Catherine

In a world driven by sequels and movie tie-ins, developers are given little opportunity to craft games that do something new, ones that truly innovate. With budgets for major game releases spiralling ever higher, the stakes are too high to allow risks in a project. With it being far safer to release a game following tried and tested rules, often in the form of a first-person shooter, inspirational games such as Ico and Okami are likely to become increasingly rare. For this reason, a new arrival like Catherine is immediately exciting, simply for being so unusual. That a game places a female lead character prominently on the game's front cover and in every screenshot possible is nothing new, but once you learn of the game's focus on relationships and adultery, all centered around the alluring Catherine, the game immediately sets itself apart from the crowd. That the game was developed by the team behind the Persona series, with the graphics engine employed here essentially paving the way for the next major Persona RPG, makes the game an even more exciting prospect, thanks to the proven high calibur of the team. Inviting screenshots and development potential do very little to prove a game's genuine worth though, so how does Catherine hold up now that the game is on the shelves?

Catherine

Before answering that question, a little more scene setting is required, since there will be many who are unsure of the game's content, and some who are unaware of the game's existence. The central theme is on relationships, and particularly those of the main character, Vincent, who finds himself cheating on long-term partner Katherine, with blond bombshell Catherine. It might be the talk of marriage and long-term commitment that scares Vincent, but whatever the reason, he finds himself in bed with another woman, and his life swiftly begins to unravel. Desperately trying to keep the truth hidden, Vincent interacts with his friends, and the ladies of his life, during the day, and is then plagued by nightmares overnight. The nightmares form the core element of the gameplay, a puzzle game where Vincent is required to climb towers of blocks, moving individual blocks to form stairways. Vincent is forced to do so in only his boxers, and learns that failure to climb will result in his death, not only in the nightmare world, but in real life too.

Vincent is not alone in his adulterous ways, and the nightmare world plays host to a considerable number of other men who have apparently strayed. To Vincent, all the other inhabitants of the nightmare world appear as sheep, which somehow conveys an extra layer of vulnerability on a harsh background of tormented structures and vivid, but oppressive colours. In the nightmare world, players will be forced to use every trick they can to survive. Making allies of other prisoners is no bad idea, but you will frequently face rivals who are also struggling to climb, and with no rule against pushing, desperate acts become a necessity. No amount of good-natured intent will survive the nightmare world, thanks mostly to the difficulty level. Catherine is a hard game, there's no question, despite a few difficulty tweaks from the Japanese version. The game's central story levels, even on the normal difficulty, will provide most gamers with a significant challenge, and even then there's a massive step to the harder difficulty level. To make things even tougher, there's an additional mode, Babel, that completely randomizes the falling blocks, ensuring that no attempt is repeated, so no online guide can be used. The game will not be conquered without ferocious dedication.

Catherine

The story elements of the game are highly enjoyable, and much like the Nexus in Demon's Souls, the central bar, aptly named the Stray Sheep, that Vincent finds himself at each evening provides a genuine sense of relief, a haven from the many tortuous memories of the preceding nightmare stage. You're free to wander around the bar, interacting with other patrons, chatting with friends, buying drinks and generally getting yourself in deeper trouble depending on how much you continue to flirt with Catherine. Both the ladies in your life will pursue you outside of the nightmares (and in the boss stages of the game, don't be surprised to see a few demonic representations chasing you down), via text or in person, and the decisions you make as you progress will scope the outcome of your relationships, and the game ending that you receive. Trophies incentivize a return to the game to see each of the endings, and happily the nightmare stages can be skipped to facilitate quick replay, but only if you've conquered them with a gold trophy. As discussed, that's no simple feat.

There's no real gameplay, in the traditional sense, when exploring the bar, but it does fulfill the RPG element to the game, with some interesting character interaction. The various views and opinions of the people you meet can be quite interesting, while the commentary on relationships in general, though strong, can be quite entertaining. The game is certainly keen to make you think of such things seriously though, and poses questions throughout the game finding out what you think about certain aspects like cheating, love, romance, and the many other things a relationship could entail. The game isn't adult in the sense that some screenshots might make you believe - there's no full nudity or explicit scenes, despite a few seductive poses from Catherine - but it does manage to establish itself as an adult game in the sense of its mature themes. The topics discussed are practically unheard of in other games, and would certainly not suit the younger generation. There's even an arcade machine in the bar, for a game called Rapunzel, that might appeal to the older generation of gamers, featuring a retro incarnation of the block-pushing gameplay, which provides a useful avenue for tactical practice, particularly since the emphasis is on puzzle solving without the pressure of the clock, giving you the tools you require for the main game.

Catherine

It's the underlying puzzle action of the nightmare stages that provides the most significant content element in the game though, and despite the extreme difficulty, it can be tremendously addictive, and gamers will gradually get to grips with the finer techniques and the more subtle methods that can be employed, turning them into a block-building champion. The game takes place over a period just longer than a week, with a nightmare stage each evening, split into stages with a convenient save point between each one. There are also checkpoints on most ascents, but for those seeking the best prizes and highest scores, checkpoints will hardly factor in, because the best scores are awarded to players who can continue a high rate of ascension. A timer counts down after each new step reached, which will reset your combo meter if you don't reach another new step in time. As if it weren't already hard enough to conquer each stage, you're now worrying about avoiding the falling blocks below *and* maintaining a good pace, not to mention the essential collectible currency that adds to your score, and other useful pick-ups in hard-to-reach places along the way. It becomes so frantic at times, that as the level begins to fall away beneath you, or the boss character closes to within breathing distance, there's a genuine feeling of tension that builds as you desperately escape.

For those that have seen the screenshots, the visual style is unmistakable. Though not completely unique (the anime-style visuals are commonly used in games like Blazblue, Valkyria and others) there's something that really stands out about Catherine's graphical style. The character models are absolutely beautiful, with both Catherine and Katherine in particular proving themselves to be absolute stunners, but the entire cast is brilliantly animated, and the facial movements are very expressive. As has always been the way with anime, it's often the case that by not trying to be ultra realistic, a more believeable character is created in the process. Every character has genuine personality, far outdoing almost every other game on the system, and rivalling the likes of Final Fantasy and Uncharted for characters that you can form a genuine connection with. Admittedly the puzzle sections are somewhat more simplistic, with simple cubes occupying most of the playing area, but the backgrounds are still very atmospheric, and the central animation, that of the character and the moving blocks, is extremely smooth and convincing. It will be most interesting to see if the next Persona game can take the visual style of the game's bar scenes and apply this to a full scale RPG, because that would be an incredible sight to see.

Catherine

In the English language version of the game, the voicework is very strong, with the actors seemingly very comfortable in their various roles. Katherine, Catherine, Vincent and most of the other cast are voiced very naturally, with no awkwardly forced dialogue. The stand out element of the audio has to be the music though, which is largely an orchestral affair, featuring some classic pieces like Holst's Jupiter, which is an absolutely epic piece, perfectly suited to a towering climb. The piece isn't alone either, and every stage will feature a thoroughly stirring bit of music that adds to the atmosphere and drives you forwards towards your goal. Given that the game can last a good 8-10 hours for a normal completion alone (not including any of the Rapunzel puzzles, the incredible replay value or the harder difficulties), it's impressive that the score remains as fresh as it does, with each stage retaining its own unique identity, never becoming boring.

Though many will be alienated by the graphical style and general theme of the game, and others by the high level of difficulty, for those willing to try something new, Catherine can be an extremely rewarding game, with a platinum trophy that will pose a significant challenge for all those seeking something a bit more tricky. The entertaining story, likeable characters and addictive puzzle elements all combine nicely to create one of the best games of the year. It's unlikely to appear in many major honours lists, as its niche standing is likely to make the title lose out to the more traditionally popular Call of Duty and Uncharted games, but for those that appreciate this sort of thing, Catherine is a massively satisfying game to play, and one that will keep many gamers entertained for a long while to come.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Atlus

Developer:

Atlus

Players:

1-2

Online:

Rankings

Release:

2011-07-26

Trophies:

50

Review summary

Gameplay:

Fiendish and incredibly addictive, with enjoyable interludes

Graphics:

A beautiful, unique style with utterly stunning characters

Sound:

Epic music and tremendous voicework

Lastability:

A massive challenge with huge replay value

9.5

Meteoric

Post a comment

Comment:

characters remaining.

User comments

MeteorStorm Random Quote Picker

QuoterQuoter

Solid Snake

War has changed. It's no longer about nations, ideologies, or ethnicity. It's an endless series of proxy battles fought by mercenaries and machines. War - and its consumption of life - has become a well-oiled machine. War has changed.