Catherine is the latest game from the twisted minds over at Atlus, who are responsible for the Persona series as well as a plethora of other bizarre games. An amalgam of strange and uniquely Japanese concepts and story twists, I assumed Catherine would either go down in the history books as a revolutionary game, or fall short and be simply categorized as weird. It turns out to be more of the latter than the former, but still has many redeeming qualities – and compelling reasons to play.
Platforms: PS3 (Version Played), Xbox 360
Developer: Atlus Persona Team
Genre: Japanese Horror meets Infidelity Simulator meets Adult Themes
Release Date: July 26, 2011
ESRB Rating: Mature
One thing is certain – in strangeness and uniqueness, Catherine absolutely succeeds. The game is a mashup of several different genres – it’s got the story and twists of a Japanese horror movie, the controller-throwing frustration of a complex puzzle/platformer (heavy emphasis on puzzle), and the ability to change the outcome of the story based on a type of morality system. Mixed together, they make for an interesting game, and one that is less linear than I’d previously imagined.
The game is initially presented as a film – it begins with a montage of movie clips ending with the Golden Playhouse logo, similar to the kind shown before a movie on DVD, one that highlights all of the company’s best movies. After that, we’re introduced to the Midnight Venus, Trisha, host of what is presumably a late-night series of B movies. Scantily clad with a giant, sparkling red afro, Trisha tells us about the film, Catherine, which is an “unconventional romantic horror.” Even the music and visuals in the credits – which started with the characters in the game, and then went seamlessly into the designers and directors – was reminiscent of a late-night B movie.
The first piece of gameplay is the main character, Vincent Brooks, in his first nightmare sequence – the Underground Cemetery. Here is where the player is introduced to how the puzzle sections work. Vincent must get to the top of a series of blocks, some of which must be moved to create pathways for him to climb. He can only go up one block at a time, but can also hang from ledges, as well as use handy items that are around – but he can only carry one at a time. Only certain blocks can be moved, while others are permanently in place, meaning the player has to think of a way around them – or avoid them entirely, if possible. Vincent has horns like a ram, is wearing only his boxers, and is carrying around a pillow, which he can use later to hit enemies in his way.
The block system can be tricky at first. If you pull a block out, and its edge is touching the block above it, the block above it will not fall. If you move it, though, the block above it will no longer have support, bringing part of the wall down. This can be used to your advantage, but can also disrupt whatever path you’re trying to create. Hitting Select will undo your last move, and you can go back nine times. You can also pick up coins, which allow you to purchase items in between levels on the landings, as well as Mystic Pillows, which give you additional retries. Checkpoints can also be reached, though if you die and you start from a Checkpoint instead of from the beginning, you will have a lower score, as it drops your bonus (extra points received for how quickly you move up the level) down to zero. As you finish each level, your score determines what prize you get – Bronze, Silver, or Gold. Gold prizes unlock levels in Babel, giving players even more challenges.
The difficulty in this game is absolutely relentless. Playing on Normal subjects you to incredibly difficult puzzles. I made it through the first three chapters before switching from Normal to Easy, most likely extending the life of my controller in the process. Unless you are fantastic at block puzzles, or you’re just a glutton for punishment, I would advise playing through the game on Easy first, and then, if you want more, switching it up to Normal.
There are plenty of ways to get killed while in the nightmares. You can get crushed by a falling block, killed by an enemy, slip off the blocks, or get killed more creatively by a boss (those are typically the messiest). There are also many different block types that get introduced as each nightmare passes, creating more complex puzzles – some are cracked and break when stepped on too many times, others explode, while still others are made out of ice, tossing Vincent unceremoniously out in the abyss.
When you get near the top of the level, a bell starts to ring. It sounds like a church bell, and is supposed to give you hope that you’re nearing the top – but more often than not, it becomes annoying, especially if you’re at a difficult part and you keep dying over and over. Once you’ve gotten to the top, you can access the landing, which is full of sheep you can talk to. Some of them will trade techniques with you, which can be very valuable when you’re faced with a puzzle you can’t work out. There’s even a merchant sheep who sells items. Be careful, though – purchasing items decreases your chances of getting a Gold prize, so if you’re trying to get all Gold prizes, avoid the merchant. You can interact with all of the sheep, and some of them you can decide what you’re going to say to them, which affects your morality meter. Helping these sheep may determine whether or not they survive this ordeal.
When you’re done on the landing, it’s time to go into the confessional. The Cryptic Voice and Vincent have some hostile banter, and then Vincent is asked a question that, again, affects his morality meter. The questions range from things like whether life begins or ends at marriage, to what you should do if you fall in love with your best friend’s girlfriend. The meter will determine what Vincent thinks and does throughout the rest of the storyline, which in turns determines what will happen when you get to the end of the game. In the loading screen between the question and the start of the next level, players are shown what other people had to say in answer to the question.