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Customer Review

on August 26, 2011
Catherine is one of the most unique games that I have had the distinct pleasures of playing in a very, very long time. Made by the Atlus Persona team, the same people that brought you the critical darling Shin Megami Tensai rpgs Persona 3 and Persona 4. Catherine may have the same awesome style and uniqueness that those games had, but it is an entirely different beast of a video game, one that combines several unlikely game genres into one. In Catherine, you have a puzzle game, a dating simulator, an arcade game, and a few other minor things that all add up to a dynamic, changing game.

The story in Catherine is by far its greatest aspect. You've probably read the general premise of Catherine many times, but I'll put it simply here now. Vincent is a 32-year-old who is struggling with where he wants to go with his life. He's been dating a beautiful, responsible girl named Katherine for five years, who wants the relationship to get more serious through marriage and settling down in a family and he doesn't know what to do. Commitment scares him. To make his situation worse, he wakes up one morning next to a blue-eyed, blond bombshell named Catherine who only desires fun and thrills, and she wants him all to herself (and threatens to kill him if he cheats on her. She's crazy...). While struggling to make a decision about where his life is going, Vincent has to deal with the fact that he has supposedly cheated on his girlfriend (he doesn't remember anything about his nights with Catherine). On top of that fiasco, every night Vincent is plagued with a nightmare that he shares with many men who are in eerily similar circumstances to his in the city. If he or any of these poor, middle-aged saps with commitment/faithfulness issues die in their nightmare, they are found a dead husk in the morning, and the intrigue just grows from here.

Whew, it's sort of hard to pack all of the essential information about the premise quickly, isn't it? Trust me when I say that the story only gets more fascinating and gripping from there, and it goes quite far by the time you finish the game. Every single character in Catherine is exceptionally well-written, likable, and excellently voiced. I found myself loving pretty much every main, supporting, and secondary character, as well as the fringe ones you never quite figure out the mystery behind. Also worth special mention is that the characters grow and change throughout the game because of the events of the story, lending a sense of real growth and dynamic realism to the writing. How many games do we play and the characters stay static despite all of the life-altering events that happen to them in the story? Catherine's characters are so realistic and well-written. There are also eight different endings, with three of them being "true" and they're all equally spectacular. I know I will really sound like a broken record by the time I'm done here, but I honestly cannot praise the writing in this game enough. It is worth mentioning all on its own and really goes a long way to making this a five-star game.

It's rare you play a game that encourages such introspection and really makes you meditate on your own values, beliefs, and what is right and wrong like Catherine does. How many video games tackle issues such as cheating on your significant other, what constitutes betrayal in a relationship and who really is at fault, whether freedom or order are more important in life, the value of committing to someone you love that may not be your "soulmate," and the list goes on and on? More importantly though, not only does Catherine tackle these sort of deep themes and subjects, it does so with extreme aplomb, without ever once resorting to the typical Japanese/Anime tendency to be preachy and shove a certain viewpoint down your throat. That's a huge plus for me. It's very mature, neutral, and well-grounded. I bow to Persona Atlus Team for their incredible writing and focus in this game.

The art design is spectacular as well. I personally enjoy anime myself, in part because of my wife's influence, who loves it so much. The game features cinematic portions handled by Studio 4°C, a reputable anime studio, and they are all awesome. This game would easily be my favorite anime if it were a TV series, and the series were like the cinematics. Catherine's in-game graphics are awesome as well, detailed despite being in the anime style and are truly a sight to behold. The character's expressions are priceless and really do a fantastic job of conveying their inner feelings without feeling overwrought like many animes tend to do (this also includes the awesome voice acting). The daytime environments, mainly the bar, really scream detail and have an awesome charm to them that puts you there. In the nightmare world, the graphics are suitably creepy and bizarre without being totally off-putting.

All of this also extends to the sound design, which really compliments the uniqueness of the visuals and story. I already praised the dialogue writing in the game, but it would be all for naught if the voice actors didn't do a good job. Well, worry not, because they do fantastic. In fact, I know for a fact I've heard all of them in anime series before, so they're clearly veterans in this style. Normally, anime entertainment can really turn that "cheesy knob" up to eleven in the voice acting/dialogue and sound design departments, but Catherine's fictional universe and characters feel just as real, down-to-earth, and relatable as games like Mass Effect 2 do. The soundtrack can't go unmentioned either, as the eclectic combination of classical music, smooth jazz, and awesome rocking tunes add up to what is my favorite soundtrack of the year (up there with Portal 2 and Bastion, at least). As of right now, the first-printing of the game comes with its own soundtrack, which is awesome. Thank you Atlus, for spoiling us even further!

The gameplay is really strange in Catherine, but works very well. The nightmare levels are essentially block puzzle games, where you have to push, pull, scoot, climb on, link, etc, blocks in order to get Vincent, who is clad in boxers, has sheep horns, and is holding his pillow, up the nightmare block tower to avoid falling to his doom. On occasion there are boss levels which ramp up the already challenging, intellectually stimulating puzzle-play up to even more adrenaline pumping highs. This game is not easy by the way. Even on easy, it will give you a run for your money. I'd recommend playing on easy your first time through just to get the most out of the story. Later, up the difficulty and playing the game to get a higher score is an addicting blast, and very reminiscent of run arcade games. In between nightmare levels, Vincent can talk to other men, who all appear as sheep, about their problems, attempt to encourage them lest they die and disappear from the game altogether, and learn new block-puzzle techniques. It's all extremely well done. The pacing in Catherine is fantastic. Much like another exceptional puzzle game, Portal 2, Catherine introduces new mechanics nearly every level rather than just making it arbitrarily harder, and this keeps the game feeling wholly fresh throughout the entire experience. I never once grew bored of any gameplay mechanic and was equally entertained throughout the campaign, and I really have to praise Catherine's developers for this.

The day-time sequences comprise of Vincent drinking at the bar with his closest friends. From here, you can receive and answer texts from both Katherine/Catherine, drink and hear fascinating trivia about your drinks, talk with your awesome friends, as well as visit with others in the bar, choose various tracks on a jukebox, to to the bathroom to look at sexy, scandalous pics from Catherine, and even play a retro styled arcade machine meant to help you get better at the game's block puzzle gameplay. All of these are very well implemented. Like other Atlus Persona Team games, time is a factor. A customer may say totally different things depending on when you talk to them. Some time passes by, maybe the alcohol has loosened their tongue and made them more open to share details with you. Most bar patrons are familiar sheep from your nightmares and have complex problems that you can help them through. You can actually save these peoples' lives that way, and some may even die and disappear from the bar and the dreams if you miss them even once or miss a critical cue. This gives the game a sense of consequence and impact that really makes you care about the world. It also gives the game a beautiful sense of realism that is missing too often from games. You can't make a wrong decision in the game, you can't manipulate the morality bar, and consequences of your actions stay until the end, of which there are eight different ones. It's awesome.

For me personally, I think Catherine is a definite game-of-the-year contender. It's a game that executes all its different styles of gameplay, even those I don't normally care for, so well that I enjoyed every single second of my time with it. I played this game all the way through my first time in two gaming sessions, and took about 10-12 hours. My wife was huddled up next to me the entire time, her attention firmly fixated on the story at hand, while giving suggestions during difficult puzzle sequences. Any game that bings me closer to my wife always gets an extra thumbs up from me. I know for a fact she loves Catherine just as much as I do. I would eagerly play through the puzzles trying to get a high score (something I normally don't care about), just to devour more of the (dare I say) near-perfect story. Catherine is a game with a story so good, you just have to experience it for yourself to see what I mean. This game addresses deep, complex issues without ever sounding preachy. I love that. Instead, it just presents a very realistic story with multiple endings, some of the best writing in any video game of recent memory, all while being an extremely fun cocktail mix of excellently-implemented video game styles, all of which has an insanely high amount of replayability. I know this review is pretty much wall-to-wall praise, but in this case, it actually applies. Catherine is amazing. Buy it, take in the awesome story, and welcome to the awesomeness of the Golden Playhouse!
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