Clock Tower: The First Fear

Thumbnail - Clock Tower: The First Fear
Reviews | Patrick DiPersio | April 18, 2023

Jennifer is tough, but being an orphan is hard. Especially because having a forever home isn’t always a guarantee. However, when Jennifer got the news that she and a few of her closest friends were selected to be adopted by a wealthy family in Norway, the Barrows, her excitement couldn’t be contained. Not only would she finally have a home she could call her own, but a family, and future to look forward to. It almost felt too good to be true.

The head mistress and a group of orphans being led to the Barrows Family mansion. "Laura, hurry up! We need to get there before it gets dark!"

In Clock Tower: The First Fear, a classic point-and-click survival horror from Human Entertainment, we discover that the Barrows family has less than good intentions, and in order to escape this dream that has become a nightmare, Jennifer will have to think on her toes. To do that we’ll help her puzzle out the labyrinthine hallways of the Barrows manor, and avoid a gruesome death brought on by the stalking horrors that lurk around every corner.

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Jennifer climbing the clock tower in the rain trying to escape the Scissorman.

If there’s one genre of gaming that I find myself coming back to time and time again it’s survival horror, and the Clock Tower series in particular has always held a special place in my heart. Well, specifically the first Clock Tower game we got here in the west, which is technically the second game in the series. I remember playing the game with my little brother and anxiously exploring its environments in anticipation for the deadly Scissorman to pop out and end our run with an untimely death. The sound of the scissors snipping away as he drew closer still haunts me to this day!

Jennifer searching a box atop a dresser, hoping to find a key.

So, when I discovered that there was a prequel to the game never before released in the west, I perked up. Not only would it be fun to discover the origin of the dreaded Scissorman, but it was exciting to re-experience the series in a whole new form. The most interesting part was that Clock Tower: The First Fear was 100% 2D unlike its predecessors, and I was curious to see if they could still chill me to my core despite not being quite as immersive as the 3D sequels. That’s at least how I remembered them anyway. I mean the original games were released on the original PlayStation so immersive is definitely relative to the time. But I was excited nonetheless.

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Jennifer running from a parrot she accidentally releases from its cage.

Within the first few minutes of starting Clock Tower: The First Fear, its age reared its ugly head. Not only did it feel clunky having to control a mouse cursor with a controller, but the movement was slow and meticulous which made navigating its environments almost unbearable. It also didn’t help that it wasn’t always easy to figure out what you could and couldn’t interact with in the environment. Nothing really stood out from the background to let you know that you needed it. Meaning for the most part I found myself pixel hunting each and every screen in the hopes that my cursor would change so I knew I could do something. 

Scissorman emerges from a bathtub from behind the hanging body of one of her friends. "Lau....ra...?!"

The hardest part however, was figuring out where you could use the items you would eventually find. I say that because there weren’t many landmarks to help you orient yourself in the mansion, and because many of the hallways looked the exact same, it was easy to get lost. So, like having to pixel hunt for items when I did find a room, I had to open every single door I came across to figure out where I was. That said, once you figure out where you need to go, and where a particular item needs to be used, solving the puzzles ends up being pretty straightforward, with the most complicated requiring you to interact with objects in a specific order. Though I will admit to tripping myself up a few times, since if you interact with an object out of order, there’s no indication that you did something wrong, or that you should try again but by approaching it differently. 

Jennifer runs from a swarm of bugs after opening a meat locker filled with rotten meat.

Thankfully, the horror aspects of the game never really get in the way of you trying to figure these things out. Although the dreaded Scissorman can put a swift end to your puzzle solving, he moves slower than cold molasses so he’s pretty easy to escape, with plenty of safe zones to hide in, or thwart his pursuit. Plus, his appearance is pretty predictable with there only being a few points in the game that he can appear. Of course, I didn’t know that on a first playthrough, but I caught on pretty quickly. I did appreciate how these moments broke up the monotony though. It gave me something  to think about, other than mindlessly wandering around the mansion and poking and prodding at things.

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Jennifer finds a note laying on a desk within a study. "A note has been put into the book of spells."

If I’m going to be perfectly honest, when I first started to play Clock Tower: The First Fear, I wasn’t sure if I would end up seeing it through to the end. The gripes I had with it were hard to look past. However, what kept me going was my nostalgia for the series, and my desire to see how this game would tie into its eventual sequels. I mean, they ended up making four of these games, so there had to be something to it right? I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t struggle despite my desire to keep going, but the more I played it, the less its faults bothered me, and the more its charms started to shine through. Especially when I figured out what the game expected of me, and, of course, once I tempered my expectations.

Jennifer runs from a grotesque figure after it emerges from behind a set of curtains.

I really enjoyed its muted, but still haunting atmosphere. I liked the subtlety with its horror themes, which were complemented by its timeless 2D art style, and the occasional gorey cut scene. I also really enjoyed that replayability was at the core of its gameplay loop, with key items required to progress changing on each playthrough, or specific rooms being in different locations so you couldn’t always predict where you could find the things you need or where the Scissorman would jump out at you. It’s not very often I say it, but eventually because of all of this, the game grew on me and I ended up having a really great time with it. I mean, I did replay it five or six times trying to get its various alternate endings. Figuring out what events I had to trigger or not to change the conclusion of the game was probably my favorite part.

Jennifer escapes up a ladder as she tries to get away from Scissorman.

Now, with all of that in mind, take my 180 on this game with a grain of salt, because although I ended up enjoying myself its flaws are still a big factor, and I’m not sure if I could recommend it to everyone. However, if you have a tolerance for old school point-and-click adventure games, have a great deal of patience, or are just an uber fan of the series and are curious about its roots, then in my mind it’s definitely worth giving it a try.

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Scissorman bursts through a stain glass ceiling, impaling one of Jennifers friends on his way down.

Clock Tower: The First Fear was a trip down nostalgia lane and showcased the origin of the murderous Scissorman. Although it was a clunky ride, its charms still shone through and had me coming back for more with its unique take on replayability as well as its multiple endings. Although I couldn’t recommend it to everyone, there’s still a lot of merit in giving it a shot, if for nothing more than to satisfy your curiosity. Two oversized scissors wielding thumbs UP from us!!