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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 supersonic4336

At first I hated the block puzzles, but then I tried getting gold on all of the puzzles in normal and at some point it just clicked. I started to see the puzzles in my mind when I wasn't focused on something, as if I was trying to figure out strategies while not playing. Also I noticed it's very easy to forget or dismiss the techniques at first but they end up being absolutely vital. They even mention in the game how once you get the trick, it's really fun.
 
I can understand how Patrick hated his ending. That is a completely messed up one. Also feel like this game will have a more powerful impact on people depending on their relationship situation. Honestly one of my favourites this year.
 
As to whether this should be news or a blog, I think there is a huge amount of room for editorials. And to people suggesting this should have been a blog post I can say that I wouldn't have read or even known this existed if it were.

Posted by selfconfessedcynic

I think that this highlights a very important thing GB lacks - second opinion reviews. IGN does it, and it works really well - heck, you don't even have to put a score on it (I don't think they do either). You don't have to do it for every review - only when you feel strongly about it, as you clearly do here.

With that in mind, as many would say, this isn't a news article. But I read it, and I really enjoyed it. It's an opinion piece and we need more of them. Excellent work Patrick.

Speaking of which, I really really enjoyed Catherine - it may not be my Game of the Year this year, but something tells me it'll stick with me more than any of the other contenders.

Posted by heatDrive88

@selfconfessedcynic said:

I think that this highlights a very important thing GB lacks - second opinion reviews. IGN does it, and it works really well - heck, you don't even have to put a score on it (I don't think they do either). You don't have to do it for every review - only when you feel strongly about it, as you clearly do here.

With that in mind, as many would say, this isn't a news article. But I read it, and I really enjoyed it. It's an opinion piece and we need more of them. Excellent work Patrick.

Speaking of which, I really really enjoyed Catherine - it may not be my Game of the Year this year, but something tells me it'll stick with me more than any of the other contenders.

This. Exactly this.

We get these kinds of write-ups very rarely, and I love how they offer more introspective after a review. I understand the need for the whole "stickin' to the review after it's been written and submitted" when it comes to the opinion of the person who wrote the review, but I still love reading the personal opinion of the others (in this case Patrick) of the staff that didn't write the official review.

Posted by prestonhedges

Catherine is flawed, an experience that, with every frustrating stumble, one sighs in response, and each misstep underscoring how close to greatness Catherine was.

Man, this sentence is a horrorshow.
 
Maybe: "Catherine is flawed[;] an experience that, with every frustrating stumble, one sighs in response, and each misstep underscor[es] how close to greatness Catherine [is]."
 
Yeah, I'm a Grammar Nazi. What of it.
Edited by Frank_Mann
@gladspooky said:

Catherine is flawed, an experience that, with every frustrating stumble, one sighs in response, and each misstep underscoring how close to greatness Catherine was.

Man, this sentence is a horrorshow.
 
Maybe: "Catherine is flawed[;] an experience that, with every frustrating stumble, one sighs in response, and each misstep underscor[es] how close to greatness Catherine [is]."  Yeah, I'm a Grammar Nazi. What of it.
"What of it[?]"
Posted by AURON570
@supersonic4336 said:
At first I hated the block puzzles, but then I tried getting gold on all of the puzzles in normal and at some point it just clicked. I started to see the puzzles in my mind when I wasn't focused on something, as if I was trying to figure out strategies while not playing. Also I noticed it's very easy to forget or dismiss the techniques at first but they end up being absolutely vital. They even mention in the game how once you get the trick, it's really fun.  I can understand how Patrick hated his ending. That is a completely messed up one. Also feel like this game will have a more powerful impact on people depending on their relationship situation. Honestly one of my favourites this year. 
I agree. I'm not really sure why people are complaining SO much about the puzzle sequences. It's really no different from other puzzle game. Once you get the hang of it you begin to see solutions and solve them faster and can tackle more complicated puzzles, which is part of the fun. It still amazes me that Picross 3D got 5 stars, and Catherine got 2 stars.
Edited by BelligerentEngine

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

I don't understand this comment. There are almost innumerable dating sim visual novels out on the Japanese gaming market place. Do you want more of those to have higher production values, and to have a western release? It's not like this style of game is very revelatory. Where is all this praise for its uniqueness coming from? Atlas just has the resources and talent to do more with the concept.

Posted by Sooty

"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."
 
Yeah you make it sound like a terrible game, yet if you check Metacritic and other review sites you'll see it scores rather well indeed.
 
Some serious Jeff dickriding?

Posted by golguin

@Juno500 said:

I'm going to spell out why the whole "sexist, Lifetime movie" angle is completely wrong here, since some people here either A) are complaining about the message in the story they havn't played yet, or B) completely missed the point of the story they did play despite it being very obvious and unsubtle.

Vincent isn't being punished because he doesn't want to get married. He isn't even really being punished for his infidelity. After all, he started having the nightmares before he even met Catherine, and Boss told him that sending Catherine to seduce him was just part of the punishment, to facilitate breaking up the relationship.

Vincent is being punished because he won't make up his mind about what he wants. He's been in a relationship with his girlfriend for years, and she has made it clear she wants to get married. But Vincent won't give her a straight answer. He won't say no because he doesn't want to lose his relationship with Katherine, but he won't say yes because he is afraid of getting married. So he simply tries to be evasive, hoping to get the best of both worlds. But that's unfair to Katherine, because she has every right to know whether the two of them want the same thing. He's being selfish, and that's why he's being punished.

Yes, I agree with the stuff in the spoiler tag. Too bad its too spoilery to talk about openly unless its assumed that people who would be reading and commenting here would have played the game. Actually, it should be lifted. People wouldn't be reading and commenting on a game they've never played before.

Posted by BradBrains

it has its flaws but it definitly has me thinking more then any other game in a while

Edited by MEATBALL

I actually really enjoy Catherine as a puzzle game. After jumping into a second playthrough on normal and gaining gold on the first few nights I've actually found myself just going into Babel mode every time I start it up for the more traditional puzzle game format. Buying Catherine, aware of the game that it is, and then complaining about there being multiple block puzzles seems paramount to buying Tetris and complaining that there's too much Tetris. I thought the game did an excellent job providing a new twist to each area, myself. That said, if you know you're not a fan of puzzle games but are still interested in Catherine by all means take Patrick's advice.

Anyway, missing the point of the piece, I know. If nothing else Catherine does do an interesting job tackling these issues - issues that typically aren't approached in videogames. Some of the general commentary on men and women and their respective natures is kind of bad, but the core story of Vincent and his struggles is generally well achieved - even if his refusal to come clean can be infuriating.

Also, if you're prepared for Catherine to go nuts towards the end it can actually be pretty entertaining. I found the ridiculousness of it all really fun. It's just a shame that it comes at the expense of the content beforehand.

Posted by Korne

The crazy thing for me is that this game spanned the entire length of my recent break up from my girlfriend of 5 years. It was very interesting, since I was the opposite of Vincent... I was ready to settle down, to commit, to marry. The strange thing this game helped me realize how even though I was having these thoughts, my girlfriend wasn't. After I confronted her, we both realized how much we have grown apart, and how we have different plans for the future. It is strange that the game sort of put my mind in a different viewing angle, and even after the breakup (and the game), I feel like I have grown a lot. 

Posted by Catolf
@Korne said:
The crazy thing for me is that this game spanned the entire length of my recent break up from my girlfriend of 5 years. It was very interesting, since I was the opposite of Vincent... I was ready to settle down, to commit, to marry. The strange thing this game helped me realize how even though I was having these thoughts, my girlfriend wasn't. After I confronted her, we both realized how much we have grown apart, and how we have different plans for the future. It is strange that the game sort of put my mind in a different viewing angle, and even after the breakup (and the game), I feel like I have grown a lot. 
Quoting this because... you know what, it's a great thing to quote.
Posted by kollay

Catherine, taking off the wicked shit that happens in it, really hits home to a lot of men and even women out there. It wasn't the booby animu lady that sold me on it, it's the way the Persona Team tackles a relatively significant social issue and spins it into a simple, yet enjoyable form.

Posted by Keen_12

I'm not ready to play Catherine. One day, when I'm ready to have a serious relationship, I'll give it a shot.

Posted by Catolf
@Keen_12 said:

I'm not ready to play Catherine. One day, when I'm ready to have a serious relationship, I'll give it a shot.

You win the Internet.
Posted by ArchTeckGuru8

I love your thoughts on this Patrick. They are almost exactly my situation, and pretty much my feelings on the game. Although i think for me the sheer originality (if i can call it that) causes me to like it the more i think about it. This might be one of those odd games i keep around and play again in a year for some reason.

Posted by bkbroiler

I have an issue with the "I'd rather play a flawed unique game than a good copycat" argument. Maybe it's because I haven't played trillions of games, but there is plenty of great, unique stuff out there for me to fall back on without having to dig past bullshit to play something "unique." And while my opinion is pretty ignorant because only seen the one QL of Catherine, but block puzzles and anime don't really equal unique to me.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading a second opinion about Catherine. That's always fun to see.

Posted by BraveToaster

I'm interested in this game now that I read this.

Posted by Kingfalcon

Klepek, you're a fantastic writer. Keep up the great work, my man.

Posted by MindOST
@shodan2020 said:

@MindOST said:

Also, Patrick's ideal end point only really works on a blue ending, and I ended up almost full red playing honestly my first go.

What does that say about the game? What does that say about YOU, more importantly? :)

It really doesn't say anything about me other than the fact that I despised Katherine from her first line of dialogue.  
 
In real life, I wouldn't ever cheat on my girlfriend. But I also would never be with a woman like Katherine, so I chose the options that were most opposite to being with her.
Posted by njean777

See this is journalism, so many sites need to write this stuff more often. Please Giantbomb write more stuff like this.

Posted by artofwar420

Great stuff Patrick.

Posted by bkbroiler

@njean777 said:

See this is journalism, so many sites need to write this stuff more often. Please Giantbomb write more stuff like this.

It's not so much journalism as an opinion column... but I agree it's good.

Posted by njean777

@bkbroiler: well true, but journalism is so subjective. But I love the opinion articles they run sometimes.

Posted by bkbroiler

@njean777: Yes, more would be enjoyable. :)

Posted by ChocolateCoffin

Great article bro

Posted by PacManFevaa

Because of this, I will probably end up playing Catherine when I get a chance/the money.

Posted by Arrested_Developer

I beat it last night and I gotta say the game won me over. I bought it even though the block puzzle aspect didn't interest me but by the end I really enjoyed it.

Edited by spilledmilkfactory

I agree that I was able to relate to the game on a very personal level, and I'm not even within the realm of thinking about such monumental commitments in real life. It's just an interesting scenario for a game to put you in. But those block puzzles, god damn them.. I'm near the end of the game and I just can't do it anymore, at least not right now

Posted by NissanSkyline

As mentioned earlier, great stuff. I will probably play catherine now.

Posted by Daroki

@Twinzero said:

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.

I think in the end that's Catherine's saving grace. I found far more enjoyment in the self reflection the game spurred rather than the game itself. People on my friends list that were playing it also felt the same way. The game had frustrating aspects, but the memories about past relationships it was dredging up turned into an interesting experience despite the flaws.

Catherine's not a great game, but it's a novel game. With a little tightening up, a "Golden Theater" series to let the Persona team blow off some steam isn't a bad idea. They do need to get out of the habit of "solve the human aspect of the mystery, now solve the supernatural aspect of the mystery". It was the thing that stopped Persona 4 from being a JRPG touchstone and instead relegated it to just being great. It's the thing that holds Catherine back from what could have been a satisfying resolution, and instead heaps just a few more puzzles at you.

Posted by YukoAsho
@bkbroiler said:

I have an issue with the "I'd rather play a flawed unique game than a good copycat" argument. Maybe it's because I haven't played trillions of games, but there is plenty of great, unique stuff out there for me to fall back on without having to dig past bullshit to play something "unique."

Pretty much this.  It's the attitude of "I'll play bad stuff if its original" that has led to hacks like Jon Blow and Twisted Pixel to attain near godlike status among the gaming media.  Indeed, this is the fuel of most of the "indie" scene: forgiving horrible gameplay if they offer something outside the game itself that can be praised.
 
Yeah, the industry has a horrid tendency to beat popular concepts into the ground, but those who are willing to look can find games that are actually awesome that don't sacrifice the game part for the sake of the non-game part.
 
I don't ask for perfect - I've loved many imperfect games - But I will never tolerate a game that asks me to endure straight-up bad gameplay because it was more important to the developer to push some agenda or give off an auteur image.
 
No one gives a shit if the game is broken.  It's not impossible for a game to be both well-designed and meaningful.
Posted by hollitz

I really wish I could have played through this game.  I loved the story telling, the decisions to be made, and the animation.  But the box puzzle sections were unplayable.  And there were no walkthroughs when I tried :( 
Posted by Xpgamer7

Yeah it pretty much is one of those games we need more of, an innovative one.

Posted by RLLink
@hollitz said:
I really wish I could have played through this game.  I loved the story telling, the decisions to be made, and the animation.  But the box puzzle sections were unplayable.  And there were no walkthroughs when I tried :( 
Unplayable? lol Only two sections on the game so far has made me die more than 6 times, the rest was fairly easy to understand and get through. Of course I'm taking it slow and just reached the final stage.
Posted by Sayishere

This game doesnt have much meaning to me than you Patrick, since im not at the stage of commiting to someone and the whole marriage journey. But i did put things into perspective and made me think about things i usually wouldnt. If that isnt a playthrough, then i dont know what is.

Posted by shodan2020

@ItBeStefYo: Totally, just try to keep yourself as un-spoilered as possible. When the price is right for you, I think you'll have a really nice time with the game. It just takes patience, persistence, and the ability to learn from your mistakes. :)

Posted by mikey87144

The games biggest strength is also it's biggest weakness. It's Japanese. No American dev could have handled a subject like this with the respect, frankness, truth, and maturity that Atlus showed. But, no American dev, if they had the balls and talent to get as far as Atlus did, would have gone as completely off the rails as Atlus did. The point Patrick was talking about was a great way to end it. Perfect. Then it went so far down a rabbit hole that it never needed to go down.

Posted by mikey87144

Oh and great work as usual Patrick. You don't write about the games you play often but when you do write about them it's usually very insightful stuff.

Posted by ComradeCrash

I just beat it as well and I can say that I enjoyed my playthrough. My ending was great but it made me realize that my upbringing maybe made me a little too anxious to get hitched.

Posted by Masha2932

'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.' 
 
Based on this statement i'm better off watching the whole game and its different endings  on Youtube. From what i've read and heard the block puzzles make up for the majority of the gameplay and they may be symbolic of Vincent's struggles but the designers should have implemented more varied and less frustrating way of conveying story. It's an interactive medium after all.

Posted by FluxWaveZ
@Masha2932 said:
'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.'  Based on this statement i'm better off watching the whole game and its different endings  on Youtube. From what i've read and heard the block puzzles make up for the majority of the gameplay and they may be symbolic of Vincent's struggles but the designers should have implemented more varied and less frustrating way of conveying story. It's an interactive medium after all.
It's like saying that one should play through Portal 2 with Youtube walkthroughs because the puzzles "aren't the point".
Posted by blacklab

@supercubedude said:

Klepek, killing it as usual

Straight up

Posted by Catolf
@Vlad_Tiberius said:
@Masha2932 and FluxWaveZ:  Finally, 2 rational points. Congratulations!  @mikey87144: Really? That's maturity? Treating an usual human relationship block (don't mind the pun!) with anime style cartoons, men looking like sheep, weird ,unrealistic and childish characters, stupid childish dialogue and supernatural crap is mature? And some boring block puzzle as gameplay?  If you're looking for answers in videogames for your real-life problems, then you are a fucking sheep (pun intended!)
hey it's that vlad guy, who know they would show up. XP
Edited by MosesWalker

great article Patrick. I had some similar feelings while playing this game as well. I completely disagree with analysis of the puzzling, though. I think it's great. It's fast paced and frantic, but also forces you think hard on how to climb. However, I can definitely understand how someone can become frustrated with their design. The beauty of the puzzles is that there is no one right way to solve the puzzles but there's certainly a wrong way and that's usually where the frustration comes into play. Still, it's one of those things you either really like or just really hate it. Hopefully, more people will try the game and see for themselves.

Posted by DarthB

You make this game seem more interesting that I previously thought it would after having seen parts of the quick look and such. Why, well it's because I'm in a similar spot in my life. I'm 27, just got married to my girlfriend of 5 years in October last year, we bought a house 2 years ago and we now have a baby that's due on October 29th this year. So it's not out of the question to say my life is pretty different from what it was 5 years ago.

How's that for commitment? I'm a pretty fucking lucky, therefore extremely happy guy. I only wish everyone could have this kind of thing, or whatever would make them just as happy a person.

More articles like this would be greatly appreciated Mr. Patrick.

Posted by Tophat666

@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?

@text said:

I seem to be the only person on the internet who loved the block puzzle stuff.

I haven't seen a divide for a game since Killer 7 back in '05. There are only 2 outcomes after trying/playing it, ether hate/didn't like it, or the I love camp. I wonder, for those who like Catherine do you like or have even played Killer 7? I really like Killer 7(it's 1 of my all favorite games, not trolling. Yes I love Killer 7), & I've keep coming back to Catherine just to play the puzzles. Hell I spent a whole weeks worth of game time I have getting all the gold trophies to just unlock more levels. I don't know what it is, but the puzzle part clicked for me after a few days. It was one part at one last stages where I was in part that looked impossible to get through. The boss had just cleared the bottom row, & I was stuck with only 1-2 blocks worth of movement. I then was just fucking around, & moved some heavy blocks & with a few advanced trick I got up to where I need to go & it blew my mind. It was like the feeling you get when you solve a portal level, but amplified by million mainly bc it wasn't the right way to do it, but the option was there. It showed me that there is depth to the puzzle, not just that they were hard but kind of crafted to work out in multiple ways

I have no problem with the review, I knew was going to get this game from the outset. Gerstmann has always said a review is meant to be a purchasing advice, I know for a fact that I really enjoy the game a lot. If he didn't like it, people complaining about it not going to change his mind, & his review shouldn't change yours.

Posted by Brad078

Thanks for the great article Patrick. I'm not exactly in a similar position but any game that makes you think that much about yourself and analyze who you are is a nice change from the mindless games (which don't get me wrong we all need to zone out and play on occasion). Variety is the spice of life and I hope that this will lead to other projects that try something different.

Posted by shodan2020

@Korne said:

The crazy thing for me is that this game spanned the entire length of my recent break up from my girlfriend of 5 years. It was very interesting, since I was the opposite of Vincent... I was ready to settle down, to commit, to marry. The strange thing this game helped me realize how even though I was having these thoughts, my girlfriend wasn't. After I confronted her, we both realized how much we have grown apart, and how we have different plans for the future. It is strange that the game sort of put my mind in a different viewing angle, and even after the breakup (and the game), I feel like I have grown a lot.

Boom. Exactly.