[Review] Catherine (or “This game was hard to review because it’s so unique”)
Ideals can vary from person to person — For some, marriage can be a scary thing. In fact, in this day and age, more and more people are opting not to get married, for whatever reason. What are your thoughts on marriage? Do you want to get married? Or do you not want to get married? Although the answer ultimately is different depending on who you ask, this is one of life’s big questions nonetheless, and it’s also the main theme of Atlus’s new XBox 360 and Playstation 3 game, Catherine.
Atlus is one of, if not my favorite publisher. They are best known for releasing the Shin Megami Tensei, Persona, and Trauma Center franchises in North America. With so many unique titles in its bag, it’s safe to say that while you never know just what expect from Atlus, you can rest assured that it will be unlike any game you’ve played before. True to this, Catherine is yet another unique game, but being unique isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Catherine tells the tale of 32-year-old Vincent Brooks. Vincent and his girlfriend, Katherine have been together for several years. Thing is, she’s now talking about long-term commitment, something that Vincent doesn’t really want. It is around this time that Vincent begins having strange nightmares, and that perfectly healthy young men are starting to be found dead. Vincent frequently meets his friends after work at bar called Stray Sheep. One such night, he’s approached by beautiful bombshell named Catherine. Next thing he knows, he’s laying in bed the next morning with Catherine next to him. What did he do last night?
The “Sheep” theme is one of the things central to Catherine.
Catherine is an adult adventure/puzzle-platformer/survival horror game, the story of which is told in 3 parts – cut-scenes, night-time and Vincent’s nightmares. There are two types of cut-scenes – those are use the in-game graphic engine, and animated cut-scenes. The animated cut-scenes were done by Studio 4°C. Studio 4°C is best known Stateside for their work in such projects as the new ThunderCats series (which is awesome, I might add), The Animatrix (“Kid’s Story”), Batman: Gotham Knight (“Have I Got A Story For You” & “Working Through Pain”), and Linkin Park’s “Breaking the Habit” music video. On the other hand, much like with the Persona 3 and 4 games, Catherine’s in-game graphics are cel-shaded, giving the game an anime ascetic.
Your nights consist of hanging out and drinking with your friends at Stray Sheep, and navigating through your nightmares. While in Stray Sheep, you can meet and talk to other characters, all of whom are dealing with their own issues. You can also drink various alcoholic beverages, and work on your climbing skills by playing an arcade game called Rapunzel. You might not think they would, but every one of these things will help you in the nightmares. For example, the people you meet in Stray Sheep will appear in your nightmares, but as sheep with distinguishing features so the player can make the connection. In fact, to the other characters, everyone else is sheep except that character. Getting drunk will increase your movement speed, and your practice in Rapunzel with help you.
Each of Vincent’s nightmares have him climbing a Stage (or section) in a tower of blocks. These Stages have varying numbers of floors. However, it is not as easy as it sounds. As time passes, more and more blocks fall from the bottom, so you have to climb before you fall to your death. Obstacles, such as gaps and other sheep will try to impede your progress up too. You need to push and pull blocks to make it up each floor, so you will need to figure out how to use the blocks to make stairs and cover gaps. Your nightmares can be hell, if you’re not careful, because not only are there gaps and sheep to slow you down, but there are also trap blocks and a boss. However, there are also special blocks, like ice that makes you slide and a trampoline that bounces you up.
Don’t worry too much though. In-between each of the floors, you can save your game, talk to sheep to find out different techniques to help you climb and buy items with coins you discover while climbing. Before you proceed to the next level, you have to answer a question which is asked by a mysterious voice. Your answer to these questions will affect the outcome of the story, but I’ll get to that later.
The last floor of each night/Stage has you being chased by bosses that will kill you if you’re too slow. As the story progresses, the bosses get weirder and weirder. These bosses also have abilities to slow you down, such as making a group of blocks immovable and causing ice to fall and knock you down a few blocks.
As the nights pass, you ill be able to learn about the other characters while at Stray Sheep. Every one of them have their own issues, and you’ll learn more and more about them, each night. Also, like I previously mentioned, you’ll come across many of these same characters in your nightmares, but as sheep. None of the characters make the connection about who the sheep really are.
Catherine‘s replay value is quite high. Like the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona titles, Catherine also has a morality/choice system. Some of Vincent’s dialogue, actions and choices impact the outcome of the game. There are several different endings that you can obtain depending on the choices you made in-game. There are also several other modes to play, including Babel Mode, which features four large stages that can be played with up to two players, and; VS Colosseum, which lets two players simultaneously play a stage in order to reach the top first..
As far as the voice-acting goes, Catherine’s cast is pretty solid with several well-known actors, some returning to work on another Atlus game. Among these are Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Michelle Ruff, Liam O’Brien, Travis Willingham, Yuri Lowenthal, Erin Fitzgerald, and Kirk Thornton. The mouth movements in the cutscenes were redone from the Japanese version to match the English dialogue.
The music was done by Meguro Shoji, Tsuchiya Kenichi, and Kitajoh Atsushi. Meguro and Tsuchiya have worked together prior to this, most notably on the Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne soundtrack. Kitajoh has also worked with Meguro before, notably on the soundtrack for the Nintendo Wii game, Trauma Team. The soundtrack varies in genres and styles. The game’s opening, “YO’ is performed by L-VOKAL and is hip-hop oriented, while the in-game music is more pop, easy-listening, rock, suspenseful, and orchestral. In addition to all that, there are arrangements of classical compositions. Catherine’s soundtrack has given my friends and I a new-found appreciation for classical music.
Art Direction is by Soejima Shigenori. As such, character designs look similar to those of the Persona 3 and Persona 4 games. In fact, as I mentioned in an previous article, Vincent made his first appearance as a cameo in Persona 3 Portable.
Over all, Catherine is a fantastic game that is very unique and unlike any you’ve played previously. It’s a puzzle game that is downright erotic at times, without relying too heavily on sex, although there is a good bit of nudity in the game. I highly recommend it because unlike most of today’s games, it forces you to think, or you’re unable to proceed.
Catherine was developed by Gamebryo and Criware and published by Atlus in Japan, and Atlus USA in North America. It was released in North America on 2011.07.26 for both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. As of this writing, both retail for $59.99 USD new, and are rated M for mature.