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Catherine Review: Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

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I know, I know, I’m four years tardy to the party. But, I do have my reasons. I had actually planned to review Catherine right around the time that it came out, but, there were two outlying factors that made it quite impossible for me to do so.

1) I hate puzzle games. I’m sorry, I just do. So much.

2) Ironically my own fiancée became a stray sheep not long after this game came out, so I reeeeally wasn’t in the mood to play a game where the protagonist was messing around on his.

But, time heals all wounds and a Playstation sale made this game five dollars, so, REVIEW TIME!!!

Catherine tells the story of “stray sheep” Vincent who is dating the beautiful, albeit very driven, focused and somewhat domineering Katherine. Vincent has been in a stable relationship with her for at least five years, and while there’s nothing really wrong with them he’s fallen into a state of complacency. Vincent is an overall selfish guy who doesn’t really want to have to grow up. As he and his friends point out numerous times throughout the story, they’re all just big kids in grown up bodies.

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I never noticed until now how much this looks like the Jackie Chan meme…

As far as Vincent is concerned, his life would be perfect if it consisted of nothing more than casual relations with Katherine, meeting her for lunch on occasion, and drinking and smoking with his friends. He doesn’t see why life has to change, and is happy buying expensive toys, hanging out, and basically getting the benefits of both single and dating life simultaneously.

Not that there’s anything wrong with chillin’ with the guys, buuuut there’s a wee bit of a problem when you have your significant other deadlocked in a relationship that isn’t going anywhere.

Katherine has the desire to continue to grow as a person and better herself as she moves on through the stages of life. Add to that the desire to settle down and start a family, her friends all getting or being married, and the possibility of a child on the way and well, Vincent’s got some growing up to do.

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Vincent however has other plans. Deciding that life would be easier if it could just be stagnant, he begins to descend into a deep desire to have a more exciting, chaotic life where he’s a free spirit who doesn’t have to worry about anything changing or locking him down. As he dreams of a life of excitement, he ends up biting off far more than he can chew in the form of a mysterious sultry siren by the name of Catherine…

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The Gameplay:

Part 1: Visual Drama

 

The gameplay in Catherine is broken down into three separate sections. There’s the visual drama segments (I don’t think that’s what they’re called but I like my term so I’m using it), the A-Life segments and the Puzzle segments. The Visual Drama flows seamlessly back and forth between actual anime sequences and CG that is designed to look like an anime. This is integrated so well that there’ll actually be times when the anime is a part of the CG world, such as an anime news program playing on a TV in the CG bar.

During the Visual Drama segments you’ll watch the story play out in a way that reflects the type of person you choose for Vincent to become. Depending on your actions, Vincent is either a total sleazebag jerky jerk, a nice guy who might have made a horrible life altering mistake or a neutral piece of driftwood who doesn’t really care one way or the other. If this sounds suspiciously like Order, Chaos and Neutrality, that’s because it is! Catherine is basically Shin Megami Tensei without hating my religion, or Persona for people who don’t like to have to actually navigate anywhere or fight anything.

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The art in Catherine is bloody phenomenal, and the voice acting is beyond brilliant. The sequences are never so long as to make you wonder why you’re holding your controller, though you should understand that what you’re playing is an animated visual novel with puzzle elements and branching story paths.

I found that the game had just the right amount of anime sequences, enough to really drive the dynamic nature of the story without being dull. The only real problem I had as being one who is not fond of puzzle games was the strong desire to just watch the game instead of having to play it, but when you really have to fight for what you believe in during the puzzle sequences it makes the various downfalls and triumphs in the story that much more bitter/satisfying.

 

The Gameplay:

Part 2: A-life on the town (ha ha see what I did there?)

 

I want that guy's hat. I *neeeeed* that guy's hat.

I want that guy’s hat. I *neeeeed* that guy’s hat.

 

The A-Life segments in Catherine take all of the leg work out of Persona titles and take the liberty of always dropping you right where you need to be at the time. They alternate between one of five locations: the Stray Sheep bar and pub that you hang out with your friends at, the cafe where you go on dates with Katherine, the sushi place where you and your above friend Orlando (who wins everything for having the coolest hat on the planet) dine at from time to time, the men’s restroom at the place of business (possibly an IT firm?) that Vincent and Orlando work at, and on rare occasions Vincent’s apartment.

At the Stray Sheep you’ll interact with friends Orlando:

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Jonny:

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Toby:

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and Erica:

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The choices that you make in your time spent with your friends will affect the story as you play. Now, this is all well and good, and it really helps make the game pop, but there’s a few problems here.

1) Sometimes you get penalized for stupid things.

You’ll find yourself involved in an almost nightly sort of argument with Katherine in regard to Vincent’s immature behaviors. The problem again isn’t that he likes to buy nice things or that he spends time with his friends, it’s that he buys expensive things to the point of being in debt constantly and spends every night getting soused with the guys instead of ever doing anything with his girl.

During these text conversations you’ll have the option to change what you say to an Order, Neutral or Chaos option, or as I viewed them paragon, apathetic and stray. It’s pretty easy to get the outcomes that you want from these conversations; the real problem comes whenever Katherine calls you to patch things up if you’ve been cool or go off if you’ve been a jerky jerk.

I found at least four occasions where I got renegade points for something completely innocuous, and one in particular where I was penalized for what I still don’t understand as being the wrong thing to say. Katherine and I were sort of arguing earlier about Vincent’s reaction, or lack thereof, to her potentially being pregnant. She apologizes for fighting and asks if she had upset me earlier. My options were literally

“Not really.”

or

“…”

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So, when I told her I wasn’t mad, my full paragon bar dropped almost all the way to renegade. She laughed and joked about the situation and expressed her love for me after I told her I wasn’t mad…and I got penalized for that for some reason.

The option where I just let her sit in awkward silence was met by her feeling bad about herself, getting upset with me, and hanging up in a huff. I neither lost nor gained points for this option.

So to review, telling my girl I’m not mad at her after we fight and making her smile and laugh is apparently a bad thing, while making her feel bad about herself has absolutely no consequences or ramifications whatsoever. I can only conclude that the writers of these segments had very messed up relationships in the past…

 

2) Your life is in my hands

The other problem is that as you play through the puzzle segments, you’ll meet various people who will live or die depending on your encouragement and guidance through their life’s problems. The game makes it quite clear no matter how you play that the Vincent everyone grew up with was always reaching back and encouraging and helping others along the way. And so it is that you have the opportunity to do so with the game’s supporting cast.

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As you talk to them you’ll get to know more about what particular sin is trapping them in the nightmare world, and have the opportunity to help them break away so that they can survive. The problem with this is A) not unlike the issues with Katherine, there are times that something will really seem like the paragon thing to say, but it’s not, and you have to be pretty much flawless for everyone to survive, and B) you only get a short amount of time to talk to everyone in the waking world, and if you miss your chance they’re just gonna die.

My first play through I saved all but two people, and one of the ones that died I still have no idea what I did wrong. I plan on doing a second paragon playthrough with a guide so I know how to not make these apparently drive-less individuals give up and die.

 

The Gameplay:

Part 3: Climb Your Way to Victory

 

You win all of my affection if you know what the above quote is from.

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Ah yes, the puzzle sequences. Full disclosure: I hate puzzle games, so I played on Easy. It’s not that I don’t like being cognitively challenged, and it’s not as though I don’t enjoy an enticing quandary every now and again. I just don’t enjoy puzzle games. I love finding patterns in things and working out how to solve complex issues, but puzzle games can kiss my hind quarters.

Having blown through Easy in two afternoons with literally zero trouble except that the second to last boss is broken as heck, I’ll probably play through normal on my next play through. I really just wanted to force myself to play the game, so, there ya go.

During the puzzle sequences you have to climb the Astaroth Tower lest you fall to a grisly death below, and really nobody wants that. Well, okay, I did enjoy it a little the first time, but, you read the intro to this article and blame me!

There’s not a whole lot to say honestly. You can solve these puzzles in a multitude of ways, if you screw up you can take back a few moves, and if things are still too hard you can buy items to help you out. You also find them in levels sometimes, things like a lightning bolt that will kill all the enemies on the stage, or an energy drink that will make you climb faster.

The only real difference between Easy and Normal is that in easy parts of each puzzle are already done for you at varying heights and intervals so that you don’t have to spend as much time figuring things out. Which is perfect if you just want to experience the story.

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Not unlike how everyone has a different nightmare in Silent Hill, everyone is chased by a different specter as they attempt Surviving the Game (Ice T). Now, you obviously shouldn’t be messing with this game if you’re underage, but in case you need me to beat you over the head with that point your nightmares will range from crazy hands, a demon baby, and a sentient bit of lady parts that wants to eat you and feast on your blood, among other things.

Every boss has a unique way of hosing you, beginning with a slash that will corrupt the majority of the blocks up to a certain height and cause them to break away and going as far as striking you with lightning that will kill you instantly if it lands. You’ll have to outrun chainsaws, deal with bosses that can randomly turn the blocks into any of the game’s various traps at will (such as instant death spikes, blocks of slippery ice that will send you plummeting to your demise, bombs and more) and many other various ways to die.

You’ll be graded on how many chains of vertical transitions you can string together as well as how much money you gather while you climb. Do well enough, and you’ll be rewarded with a statue of the game’s afro wielding host! Yaaaaay be the envy of your friends!

In between floors you’ll have a chance at the landings to try to convince people not to kill themselves, learn more about the side stories of the game, gain deeper insight into the game’s two central themes (more on that in a bit), and answer questions selected from a massive pool.

These questions, bee tee dubs, are another area in which you may find yourself penalized for no real reason, so make sure you save before you talk to anyone or try to go to the next stage. Honestly about halfway through the game I just stopped caring and decided that I’d make up the points I lost during the bar and boudoir segments. Of course, this decision led to two people dying, but, ya know.

 

The Story

The Good: The Consequences of Abuse and Despair

Archie

Catherine is chock full of the most controversial characters you’ve never heard of. It’s kind of difficult to talk in any great detail about any of them without massively spoiling their plot, but I will say make sure you take the time to get to know and try to save everyone, even if you want to be jerky jerk Vincent. If you don’t, you will miss out on some unbelievably stellar story telling that isn’t afraid to deal with more than a few “taboos” and topics that society would prefer you just never talk about.

The game deals with everything from violent abuse, sexual abuse, various causes for divorce, and one particular topic I’ll talk about in just a second.

In addition, even though you have the ability to direct Vincent’s journey, you’re not Vincent. This isn’t like playing a blank slate hero like in Persona or Shin Mega Ten. Vincent is his own man, and that man happens to be lazy, selfish and cowardly. Even as you try to steer him on the right path, he’ll still make a number of decisions that will make you cringe. Unless, ya know, you think there’s nothing wrong with being a stray sheep.

The only real problem I have with the game is that there’s not really any consequence to being a jerk off, but that’s also a plus. I’m living proof that sometimes people just do crappy things to other people, and the people that do those crappy things don’t always have a satisfyingly crappy comeuppance like all the movies, fairy tales and conversations with our parents when we’re kids tell us. Sometimes people do crappy things and you’re just hurt and then you either move on or you don’t, and in that regard the story telling is quite realistic no matter where you go.

All of the characters feel vibrant and are far more than set pieces. I found myself actually caring very deeply about whether or not the other sheep lived or died, and when certain people start showing up in the nightmare world I felt a noticeable sense of panic and concern over their well-being.

 

Storytelling

The Bad: Easily Missed

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As mentioned earlier, there’s quite a lot that you can miss out on. More often than not this is because you spent more time talking to one person at the bar than you apparently should have. Other times this is because apparently a lot of positive or innocuous things are really bad according to Catherine Game Logic.

 

Storytelling

The Good: A Plot Twist You Won’t See Coming

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A big plus is that I really didn’t expect what they were doing until they did it…

 

Storytelling

The Bad: A Disappointing Explanation

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Unfortunately I found the reasons behind why everything was happening to be a little sub par. Add that to the nature of the party involved and, well, I feel like the big twist could have been better, even if the True Paragon ending was soooo worth it.

 

Final Thoughts

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As someone who had to deal with a stray sheep in his life, Catherine was a hard game for me to play. I found myself definitely understanding Katherine’s frustrations, even if she was a bit on the domineering side, and found myself wanting to throat punch Vincent and Orlando (the latter of whom represents the Chaos in this story, with Jonny being the neutral and Toby being the Order, for those that didn’t catch the parallels) more often than not.

With that said, playing the game was quite cathartic for me. I admittedly liked at least a little there being a special place of tribulation for folks like Vincent, but more so enjoyed the Vincent that I crafted; a man working hard to grow into a better person in spite of his own self interests.

The gameplay, taking my lack of love of puzzlers aside, was a lot of fun, though the controls could have used some refining. More than once I died because the controls either decided to be too responsive, or not responsive enough.

The story moved at a perfect pace, and wrapped everything up in a nice tidy bow.

Overall Catherine is a game I can’t possibly recommend enough. Even if you aren’t a fan of puzzlers, like me, or you think anime games are lame (what the poop is wrong with you?!), the game is well put together and tells a great story. And speaking of the story…

 

The Spoilery Controversy Part!

Stop reading now if you don’t want plot spoilers about Archie, Todd and Erika. Seriously. Just skip to the bottom and like and retweet this article and then move on.

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Archie and Erika, and to a lesser extent Todd were actually the most interesting characters in the game to me. Orlando was honestly my flat out favorite, followed by Archie. Yeah, don’t ask me why I liked Orlando so much. I guess I could identify with a lot of aspects of his struggle. Well, until I found out the reason behind his struggle, but anyways!

I love stories that deal with the things that society tells us to shut up about. I really do. Having endured at an early age a lot of the things that no one, many of your professed “besties” often included just plain don’t want to deal with, I applaud anything willing to take a stance and deal with it anyways.

Archie is a character who you’re supposed to kind of pendulum back and forth between liking and not liking. He seems really nice and you feel bad for him, and then you find out he shacks up with lonely women, gets expensive presents from them, sleeps with them a lot, then takes their money, ruins their lives and moves on. He gets a thrill out of destroying women, he absolutely thrives on it. Breaking hearts is pretty much his bread and butter.

He even goes so far as to sleep with his best friend/boss’s wife. So, why do I like him? I don’t. But, I like his story.

If you stick with Archie long enough and help him realize he needs to be a much better person, you’ll discover why he is the way he is. Bad break up? Nope. Bad relationship? Nope. So why does he hate women so much that he gets a genuine euphoric thrill out of destroying their lives?

Every day of Archie’s childhood was spent being chained up nude in his mother’s basement. She routinely raped him day in and day out and starved and beat him until one day she forgot to lock the door when she was through with him. He ran out of the house and never looked back.

Completely psychologically destroyed, Archie set about a path of destroying as many female lives as possible, viewing love and relationships as nothing more than an illusion. If you stick with him long enough though, he’ll manage to break away from his mental and emotional prison and realize that deep down inside all he really wants is a real family, a real relationship, and real love. He even realizes that part of why he hates himself so much is that deep down inside he really just wants to forgive his mother, and acknowledges that he can’t move on with his life until he does so.

And you can help him do just that.

Moving on to Todd, Archie’s best friend: Achieve6

Todd grew up with a violently abusive father, a father who was so extreme that he even gashed Todd with an ax on more than one occasion. Todd’s mother simply stood by and watched as Todd’s father enforced in him that to be a man was to hold absolute power, to have many sexual conquests, and to destroy anything that stood in your way. Todd lived his life desperately trying to transform into the kind of man his father had become, and then his father did him the cruelest disservice of all; he died before Todd ever had a chance to reach closure.

Todd becomes a womanizing power hungry dog, and spends his life trying to find some way to fill the holes in his heart. Even so, he does everything he can to constantly protect and watch out for Archie, even forgiving him without hesitation for sleeping with his wife if the two of them are able to survive to the end. Todd is able to let go of his past, love his wife the way he always should have, and realize that he doesn’t have to bind himself to the past or to this false image of manliness in order to be a complete individual.

And that brings us to Erica:

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So, Erica is a transgender. Not a hermaphrodite, but a guy who decided to become a girl. At the time of the fairly subtle revelation, left open enough for you to decide that maybe Erica was just a supreme tom boy in school but not really given the conversation between Erica and Toby in the True Katherine ending, I had a lot of mixed feelings about the story. Overall I felt like it was just really unnecessary. As most of you know, I’m a Christian and this is a Christian game review website. Obviously I’m against the idea of sex changes as a result of that.

What I found worth exploring however, was the why behind it.

The central themes in Catherine are Change and Bad Reactions to Trauma. After figuring out that Erica used to be Eric, I was a little surprised that Vincent and company were perfectly at ease with their interactions. Being completely realistic, it is a little strange that a group of three guy friends (Toby is the only one who wasn’t around during their school days) would be totally chill around the sexually risque Erica.

Then I thought about the events and timeline and started forming some interesting thoughts on the matter.

Depending on who you listen to, Erica was hurt very badly in a relationship either in junior high or high school and disappeared for a good long while, during which everyone was afraid that he/she had killed themselves. After being gone for a period, Eric emerged as Erica and that was that.

I’m assuming that regardless of junior high or high school, that Vincent and company had enough time to get used to the idea and make their own form of peace with it. My views on Erica as a character are ultimately what Erica represents. Towards the conclusion of the game Erica begins having the same nightmare world experiences as the other guys in the game. I’ve heard the reason being described by some people as the sin of keeping Toby from ever having a real relationship that will multiply the human populace (yep, Vincent and company are jerky jerks enough to not tell the clearly straight Toby that he slept with a girl who used to be a guy, and the poor kid was only ever in it for a family and love), but regardless of the why behind it the clear reveal is that Erica is being punished for messing with someone else’s life. Beyond that, the character keeps in with the theme of reacting badly/extremely to traumatic experiences.

In that regard, I see Erica as more of a cautionary tale than anything else. Now, with the vaguely open way of interpretation I’d like to just think of Erica as a girl and be done with it, but since it’s clear that’s not what the writers are going for it’s up to you to interpret your feelings on the character’s inclusion. Ultimately, I found this twist to be unnecessary as there are a multitude of other past trauma to poor life decision choices they could’ve gone with to keep in line with the theme of the story, but, it’s portrayal and reasoning make it not big enough for me to not recommend the game.

I don’t doubt that my views will upset more than a few people, but, I’ve never shied away from my faith on my websites in the past and I don’t intend to start now. I follow the doctrinal belief of love as much as any other true Christian does, but that doesn’t mean that I need to compromise my creed or path just to score some extra likes on my page. Take from that what you will. And now, a barrier of random Catherine pictures for people that don’t want to accidentally read this spoiler section and skipped to the end!

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Thanks for reading! Like, retweet and subscribe below and look forward to more articles in the days to come!

Xeawn, out!

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