Platform: PlayStation 2
Review Date: 3/30/03
Alyssa Hamilton is your typical teenage girl attending a private boarding school in London - or so she thinks. Right before her fifteenth birthday, she receives an ominous warning from her mother, telling her that she's in danger and to go into hiding. Being a teenager, she naturally ignores the warning and immediately rushes home to see what's going on, thus setting into motion a centuries old conflict between good and evil. As it turns out, Alyssa comes from a long line of adolescent female warriors who battle the forces of darkness, and now it's her turn. In her quest to find her mum, save her soul, and protect her virtue from amorous childhood friends and creepy old men, she must travel through time, lay tortured spirits to rest, and confront brutal serial killers with supernatural abilities. Unfortunately for Alyssa, she's armed only with her keen wits and a vial of holy water, so all she can hope to do is evade their grasp and try to run away.
For my money, there aren't nearly enough games on the market where I can play a mini-skirted teenage girl who screams a lot and cowers in fear. Not surprisingly, that's the main reason I bought the game. Not being familiar with the previous two "Clock Tower" games, I don't know how similar this one is, but it seems the main theme of running away from danger is a common element. Scissorman also appears to be a common thread in all of the games as well. The game plays like "Eternal Darkness" (2002), with a dynamic moving camera and camera perspective movement control. Coming from Capcom, it could also be called "Resident Evil Lite", as the game mechanics are very similar. Fortunately, there are numerous save points scattered throughout, and you have unlimited saves (possibly the most serious flaw in the RE games). The puzzles all come directly out of the standard survival horror cookbook, with a big spooky mansion stocked with secret rooms, mysteriously locked doors, grandfather clocks, deceptive fireplaces, moveable statues, and tribal masks. Instead of a health meter, Alyssa has a panic meter, and when she becomes fully scared out of her wits she runs around uncontrollably and becomes vulnerable to attack. There are also several boss battles, or "judgements", in the game, where Alyssa is granted a sacred weapon and gets to face the killers that have been pursuing her.
What the game excels at the most is its presentation. With character designs by cult filmmaker Keita Amemiya ("Zeiram") and direction by legendary filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku ("Battle Royale"), the game looks like a first rate production. The camerawork and editing is well executed and very dramatic, and the motion capture cast is excellent. The dubbed English voice acting is a bit uneven, but much better than most. Kirsty Dillon does a suberb job as Alyssa and Paul Humpoletz handles Alyssa's grandfather with the appropriate authority and flair. Unfortunately, everyone else seems either miscast or a bit flat. However, the biggest problem with the English dubbing is that the characters physically act and react in a decidedly Japanese way, which in English doesn't match with what is said and how it's delivered. It's a glaring continuity issue, but it's bearable. In the graphics department, the game looks beautiful and invokes a wonderful balance of tension, dark ambience, and a disquieting sense of the bizarre. Cozy Kubo's delightfully haunting music score is also appropriately moody, although occasionally repetitive.
Alyssa is a wonderful character to play. She's very cute, smart, brave, headstrong, fiercely defiant, and pure of heart - the perfect qualities for a female warrior and for anyone who appreciates the female action genre. Following a curious recent trend, Alyssa's real-time in-game model is far more attractive and expressive than the one used for the pre-rendered cut-scenes, which results in a rather jarring break in continuity (she looks a Gelfling in the prerendered scenes). The premise of teenage girls fighting demons certainly isn't anything new ("Devil Hunter Yohko", "Vampire Princess Miyu", "Zenki", "Eko Eko Azarak", "Sailor Moon", "Sakuya Yokaiden", "Blood: The Last Vampire", "Buffy The Vampire Slayer", etc.), but the depth and detail of the storytelling keeps it interesting. The story also unfolds at a nice pace, and things that didn't make sense at the start of the game come together with new understanding as each new piece of information is found. However, like most movies and games, it falls apart right at the end as if the developers didn't know how to wrap everything up. A small complaint, though.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem with the game is the gameplay. Like nearly every other game in the survival horror genre, "Clock Tower 3" becomes ludicrously difficult to play after the first hour or two. The entire first stage in World War II London is very tight, fun, creepy, engrossing, and often scary as hell. However, after the first boss battle against Sledgehammer, the game becomes increasingly difficult, tedious, and annoying, and the killers become more and more silly and grating. The game very quickly becomes an exercise in aimlessly running around, since there's ALWAYS a killer on your tail. This makes exploration impossible and puzzle solving very difficult, although the killers are always nice enough to give you a break whenever you stop to read a newfound document or rewire an electronic lock. Apart from that bizarre lapse of continuity, there are other glaring issues with the killers as well. They come and go as they please, materializing out of thin air and disappearing just as quickly, but there are certain places that they can't (or won't) enter. Sometimes a killer will be right on your tail, but as soon as the camera angle changes, they'll be gone. Or you'll run through a door with a killer right behind you, only to find that he's now in front of you on the other side. All of the killers are faster than Alyssa, so it's impossible to outrun them - especially if stairs are involved. This makes evasion and hiding impossible, and if you happen to get knocked down, you often won't get a chance to stand up before getting knocked down again, resulting in infuriating trapped scenarios. Games like this are made for cheat devices, and I often wonder what developers are thinking and if they're in cahoots with the cheat device companies. Even while cheating through the majority of the game it becomes painfully obvious that it is completely unplayable by mere mortals.
The boss battles are also laughably difficult, and the controls become sluggish and unresponsive right when you need them the most. The trick is to power up your arrows and anchor the boss to the ground, but they never give you a chance to do so since their attacks cycle much more quickly than Alyssa's do. You can't move or aim when you're charging an arrow, so most of the time when you're shooting you'll get attacked or miss the target altogether. These battles become a serious chore, since the only way to defeat the bosses is to run around and peck at them for twenty minutes or more. But the final boss battle is just absurd, and even with all possible cheats enabled it can take several hours to defeat him. He has an instant death attack regardless of whether you have infinite stamina, and if he grabs you he'll replenish his life source with yours, instantly undoing the last ten minutes of progress you made whittling away at him.
If you manage to defeat the final enemy, you can unlock theater mode, Alyssa's wardrobe, and have the laughable opportunity to play through the game at an even higher level of difficulty. Sadly, Alyssa's expanded wardrobe is disappointing and rather ridiculous. Apart from her default private school uniform, she has the Greek styled dress from the Ritual Of Engagement, a racy blue jeans, black bra, and cowboy hat ensemble, a suit of Roman centurian armor (?), and a very questionable fetish club outfit consisting of a peek-a-boo shirt, short-shorts, and thigh high boots. Nothing that any self-respecting fifteen year old girl would, could, or should wear, and all rather distasteful. However, I suspect that the outfits in the Japanese version of the game are different, and I've read reports that they include the standard Japanese sailor style school uniform as well as a Santa's helper outfit. These sound far more cute and appropriate than those in the American version, although I'm not going to bother with verifying that. All in all, depending on your level of endurance, patience, and dexterity, "Clock Tower 3" is much more fun to watch than it is to play.