by Keaton Arksey
reviewed on PS3
Catherine is not a game for the faint of heart, and can be incredibly difficult at times. After Catherine’s original release in Japan the developers patched in an easy mode (included in the North American release) after complaints that the game was too hard. Normal mode can be incredibly frustrating, but the sense of accomplishment after finally solving a puzzle you’ve failed a dozen times or more is the best feeling in the world. The difficulty is compounded by the final floor of a night. The game is broken into eight nights, with each night consisting of anywhere from two to five floors. On the final night, Vincent must contend with a boss, an enemy who will chase him up the tower and, should it catch up to him, kill him. These usually take the form of something Vincent has dealt with in the day leading up to the night. For example, the first night’s boss is a monstrous version of Katherine chasing him with a fork. The designs for some of the bosses are truly the stuff of nightmares, and combined with various special attacks like reversing the controls or causing Vincent to fall down some distance, these are easily the most difficult sections of the game. Finally, you are graded and given a trophy based on how much of the tower is left when you reach the exit, how many coins you collected, and if you used any items.
The story of Catherine is heavily based on what you choose to say to people. With six different endings, there is a good amount of replay ability for those who want to see every possible ending. When Vincent is ready to move on to the next level, he enters a confession booth and is asked by a mysterious voice (another part of the mystery) a question. These usually involve love or relationships, asking personal questions like whether being a good housekeeper is in the top three qualities you look for in someone or whether marriage is the beginning or end of life. During the day, Vincent spends most of his time at the Stray Sheep, the local bar, with his group of friends. In almost any conversation a dialogue choice can have an effect on Vincent’s inner thoughts, which will eventually have an outcome in the story. Vincent’s friends also have their own relationship problems, and Vincent can help them (earning precious trophies in the process). There are other bar patrons, some who look suspiciously like some of the sheep you see between levels. If you don’t help them with their problems, you may end up seeing them on the local news as the latest victim.
The bar isn’t all about solving problems and gloom however. Drinking alcohol, while causing Vincent to become drunk, does have a bonus, making Vincent go a little faster during the puzzle stages that night. If that was not enough, every time you polish off a drink you get a little bit of trivia about the type of alcohol consumed. There’s a jukebox to change the background music, and an arcade game that is literally the nightmare stages but with a Rapunzel theme. The bar segments also act as an opportunity to save your game and reply to text messages, which also have an effect on Vincent. If the characters were one dimensional and boring these sections wouldn’t be worth much, but even the side characters have enough personality and intrigue that these sections are a pleasant break from the puzzles and do a great job in establishing character and forwarding the plot.
Spread The Love
Catherine has an interesting graphical look; taking an anime-styled look that visually sets every character apart. Though the character models have some odd lip-synching, all of the designs are superb. In fact, some of the boss designs are Silent Hill-level creepy. While most cut-scenes are rendered using the in-game graphics engine, there are a few anime scenes sprinkled throughout the story. These are done by the famed animators at Studio 4 Degrees C, who worked on Batman: Gotham Knight, Halo Legends, and the new Thundercats series. These scenes are really well done and are finished to a high quality, making me kind of wish a whole Catherine movie could be made.
Most of the music is re-imaginings of classical works by musicians like Bach and Mozart, fitting the dark and frightening theme of the nightmare sequences perfectly. The voice acting is some of the best this year, as all the actors and actresses do a great job playing their roles and no one phones in a performance. Along with the main story, Catherine features a Babel Mode that includes four large stages that can be played with two players locally. Once the game has been completed, a VS mode is unlocked in which two players compete to be the first to reach the top. While they lack online capability (the only online feature in Catherine is leaderboards), it is a fun little diversion that should at least be checked out once the story is completed.
Catherine’s appeal to Western gamers is certainly niche, but a recommendation for it couldn’t be easier. With a mature and adult story line paired with the addictive and deep puzzles, Catherine should not be overlooked. While the difficulty might turn away some, Catherine is one of the best games this year so far.
Mature and thought provoking story, addictive and deep puzzles, great characters, utterly unique
Can be unforgiving with its difficulty