Brilliant Madness in Your Final Hours – Playstation 2 – Clock Tower 3 – 2003

Title.jpgClock Tower 3
Playstation 2
Sun Corporation/Capcom
Genre: Survival Horror
2003

There has been a lot of conversation about how great the horror library on the Playstation 2 was in circles I chat with. A lot of these games have hit “cult” status outside of Silent Hill and Resident Evil with a few folks talking about Fatal Frame since it’s managed to continue producing entries up until last generation. In between those games, though, sit titles like Rule of Rose, Kuon, and the follow-up to a little series that found its footing in the US on the first Playstation console: Clock Tower 3.

After the rights to the Clock Tower series switches hands, it fell into the Capcom stable alongside Resident Evil, lending the series a little steam to get attention for its third game. Publisher name aside, the game announced that Kinji Fukusaku who had directed Battle Royale just a few years prior would be in charge of the cutscenes among a handful of other known industry names, some of whom had worked on Capcom’s major series before. The investment in the game’s production was deep, and it seemed like both the developers and the publisher had a lot of resources to draw from.

The last time Clock Tower had changed hands, though, we got a mess of a game with Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within. Understandably, people had a lot of hope for the new game with the names attached to it but were still sore from trusting that the last Clock Tower would live up to the first two games. Personally, my memories of the game were a little hazy, save for a few scenes here and there. In my unofficial pilgrimage to relive some of the games I grew up on and to complete my playthrough of the series entirely, I dug out my copy of Clock Tower 3, booted it up and decided to take a swing at it with some experienced but fresh eyes.

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Alyssa’s journey is cinematic, atmospheric and captured beautifully

Plot
Shortly before her fifteenth birthday, Alyssa Hamilton receives a letter from her mother, Nancy, while attending a boarding school she had recently been sent to. This letter isn’t just a normal check-in from home, however. In the letter, Alyssa is instructed by her mother that no matter what it takes, she must stay hidden away until her fifteenth birthday has passed. As any strong-willed and concerned teenager would, she disobeys her mother’s instructions, immediately booking passage back to her family’s estate.

When she arrives, the estate is quiet, her mother, father, and grandfather are nowhere to be found. It isn’t long before she finds a strange dark gentleman whom she believes to be one of the lodgers her family has given space to within their home. After a jarring encounter with him, she finds her way to her mother’s room, looking for clues as to where she may have gone and what may have caused the ominous aura throughout her family’s home.

It isn’t long before she finds that her family’s history is entwined with a dire and ancient fate. Suddenly transported to a war-torn street, Alyssa finds herself in another time and place, pursued by a vicious killer who is consumed with bloodlust and has designs to put an end to her life- and he’s not the only one. It is now Alyssa’s duty to unravel her family’s place in arcane history and survive the supernatural dangers that are pursuing her before an unimaginable catastrophe can be unleashed.

Mechanics
Bucking the play style of the previous three entries in the Clock Tower series, Clock Tower 3 plays in a third-person exploration adventure presentation. Taking the role of Alyssa, the player will explore a number of locales within the mansion and otherwise, investigating points of interest and solving puzzles to proceed. While the puzzles are usually simple tasks requiring finding the right item and using it in the right location, their simplicity helps the game focus on the horror aspects more than feeling like a list of fetch quests. As she makes her way through the game’s scenarios, Alyssa will also find items that belong to wayward spirits. They serve as lesser enemies in the grand scheme of things, but when Alyssa returns the correct item to the place that was important to their death, they will leave behind helpful items.

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Escaping the predators in each scenario is a task of patience and tension

Alyssa’s methods of survival are similar to past games. While stalkers are in pursuit, she can interact with certain areas that are highlighted to either defend herself with some item or part of the environment or to hide, putting the camera into a first-person mode to let the player sweat it out while their potential murderer tries to find them. Early in the game, Alyssa will also receive a bottle that she contains a limited amount of charges of holy water which can be refilled at fountains (also acting as save points, for conveniences’ sake). With a quick press of a button, Alyssa will splash her assailant, halting them for a short while so that she can get away more effectively. There are a few items that help with this, as well, making her invisible for a time or letting her survive a game-ending blow.

Replacing the stamina meter, Alyssa has a “Panic” bar that will fill whenever she has a close call with an evil Entity. She is impervious to harm until the bar fills, at which point she will begin to- well- panic. Her running will become erratic, she might stop in her tracks because she’s too afraid to move, and worst of all, she will die if she is attacked again. If she manages to elude danger for a time, the meter will drain on its own but there are ways to keep it in check. If she manages to keep herself alive long enough, she will eventually face-off against the killer in a supernatural scuffle.

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The side stories in Clock Tower 3 are heart-wrenching

At the end of each area, Alyssa and the monster-of-the-week will be locked in a small area that changes the dynamic of the game’s mechanics. For plot reasons, Alyssa will have a sudden transformation from determined survivor to Magical Girl Slayer, her holy water bottle becoming a bow that can eradicate the being from the world and weakening the forces of evil. As her attacker chases her around, the player must guide Alyssa to avoid their attacks and charge shots from her bow to assault her enemy. If she manages to find a way to charge her shots long enough, they will create a tether, holding the enemy in place. Creating enough of these tethers will open them up for a fatal blow, so mastering the patterns and physics of these sequences will pay off, even if it’s not vital to finishing the game.

The Good, The Bad, And…
Much like its predecessor, Clock Tower 3 starts off in familiar territory, feeling like a straight supernatural horror game. Unlike The Struggle Within, though, it doesn’t take long for it to become absolute madness in the best way. While the game may seem silly at points, it never loses the terror and dread that comes from a game in the genre. There are brutal and unnerving scenes that will leave a lump in your throat, even by today’s standards. The tone may not be for everyone but the game is an experience that every horror fan should check out as it is a memorable one.

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Fighting off evil entities with a light bow is unexpected, but here we are

However you feel about it, though, Clock Tower 3 also does a great job of keeping things interesting and keeping its pace in drive. Like I glossed over before, there are a lot of pieces to investigate and puzzles to solve but they don’t slow the action down. Even the more complicated ones are easy to sort through since most of the environments are small and simple to navigate. There always seems to be a new piece of the plot being revealed, be it minor and specific to the scenario or part of the major overarching story, and the lore is engaging. All said, the game rings in at about six hours and offers a lot for both gameplay and story.

Ironically, the only glaring issue the game has regarding gameplay is that the stalkers are too persistent. While the pacing in the game is great, part of that propulsion comes from the fact that Alyssa gets little to no breathing room from the spirits trying to kill her. In the later chapters of the game, there were a few instances where I had to grab items as I ran by them while trying to outmaneuver my killer, running where they needed to be placed and using them to get to the next part of the game during the same chase. Through items, the game’s forgiving enough so it doesn’t ruin anything, but I had a few “oh, come on” moments.

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Each Subordinate feels unique and offers up their own brand of mayhem

Presentation
Clock Tower 3 is a beauty to look at. The cutscenes are especially well-choreographed, but the motion capture throughout the entire game is smooth, if not a bit overacted in a few moments here and there. Levels are well designed, keeping realistic palettes of gray, green, and brown interesting with eye-catching set pieces and details. With a little polish, it could easily look like a game that had come out within the past few years.

Listening to Clock Tower 3 is great, doubly so in comparison to the last couple of entries to the series. The voice direction is well done in most cases with a couple of weaker performances not particularly worth pointing out, but the cast performs horror camp well overall. Stepping up in console generation, the soundtrack is stronger and has a few great tracks like “A Shadow Creeping Near” to accompany the tense parts of the game while a few songs like “Sinking Memories” feel right at home in the somber Clock Tower style.  There are certainly a few songs that feel a little out of place and other survival horror games on the system have stronger soundscapes. By far, though, Clock Tower 3 is the strongest of the series.

Conclusion
The Clock Tower series has taken a couple of turns in its time, but the necessary innovative jump in mechanics and presentation made Clock Tower 3 a serious contender in the PS2 library. It’s a deviation from the tone of the previous games, but with the direction the series was already taking, the intelligent move to take notes from more action-oriented games but hang on to what made the series feel so original in the first place is welcome to anyone who’s played the other games.

Clock Tower 3  is cheesy and a little rough around the edges, but it embraces that cheese and relishes in its disturbing scenes so thoroughly that it comes out of the other end looking better than its elements considered individually. There is a reason the Clock Tower games- specifically this entry- have so many spiritual successors and nearly spawned a movie (ah, the wonders of production hell). If I had to nail down a reason, I’d vote that it’s due to the meat of the game feeling horrifying, no matter how far off the rails the tone runs. It’s a shame that we haven’t seen a remaster or re-release of any sort from this series after Clock Tower 3, but if it had to end on a positive note, this entry took a solid, if not underrated, foothold in the history of survival horror.

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