Catherine is a one-of-a-kind game from the dev team who brought us Persona 3 and 4. It is the story of Vincent Brooks, an ordinary 32 year old in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend, Katherine.
The story begins with Vincent having his first nightmare about having to climb blocks which slowly fall away, layer by layer. The next night, he meets a girl named Catherine who comes on strong and manages to simultaneously appear cute and innocent, yet sexy and sinful. A stark contrast to Katherine, who seems more adult almost to a fault, being serious and adamant (almost strict at times), but also responsible and caring. Thus, Vincent's dilemma arises when he drinks too much and wakes up next to Catherine the next morning.
Katherine = girlfriend
Catherine = hookup
Just so you have something to refer back to if you get lost.
And so the story goes, with Vincent trying to hold his life together and choose between the two atherines, all the while enduring bizarre block puzzle nightmares night after night.
I've heard the complaint a few times that if Vincent wants to be with Katherine, he should just dump Catherine, or vice versa. But this misses the obvious point, which is that Vincent doesn't /know/ what he wants. Vincent Brooks is Jack Sparrow when the compass was just spinning around. Much of the game comes from balancing the pros and cons of either decision - and it's not always as easy as you might expect. I'm sure there are players who will make their choice early and be done with it, but when you allow yourself to be pulled into Vincent's confusion, the game is so much better for it.
I personally found myself swinging back and forth with the twists and turns of the plot. I didn't make up my mind until probably at least 2/3 of the way through.
The strength of the confusion comes from the way your ending (as well as slight
variations in some cutscenes) are determined. You are NEVER asked to make a hard line choice between Catherine and Katherine. You do not make a Telltale-esque choice and view the consequences, even at the end. Instead, you are judged by both your interactions with other characters, and by the questions you are asked between stages during the nightmare sequences regarding your personal outlook and preferences. There is no right and wrong, either. Only "chaos" and "order". This is
by the Persona devs, after all.
There are several possible endings, some better than others. I wound up getting an ending completely the opposite of what I was aiming for towards the end of the game, but it was still somehow a fitting ending for me and I was actually pretty happy with it.
Okay, well now that we've talked about the plot, how about that gameplay, huh?
The gameplay can be split into two halves: asleep and awake. Those can then each be split into two, again. Puzzles and landings while sleeping, and daily life and the bar when Vincent's awake.
Vincent's day is presented as a series of cutscenes where he interacts with various characters in various places. New plot points will arise here and throw wrenches into how you thought you felt about each girl. During these scenes, your chaos/order balance can occasionally determine Vincent's inner monologue, though it doesn't change the rest of the scene.
At night, Vincent drinks at the Stray Sheep bar with his friends. You gain control of him at this point, and can wander around the bar and do as you please. This includes drinking to increase your speed during the next nightmare sequence, chatting with your friends and other patrons/employees around the bar, checking and replying to text messages, listening to the jukebox, playing the Rapunzel arcade game, watching the news, retreating to the bathroom, lamenting the ATM, or heading home for the night. Most people will consider this their favorite part of the game. If you took out everything else, Catherine would probably still be a very enjoyable game.
Other characters in the bar all have their own problems and plotlines, and you can learn more about them as you please. However, sitting and talking with them progresses time, and the other patrons will come and go as the night bears on. Things like drinking, texting, the jukebox, and Rapunzel do not pass time, however, and you should really check them out. The jukebox in particular is a clever way to invest the player in unlocking achievements/trophies, as each one collected also unlocks a new track for the jukebox. A number of these songs are from Catherine's own soundtrack, but many are taken from Persona 3 and 4, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, and Avatar Tuner DDS, which, I don't know what that last one is. But it's got some decent music, and I suppose that's the important thing.
Texting, on the other hand, is very intriguing. Especially on repeat playthroughs. There's an interesting branching system to them that lets you craft the best possible message to get across how you want to reply to Catherine and Katherine. And they've definitely covered a few mindsets, here. Some of the possible lines you can write had me doubled over with laughter.
Then you have Rapunzel, which offers a twist on the nightmare puzzles. Which means it's time to stop stalling and tell you why nightmare is probably a very accurate descriptor.
Every night, Vincent has nightmares about climbing a seemingly endless supply of blocks. You will need to push, pull, and EDGE! your way through what begin as simple, even enjoyable puzzles, and quickly turn into brain-halting stacks of cubic hate. I heavily recommend taking Easy difficulty your first time through, and playing tougher difficulties later on once you know what you're doing. I started on Normal and had to turn it down after only night three. Not because of the normal puzzle stages, mind. Those were tough, but manageable. No, the real problem is every night ends with a boss stage.
Boss stages in Catherine are something else. They are, essentially, standard puzzle stages, only a big thing chases you up the tower, and you are given a much tighter margin of error as a result. The big thing is different every night, and each one has a unique power which can really screw you over if you're not prepared for it. Most of them will also use a direct attack if they catch up to you, which can instantly kill you if they hit you with it. This is where the tighter margin of error comes into play - the bosses climb faster than the blocks fall away at the bottom.
I would say beating the penultimate boss on Hard with a Gold Rank was easily the second-toughest challenge in the game, after Obelisk... at least, as far as collecting all achievements goes - if you're doing Babel on Solo or not using guides for Rapunzel, your mileage may vary. But we'll get to all that down the line.
Upon your initial introduction to the puzzles, you might think pulling blocks out to make stairs seems like it makes for a simple puzzle game. But it gets deceptively complicated due to the number of techniques available, the different types of blocks you'll encounter, and the variety between the main puzzles, the boss battles, Babel, and Rapunzel.
Between nightmare stages, you're given a breather on landings. Here you'll be able to save your game, as well as meet various talking sheep who are trapped in these puzzles alongside you. You can offer them words of encouragement, buy items to help you out in the coming stages, or even discuss useful techniques with them (which you definitely should, if you've never played before). When you're ready to proceed to the next stage, you enter a confessional and speak to a mysterious silhouetted figure, who will ask you about your views on relationships before sending you off to move more blocks.
That's most of the game laid out for you. If it sounds fun so far, you should go for it. Even if you're not into the puzzle solving, the story is more than worth it and the final nights are a hell of a ride. You may still want to consider putting up with the block puzzles long enough to get from plot zone to plot zone. Or if you just don't want to deal with the puzzles whatsoever, consider finding a friend who has gotten gold on all stages in any difficulty, as you can then skip those stages on that difficulty in any future playthroughs.
On the other hand, if you like
the sound of the puzzles, then we have more to discuss. Achievement hunters will also want to read on. Everyone else can skip to the bold heading below.
For the puzzle aficionado, beating the game is only the beginning. By getting Gold Ranks on normal or hard, you can unlock the four stages of Babel, a no-holds-barred pure puzzle monstrosity. These stages are: Altar, Menhir, Obelisk, and Axis Mundi. And they work very differently from the standard stages.
In the story, you have set stages. If you play the same night on the same difficulty, you will always climb the same tower of blocks.
Stages of Babel are randomly built as you go.
It's not 100% random, as the sets of blocks which fall are arranged into specific configurations which are chosen at random to drop in as you go. And there are different sets of configurations that are drawn from depending on how high up you are. However, the way you solve one configuration can have massive ramifications on how solvable the next configuration is. If you pull the wrong block, you can send above blocks plummeting into the abyss, and if you allow the rows to become too narrow, you may not have enough space to maneuver the blocks necessary to create paths upwards. Babel is an unforgiving challenge and, unlike the main game and Rapunzel, cannot be overcome with guides due to its random nature.
On top of this, Western gamers got screwed a bit, as Axis Mundi is actually near impossible in single player due to a bug. Luckily, the game features a "Pairs" mode for two players, and the Pairs version of Axis Mundi IS solvable, so all achievements are still possible to collect. As a bonus, Pairs features somewhat easier configurations and the ending will appear at a lower height than on Solo. You just have to have a friend as practiced as you are, or get good at playing two characters by yourself. Which I found surprisingly natural once I got the hang of it. Once you find yourself controlling player 2 with your index finger on the D-pad and pinky on the A button, you know you're in the zone.
Completing Babel may also give you some additional plot not found in the main game
Don't get me wrong - if you just play through the main game and leave it at that, you absolutely receive a complete story, and one that you'll be content with. But there's more on the fringes if you seek it out. Babel, Rapunzel, and the different endings will reveal additional details (and also a fairy tale, if that's what you're into) for those who want it badly enough.
Speaking of Rapunzel, that remains the last major order of unfinished business. It's down here all practically tacked on due to the fact that I honestly just didn't leave myself a spot to bring it up earlier, because I'm a crap writer and this is my first time using a keyboard.
Rapunzel, the arcade game at the Stray Sheep, features the same style block puzzles as the main game. However, there is no time limit as the layers of blocks do not fall away over time. Instead, you are given a limit to how many times you can move blocks within the stage. As well, you cannot drop the goal down towards you like in the other modes, or it's game over. With these stipulations, be prepared for the most mind-bending of puzzles. Where the story's difficulty comes from its boss battles, and Babel's difficulty comes from the player's ability to anticipate and improvise, Rapunzel's difficulty comes from the player's ability to stop and think allowing the devs to fill it with all the most twisted, devious pieces of apparent nonsense they could possibly devise.
Of course, you could always just look up the solution. If you go this route, the lack of a time limit would make these some of the easiest puzzles in the game.
So there's always a bright side.This is the Bold Heading! Welcome Back!
Catherine is a fantastic game, but it is also a very challenging one when it wants to be. It's a shame, as I feel the puzzles may turn away new players, but boy do they grow on you if you sink enough time into the game. I mentioned that I had to turn the difficulty down from Normal to Easy my first time through. And even then, I only got bronze on all but a single stage. After finishing Babel, I was able to run back through and get gold on every stage on easy and normal easily. First try, every time. It wasn't even required, I just wanted to do it because boy these puzzles are addictive once you've got the gameplay down
. I almost wish they'd release DLC full of new stages.
I also wish the game had leaderboards for the main game's stages, and a movie viewer to check out cutscenes you've already seen (in particular, it would be nice to review the endings without having to keep a save handy or run through the whole game again). But the lack of these features is certainly no deal breaker.
The art is fantastic and boasts that Persona style. The music is catchy and fitting ("It's a Golden Show", "An Die Freude" a.k.a. "Song of Joy", and "Hen to Hen" being the standouts for me). The voicework is mostly exceptional, and I say that as a huge voice acting snob. Although I'd say Catherine and Katherine were the two who sounded the weakest to me, their voices are far from bad
. Vincent himself is played by Troy Baker, who you might remember from everything you've ever played, and he plays Vincent perfectly.
The writing is excellent, and the translation is solid and everything makes perfect sense. At least... as much as it's meant to. Most dialogue sounds natural and believable. Catherine is just such a quality game. You want an engrossing story? You got it. And if all you want is to run the story and put up with the puzzles, you'll probably get a good 9 or 10 hours out of it. If you enjoy the puzzles (and you might surprise yourself on that front), you can get many, many, many more. The current average for completionists on How Long to Beat is about 70.5 hours, and if I had to estimate, I'd say I probably got 60-80 myself. And I still want more! But even at 9 or 10 hours, this game had more than covered the $5 I'd gotten it on sale for.
If you scaled this mountain of text and still have no interest in scaling a mountain of blocks, too, then hey, maybe it's not the game for you. But if you have even a passing curiosity in Catherine, I think you should really consider it. If nothing else it's certainly, well, one of a kind!