Catherine Game Review
Every summer during down times between first quarter releases and holiday releases, I tend to find myself catching up on older games and I also tend to have a theme for the summer. One year it was zombie games, another year it was survival horror games, last year it was PS1 games.
This year the theme seems to be very Japanesey games. I guess it sort of started with Project X Zone and now I find myself catching up on a game that caught my eye in 2011 but I just never got around to playing until now. That game would be Catherine. I can honestly say that I have never played a game quite like this before.
The closest things I can think of that it reminds me of are Cubert, Nightmare on Elm Street, and an episode of the Twilight Zone. That’s a crazy combination right there. Having played this, I’m kind of regretting not getting to it sooner as it has a surprisingly damn good and relate-able story. So let’s jump into the nightmarish world of Catherine.
You play as Vincent Brooks, a 32-year old, neurotic computer programmer. He has started to have strange nightmares in which he is forced to climb a tower with herds of sheep. The nightmare leaves him very drained during the day in which he finds himself having some issues with his long time girlfriend Katherine, staying out late drinking with his friends, and hears bizarre rumors about young men being found dead in their sleep.
After another night of heavy drinking and more nightmares, Vincent wakes up to discover another girl in bed with him. It would appear he is cheating on his girlfriend with a young and sexy woman named Catherine. But many things do not add up as he has no memory of going home with her or anything else. Racked with guilt, Vincent learns that all the men that have been dying had similar nightmares before their deaths and were all cheating. As Vincent’s nightmares continue, this mysterious girl won’t leave him alone and continues to tempt him. But there is more something going on here than men being unable to stay loyal to their partners, something supernatural.
Catherine has a surprisingly good story going for it and one I’ve never seen done in a video game. It has a surprising mix of comedy, drama, horror, and suspense along with several plot twists along the way.
The story was a lot more than I expected it to be. It is also surprisingly relatable to anyone who has ever found themselves in a troubled relationship and also has quite a bit of commentary on relationships and life in general; making many aspects of the game feel very smart.
The cast of characters is what makes it work. Vincent, despite appearing to be a cheating asshole, is actually a very sympathetic character as his world comes spiraling out of control and struggles to come to terms with his inner demons. Katherine and Catherine are both well portrayed as representing a stable life or a more carefree and exciting life. Vincent’s friends and acquaintances are interesting and feel like people you might know in real life, making them slightly stereotypical but enjoyable none the less. Catherine is around 14 hours for the main story mode, making it a bit longer than I expected.
However, it does have 8 different endings depending on the choices you make during the game giving it a lot of replay value if you enjoyed the story.
This is where things get dicey for Catherine while, at the same time, being the most unique part of the game. The meat of the gameplay happens during the nightmare sections where Vincent must climb walls of blocks to make it to the top of each section before the blocks fall away and he falls to his death. These are logic puzzles in which you must figure out the best way to arrange the blocks in the quickest and most efficient way possible before time runs out.
This game has become notorious for its level of difficulty. Even Japanese gamers were complaining about how hard this game is and this led Atlus release a patch that added a Very Easy mode.
Right off the bat, the game throws you off the deep end with the first level, not really telling you any techniques or methods for climbing the blocks. I think I died about 5 times during the first level alone. It can be extremely unforgiving considering that it is very possible find yourself in situations that leave you stuck with no way to complete the stage and be forced to kill yourself. It is even possible to cause the goal of the level to fall into the void, leaving you screwed. The easiest setting has an undo button for your previous move but even then, sometimes the best thing to do is just die and start over. But keep in mind, there are limited continues. There are items to pick up during levels that are helpful but they are rare so used them only when you absolutely need to.
While the tower levels are very difficult, they are also very learnable. After 2 or 3 levels, you should be able to get the hang of many basic aspects to the game. Most levels can be completed in one or two ways and once you master those, you can beat it without a problem each time. But as the game becomes more difficult, you’ll run into some puzzles that you will find yourself dying over and over again on and must also contend with various trap blocks. Breaking up the stages are platform areas where after each climb you can save your game and talk to others who are going through these nightmares as well. You can help them out some by giving them confidence to keep climbing and/or share climbing techniques with others. Before moving onto the next level, Vincent must answer a question in a confessional from a mysterious man. The questions are about relationships and how one leads their life. These questions, along with other decisions, will impact the game’s story.
At the end of each of the night’s nightmares is a boss level. This is where I expect controllers to be thrown.
Vincent will be faced with some horrific nightmare beast in which he must climb the tower of blocks while dodging attacks from these monsters. You will need to be able to think fast and solve these puzzles as quickly as possible as some of the attacks the monsters launch are instant death. I found the 5th level boss to the absolute hardest boss in the game.
It’s during these boss levels where I found some issues with the controls. They can be really finicky if you’re trying to move too quickly. I found Vincent making some moves I didn’t mean for him to or hanging off something I didn’t want him to or falling off something unexpectedly. On most of the normal levels, you have time to think carefully about your next move and execute it calmly but during the boss battles, your brain has to work faster and the controls can’t always keep up. Also the camera becomes an issue at times. It’s possible for Vincent to hang and shimmy around blocks and go behind the wall of blocks, however, you cannot fully turn the camera around the wall to see Vincent, and so if you manage to get behind the wall, you will be blind. This is also one of those games where the direction controls reverse depending on where the camera is (which I hate) and when Vincent is hanging off the back of a block. This can lead to some frustration especially during boss battles. Despite the extreme difficulties of these levels, it is impossible to deny to triumphant feel you get when you complete these levels.
Outside of the nightmare levels, the only other place of gameplay is the bar that Vincent and his friends visit nightly. Things are much more relaxed here. You can walk around, talk with people, drink, listen to music, and even play an arcade game where you can improve your skills and it might even hold some other secrets. Vincent can also use his cell phone to receive and send texts and save the game. Catherine might even send him some naughty pictures he can view in the bathroom…….. heeeeeeeh… Anyway, it is important to drink and talk to the people at the bar as they will help shed clues as to what is going on as well as have some impact on the outcome of the story. These segments are surprisingly good at creating a sense of dread and suspense knowing that when you leave, you’ll be faced with a new and more challenging nightmare. The game does also have a co-op mode outside of the main game though I haven’t had a chance to play it but it seems like it would be a lot of fun. This mode is only unlocked after beating the game though.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND:
Visually this game is dripping style with the sort of falling dream serving as a motif.
The 2D animated cut scenes are done by Studio 4°C who is known for animated movies and TV shows such as Steamboy, First Squad, The Animatrix, Batman: Gotham Knight, and the ThunderCats reboot to name a few. They are very well done and could have made for an anime spin off or short if they wanted. The rest of the cut scenes are in game rendered and have a cell shaded look to them. It fits perfectly along with the 2D cut scenes. The character models are a little bit hit and miss. Vincent is very well animated both in 3D and 2D and looks like a scruffy Spike Spiegel. His facial expressions are hilarious. A lot of work went into Catherine as well but other characters end up looking like dolls while others you never exactly get a good look at. The nightmare monsters look terrifyingly awesome though.
Catherine has an interesting soundtrack. Outside of the nightmare world, it’s very smooth and relaxing light jazz type music and some tracks from another Atlus game (Persona 4) snuck in. You can switch the songs at the jukebox in the bar. During the nightmare levels, we are treated to some remixed classical music such as Symphony No. 5 in C Minor by Beethoven, William Tell Overture Part 2 ‘The Storm’ by Gioachino Rossini, Revoulutionary Etude by Frederic Chopin, and many more. It makes for an interesting contrast between the real world and the action on the screen. The game has very good voice acting and has some of the best voice actors in the business. Troy Baker, who just keeps appearing in games I’ve been playing recently (Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us, Samurai Heroes), plays Vincent perfectly. Catherine is played by Laura Bailey, making her sound cute, seductive, and even creepy at times. Michelle Ruff plays the other Katherine and does a good job of making her be a mature and intelligent woman, the stable life that Vincent should be going for. Several other notable voice actors make up the cast and I’m sure if you watch a lot of anime, you’ll probably recognize some voices. One problem I did have with the dialogue was the audio level. The voices just seemed too quiet at times and there was no way to adjust the voice volume in the options. Maybe it’s just my copy of the game or sound system? I’m not sure. Also, the lip synch wasn’t always the best during the 3D rendered cut scenes but dubbing computer animated lip flaps is harder than traditionally animated lip flaps so I give it pass.
Overall, Catherine is a very unique game with a very good story and lots of replay value that is something I will honestly recommend to most people. It can be very difficult though so if you’re not a fan of games that are frustratingly hard, then you might want to stay away to keep your blood pressure down. If you enjoy a good challenge and have not played this, then this is your new summit to climb. Since it’s been out for a couple years now, you can easily find it for $11-15 or maybe even less online. Thanks for reading! Look for my next write up where I take a look at two classic licensed games based on the Ghost in the Shell franchise. Also if you have any suggestions for any Japanese games I should look into this summer, let me know.
- Great story with lots of replay
- Unique puzzle solving gameplay
- Very stylistic and excellent voice work
- Very challenging gameplay
- Controls can be finicky
- Adjustable audio would have been nice