Horror gaming might be common in today's world of violent excess, but back in the early '90s they were few and far between. Though we'd seen a few titles like Halloween and Hugo's House of Horrors, they weren't really scary. Perhaps that's why Clock Tower so special. It was scary then and it's still scary now.
Originally released in Japan for the Super Famicom, Clock Tower never saw a North American release, though it did spawn a franchise that would later penetrate our shores in the form of Clock Tower (JPN - Clock Tower 2) and Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within (JPN - Clock Tower Ghost Head) for the PSX and Clock Tower 3 for the PS2.
Thematically Clock Tower feels very similar to the works of Italian director Dario Argento and it has been stated by the producers that the game's design was heavily influenced by his film Phenomena (USA – Creepers). One of the possible character deaths is also reminiscent of the opening murder in Suspiria, another of Argento's masterpieces.
As play begins we are told the story of young Jennifer Simpson, an orphan who, along with 3 friends, has just been adopted by a wealthy recluse. Ms. Mary, who works at the orphanage, is leading the children to his mansion, which is named Clock Tower, after it's most prominent feature. Upon their arrival Ms. Mary goes to find the children's new father, Mr. Burroughs and leaves them waiting in the foyer.
After a while the kids become restless and Jennifer decides to go find Ms. Mary. Shortly after she steps out into the hall there is a horrific a scream. When she returns to the foyer she finds that all her friends have disappeared. From here the game becomes a mostly standard “point and click” adventure, with one key difference. Shortly after you begin your investigation you will witness one of you friends be horribly murdered. The attacker, known throughout the series as Scissorman, begins his pursuit. In a normal survival horror game this is would be where you get out your shotgun or “board with a nail in it” and smash the deformed little bastard's head in. Not so in Clock Tower. Here you're just a little girl and you can't fight all you can do is run.
Jennifer's survival depends on quick thinking and crafty hiding. It adds a level of tension and excitement not often found in today's world of recovering health and it keeps your pulse racing. Players will at all times need to be mindful of their surrounding and of Jennifer's panic level, or they'll quickly find themselves being butchered. Fortunately if you do manage to bit the dust the game allows you to continue at the last room you entered. A feature also missing from most modern horror games.