So I have been clocking a few hours into Atlus’ horror puzzler Catherine on my PS3 because Rie Tanaka was tweeting about it and I am easily influenced by Twitter. Surprisingly, it is actually not a bad game, but it takes a lot of patience to overcome the rage-inducing learning curve, and ultimately at the end of the day the puzzle stages are not what people play the game for, or maybe that is just me.
The story is about Vincent, an average shmok, “accidentally” cheating on his girlfriend Katherine with a mysterious hot blonde girl named Catherine.
He starts having nightmares of himself “falling” which are depicted through a series of puzzles in which he has to climb to the top of a tower of stone blocks by moving blocks around in a certain way and escape death before the entire wall falls layer by layer into oblivion. This video should explain everything:
Due to the nature of the puzzle mechanics, a wrong move can totally block your progress and force you to restart the whole stage, ala Sokoban. This can be frustrating when it happens a few times right at the end of a super difficult boss fight. Also it’s rather hard to concentrate on the puzzle when some grotesque monstrosity from hell constantly distracts you with its inhuman howls of rage and infinite despair. D:
When Vincent is not busy having nightmares, he spends his time in a bar called the “Stray Sheep” where he talks to friends and strangers about his love troubles and where most story events take place. This is actually my favourite part of the game because it kind of reminds me of Shenmue (in a very distant and vague way). Vincent’s conversation with strangers he meet in the bar are often linked to the events from his nightmares which he has no recollection of while he is awake. The dialogues have a kind of Kafkaesque quality to their writing.
The title girl Catherine has a very sexy character design and is basically in charge of fan service in the game. She is playful, flirtatious and light on commitments while Vincent’s girlfriend Katherine is kind of a drag and constantly goes passive-aggressive on him over his inability to commit.
Both of them send emails to Vincent’s mobile phone and the player can customize the replies from a few options. Dialogue choices throughout the game affect an unexplained good-evil meter which presumably has some kind of an effect on the final ending. I always pick the cheating-bastard option because I want to see more Catherine fan service. I’m sure this sentence will come back to haunt me someday.
The attention to details in the story mode is quite cool. The email gimmick and the illusion of freedom in the way you choose to spend your time in the bar make you feel like you are actually living out Vincent’s life and to some extent make you feel like you deserve to be sent to hell in the nightmares for being such a lying cheating bastard (or not). The game in general also has plenty of style and atmosphere.
I especially like that part in-between stages where Vincent is asked by an disembodied voice questions such as, “Do you think that marriage is the beginning or the end of your life?” After you give your answer, the game uploads it to a central server and shows you a pie chart of actual collated responses from other players sorted by gender. It’s an interesting idea that serves no gameplay purpose but seems oddly appropriate for the material.
So yeah, it’s a weird game. The puzzles are so hard even on easy mode that the creators rushed out a 1.01 patch that adds a super easy mode and unlimited retries. But it’s pretty fun overall and I can’t really explain why.