A Brutal Gamer review.
There are quite a few odd Japanese games that never make the jump across to the West. Even some of those that do take a long time to reach these shores. The Atlus Persona team had created one such game, Catherine, which was originally released in Japan almost a year ago, before arriving in North America last July. Finally, it’s making it’s way over to Europe, and it’s strange. Extremely strange.
Catherine sees you playing as Vincent Brooks, who has been in a relationship with a woman named Katherine (with a ‘K’) for several years. As she starts to talk of marriage and commitment, another woman, Catherine (with a C), appears and shows an attraction to Vincent. Rumours are going around that young, cheating men are dying in real life because of dying in nightmares they are having, and soon enough, Catherine’s arrival is causing Vincent to have these dreams, and supposedly the only way to not die in the dream is to get to the very top of a huge tower, something that, according to legend, only happens once every 100 years.
The gameplay in Catherine consists of two main parts. Most of the game is played in Vincent’s nightmares which are puzzle stages, which take place across 8 levels and require you to get to the top of a tower by pushing and pulling blocks around and scaling them, while fighting off enemies to get higher. Each level has a boss character at the end, who can attack you or manipulate the blocks as you try and climb as quickly as possible. Once you complete a level, you’ll get a series of cut scenes before Vincent joins his friends in the local bar, ‘The Stray Sheep’, where you can walk around and talk to people, and try to help them through the problems they’re having in their lives. You can also play with the jukebox and play ‘Rapunzel’, a game which is basically a retro style version of the puzzle stages.
As you play through the game, in the bar stages you will receive text messages from both Katherine and Catherine, which you can choose to reply to. Whether you reply, and the reply you actually send, affects a ‘good/bad’ meter which will affect how the game ultimately ends. In addition, in between climbing stages, you will be asked a question in a confessions booth, which also has an effect on the meter. There are several different endings you can get, although Vincent’s actions and demeanor don’t change based on your responses. Even if you are trying to lean specifically towards one woman, Vincent will still be indecisive in the story scenes, so you don’t see any obvious results of your decisions until the end.
The puzzles themselves start out simple enough, to ease you into the basics of the game. You push and pull blocks around to create a path for yourself, and blocks won’t fall off the stage along as they are connected to other blocks by at least a diagonal edge. The difficulty ramps up hard and fast, however, as new block types are thrown in to aid and hinder you, such as trap blocks which will kill you with spikes if you stand on them for to long, to ice blocks that you will slip up on if you try to move on them, and blocks that catapult you up to higher levels.
An early technique shown to you is to rotate the camera to change your perspective on the stage. The trouble is, the camera only rotates by 90 degrees either way, so if you’re hanging around the back of the level, seeing where you are can be a problem. This isn’t helped by the fact that ‘left’ and ‘right’ seem to change direction at random, so you can keep hitting left and at some point, you’ll start moving to the right suddenly. This makes things annoying if you find yourself forced to navigate behind the blocks. There are also times, particularly in the middle of the game, where you find yourself progressing through levels by pure luck rather than any kind of skill, despite the numerous techniques you’re taught between levels. The whole block climbing aspect does get old after a while, though, so this likely isn’t a game you’re going to want to clear in one sitting.
Catherine is particularly story heavy, although most of the characters you come across don’t seem to develop all that much. Even talking to everyone, you don’t seem to learn that much about them. The story scenes themselves look great, with both the in-engine and full on anime scenes looking sharp. The switches between the two styles seems to happen at strange points, though, sometimes in the middle of scenes. The boss levels are particularly striking, with a frankly bizarre range of creatures waiting to kill Vincent, from a giant baby not wanting his daddy to leave, to a fork wielding pair of arms trying to stab you. It’s more strange than outright scary, but it’s very much what you’d expect of a Japanese game of this type.
The voice acting is of a good standard, featuring a lot of veterans of English translations of anime and Japanese games, from the likes of Naruto and Dragon Ball to name but a few. The soundtrack to the game is also varied and really adds to the atmosphere of proceedings.
Catherine is an original and refreshing concept, and is something you should definitely take a look at if you like your games a little on the strange side. The vivid visual style, sounds and events lead to something quite unique and alluring. Admittedly, you will be getting tired of all the block pushing towards the end, and it would be nice if there was a bit more variety in what you can do when Vincent is awake. Catherine is difficult, but just the right kind of difficulty, where you’ll be determined to beat the level, rather than destroying your controller. If you want something that’s very different, then this is well worth checking out.