Good day ladies and gentlemen, welcome to today’s review! Returning for a second attempt to tickle your fancies and answer your questions about Video Games, Reth! Today I will be doing an in-depth review on a very recent favourite JRPG with a twist, Catherine!
When I first heard about Catherine a handful of months before it was released this year I was dubious but intrigued by the possibilities. Altus has been one of my preferred companies for JRPGs since I discovered the Persona series, but I was unsure if a company so stuck in their niche of modern urban fantasy would be able to approach the weighty theme of adultery in a way that would prove entertaining. I was pleasantly surprised by Catherine, and would go so far to compare it to some of my Western favourites of a similar style, Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain. Though they are in no way identical, with a vast difference in atmosphere and themes, they follow a similar play style.
What is Catherine?
Catherine is most simply described as an interactive movie experience, segmented by cut scenes during the day that develop depending on the choices you have the protagonist make in the evenings and at certain opportunities at night. At night Vincent is whisked away into a world where we control his every movement through tower climbing puzzles that increase in complexity throughout the game. The overlying purpose of this game is to present the player with moral questions regarding a choice between a young, free-spirited girl who has recently appeared in Vincent’s life by the name of Catherine, or Vincent’s long-time girlfriend who seems to be getting ready to settle down and get married, by the name of Katherine.
After reading and watching reviews from other people I was expecting to dislike Vincent as the hapless, easily manipulated, indecisive loser that he is. As a man in his mid 30s still afraid of commitment, I was expecting a character similar to the usual Japanese protagonist tropes following a regular bumbling idiot. However, though most of these traits were true to Vincent, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well-rounded he felt as a character. I felt myself relating to Vincent almost immediately, and empathizing with his struggle a lot more than I was expecting. He was indeed the bumbling idiot I thought, but a believable one. The choice between Catherine and Katherine was made immediately more difficult than I thought it would be and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the way the game managed to swing me from one to the other.
After spending the majority of my free time in one weekend playing through Catherine from beginning to end I witnessed the characters, including Vincent and his friends at the bar develop well for such a short game (only 9 hours play time on normal difficulty). As expected I did end up choosing Katherine and managed to get the “True Katherine” ending, which I was very content with.
Like my previous review there are two elements of gameplay present in Catherine which should be treated separately, so starting with the day-time events,
You only get control of Vincent during the day at the bar where you are given a set amount of time slots to interact with other people at the bar and check your phone. Who you talk to and when at the bar is important for future development of the story and side characters, and if you’re not careful some characters might become unavailable to talk to at certain points of the evenings, so it’s almost like a triaging game. The most impressive part of the bar time is the SMS messages you receive from the ladies. Responding to these take up time, and though there is only a set amount of responses scripted into the game, the way they are used and cycled between is original and innovative. Atlus managed to take the very traditional and simple concept of talking to static NPCs in a room and turn it into something far more in depth and entertaining.
The second game play element are the night-time puzzles. These are great, and once again Atlus managed to take a very simple concept puzzle game, not much different to a sort of puzzle game you could find on the iPhone market, and make it far more entertaining with atmosphere, music, dialogue and quirky “boss battles”. There is always a sense of impending doom and urgency through the puzzles no matter how many times you do it, much to the credit of the developers for making a simple pull and push puzzle game so immersive.
I rather enjoyed both aspects of game play in Catherine and hold Atlus in high regard for managing to combine simplicity and depth so successfully. At no point is your play time ever daunted by complex systems that you need to be familiar with before you can be any good, but they still manage to implement challenging puzzles with countless ways to complete depending on your deduction style. Despite this, I keep the game play score far from perfect due to the fact that there wasn’t much more to it other than those two aspects and was I not so contented with the story I probably would have gotten bored from the lack of variety. I give the game play of Catherine a 7/10
As I’ve said before, you could describe Catherine as an interactive movie, and for that reason can’t go into much detail of the story without giving any spoilers. For that reason this part of the review won’t be very long.
The entire game goes over the period of about 1 week of Vincent’s life. A lot happens in that time, and the game calls out to the player’s morals at frequent intervals to decide Vincent’s fate – I felt the narrative style of the game made for a fantastic story. The topic is however a sensitive one, so I would not recommend it for the faint of heart. Some of the values are questionable and for some people adultery is a very real issue very rarely explored in the gaming medium, especially when the one committing adultery is the protagonist we are meant to empathise with. So I would caution everybody to think deep if they may be offended by having to take control of the life of a man who has cheated on his girlfriend before they pick up Catherine! Overall the story of Catherine was delivered in a fantastically mature, realistic and relatable style that I enjoyed immensely, giving it a 9/10
The soundtrack of Catherine is made up mostly of recognisable classics remixed with enthralling electric guitar riffs and catchy drum and bass beats. Now I may hold some bias on this due to personal music taste, but I felt the music was chosen perfectly. During cut scenes and the puzzles the music set the mood flawlessly and I have nothing bad to say about it. I especially liked the dark and foreboding remix of the traditional wedding tune we are all so familiar with – this is just an example of how the music manages to manifest itself to represents Vincent’s feelings and rub off on us as the players. I, for example have had no previous fears of the concept of marriage, but hearing that theme in such a sinister tone helped me relate to Vincent’s struggle further. When I bought my copy of Catherine I received a copy of the artbook and soundtrack, and though I usually don’t listen to game soundtracks by without the accompaniment of the game itself, that CD is now playing in my car whenever I start it up, a true sign of a lasting soundtrack! 8/10
A taste of the magnificent OST,
Graphics and Aesthetics
The graphics of Catherine was one of its downfalls – I expect something with much smoother edges for a Playstation 3 title. The occasional animated cut scenes were great but the majority of the game was in the same graphics engine we see used in the puzzle mode. Character features were rough and comparable to the graphics of some of the better Playstation 2 titles. For a game designed as an interactive movie, this was not good.
The aesthetics however were a different story – the art, especially in the nightmare levels, set the mood exactly as intended; Dark, hopeless, unfamiliar and riddled with death. The character designs suited them all perfectly, including Vincent’s friends such as Orlando. For a fan of anime, one familiar and appreciative of the style would enjoy the aesthetics as they are, but I feel for someone less inclined the less than impressive graphics would detract far too much. 6/10
A few people I’ve known have settled down to play this game together with their partner, and though in concept that sounds like a lot of fun, being a game about relationships you could share a few laughs over Vincent’s idiocy, but once you’ve played the game for a while you will realize this is a big mistake. Many of the questions you are asked during the nightmare scenes are designed for the player themselves, not Vincent, and these questions are incredibly sensitive that you may not want your partner to know the real answer to. Sometimes the game asks the player outright how they feel about relationships in regards to issues such as cheating, commitment and their own future desires. Also, if you are connected to the Playstation network then your answers are automatically uploaded onto a survey record anonymously, and you can compare your answers to others who have played the game, separated by male and female answers in the form of pie charts, and some of the results took me by surprise. One example is the question “Are all men stupid?” to which approximately 50% of females said yes, and over 70% of males also said yes. That got quite a laugh out of me.