Horrifying for All the Wrong Reasons
Horror games are a favorite genre of mine, though we tend to have a love-hate relationship. I love being scared to death and on the edge of my seat playing a scary game, but I also hate being scared and constantly being on edge is exhausting for me. Still, I love games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Dead Space (well, the first two anyway). The sense of dread and not knowing what comes next is exhilarating to me. Though I don’t have a lot of hands-on experience with the Clock Tower series – the closest I’ve gotten before is watching the Game Center CX and Jontron episodes about them – they’ve always looked rightfully terrifying and intense. When code for a spiritual successor to the series called NightCry dropped into my lap, I couldn’t begin to imagine what awaited me. I got a terrifying experience for sure, but not the one I was expecting by a long shot.
The Clock Tower series originally got its start on the Super Famicom. The series is known for being a great combination of masterful design and atmosphere, and is pretty well loved to this day. NightCry is about as close to a spiritual successor as you can get. Hifumi Kono, one of the creators of the Clock Tower series, directed the game. Ju-On and The Grudge series creator Takashi Shimizu and Silent Hill artist Masahiro Ito (designer of Pyramid Head) also lent their creative talents for the project. That’s quite the perfect storm of horror-based entertainment, and while NightCry thematically hits its stride, there are many other areas, technical department especially, where it unfortunately just falls flat.
Silly Scissorwalker, you’re not an ice cream!
Be careful what you investigate on the Oceanus, it could mean certain death!
The setting of NightCry takes place onboard the cruise ship Oceanus. You initially assume the role of Monica Flores, a student enjoying a vacation with her friends (there are two other playable characters later in the game). NightCry works on a primarily point and click interface, much like the original Clock Tower games. While wandering the various halls and rooms of the ship, you’ll see multiple points of interest highlighted on-screen that you can cycle through using the L and R buttons. Things like key items, NPC’s, and other key points of interest are interacted with in this way. After spending some time learning the core mechanics of the game and getting a feel for how things work, your friend Harry suddenly gets sucked inside a vending machine and killed by the game’s big baddie – the Scissorwalker.
The Scissorwalker is actually a pretty terrifying creature. You can’t kill it, and you’re always on edge about when and where it’s going to pop up. Your only means of defense are running, hiding, or both – very rarely can you actually fight back against this nightmarish creature. The tight confines of the cruise ship offer a nice sense of claustrophobia, but there are plenty of places to hide. Places like closets, underneath desks, and even laundry machines are available to hide in if you’re desperate enough. Some of these result in instant death no matter what though, so you need to choose your hiding spot carefully when trying to outrun your would-be killer!
“Go be undead and ugly somewhere else!”
Hiding is your usual means of escaping the Scissowalker in NightCry, but occasionally you can fight back.
Unfortunately, this is the point where you’ll first start noticing NightCry’s myriad technical problems. The textures are muddy, which is admittedly fine considering the Vita’s capabilities, and the PS2-esque models don’t exactly have a ton of detail and fairly stiff animations. Despite this, NightCry’s frame rate just absolutely bombs way too often on the Vita. Running from the Scissorwalker, I’d regularly encounter frame drops to not just the low teens, but single digits. This made the game effectively unplayable for me when this happened. I understand that by current standards the Vita isn’t exactly a powerhouse, but NightCry shouldn’t perform like this. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the load times in NightCry can be horrendous. For example, I encountered a near 60-second long load screen when I first encountered the Scissorwalker. Hilariously enough, a trophy popped before the scene even finished loading notifying me I encountered him, completely eliminating any potential surprise or suspense I could have had. This happens way too often and is totally disruptive to the game’s immersion.
The horror segments, though engaging and good at upping the tension, can be frustrating as well. Running from the Scissorwalker uses your stamina. Use too much, and you’ll fall to the ground trying to catch your breath. This makes sense, and should up the tension even further when you’re trying to escape, but there’s zero input to get yourself up faster. Regaining your stamina takes far, far too long in NightCry. I counted about 20 seconds at one point where Monica fell over and did nothing while the Scissorwalker just came up from behind and killed her. I also came across a bug where after going to the main Vita menu and coming back into the game, my item menu disappeared and didn’t come back until I restarted the game. It’s kind of hard to solve puzzles when you can’t see or use any items you find. The “mini-games” to hide or get away from the Scissorwalker when it finds you can be buggy or hard to control accurately no thanks to the game’s wildly fluctuating frame rate, adding on to my frustration with the game.
“Man, I sure could go for some…whatever this is.”
Among framerate issues, NightCry suffers from some pretty muddy textures at times.
Audio design is a crucial aspect for a horror game, and this is one area where NightCry thankfully succeeds. There isn’t much in the way of music, but the ambient sounds of the ship and light ambient notes while exploring keep you on the edge of your seat anticipating what will happen next. The chilling sounds and intense music while the Scissorwalker chases after you are outright terrifying as well. The voice acting, though serviceable, walks a fine line between “goofy Deadly Premonition” tier, and “bad early PS1 era” tier. This is quite funny to me as I found out that one of the voice actors in the English version of NightCry is none other than Barry Burton’s voice actor from the original Resident Evil. Coincidence? I think not.
How it feels to chew 5 Gum
Nightcry can have some pretty horrific elements, but they’re constantly held back by its technical issues
Overall, I just cannot in good faith recommend NightCry for the Vita unless you’re among the most devoted of Clock Tower fans out there. There is thankfully a Steam version that predates the Vita version which should ease most, if not all, of the graphical issues the Vita suffers from (which we also reviewed here). Though I have heard the control scheme doesn’t work quite as well on PC as it does on Sony’s ill-fated little handheld. I really wanted to like this game – I honestly did. There are some genuinely terrifying and horrific elements in the game, but the performance issues, bugs, super long load times, and frustrating game mechanics just completely overrode any enjoyment or terror that I could get out of it. The game is also only available digitally, which is a bit of a downer if you like keeping a physical library as I do. If you’re dead set on trying this game, I’d honestly recommend the PC version over this. If not, I’d recommend checking out a fan translation of Clock Tower on Super Famicom or checking out the PS1 sequel if you can get it for a good price.
Final Verdict: 2 / 5
Available on: PlayStation Vita (reviewed), PC; Publisher: Playism Games; Developer: Nude Maker; Release Date: March 29, 2016 (PC), January 31, 2019 (PlayStation Vita); ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of NightCry given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher.