I was very excited about Catherine. As someone that considers Persona 3 and 4 the two best RPGs made since... I don’t know, Mother 3?... I’ve been eagerly awaiting the next game from the same team. Sure the first post in this blog was about Catherine! I was a little sceptical when I learned the game wouldn’t be an RPG but I had faith in the Persona team. Well I had nothing to worry about.
Catherine is ultimately a tale about relationships. You play as Vincent, an everyday Japanese guy in his late twenties with a steady long term girlfriend named Katherine and suffering from a major mid-life crisis. However things get very complicated for Vincent after a drunken one night stand with another girl coincidently named Catherine. Vincent has a dilemma on his hands and has to choose between the safe option of a life with Katherine or with the exciting and younger Catherine. While this is happening men of a similar age to Vincent are turning up dead across the city having died in their sleep. These deaths seem connected to the nightmares Vincent is having every night where he needs to climb a tower otherwise he feels he might end up on the news alongside the other mysterious deaths. Oh, he’s also joined by a group of humanoid sheep during these dreams.
|So Catherine or...|
The dream sections take the form of a sliding block puzzle where Vincent must make his way to the top of a stack of blocks before the ground, which is gradually falling away, catches but to him. This may not sound like the most appealing gameplay but it’s surprisingly addictive with lots of depth. As you progress more gameplay elements are added to keep things fresh and there’s a surprising array of techniques that are required to succeed, some of which are demonstrated by the friendly sheep during the respites between each stage. It’s amazing what the team behind the game was able to accomplish with such a simple premise. Outside the dream sequences player control is a little sparse. The only times you are free to walk around as Vincent are during the segments in the bar at the end of each day. You can talk to other patrons and reply to text messages from the two love interests and doing so can affect the course of the story; there are multiple endings and events that are determined by how you proceed during these scenes.
|'Baby with a chainsaw. It's the killer!'|
There might be a lack of interactivity but thankfully the storyline, mostly told through gorgeous cutscenes, is brilliant and is well written, an unfortunate rarity for videogames. Both the English and Japanese voice cast should also be congratulated for turning in fantastic performances. Just like Persona 3 and 4, Catherine shows great maturity in dealing with its subject matter, that of relationships. Despite the mature rating on the box Catherine deals with issues such as relationships and sex in a tasteful and intelligent manner, in stark contrast to the often embarrassing and cringeworthy sex scenes of Bioware’s Mass Effect and Dragon Age series or the poorly written and under developed relationship in Heavy Rain. It’s nice to play a videogame with a mature rating that for once isn’t utterly childish. The game may be full of cutscenes and dialogue but Metal Gear Solid 4 this isn’t. It’s always entertaining, well paced and never outstays its welcome unlike the dreadful MGS4. One nice addition was that between each stage you are asked a personal question. How you answer this question can affect how the story develops but you are also given a breakdown of how other people playing the game answered the same question and how the answers differ between the sexes. It’s an incidental but interesting touch.
There’s a lot more to Catherine than just the sliding block puzzle gameplay. It’s a fascinating game proving that videogames can deal with some mature issues and the lives of ordinary people and not just the fantastical (although there’s a bit of that as well). There’s plenty of other content to keep you playing long after the game is finished. Beating the game opens up some new puzzle modes and there’s also the infuriatingly addictive Rapunzel arcade game in the bar to master. A game about the mundane life of an ordinary everyday man shouldn’t have made a good videogame but Catherine manages to succeed in not just being great, but extraordinary.