game over. A key pocketed in the nursery wakes a demonic doll that flies around Jennifer, finally attacking the girl and killing her unless the panic button is mashed.
Finding Mary in one of the rooms can spawn one of two events. She either tries to comfort Jennifer with a one-armed hug (there’s a knife hidden behind her back) or offers to soothe the girl with a drink. If it’s the drink, you better hope and pray Jennifer has picked up the ham because Jennifer wakes to find herself in a cage with a very hungry Simon Barrows, Mary’s husband. I didn’t during one game and now I have to start over. Every time I load the save file, Jennifer is attacked and eaten by Simon.
And then there is Dan, Bobby’s brother. He has to be encountered to finish the game. Jennifer finds him underground in a secret area. Dan is revealed behind red velvet curtains, a deformed and gigantic, infantile creature that chases Jennifer. Scrabbling up a hill, Jennifer accidently knocks over a fuel barrel and Dan combusts. From there, it’s an elevator ride to the clock tower and the final meeting between Jennifer, Bobby and Mary.
This game has a lot of variables, capable of unlocking a list of endings. Sometimes Jennifer is the lone survivor, gazing out over the land as the sun rises, other times she is joined by one (or several) of her friends. Sometimes, Jennifer doesn’t survive at all. It depends on what is done, which rooms are gone into at certain times, what items are inspected or picked up. Freeing the crows in one room never hurts; they swoop in to aid Jennifer at a crucial moment. There are surprises and seemingly random events. Clock Tower: The First Fear is never a dull game.
Additional Information and Fun Facts:
- Clock Tower was one of the first survival horror games along with Alone in the Dark series, Project Firestart, Night Trap, The 7th Guest, Doctor Hauzer, D, Phantasmagoria, and The 11th Hour.
- The game was said to be based on the 1985 Dario Argento’s movie Phenomena starring Jennifer Connelly. Reading the film’s description, I have to say that there are similarities.
- A Hollywood script for a film adaptation of the game series has been passed around several times but as of now, it has fallen into the depths of script purgatory.
- Clock Tower has spawned three sequels and several spin-off games as well as inspiring several more.