Clock Tower 3 was one of the first games I bought when I purchased my PlayStation 2 a decade ago. I had never played a survival horror game before, but I was intrigued by the description of the game, and also by the female protagonist. While Clock Tower 3 is not the best example of the survival horror genre, it’s a decent game with some interesting features.
The game is the story of a teenage girl named Alyssa with an unusual family heritage. Born into a bloodline of ancient female warriors called Rooders, Alyssa is fated to save the world from evil spirits called Entities and Subordinates. It also means that her heart is in high demand, because it can create new Entities and Subordinates. The ritual that will create these new Entities and Subordinates will only work at the exact moment that Alyssa turns fifteen, and when she returns home just before her fifteenth birthday, forces converge against her to stop her from reaching her full potential and defeating the evil surrounding her home.
The most important thing that distinguishes Clock Tower 3 from other survival horror games is that it is based on the concept of hiding and evasion, rather than giving the player a horde of weapons to blast at enemies with (not that that’s not fun, but a break every once in a while is nice). As Alyssa, players must find places to hide from enemies chasing them, or find ways to put enemies out of commission for a while in order to solve puzzles. Puzzles will sometimes give items to help the player in their quest, and will sometimes give crucial information necessary for advancement in the game.
The biggest problem Clock Tower 3 has is that this hiding and evasion mechanic doesn’t work very well. There are few hiding places in each stage of the game (in the second stage, I couldn’t even find one actual hiding place), and if you hide in the same place too many times in a row, enemies will figure it out and attack you anyway, leaving you with few choices. Evasion points only work once, and are of limited value, since you’re usually only guaranteed a few harassment-free moments before the enemy is back on his or her feet and menacing you again. Thankfully, there’s only one enemy in each stage to avoid, although that still ends up being pretty tough at times.
Although this mechanic leaves a lot to be desired, the story that drives the game is good. There’s some mythology and intrigue involved, and those ideas are integrated well, at least until the very end of the game, which raises some questions that are never explained. In addition, the game has good sound effects, music, and voice acting, which adds to the atmosphere. The graphics, however, are a bit cartoon-y for a horror game, and ruin the effect of some of the more horrifying sequences a bit. It also makes some of the Entities and Subordinates more laughable than frightening. The villains in stages three and four look more like ridiculous anime characters than anything else, and the final boss looks like a French pirate from the 1800s.
Another big issue the game has is that the boss fight mechanics are pretty awful. Alyssa cannot fight for most of the game, but once she has fulfilled the requirements for completing a stage, she gains a bow and arrow and the ability to fell the boss in a single fight. It’s obvious that the game was never intended to be combat-based. Once Alyssa draws an arrow, she cannot change her aim until she lets go of it, which means that if the boss moves even the slightest bit, a shot will be wasted. This is especially maddening if you’re powering up for a charged shot, which can bind the boss in place for a special attack. The boss will not stay bound for very long, though, and several arrows are needed for binding. Alyssa has no other attacks, and she doesn’t even run very fast, so avoiding the bosses long enough to set up a charged shot can be a pain, and make the fights last longer than they should.
Despite all these criticisms, Clock Tower 3 is still a passable game. While it’s not the game I would recommend as your gateway into the survival horror genre, I would definitely recommend it if you like the genre and are looking for more examples of it. It’s also pertinent to note that Clock Tower 3 is pretty short (in the neighborhood of 6-8 hours), so it never really gets tedious unless you’re repeating boss fights a lot. Don’t count this one out if you’re looking for a new gaming experience. It just might surprise you.