Time to Choose: Multiple Endings in CLOCK TOWER
It seems very appropriate that one of the most famous games to feature the concept of multiple, player choice dictated endings, is a game about time travel. Chrono Trigger, from 1995, is widely regarded as one of the greatest video games of all time. Aside from the relatively new innovation of having over a dozen different endings, it had a fantastic soundtrack, a great story, bright, glorious, 16-bit graphics, and terrific gameplay. It is a pinnacle of the JRPG genre, certainly one of the glowing gems from the days of Super Nintendo.
In the same year, the horror genre was quietly keeping pace.
In 1995, horror, in terms of gaming consoles, had largely been framed in the form of action platformers. Games like Castlevania or Sega Genesis' Splatterhouse series featured horror movie tropes or characters and plenty of violence and gore, but weren't exactly scary. It's not altogether surprising; the hardware limitations of consoles weren't very friendly to the adventure genre. You can see this in the ports of Macventure games, like Uninvited. Point-and-click with a d-pad isn't the greatest (see also: the absolute horrendous console ports of RTS games like Command and Conquer and Starcraft).
That said, when Clock Tower hit the scene, it definitely found a way to make its mark.
And now, the Game
Clock Tower was not especially well-known outside of Japan at the time of its release. This is in large part due to the fact that was not released in English. In fact, the Clock Tower that North America got was on Playstation in 1996, and was the direct sequel to the 1995 game of the same name. Final Fantasy fans will know all too well the pain of domestic and international releases, i.e. the confusing chronology of FF1-3 vs. FF1-6.
As luck would have it though, there now exist several fan translations of the game based on the Super Famicom version, and finding a rom port of Clock Tower is easy as pie.
The plot of the game is, apparently, inspired largely by the movie Phenomena. This is especially apparent when you look at the protagonist, Jennifer, alongside Phenomena's star, Jennifer Connelly (who also plays a character named Jennifer. That's triple Jennifer!).
At any rate, the story of Clock Tower begins with four orphaned teenage girls - Jennifer, Laura, Ann and Lotte - arriving at their new home with their orphanage's matron, Mary. The girls have just been adopted en masse by the mysterious Mr. Burrows, owner of a large, remote country estate. Shortly after their arrival, Mary leaves the girls in the manor's foyer, and goes to bring back Mr. Burrows. She doesn't come back. And of course the girls select you, Jennifer, to go find her. You don't get far, though, as a scream from the foyer stops you in your tracks.
From here, you'll traipse through the manor, and very quickly encounter a scene where one of your friends is suddenly and brutally murdered before your eyes by a mutated child wielding a pair of giant shears. I am so not even kidding.
This jolly little fellow, known as Scissorman in the series' lore, is Bobby Barrows, and he will be stalking you throughout the majority of the game. This is where the game simultaneously becomes awesome and completely infuriating. Awesome, because it is a very unique spin on the survival horror genre to have basically one enemy for the majority of the game, much like a slasher flick. Awesome again, because the game has a cool "sanity" feature that seems to be a staple of most modern horror games, indicated by your character portrait in the bottom left (ranging from cool blue to panicky red). Infuriating, because your character moves at a horrendous snail's pace.
I'm not sure if this feature was intentional or not. It definitely makes it more suspenseful when you're fleeing Scissorman, and Jennifer slowly approaches a door, goes through the complicated animation of opening it, steps through carefully, checks her watch, gets a coffee, etc. It makes it more annoying when you're pretty confident Scissorman isn't nearby (usually indicated by music cues) and you just want Jennifer to pick up the pace and move through the mansion.
At any rate, you will eventually discover just who these freaks are, how they relate to you, and why you were brought to this mansion. IF you follow the right path, that is.
As I hinted at in my intro, Clock Tower is a game with multiple endings, 8 of them to be exact. This is where the game really shines. You're given a fairly wide-open area to explore, and every choice you make affects the direction of the plot. In fact, within ten minutes of beginning the game, you can find one of the endings. If you head down one hallway to the very end, you'll find a garage, and a car. A quick search of a nearby box yields the car keys. So, naturally, you try the car...and Jennifer, after a moment's consideration, says no, she won't leave her friends behind. But what if you try it again? And a third time?
Ditching your friends to their fate and fleeing without uncovering any of the manor's dark secrets ends about as well as it should, but the fact that the game gives you this option at all is amazing. There's also several different variations on the ending sequence, and in the absolute best version you can, in fact, rescue one of your fellow orphans. It all depends on how willing you are to try to find that best option.
OK, but is it Scary?
Maybe not after multiple playthroughs trying to find all those aforementioned endings, but the first time, absolutely. The game has an effective, simple soundtrack that really enhances the gameplay, some nifty sound effects for the era (the snapping of Scissorman's shears is an especially nice touch), and some real ohshitohshitohshit moments where you're forced into a "panic mode." In "panic mode" Jennifer has been cornered by someone or something, and her last recourse is to fight for her life - or rather, to mash the panic button.
Honestly, the only downside I have to this game is the sluggish movement, and I chalk that up to a gameplay decision. This game kicks ass.
I rate the multiple endings feature highly, both for being innovative and for giving the player a real sense of choice. As Peter highlighted in his look back at Give Yourself Goosebumps, choice is a vitally important way of immersing a player in a gameplay narrative. Clock Tower was one of the first games to offer a quantifiable result from making different choices. Coincidence that it came out the same year as Chrono Trigger, bears the same initials, and also has a "time" word in the title? YOU DECIDE.