Written by Twisted Ideas
Catherine is developed by Atlus’s Persona Team know for the popular Persona JRPG series. Unlike Persona, Catherine is a puzzle game. You play as Vincent Brooks, a software developer in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend Katherine. You wake up in a nightmare climbing a collapsing tower. The next morning Vincent and Katherine discuss their relationship. Later than night after his friends leave the bar Vincent stays to reflect and meets a woman. He finds himself in the nightmare again discovering that if he can survive and climb the eight floors he can escape the nightmares. Upon waking up is in bed with the beautiful woman from the bar also named Catherine.
Catherine like Persona 3 and 4 divides the gameplay into two parts in this case the puzzle and the social. The puzzle elements consists of you pushing and pulling blocks to create staircases to reach the top of a crumbling tower. What makes it unique is that blocks don’t have to have anything under it to keep it from falling. Blocks that are connected by edges will not fall. This combined with items and various types of blocks (many are lethal), sheep getting in your way and monsters chasing you up the tower makes for a challenging puzzle experience.
The people who designed the puzzle gameplay must hate the player because while fun it is very difficult. Certain parts of a level requires specific solutions based on a block moving techniques. You can easily block all progress by making the wrong move or if one of the various block types ruins your strategy completely. This is alleviated by letting you undo up to nine moves but only in easy and normal mode. Hard mode does not allow you to undo any moves and even the early levels are more difficult than most of normal mode. The camera is focused at the front of the tower but can be moved to view the sides but if you are moving along the backside then you are mostly if not completely out of sight.
Upon completing a level you are taken to a resting zone where you can save and talk to other sheep in the nightmare. Some sheep have distinguishing features and you may be able to share climbing techniques helping each other survive the nightmare. Before starting the next stage of the night you are asked a question in a confessional. These are questions about relationships and it will affect a meter similar to moral choice systems. These questions can affect the ending of the game and you are able to see how other players, divided by male and female, answered the same question on their first playthrough of the game.
After a nightmare is finished Vincent’s life continues and the story progresses. Vincent has to try to figure out how to handle his relationship with Katherine while trying to get Catherine out of the picture and his friends lend their ears and give him advice. At the end of the day you end up in a bar where you can talk to your friends and the regulars and keep in touch with Katherine. Time passes each time you speak with somebody or take a drink making it possible to miss conversations with characters. There is an arcade game called Rapunzel that is a variation of the climbing puzzles in the nightmare which is both addicting and difficult.
You may recognize the regulars in the bar as the sheep in the nightmare but Vincent and they regulars have no memory of the nightmare. You can speak with them to reveal more about their character and story usually dealing with their views of relationships. Talking with them in the bar and the nightmare present questions for you to answer. Your answers at the bar and the nightmare can either motivate them or put them down which will decide whether they live or die by the end of the game.
Catherine’s uses 3D cel-shaded graphics of anime characters. Those who have played Persona 4 will see a lot of similarities in design but the character models are much more expressive and dynamic. Catherine’s graphics are rather bland compared other games with non-realistic graphics like Street Fighter 4 but they are bright and not a deal breaker. The cutscenes oddly jump between 2D and 3D and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to choose one over the other. The music is composed of remixes of classical music. Music from Beethoven, Chopin, Bach and more are recognizable and memorable.
Catherine is one of few games that I can think of that puts adult relationships right on the table. Catherine has what seems to be a moral choice system but what it is are questions about relationships and how you would react to them. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is the only game that I can think of that dealt with relationship in this fashion. The problem with Shattered Memories was that they had few questions about being married and others that just didn’t apply to me and probably many people. Catherine’s confessional questions apply to anyone regardless of gender or what their relationship status. I would imagine that you would get a varied set of answers. The themes of marriage, cheating and where to go in a relationship are real problems that couples face. When a game confronts real issues like this it feels more real and is a more compelling narrative.
Catherine feels like it is testing the waters for a Persona game for next-gen consoles. There is multiple endings but have to make the choices I didn’t want to my first time around isn’t appealing to me. Catherine is primarily a puzzle game but underneath is commentary on love and relationships handled maturely albeit bizarrely. Games often lack good narrative but have gameplay or vice versa Catherine has both and is better for it. If you enjoy puzzles then you will enjoy Catherine, if you enjoy romance then you will enjoy Catherine. It may not be for everyone but it is a game worth your time even if only once.