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Me, Myself and Vincent

Catherine may have its fair share of issues, but we could certainly use more games like it.

Vincent Brooks stares down the barrel of some difficult decisions in Catherine. By extension, so did I.

Catherine is flawed, an experience that, with every frustrating stumble, one sighs in response, and each misstep underscoring how close to greatness Catherine was. And how it mostly blew it. And how, despite that, you should probably play it.

Every day of the week, I'd rather spend my time exploring an interesting misfire than the same old thing with a new coat of paint, mulling the lessons we can learn. Catherine is anything but the same old thing brought out for another man-this-feels-familiar trip around the deja vu block. If you're desperate for different, Catherine and Katherine are two gals worth calling up.

Atlus may have turned some off from trying Catherine with its overly sexual marketing.

For the purposes of this slab of writing, I'm going to pretend Catherine ends a few hours before it does. There's a moment, a very specific moment, where the game embraces the worst tendencies of Japanese video game storytelling. Yes, yes, I know Catherine comes from the Persona team, so to encounter supreme weirdness should be expected, and yet, here I am, trying to erase this particular twist from memory, despite acknowledging we're talking about a game whose central metaphor is block puzzles in a dreamscape full of sheep.

So…let's pretend that moment doesn't exist, or else I'm going to stop writing this. Flame away in the comments, if you must.

Still with me? Okay.

I'm 26-years-old and recently engaged, having lived with my girlfriend-now-fiancee for five years...or so. Honestly, you start to lose count, in a good way, after a while. This is what you're supposed to do, right? Find the Girl of Your Dreams, lock it down, and ascend into Adulthood. Vincent, the central protagonist (though one might argue he's really the antagonist, depending on the character's perspective), has zero interest in moving forward on his own. He's the definition of a man child, tapping his shoes like ol' Sonic the Hedgehog, patiently waiting for someone else to take control. By definition, the ball is in Katherine's court--and she passes it over.

Vincent's not paying attention, and if we continue the sports analogy, stubs his index finger. If you've ever played basketball before, you know how much that shit hurts. Consequently, he can't hold the ball. Every time he tries, his finger surges with pain, stiffened by the injury. It'd be much easier to just sit on the sideline and have everyone else take this, you know? So Vincent takes a timeout, where he meets Catherine, Katherine's opposite: a blonde, happy-go-lucky sex bomb.

Thus begins Vincent's descent into personal madness, forced to confront his hangups about the future, one that probably involves fewer nightly trips to the bar, through block puzzles. The block puzzles are a mess--thank the lord for easy mode. Only a few instances prompted contemplation of YouTubing solutions, but the lack of variety, coupled with their insistence on being there night after night ad nauseum, are probably enough to turn most people off. Are you one of those people? Are you afraid you're one of those people? Then play through the block puzzles with YouTube walkthroughs. Get over your hangups about cheating (on a game), realize that's not the point--everything interesting is happening on the other side.

Katherine's attitude may come across as forward and condescending, but everyone knows someone like her, right?

Catherine proves there are ways to comment on sex, relationships and our complicated, often contradictory, emotions through not-so-elaborately disguised dating simulation. You don't need to have a sex mini-game to address sex. You don't even need to even really show that much sex to make your point. You wouldn't catch me dead booting up a traditional dating simulator; from what I understand, what amounts to simulation in those games is enveloped in fantasy, rather than plausible reality.

As a 26-year-old who's recently set himself on the path to commitment, and someone who very much likes hanging out with their friends at bars, I can sympathize with Vincent's position. It's not to suggest my own life has much in common with Vincent, as I made the decision to get engaged with little pressure outside of "you know, it's about time," and my better half has little problem with me hitting the bar, so long as the dishes are washed on a regular basis. But there's enough commonality between us, the mutual fears over making a A Big, Fat Final Decision, that places me inside Vincent's head.

This isn't a new conversation, but that's exactly why it's interesting.

When Vincent was asked to make a choice--answering or not answering a text, declaring if lover and best friend are mutually exclusive concepts--I put the controller down and puzzled it out. What would I do? Why would I do that? I like to think I'm a better person than Vincent--I know that--but if we're doing this hypothetical situation anyway, let's run with it for a second. Presented this, what would I do? And while the ending borne from my decisions had me cursing the game with disgust, if I'm to look at Catherine The Journey instead of Catherine The Ending, I really did end up learning some important things about myself along the way.

No, I won't tell you what they were. It doesn't really matter, either.

The point of this probably-too-personal rambling is to suggest my jumbled emotional response is why you might want to play Catherine one of these days. Maybe not now, maybe not for a few years, but if you can identify with my situation, or at one point in your life once feel like you did, it's like nothing you've ever played.

I've certainly never thought this much about a game all year.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
238 Comments
Posted by avidwriter

Yea I thought this game was totally set in reality, then they pulled that mystical crap and yea, no thanks.

Edited by mutha3
@patrickklepek: Haha, you got by far the silliest ending in the game if that helps a little. What you got was kind of the "joke" ending of Catherine.
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvOfhtvwVCw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VF7vxRq-Q-E
 
There's 8 endings, and I felt the one I just posted is the best of the lot. There's a lot of cool story details you don't get if you don't see the different endings, so I reccomend you check 'em out.

 
Edited by Crushed

@patrickklepek said:

@Curufinwe said:

What ending did Patrick get anyway? Aren't there like 10 of them?

I can tell you.

I got the ending where Vincent sides with Catherine and joins her in the demon world. THE DEMON WORLD?

ARGH.

I dunno, complaining about that stuff in an Atlus game seems odd, especially since the game hints at supernatural stuff the ENTIRE time, from the very start of the game, and included that stuff in all the pre-release material. Ignoring all that and expecting it all to turn out to be completely mundane or realistic seems deliberately setting yourself up for disappointment.

Posted by Malphye

Finished this recently. While I can identify with Vincent, IMO, games just not that great.

Posted by Vexxan

All this talk about Catherine and I have yet to play it because I live in Europe :/

As always, a great read, Patrick!

Edited by mutha3
@Crushed: Did you get/see the ending he got? 
 
It makes no sense in the context of the story. Anyway, up until a certain point in the endgame, the supernatural was just a carriage for the "mundane". Then it shifted gears into full retard.
 
Especially with the ending he got.
Posted by Chop

I liked some of the block puzzles a hell of a lot actually; the ice levels were crazy fun. The last few nights were real bummers though (with the random blocks). 

Posted by Crushed

@mutha3 said:

@Crushed: Did you get/see the ending he got?

It makes no sense in the context of the story. Anyway, up until that point the supernatural was just a carriage for the "mundane".

Its only after a certain point in the story that the game just goes full retard on you with it. Especially with the ending he got.

Okay yeah, that was the silliest ending.

Edited by FluxWaveZ
@Crushed said:

@patrickklepek said:

I can tell you.

I dunno, complaining about that stuff in an Atlus game seems odd, especially since the game hints at supernatural stuff the ENTIRE time, from the very start of the game, and included that stuff in all the pre-release material. Ignoring all that and expecting it all to turn out to be completely mundane or realistic seems deliberately setting yourself up for disappointment.

The only supernatural elements in the game, before the revelation, was the fact that people experience nightmares and if they die in them they die in real life. It's not as though the game had them all over the place. 
 
Not that I wanted it all to turn out realistically, but not in the way it did.
Posted by iAmJohn

@JetForceGemini said:

@HandsomeDevil said:

This should've been the review.

You're right, it should have been.
Posted by JackSukeru

Personally, I'd rather spend my time playing the same old crap most of the time, with something interesting and unique thrown in once or twice a year, than to constantly play quirky "unique" experiences.

I guess I'm kinda interested in Catherine (which is why I decided to not read most of this article), but I don't know when I'll get around to playing it.

Posted by the_OFFICIAL_jAPanese_teaBAG
@patrickklepek: wow you got that one?  i thought the Katherine True Ending was nice.  you should look it up on YouTube if you havent already.  by the way, i enjoyed reading this and i thought it was great!
Posted by SpaceBoat

@Crushed: It still comes off as kind of silly. The most supernatural thing in the game is the communal nightmare closely followed by the dream deaths, which is already a rumor in real life. Everything else can be written off as insane dream logic, which would be complementary to the Jungian psychology they're kind of based on.

Compare with a normal Shin Megami Tensei game where the basic premise is: It's the apocalypse and demons are everywhere, what do you do? I just don't feel the Atlus pedigree extends into a game that had thus-far taken itself very seriously about skepticism. But I guess it all boils down to personal preference.

Posted by EquitasInvictus

@patrickklepek said:

@Curufinwe said:

What ending did Patrick get anyway? Aren't there like 10 of them?

I can tell you.

I got the ending where Vincent sides with Catherine and joins her in the demon world. THE DEMON WORLD?

ARGH.

I was actually surprised about this too considering:

How different in mood and tone the other "true" (Katherine/Freedom) endings were.

I didn't get the ending on my first, serious playthrough myself but when I watched it I found it to be an ending that would have been an unpleasant shock. It's thoroughly entertaining to see after-the-fact but I would not have appreciated it as much as I appreciated the true Katherine ending I got at first.

I enjoy seeing these editorial-esque articles on the site, though! I'm not sure why people are so fixated on news and get a little butthurt saying "oh it's a slow news day" after seeing articles like this despite how the fact that this comes up as an article under "news" on the site might be a little misleading. (Maybe you should suggest getting a separate "editorial" category?)

Either way, these are great reads and exemplify good journalism. These are the kind of qualities you'd find in newspapers in general, so I love seeing these type of articles on the site.

Posted by Crushed

@FluxWaveZ: @SpaceBoat:

I guess, but it seems like splitting hairs when you say, "Well, the main plot device is magical sheep dreams where you die in real life and shrivel up into dessicated corpses if you fail, but THIS is just way too supernatural for my tastes."

Maybe it just reminds me too much of the people who complained about Persona 4's final twist because they got so caught up in the murder mystery aspect that they forgot about the traveling into TVs and the channeling the power of Shinto gods through your ego.

Posted by SeriouslyNow

@patrickklepek said:

@JetForceGemini said:

@HandsomeDevil said:

This should've been the review.

You're right, it should have been.

The funny thing is, I completely understand Jeff's review. His critique was spot-on.

Different perspectives are cool, you know?

Couldn't there be cases for the site having multiple opinions within the review on controversial stuff like this? In the Zzzapp64 days Gazza and Jules would take opposing sides and later on it might even have been two or three people opinionating at the end, even if it's only a paragraph or two for each aspect judged.

Posted by madhacker

I really, really ennjoyed Catherine A LOT. I finished the game on Normal on my first playthrough and thought that it was a very compelling combination of RPG-style story telling and extremely tense puzzling. There were issues and the game isn't perfect - in particular the god-awful camera. There were so many times when I had to go around the outside of the pile of blocks that I was on and basically had to go on faith that the character on the screen would do the right thing. The game loved to kill me, and that can be a bit frustrating but also extremely rewarding.

I've been married for almost two years and played the game with my wife watching along eagerly. This was only the second game that she wanted to watch me play (Heavy Rain was the other one). I'm a huge fan of the Persona team's whole art style and desire to mash up all sorts of different gameplay. I thought that Catherine told a compelling, adult story in an adult way and that it provided a fantastic challenge for those who enjoy challenging games. However, I understand that this is definitely not for everyone and that it probably should have been marketed a bit differently - or not, I mean it sold a TON of units.

I agree with the Patrick here though when he says that in spite of it's flaws, you should probably play it.

Edited by mutha3
@Crushed said:

@FluxWaveZ: @SpaceBoat:

I guess, but it seems like splitting hairs when you say, "Well, the main plot device is magical sheep dreams where you die in real life and shrivel up into dessicated corpses if you fail, but THIS is just way too supernatural for my tastes."

Maybe it just reminds me too much of the people who complained about Persona 4's final twist because they got so caught up in the murder mystery aspect that they forgot about the traveling into TVs and the channeling the power of Shinto gods through your ego.

Y'know I honestly didn't mind P4's final twists. They were properly foreshadowed, the murder mystery was set front and center and you were invested in seeing it come to its end. On top of that, the events that happened were relevant to the game's driving themes up until that point(lord knows the game beats you over the head with those themes).
 
But Catherine's final twists fail at all of the above. What makes it extra aggravating is the fact that Vincent's character arc totally reached a satisfactory end in the stage preceding it.  With very little adjustments to the script....
 
Edited by FluxWaveZ
@Crushed: As I posted that comment, I realised that my point was a really weak one and you're right, it is splitting hairs. And I was actually one of those who disliked P4's ending because of the Izanami stuff. But in retrospect, I don't much mind what happened in that game on the path to the True Ending because it did fit the narrative elements that the game had established for itself. I never even minded the craziness that went on in P3.  
 
But man do I hate the path Catherine took to explain what was going on. It really was typical SMT stuff, concepts that I thought they were trying to avert from ditching the franchise name for this particular title. From the Persona titles, I was always expecting occult twists, mainly because there are occult elements everywhere and, heck, you battle with mythological creatures in those RPGs. But I never expected Ishtars, Dumuzids and Asteroths from a game like Catherine. 
 
I don't know if I can even say that it was out of place in that game given what was going on, but I do know that I would have been happier had it been something else.
Posted by McGhee

The puzzles have something added to them each night. So I don't know where this comment about them all being boring and the same comes from. And often times if you talk with the sheep who are planning strategies you will learn a technique that you will need for the next climbs.

The puzzles are great in this game.

Posted by President_Barackbar

Catherine to me seems to have the exact same problem as Deadly Premonition: an interesting story wrapped in a frustrating and sub-par "game" experience.

Posted by themartyr

Interesting reaction, Patrick. I feel that Catherine falls down in its gameplay rather than its story. Plenty of RPGs have emotionally engaging stories that personally affect you. Few of them demand you to climb block mountains.

Posted by Loose
@HandsomeDevil said:

@patrickklepek said:

@JetForceGemini said:

@HandsomeDevil said:

This should've been the review.

You're right, it should have been.

The funny thing is, I completely understand Jeff's review. His critique was spot-on.

Different perspectives are cool, you know?

There are some undeniably infuriating aspects to the game (mainly the endings) but 2 stars is too harsh.

Well, you can take solace in the fact that the game was given positive reviews by just about every other critic out there.
Posted by FluxWaveZ
@themartyr said:
Interesting reaction, Patrick. I feel that Catherine falls down in its gameplay rather than its story. Plenty of RPGs have emotionally engaging stories that personally affect you. Few of them demand you to climb block mountains.
Wouldn't that be because this isn't an RPG?
Posted by Nottle

I have not really played this game other than the multiplayer at a friends house, but how can people not expect supernatural stuff in this game. Dudes turn into sheep in their dreams and die in their sleep all dried up and mummified. How are those things ok but the endings not?

Posted by SpaceBoat

@McGhee_the_Insomniac: I think the problem is that until you've figured out the way to block physics work, all the puzzles seem like an impenetrable wall of nonsense that you have to be lucky to change into a staircase. It's hard to just glance at them the way you would a sudoku puzzle and say "Yep, that's a puzzle." Even then, I wouldn't say there are any solutions either, since you can climb pretty much any way you want. I found myself doing a lot of the same three-block exchange (I think they called it the "Inazuma").

Posted by Branthog

I lost interest when all the descriptions of this game started to be along the lines of "you have to make the moral decision to grow up and be a man and marry your girl or be a child". It makes it come across as a male-bashing Life-Time movie about the woman who cheats on her husband, because he doesn't show her enough attention because he's working all the time (to provide for his family, mind you). The repetitive block-climbing gameplay didn't appeal that much to me, either, to be honest.

It makes the way the game is packaged all the more nuts -- underwear and pillowcase and all. A fairly contradictory message to the "grow up, like a man" thing. I also find the apparent narrow-minded message of "do what everyone else has done as that's the path to happiness and manhood". Married people and parents are some of the least happy people I know and many are the biggest wastes of flesh on earth. It's only an ideal and a "step toward adulthood" in the "misery loves company" sort of way. The way once your friends start squirting out children and finding that it makes their life much more difficult and their finances much tighter, they start pushing YOU to have children -- because hey, why should they suffer their choices in life alone?

That said, I don't really care. It's not for me, the same way having my chakras realigned or attending lamaze class or jointly reading a book on "keeping the spice in your relationship" with your partner isn't for me. Or watching Life Time. . . Or being a "brony". But it's hard to argue that the game isn't unique or that it shouldn't exist. Not in a world where 80% of the games on the shelf are exactly the opposite. Giant roided out retards grabbing their crotch with one hand while firing an assault rifle with the other and all.

I'd really like to see more games in the middle ground. more games about the every-man in a wild situation. Or more games about life (but not in this sort of silly stereotypical sit-com male baffoon sort of way). It definitely doesn't surprise me that this came out of Japan, though, where it seems that they have been and are in the middle of a sort of transitional period as far as the role of men and women and a sort of "cuckolded male 'head' of the household" role is stereotyped in a number of forms of media. In that regard, I kind of find it fascinating, if not unbelievably shallow.

Now, cue all the white-knights and hipsters. Or not. Who knows.

Edited by MisterMouse

Thank you Patrick for sharing that, it is really cool to get to know the staff of the website through writing and features like this.

Posted by billyhoush

I remember the days when people felt this way after reading a good book-- not from playing a mediocre video game. I guess we really are coming close to the singularity.

Edited by handlas

eh I'm on the verge of beating the game and have little interest in turning it back on. I guess I'm with Jeff's unpopular opinion although I probably would of bumped it up to 3 stars at least. Or maybe the last bit is 5 star worthy...perhaps I'll never know (tho the podcast talk tells me otherwise).

Posted by metalsnakezero

Its the message of relationship, love, and marriage that this game really drills in to the players is what made me want to get this game, not just that it was from Atlus. Glad you wrote this article Patrick.

Posted by JeanLuc

Patrick, you got the true Catherine ending like me? Yeah that ending is fucking crazy and kind of dumb.
Afterwords I watching the rest of the endings on Youtube. I liked the Katherine true ending a lot. Seemed more fitting and less bat shit insane.

Edited by DonutFever
@mutha3 said: 

But Catherine's final twists fail at all of the above. What makes it extra aggravating is the fact that Vincent's character arc totally reached a satisfactory end in the stage preceding it.  With very little adjustments to the script....
 

Posted by DonutFever
@mutha3 said:
@DonutFever: Spoiler tag that stuff, man.
I could have sworn I did.
Posted by D3adend

I can't stand the shitty block puzzles. 
  
It's not just the part where they aren't fun, it's the fact that they exist purely as timesinks.

Posted by Vorbis

Glad not everyone at GB disliked it, I enjoyed it, ending and all.

Posted by Doc_Zaius

whoah!, I'm lucky I don't have a girlfriend looking over my shoulder while I play! 
 
 
luckily, she left awhile ago because I was too indecisive about our relationship's future. 
ah 
 
yeah.....lucky,lucky me.

Edited by MeatSim

I saw all the different endings on youtube and some of them are amazing must see endings.

Posted by Twinzero

I couldn't agree more with Patrick's sentiments about this game.  Regardless of the sometimes-tedious puzzle gameplay and totally off-the-rails final act, it's wonderful to see a game that makes you think so much about yourself.  After storming so many beaches and saving the world from so many horrible monsters, gaming needs more mature depictions of real human experience (even if they are interspersed with sheep-filled dreams that kill men prone to infidelity).  Inspiring self-reflection is a mark of good art and an exciting quality to see so prominently featured in a game.  After all, what better way to make one think about a character's decisions than to force the player to make them?

Posted by Homeslice

EDGE

Posted by Draxyle
I was actually kind of glad to see the twist. As a huge fan of the Persona games I was waiting for the story to go bat**** insane and I was not disappointed. However, I do understand why a lot of people wouldn't like it and I admit that it could have been handled in a better way than they did; it was almost like they knew it was completely ridiculous and didn't take itself too seriously. I also felt that P4's true ending could have been handled better in the same way.
 
Love Catherine though, it grew on me more and more as I played it. Two stars is far too harsh no matter what your personal opinion is.
 
@Homeslice said:

EDGE

Urgh, I actually emailed Atlus to see if they would remove that audio cue. They said they'd keep it in mind if they patch the game anytime soon. 
 
That's my only big problem with the game, the audio balance and direction is really handled strangely; as if they didn't actually play the game to realize how annoying some of these sounds were. Not a huge deal, but still very odd that it was released like that. I swear, the only games that actually need sound options are the ones that don't actually have them. The music is perfect though, just wish it wasn't drowned out by everything else.
Posted by HubrisRanger

Great article Patrick. I know this isn't technically a review, but THIS is what I want to read more of when I read people's reflections on games.

Posted by Crono

This title is very misleading. I was hoping for another secret caravella podcast when i saw this in my RSS feed.

Posted by StingerMK2

Catherine isn't out over here yet, but as a man who more or less lost a girlfriend for choosing a social life instead of them on one too many occasions, i can see me really enjoying this game, or at least identifying with it, can't wait

Posted by spazmaster666

The main issue I have with Catherine (I haven't played it but I've watched entire playthroughs online) is that I don't find Vincent's character interesting or convincing at all. Maybe if he was in his mid twenties and he had only been in a relationship for under a year. But instead he's a guy in his early thirties that has been in a five-year relationship, yet the very idea of marriage frightens him? C'mon now Vincent, you should be old enough to understand that after being in a relationship for five years, marriage/commitment is going to come up at some point right?

The block puzzles also don't look as bad as some have made it out to be, and the satisfaction of winning boss battles seems to be worthwhile. I'll probably pick this game up when the price gets discounted.

Posted by rmanthorp

Great to hear another opinion. Game is still junk in my eyes.

Moderator Online
Posted by Chet_Rippo

I can see why people think the game should have ended early, but there are still so many things that would have been left unexplained if it did. Though the game still doesn't really explain some other stuff unless you watch every ending. I was waiting for the game to actually explain the subplot with Vincent's friends, until I realized that the ending I got doesn't explain any of it... >.>

Also, anyone else notice how loud the sound in the animated cutscenes is? I literally have to slam on my volume button every time there's a transition.

Posted by kennybaese

I still plan on playing this once the price drops some. I think I would find myself mostly tolerant of the puzzles and while anime really isn't my thing, the look of the game and the storytelling in the game are definitely a big draw for me. I've put up with some awful gameplay for some good Japanese crazy (No More Heroes anyone?)

Posted by Juno500

I actually loved the gameplay much more than the story. I played through on Normal (got gold on every level on my second playthrough) and though I died a lot, I rarely felt frustrated by it. It's the good kind of difficult, where every time you die you feel as though you know what you did wrong and how to improve. It doesn't leave much wiggle room for error, that's true, but it rarely felt cheap, and I rarely felt as though I died for reasons other than my own error.

Posted by AlKusanagi

@FluxWaveZ: The siphoned husks left behind of the men that died are a pretty big supernatural element. Hell, that alone reveals the true nature of the killer to anyone with a small knowledge of Stock Monsterology.