Proto-Survival Horror

Update: Okay, okay! Good grief! Who knew Clock Tower fans were so rabid? It turns out that the original Clock Tower was not made or published by Capcom, but by Human Entertainment. When Human went out of business Capcom bought the Clock Tower series. Capcom then handed the series to Sunsoft, who made Clock Tower 3.

While I was incorrect about the heritage of the Clock Tower games, I don’t think it invalidates my point, especially since Sweet Home was created by Capcom.

Original post follows.

Digging through the history of video games can lead to some interesting places (most of them in Japan, of course). For instance, did you know that Capcom was experimenting with the horror genre long before Resident Evil?

I was looking through some reviews at Gamespot for Indigo Prophecy when I noticed that one of them mentioned a game called Clock Tower. I looked up the reviews for the Clock Tower games and saw that they were a series of horror games from Capcom for the PlayStation. Interesting enough.

Then, to my surprise, I googled “Clock Tower” and discovered that the original Clock Tower game was for the Super Nintendo, and the PlayStation Clock Tower game was actually a sequel to the SNES game! I finally was able to track down a ROM of the SNES Clock Tower that was fan-translated.

SNES Clock Tower is a very interesting game. In Clock Tower, you play a fourteen-year-old orphan girl named Jennifer Simpson, who has just been brought along with three other girls to live with the reclusive, eccentric Mr. Barrows. Upon arriving at the Barrows mansion, their ward, Miss Mary, goes to find Mr. Barrows. After a while, Jennifer goes to look for Miss Mary. As soon as she leaves the foyer she hears screams, and returns to find all of her friends gone. The player must now discover how to escape from the mansion.

It’s effectively a B-grade horror movie, and the game is effectively an adventure game, rather than a fast-action game. You move a pointer around the screen with your controller, and press the button to have Jennifer move there or interact with that object. It feels like a natural for mouse control (and a PC version was eventually made), and the stilted control system did put some people off the game.

But there were a couple of interesting things about the game. The first is that you will not kill anyone. Ever. No, you will not get a shotgun. No, nor a pistol. Or even a knife. While the villains will die during the course of the story if you make the right decisions, if someone is chasing you you have no choice but to run and try to hide or get away.

The other interesting thing is how the game tracks your damage. It doesn’t actually track Jennifer’s health, but rather her fear and sanity level. If the background behind her portrait is blue, she’s fine. If it’s green, she’s a little freaked out. If it’s yellow, she’s about to panic, and if it’s red, she’s in full-blown panic mode. When you are attacked, you can press the “panic” button on the controller rapidly to temporarily fend off your attacker, but this increases your panic level, as does hearing creepy sounds or running around if Jennifer isn’t being pursued. And if your level was red when you were attacked, then you’re doomed – Jennifer is so freaked out she can’t even defend herself.

Also, if Jennifer is being pursued, she can often do things she couldn’t otherwise do; for instance, if she’s being pursued you can hit the panic button to have her climb over a book case to get away from an enemy – but you can’t do this normally. Thus, in some cases you may actually have to find an enemy and have them chase you in order to be able to get to certain areas.

Is it survival horror? Not exactly, but it is a very interesting take on the horror genre, and I had no idea Capcom had made the game until just a few days ago. What’s even more interesting is that reading websites about Clock Tower brought up several mentions of another game called Sweet Home. What is Sweet Home? Why, it’s a horror game for the NES, of course. And get this – it’s a horror RPG for the NES.

Sweet Home tracks the adventures of five young artists who travel to an older artist’s manor to look for him, since he hasn’t been heard from in over a year. Once they arrive at the mansion, their retreat is cut off and they have no choice but to fight their way through the mansion, learn its secrets, and finally put an end to its evil.

So how do you do a horror RPG? Easy – make the game hella tough, make death permanent, and give the players as few healing resources as possible. The mansion holds a total of 21 healing salves – use them all up and they are gone and there is no way to get any more, ever. If one of your characters dies, then they are dead and they cannot be revived. Then add a truly creepy setting and plotline and you’ve got a horror RPG. One interesting element is that the game does not feed you the storyline. You figure out what happened by looking at the artwork that inhabits the mansion, as well as by reading the journal entries of previous adventurers who became trapped in the mansion and didn’t make it out. This “piecing together of the plot” mechanic works wonderfully for horror games, and was later used to great effect in both of the System Shock games.

So now you know – Capcom was into horror long before the RE series, creating horror games since the late eighties!

~ by Anthony Salter on September 30, 2005.

3 Responses to “Proto-Survival Horror”

  1. I’m afraid you are EXTREMELY WRONG. Capcom did NOT make ANY of the Clock Tower games except Clock Tower 3. The first three games were made by Human and Agetec-Capcom had nothing to do with it. You might wish to fix you article, as it gives false credit to Capcom for a great series that their game messed up.

  2. You got some of the facts wrong, Capcom did not come in until Clock Tower 3! (Although, I have to say, it seems wikipedia got it wrong too) And besides if you played a fan-translated ROM of the game you won’t see anything about Capcom developing Clock Tower The first fear.

    Please Fix this!

  3. I agree with the above people too. PLease fix this. It’s an insult to any Clock Tower fan to think thjat Capcom made all of them.

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