When I think of Catherine, the key points that come to mind are love, lust, infidelity and weighing a man’s two heads to his heart. While the game has been made out to look like an adult-oriented game centered around sex, after having gone through the plot a few times, I’ve found this point only functions as an accent towards the main plot.
In Catherine, you play the role of one Vincent Brooks, a man with no ambitions, no desires and really no motivation to be anything more than what he is; a guy who’s got a job and a girlfriend who isn’t great by any stretch of the word, but isn’t horrible either. He’s the typical “average guy” and is left pretty blank, until the storyline progresses.
Once the game begins, we’re thrust into the main aspect of the game, climbing up complex block-like towers. The first of which is introduced by Vincent walking through an ebony door with a golden ram relief on its face only to have it vanish behind him as it closes. As Vincent panics, a mysterious voice calls out, “Hurry up and climb! Save your breath and start climbing! If you fall, you’re dead!”
From then on, the player is directed through the tutorial and given instructions on how to move blocks around to climb one’s way up the tower and escape from the nightmare world. After completing the tutorial, we see the man, or more appropriately the sheep behind the voice as we see that you’re trapped in a mysterious world that is only filled with men; all of whom have been unfaithful to their lovers or had a lack of commitment.
After climbing the first of several puzzles, and finding refuge in the landing, Vincent walks into a confessional, decorated entirely with the male and female symbols as a painting of Vincent being crucified on a large, metal female symbol, where we’re introduced to another key aspect of the game; confessional questions. These help influence Vincent’s morality, giving the player a serious question, and upon answering tells the player if they’re more inclined to follow a side brought more towards law or chaos. Upon completing the second puzzle, Vincent and the player are brought back into the real world.
As Vincent wakes up, the player finds that the whole prior segment was a part of his dream which embarrassingly enough takes place in front of his long-term girlfriend Katherine. Through her dialogue, it’s made clear to the player that she wants to get married soon if she’s to keep things going with Vincent, even though she tries disguising her speech through more subtle language. After work, Vincent and his friends head to the bar and he brings it up in conversation, where Katherine’s intentions are made obvious by his friends Jonny, Orlando and Toby. While at the bar, we’re introduced to the texting function of the game which helps shape Vincent’s moral character, in effect determining how the game ends.
Once it gets later on in the night, a mysterious and ravishingly beautiful girl comes up to Vincent and has a few drinks with him and eventually pans out into the second nightmare sequence. The same pattern applies, although on the final stage, a new element is introduced; bosses. As Vincent is in the dream world, even the tiniest of fears is magnified to terrifying levels as Vincent is forced to escape the Hands of Grudge, Night 2’s “opponent.” Once at the top of the tower, Vincent opens the door to his freedom and beams of light destroy his fears. Vincent awakes, glad to know the nightmare’s over, only to find that wrapped around his arm is the beautiful woman he met at the bar; nude.
Atlus takes a considerably different approach to pushing this game onto the market as we’re forced to make moral decisions and decide the value of relationships as those who are committed to their partners are faced with the idea of infidelity, while relating to those who do cheat on their significant others and the horrors and stress the situation may bring. The only criticism I can bring to this is the fact that this game is only aimed towards a very specific audience; those who love drama and a good storyline to the game, those who have cheated or are at least curious about what it’s like and gamers who have purchased Atlus games before, notably the Persona series where Vincent makes a cameo in Persona 3 Portable.
As for the potentially risqué nature of the game, I feel it’s only right to address that a sexual nature is displayed only when responding appropriately to Catherine’s texts (typically yielding titillating pictures, more of which unlocking through multiple playthroughs) and through some dialogue on Catherine and Vincent’s behalf.
Let’s face it, boys will be boys and if you’re too young to buy the game on your own, you won’t be missing much and to the parents, there’s nothing that’s definitively graphic about the game. Risqué, yes; but there’s no genital or far too revealing mammary imagery. Suffice to say, those who were considering buying the game in efforts to get some free porn, unless you’re into softcore at best with a couple kinky outfits thrown in, then get over yourself and enjoy the game as a whole. This brings me to my next point about the texting; it’s leading at best, but it doesn’t go into the popular act of sexting. Any intimate actions are solely up to the interpretation of the player and how much of a dirty mind they have.
The images can be rewarding, but as a disclaimer, you'll have to make more than one playthrough to see more than what I'll show ya.
In regards to the puzzle sequences, they provide a substantial level of difficulty and for those so inclined, there’s a way to access a “Very Easy” mode from a particular input code. Otherwise, it’s nothing that can’t be picked up over the course of a couple hours and given that there are eight endings to work towards, the player is most likely to continue improving as they play on. To give fair warning, by playing on hard mode, you either need to know exactly what you’re doing or need to be a glutton for punishment.
If there’s any other upsides that could be mentioned, it would have to be the notion that Atlus has decided to take the bull by the horns and tackle a previously untouched issue, deemed too taboo (or at least unmarketable) for a video game. The fact that it shows the drama of an unfaithful man and goes about bringing to light an issue best left alone to the privacy of individuals would have to be one of the novel charms that made the game come off as appealing as it did.
After having played through Catherine over three times, I found that it never lacked any substance to its development. There was a full stock of highly talented voice actors such as Laura Bailey, Liam O’Brian, Travis Willingham, Johnny Young Bosch and Yuri Lowenthal, all SacAnime regulars present and in terms of video game voice acting, it sounded completely genuine, even if some dialogue sounded a tad on the awkward side. I was completely immersed with the plot, loved how taxing it was on the mind, found the puzzle approach presented was a refreshing change of pace (not to mention challenging and rewarding) and found the versatility of how one’s actions affected the outcome of the game surprisingly well thought out and planned to a point that practically leaves the player begging for more.
My only complaint for the game as a whole however is the fact that due to the serious nature of its design, it’s set to be marketed towards a specific audience. Then again, anything less could have also led it to fall flat with less satisfying results.
Reviewer Rating: 4.75/5