Welcome… to the Stop Skeletons From Fighting Halloween
Spook-tacular! We asked the fans, and the results are in, it’s time to close the casket on one of our favourite horror series, and tackle the last true entry of the Scissorman saga; Clock Tower 3. [dramatic horror music plays] And, wow… Where do I start with Clock Tower 3? This game… This game does some stuff. I think when the dust settled, I can say I really, really enjoyed this game, but it was just impossible to leave it at a blanket recommendation. If I had to be blunt, I would say that there are three things define this game. One, no classic Scissorman, Two, batshit insane cutscenes, and three, magical girl transformations. Clock Tower 3’s greatest achievement is that it is living proof that you can toss all your crazy ideas into a blender, hit go, and have it turn out okay. But, only if that’s what you’re in the mood for. For casual horror fans who enjoy Resident Evil and Dead Space, it might just be too damn weird, but dedicated horror fans, I think will really appreciate this game. And for Clock Tower fans, the sooner you accept that this is a sequel in name only, the sooner you’ll be able to appreciate this wild, wild ride on its own merits. Before we get into the guts of this game, let’s break a few things down. First off, this is technically the fourth Clock Tower game, as well as the first and only entry in the series not created by Human Entertainment. Clock Tower 3 was developed by Sunsoft and co-developed and published by Capcom. Yes, the Resident Evil people helped the Blaster Master and Journey to Silius people make a Clock Tower game. Which was a good thing! Honestly, the previous entry to the series, Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within/Ghost Head was a disaster. Seriously, this game is beyond awful, I can’t even tell you. No, no it is not! If this was Human’s idea of evolving the series, clearly it was time to pass the torch. Luckily, these things sometimes work themselves out. By 2002, Human Entertainment had gone under, and the Clock Tower IP had switched hands. Not to mention, Hifumi Kono, the original series mastermind, was at the time teaming up with Shinji Mikami to make the impressively ambitious 40-button mech simulator, Steel Battalion, also published by Capcom. In a funny twist of fate, Clock Tower 3 and Steel Battalion were both shown at the same E3, but that’s neither here nor there. Our point is, yes, Clock Tower 3 is different, but it was time for the series to get different. And what did we get? Well, for starters, Clock Tower 3 has almost no connection to the other games in terms of gameplay. It features traditional 3D analogue controls instead of the series’ standard point-and-click scheme, or even Resident Evil-style tank controls. Quick camera angle cuts can occasionally have you running in circles, but it didn’t give me too much trouble. Like I said earlier, it does not feature the classic Scissorman, instead a variety of maniac killers, most of which I thought were pretty cool. Most of which; we will talk about these two a little later. The game still centres around you being stalked by maniac killers, but hiding spots and environmental traps are no longer your only defence against them. You can now stun pursuers with splashes of holy water, or use an item to make yourself invisible. These aren’t Get Out of Jail Free cards, though. If you don’t use the opportunity to get away, they’ll be right on your tail again. Not to mention, holy water is also used to remove hexes off locked doors, and jump-start teleporters, and should be used sparingly. In the upper-left hand corner, you’ll notice what looks like a life bar, but it is actually the Panic meter. Taking damage, or even just narrowly avoiding attacks fills the meter. When it maxes out, you enter Panic mode, where your character stumbles wildly and occasionally seizes up with fear. Getting hit at all while in Panic mode results in an instant Game Over, so you really want to avoid panicking. It’s a cool variation on the standard video game life bar, and basically just a more refined system found in the original games. And again to aid you are items like ‘lavender water’ to lower your Panic meter, and ‘sigil stones’ which absorb fatal blows. Now if you think this all sounds completely contrary to what makes Clock Tower good in the first place… You’re not wrong. One of the defining characteristics of the original Clock Tower games was making the player feel helpless. There was a palpable tension in the uncertainty of whether or not your character could endure another confrontation with the killer, or if a hiding spot would work. Part 3 still has hiding spots, in fact the Panic meter plays rather well with these, But the Panic meter working like a life bar, and an inventory of healing items basically obliterates the tension found in the earlier games. But this game implements other modifications to justify these sweeping changes. First off, there’s more to do in Clock Tower 3. Instead of exploring giant mansions or castles, things are structured in a kind of a Monster of the Week format. It’s actually very similar to Eternal Darkness. There’s an overarching story that unfolds as you work through these levels, but each stage has isolated stories with their very own maniac. Solving the mystery of the killer, freeing the spirits of its victims, and then banishing them for good are your tasks. This means much more variety in level environments. Far more items, far more puzzles, and more enemies to contend with. This also means levels are overall smaller, and nowhere near as sprawling as in earlier Clock Tower games. But, it totally works for me. I thought it was a fantastic spin on a formula that was quickly growing stale. The mystery of the bloody, little girl, the blind woman and son, these were small but compelling little stories that I had a lot of fun piecing together. But there are two problems here. One, there aren’t any more of these! Minor spoilers here, but there are only two real Monster of the Week chapters. The rest of the game’s chapters focus on Alyssa and her family, (which is fine, we’ll talk about the A story in a minute) but these little B stories were so enjoyable, that there wasn’t one or two more of these before things settled down on the main story felt like a huge missed opportunity. The other problem is, in what feels like the standard video game necessity to keep difficulty on a constant upwards slope, the later levels feature you constantly pursued, to the point where it’s almost a chore dealing with the killers. Ah, it’s you again. Okay, I’ll be on my way. For example, the castle level doesn’t even feature hiding spots, just rooms the killers won’t follow you into, and plenty of places to replenish your holy water. But this is the very end of the game, so I guess it’s okay. At the top of this review, I mentioned that there are three things that define this game, and I’ve yet to talk about any of them. Well friends, that’s because we’ve saved the best of Clock Tower 3 for last. Clock Tower 3 is charmingly unhinged, and a wild fucking game. It has almost everything to do with its cutscenes. The cinematics in this game are some of the most violent, heartwrenching, headscratching, and cringeworthy that I’ve ever witnessed, and it’s a game that just keeps giving, there are dozens and dozens of cinematic moments. And when it works, it’s a revelation. And when it doesn’t, it’s just mesmerisingly awkward. But really, it all works. A girl mourning the death of her father, a maniac caning an old woman in the face, a madman offering himself up to an evil entity, w-whatever the hell that guy’s doing on that bed, Hey, Clock Tower 3! The silent era of filmmaking called, it said dial it down a bit! This game is all over the map, but regardless of what emotion is guiding a particular scene, Clock Tower 3 cranks it to eleven. That’s what they all have in common, they all come from the same creative muse, the same desire to be as intense as humanly possible. Flat out, this shouldn’t work, but that it does is basically a magic trick. It’s incredibly entertaining. The man behind the magic is Kinji Fukasaku, who at the time was hot off the heels of Battle Royale, and a storied, decades-long career in the Japanese film industry. You’ve most likely heard of this movie, and if not, you might recognise it as the thematic sibling to this monster. It’s hard to overstate what a huge deal Battle Royale was in Japan, and Fukasaku’s presence in this game was likely intended to be a selling point for a Japanese audience. But he really brought a cinematic drive to this game that is rarely seen in this era. Because, while also insane, cinematics are incredibly well made. The craftsmanship in the blocking, editing, nuanced movement, rawness of the violence, are all in the top of its class. We mean this sincerely! Clock Tower 3’s cinematic achievements place it next to greats like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy, and Fukasaku, that is, the late Fukasaku, is to thank. In our review of 1996’s Clock Tower for the
PlayStation 1, we pointed out that video games were still trying to establish themselves as legitimate pieces of entertainment, let alone art. It is a video game-ass video game, sure, but it also had an inspired cinematic flair and wore its respect and admiration for western horror cinema on its sleeve. By 2002, however, games had a legitimate place in pop culture, and improvements in hardware had given way to an enormous money-making industry. Clock Tower 3 had much less to prove and it luxuriated in this fact by charging full force in the opposite direction of its forebearers. Let me tell you about Rood girls. Main character Alyssa Hamilton is from a long lineage of Buffy the Vampire Slayer-like heroes called Rooders, whose power peaks on their 15th birthday. For the record, there is never a direct mention of Artemis, literally the goddess of teen girls and shooting shit with arrows, but anyway. Man, Rooders. I am not making this up. Though, in this scene, the spelling was accidentally
R-U-D-E-R-S, instead of R-O-O-D-E-R-S, so let’s cut the crap. These are the Magical Rude Grrls of legend, here to fight evil and save the day. The game has an impressively involved backstory about the Rude Grrls, and evil spirits and demons, that adds up in a surprising and disturbing way. A little too much of the story is told through exhaustive info dumps, but it all comes together nicely. Let’s cut to the chase here, Clock Tower 3 is a horror game with magical girl transformations. There are boss fights where Alyssa wields a magical bow and arrow and she summons it in basically a
Sailor Moon-style transformation scene. [Sailor Moon theme plays] The final fight actually sees her donning a divine angel-like costume. Goddamn it, I was not expecting this. Contemporary reviewers seemed to gloss over this little tidbit, which I don’t understand. How do you not mention this, because my jaw hit the floor when I first saw this, and I instantly fell in love with this game. It’s one of the greatest and dumbest things I’ve ever seen in a game, and, Clock Tower 3? Our hat is off. Well done. Now, the Magical Rude Grrl sequences are for the boss fights, and I imagine they’ll irritate some players. Alyssa must wear down and tether bosses to objects by powering-up and shooting arrows at them. The longer you charge, the more powerful the hit, and the more likely it’ll pin them. You can either wear down their life bar, or tether them hard enough to summon the divine Rude Grrl comet and end the fight immediately. The problem is, like Leon in Resident Evil 4, Alyssa goes into seige-tank mode and is unable to move when aiming her bow. This can be super frustrating, but after a while you’ll notice that bosses have audio cues for each of their attacks, so you’ll have them downloaded in no time if you pay attention to their tells. The lone exception being the final boss, which was an incredible pain. Overall, the boss fights aren’t perfect, but they worked well enough for me. The most glaring knock against Clock Tower 3 are the Scissor Siblings. Specifically, this game’s interpretation of the Scissorman. It’s a huge mistake; lazy and misguided fan service of the worst kind. Now, on a surface level, having Scissorman in this game at all is a reference newcomers won’t get, and even more damning, it being such a radically different interpretation is a poke in the eye to hardcore fans. If you go deeper, you realise this is a betrayal of the philosophical foundation of the character, according to series creator Hifumi Kono. Kono has said in multiple interviews that scissors as a murder weapon was a very deliberate choice. “The pain you feel with a knife or a gun is instantaneous, but with scissors you feel the blades closing in, coming against your flesh, taking their sweet time to finish the act. What I really wanted to express was the duration of pain.” Scissorman was intentionally designed to be plodding and tortuous. Death by scissors is a metaphor for the character himself. There’s also a banality to Scissorman. His mask and cloak make him anonymous, he could be anybody. Scissors themselves are a common object that can be found anywhere. In contrast, the Harlequin twins are loud, literal clowns. GAME: “Chop chop, chop chop! Chop chop, chop chop!” Separating the characters into two doesn’t really serve a purpose in the context of a Scissorman nod. While the game does play a little bit with duality in the presence of mirrored realities in the hospital level, it’s not enough to save this mistake. They could’ve just been “The Twins”, juggling swords like circus performers. They didn’t need to do *this*. Clock Tower 3 has no shortage of creative ideas, not to mention alters just about every other page of the
Clock Tower playbook. Why did they feel that including Scissorman was necessary? And furthermore, it doesn’t make sense to bury your Scissor-people to the second-last chapter of the game. Why not just go with the Resident Evil 4 route and make a quick joke of it? Our take? When it comes to fan service, you never go full
Scissor Siblings. Lastly, some of the music in this game is awful. The music that plays while you’re in chase is fine, but the more subdued music that plays while exploring levels is occasionally downright maddening. Not because they’re poorly written, but because they’re incredibly short. For most of these songs, the average length is at most a minute long, meaning you are subjected to these songs dozens and dozens of times. In the first chapter, a great rendition of a Chopin piece abruptly stops just as it moves onto the next movement, only to start over again. The graveyard level is maybe the worst because of a piercing, droning tone, that at first is quite unsettling, but after just a few minutes, made me want to stab myself in the ears. I cannot remember the last time a game had me running for the mute button over and over again. In the end, Clock Tower 3 stands apart not just from other Clock Tower games, but games in general! It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I personally put it up there with Ill Bleed and Monster Party as a joyously bizarre horror cult gem. It may be too weird for casual horror fans, and too different for hardcore Clock Tower fans, but I had a blast playing this game and now that I’ve presented my case, I can say that Clock Tower 3 comes recommended. Thanks for watching! If you wanna learn more about Clock Tower, check out our comprehensive review of the PlayStation game on the right. Or, check out our playthrough of Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within. We played the whole game, and… ..wow. That game. That’s the video on the left. And hey, we’ve been reviewing horror games for years! Click in the middle for our giant, official Horror and Halloween playlist! Stop Skeletons From Fighting is a Patreon-supported show, and wouldn’t be possible without every single one of these fine people here. If you’d like to support the show also, click the Patreon logo and pledge what you can! Or just make sure you like, comment, and subscribe, all that jazz. We’ve got more Halloween videos coming for 2016, so stay tuned. Thanks again for watching, and we’ll see you again real soon.