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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.

238 Comments
Posted by shodan2020

@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 :(

There were plenty on Youtube/gamefaqs when I got my pre-ordered copy in the mail. The Japanese and PS3 versions of the game have the same block puzzles. I did use some of them, especially in the final few levels of the game.

Posted by AzHP

Playing this game with my girlfriend made me think a lot about relationships and commitment...so much so that I made a blog post detailing the endeavor. http://www.giantbomb.com/catherine/61-32367/playing-catherine-with-my-girlfriend-a-horrifying-experience/35-509005/

Great article, Patrick. It's good to know that not everyone in the office dislikes the game. I didn't have a problem with the puzzles, in fact I was kind of disappointed by the relatively low difficulty after hearing people complain endlessly about how hard it was, but the real beauty in Catherine definitely lies in the rest of the gameplay. It's the truth.

Posted by FluxWaveZ
@AzHP: Did you finish Babel?
Posted by Catolf
@FluxWaveZ said:
@AzHP: Did you finish Babel?
And did you play the game on hard with no undo's?
Posted by LiquidPrince

I wouldn't call Catherine the game flawed at all. In fact here a review I posted on another website:

Catherine is a special game in many ways. Undoubtedly, if you’re interested in this game, but really know nothing about it, then the the fact that it has sexy ladies on the covers must have grabbed your attention. Upon first glance you may think this is some hentai game made somewhere deep in Japan, but it has some real pedigree behind it, in the form of Atlus’s Persona team, and like those games, what you’ll find here is a life/love sim game mixed in with a crazier supernatural gameplay element.

You play the game as Vincent, a 32 year old man, who likes the status quo. He likes living in his one bedroom apartment. He likes meeting his friends at the local bar to drink every night. He likes having his girlfriend Katherine, to remain just that; his girlfriend. Katherine on the other hand has other plans for their life. She not so subtly hints that she wants to get married, and this causes much stress for Vincent, since he doesn’t feel he’s ready for marriage. In the middle of all this turmoil, he meets Catherine, a 22 year old blonde bombshell, and the girl of his dreams. Without realizing it, he wakes up the next morning, with her lying in his bed. The stress from realizing that he has just cheated on his long time girlfriend Katherine manifests itself in nighttime nightmare levels in which he must climb to survive!

The gameplay boils down to daytime and nighttime sequences. During the daytime you’ll hang out in your favorite bar known as the Stray Sheep as Vincent, interacting with your friends and other bar patrons, while receiving and sending text messages from your two gal pals Catherine and Katherine. Depending on how you respond to people in the bar, and in your text messages, you will have a bar that will lean either towards lawful or chaotic. The bar does not ever signify right or wrong, but merely takes your answers to certain questions, and compares them with each other, basically trying to create a psych profile for your Vincent. This psych profile determines which of the games eight endings you will get.

During the nighttime however you’ll be sent to a hellish nightmare world where you need to climb a tower to reach the exit every night. The tower is basically a giant block puzzle in which you need to move blocks to create pathways up while simultaneously maneuvering Vincent around trap blocks such a spike blocks, and dead ends. Should you fail to reach the top in time, or if you fall, you’ll die, and Vincent, will die in the games daytime levels.

The most compelling part of the game is, like many other Atlus games, the story. The game is rated M for good reason, as Vincent and his group of friends liberally drop in the “F” word, along with other swear words. None of this ever feels unnatural however. On the contrary the characters are completely believable, well realized individuals, and the topics of which they talk about seem like things you would talk about with your own group of friends on a night on the town. A lot of that can also be attributed to the amazing voice work. Vincent sounds appropriately aloof, Katherine stern and Catherine, appropriately cute and sexy. The story itself never leads you to believe that one of the girls is the way to go either, but leaves it down to personal preference. Whenever you start to feel that the game is emphasizing the flaws of one girl more then the other, the game throws a twist at you which causes you reevaluate the situation, and possibly your allegiance.

Ultimately what you get here is an extremely addicting puzzle/love sim game, which will keep you hooked until you see the story through to the end. Then, when your done, you’ll most likely pop it back in to play through the story again with different choices, to see a different ending. I can quite honestly say that Catherine is easily one of my favorite games of the year, and it ranks pretty high up on my personal favorite games ever. If you’re looking for a quirky game, we North Americans don’t see that often, then Catherine is a game you should pick up and experience for yourself.

Posted by AzHP

@Catolf said:

@FluxWaveZ said:
@AzHP: Did you finish Babel?
And did you play the game on hard with no undo's?

I haven't, but I do intend to. Either way, the complaints that were lobbied against the game when it first came out were directed at the fact that the main story was too difficult to complete, which is all I was commenting on.

Posted by ThePickle

@text said:

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

No, you're not alone. I loved the block puzzles even though they were occasionally infuriating. The boss fights especially were shit. I don't know where people get off calling it "repetitive" when new types of blocks are introduced every world and new tactics are being introduced every stage. I think that's the biggest complaint I have with Jeff's actual review.

Posted by milkman4591

This is definitely one of that games that can help teach you who you really are. Don't answer based on getting the "good or bad" ending. Just be honest. I mean I already knew I wasn't the most monogamistic guy, but it really helped to put it in perspective. Again this is only when you are being COMPLETELY honest on every question and situation.

Edited by CaptainTightPants
@HandsomeDevil: You thought the boss fights were shit? :( 
I for one found them to be fantastic, they were visceral and they were a great change of pace from the main puzzles. (Some of which you actually had to think about)
 
 
I seriously got addicted to those block puzzles though, I don't understand the complaints about repetitiveness either.
Posted by ThePickle

@Resident4t said:

@HandsomeDevil: You thought the boss fights were shit? :( I for one found them to be fantastic, they were visceral and they were a great change of pace from the main puzzles. (Some of which you actually had to think about) I seriously got addicted to those block puzzles though, I don't understand the complaints about repetitiveness either.

The last two were good but the rest were frustrating and cheap.

Posted by Skeletalcrows

Mature rated puzzle game driven by a story about a guy who cheats on his girlfriend? Pass..

Posted by OMGmyFACE

It didn't have NEARLY enough space marines for any of my friends.

Posted by dropabombonit

Just beat the game last night and this article is spot on, I love how there was no right or wrong in the choices because they are all based on your personality and opinion. It is the most thought provoking game that I have played this year

Posted by Sawboss

I honestly thought when I saw the title of this article, it was the posting of the Vinny and his dad podcast. Still great though.

Posted by Catolf
@Skeletalcrows said:
Mature rated puzzle game driven by a story about a guy who cheats on his girlfriend? Pass..
great first post! /sarcasm.
Posted by remstigma

First off, I'd just like to say that no, I haven't beaten Catherine yet. The fact that I'm a highschooler probably has something to do with it - with my current budget, I got the game a week late, and I don't really want to play the game while my parents are in the house (because that's just well, awkward). But what I can say is that from what I have played (At the clocktower right now) I have thoroughly enjoyed (and yes, that includes the block puzzles, which I have been playing on normal mode, and are really not that difficult) and I really can't understand why people keep giving this game such a hard time. I mean, yes, I haven't seen this supposed out of place ending, but I really don't see how one can hate on an ending for being a really weird twist. I mean, you should practically expect that from a game made by the Persona Team. I know I did.

Posted by FluxWaveZ
@remstigma said:
I mean, yes, I haven't seen this supposed out of place ending, but I really don't see how one can hate on an ending for being a really weird twist. I mean, you should practically expect that from a game made by the Persona Team. I know I did.
I did expect it. Doesn't mean I'm happy with it. And it's not even because it was weird, but because it was out of place for how they established their world until that point and because it was just like all of the other SMT titles.
Posted by Generic_username

Great article, Patrick. It was an interesting read, though I don't think I'm going to play it, being seventeen and not really having any commitment issues of my own to deal with. I don't think it would resonate with me that much. And on Jeff's review, it's his own personal opinion on the game. I fail to understand why people need to complain about it, saying it was way too low. If you've played the game and enjoyed it, you shouldn't need to have Jeff (or any reviewer) justify your feelings for it, you know? If you like it, thats cool, there are lots of people out there who like it too. Jeff doesn't. It doesn't need to be all that upsetting. 
Posted by remstigma
@Generic_username said:
Great article, Patrick. It was an interesting read, though I don't think I'm going to play it, being seventeen and not really having any commitment issues of my own to deal with. I don't think it would resonate with me that much. And on Jeff's review, it's his own personal opinion on the game. I fail to understand why people need to complain about it, saying it was way too low. If you've played the game and enjoyed it, you shouldn't need to have Jeff (or any reviewer) justify your feelings for it, you know? If you like it, thats cool, there are lots of people out there who like it too. Jeff doesn't. It doesn't need to be all that upsetting. 
Listen man, I don't feel the need to have my opinions justified with a review. What a bad review does mean to me, though, is that people will look at a review with 2/5 stars and say "well, I'm not going to bother playing this game." regardless if it really is a good game. And Catherine is an excellent game, from what I've played of it. It is one thing to not like a game, but at least you can give it a fair review. By the by, I do realize that this is not the actual review of Catherine on this site, and I think that what was said above was fair, but I think you can understand what I'm getting at. 
Posted by Brodehouse

At some point I had to break off from 'The game is asking me my opinion' and just start attempting to roleplay Vincent. In the past I might personally invest myself in games, but now I generally attempt to mold a separate character on screen, that might be my time playing tabletop RPGs coming out. I'd almost suggest everyone do the same, because it's the sudden twists in Vincent's attitude and direction that can frustrate you if you feel like 'you' are Vincent. Ask any professional analyst, it's difficult enough in personal interactions to ever truly understand a person, a game hoping to do so is never going to be able to really represent you (reminding me of my experience with Silent Hill, where it appeared to believe I was an unrepentant sex fiend). I think Jeff's review was greatly affected by this, his complete dissatisfaction with Vincent I think has less to do with him as a character, and more as an avatar. If I were attempting to portray Vincent as an extension of myself, the wild swings (and the insane ending I got) would drive me nuts. When I got that ending, I initially had some inner turmoil because I felt like the game was making a completely inaccurate judgement of me. But then I remembered, the idea of roleplaying Vincent as a character rather than an avatar.

It makes me think of Mass Effect, and how there is a great divide between people who play Shepard as an avatar (I am Shepard) or as a character (I am controlling Shepard). I've found BioWare games to become way more interesting when I create a character to play as, rather than reacting to situations as a 25 year old Canadian would. Jeff loves playing as Shepard, and I think it's because he plays him as an avatar... keep in mind, every character in that game thinks Shepard is the best thing to ever happen. Only villains and antagonists ever disagree with Shepard, and every one of Shepard's actions is lauded by the galaxy. Compare to Catherine, where Vincent can't catch a fucking break for 11 hours. That's got to be frustrating if you are placing yourself as the protagonist.

Posted by FluxWaveZ
@Brodehouse: But from the start, Vincent isn't meant to be an avatar of the player. They immediately establish that with the whole Golden Playhouse thing, so I'm surprised so many people were frustrated that VIncent didn't act how they wanted to. But then again, I think the Persona Team's poor implementation of their morality system caused a lot of these frustrations.
Edited by Sinful

woot news on giantbomb...wait a second....did i type in pat's blog by accident?

Posted by DrPockets000

I agree that the game is flawed, but I'm a sucker for uniqueness. I'm really loving it, even though the puzzles can get frustrating. As a psychology student, I'm also a fan of statistics. The breakdown of which gamers chose what when it comes to the "big choices" is probably my favorite part.

Posted by Fjordson

The game is certainly unique, and I wanted to like it, but the actual act of playing it just isn't fun at all. Need more than a unique premise and/or narrative to keep me satisfied.

Posted by Ragdrazi

Awesome piece Patrick!

Posted by Juno500

I also want to say that I disagree that this would make a good review of the game. It barely describes the game at all. Like he talks about the game being flawed, but there's very little elaboration on why.
 
As an editorial, it's a good article and it's nice to get this kind of perspective on the game, but I would be very disappointed if this was supposed to the actual review for the site. Giving a personal perspective in a review isn't a bad idea, but it has to come with some kind of elaboration beyond what this article had.

Posted by Makoto_Mizuhara_Sakamoto
@guitarjunkie1123 said:
We definitely are lacking in some original IPs
I think you missed the point...
Posted by Challenge9000

Cheat on her man.

Posted by Gordo789

brilliant article patrick. As an overgrown man-child in my late 20s struggling with what the hell to do about my future, the game really spoke to me despite its weirdness.  I agree it sort of went off the rails towards the end, but I was still able to relate with Vincent more than any main character in any recent game I can remember. 

Posted by Lind_L_Taylor

Is he trying to puss out on getting married?  I didn't see what
the big deal is.  Unless you also have a sex bomb dropped into
your life & giving you all you need while knowing that you're
engaged or have a gf, then you are certainly NOT in Vincent's
shoes.  
 
I know I'm not!  But if I were, I'd be balling the shit out of said
sex bomb. :)

Posted by martellus

fuck that shit. someone give me my chainsaw gun! i gotta go prestige all over these... levels?

Posted by PandaBear

@Sinful said:

woot news on giantbomb...wait a second....did i type in pat's blog by accident?

This. I had the same problem when he was blogging about LA Noire in the news section. When I saw that I dropped my subscription for a month. He wants to write an opinion piece? Fine. Do it on your blog! This site has them you know. But don't pass this off as newsworthy. We're on the slippery slope to Kotaku-land now ... I can't wait to hear about a new giant Gundam statue in Japan or why you like Silent Hill 3 more than 2. sigh...

Edited by Sooty

I still think this article makes Catherine seem like an awful game by the first few lines, then again I guess that can't be helped with that overly harsh and scalding review on this site.
 
Maybe I was playing a different game or something. My thoughts were pretty much the opposite of the Gerstmann review, all that puzzling gameplay was far more fun than any run of the mill FPS campaign will ever be. Scoring it lower than Dark Void and Alpha Protocol - I don't even.
 
It was a bit repetitive but it stayed kinda fresh with the different blocks. Admittedly I wanted to just get on with the story but I think that's more of a testament to how much I ended up enjoying the story. It did kinda drag until the last portion of the game then I felt it picked up substantially.

Posted by tlriven

I'm looking forward to finally getting my hands on Catherine (pun intended). I work in an office full of games and the only copy we have at the moment is the Korean version! T-T

Posted by Generic_username
@remstigma said:
@Generic_username said:
Great article, Patrick. It was an interesting read, though I don't think I'm going to play it, being seventeen and not really having any commitment issues of my own to deal with. I don't think it would resonate with me that much. And on Jeff's review, it's his own personal opinion on the game. I fail to understand why people need to complain about it, saying it was way too low. If you've played the game and enjoyed it, you shouldn't need to have Jeff (or any reviewer) justify your feelings for it, you know? If you like it, thats cool, there are lots of people out there who like it too. Jeff doesn't. It doesn't need to be all that upsetting. 
Listen man, I don't feel the need to have my opinions justified with a review. What a bad review does mean to me, though, is that people will look at a review with 2/5 stars and say "well, I'm not going to bother playing this game." regardless if it really is a good game. And Catherine is an excellent game, from what I've played of it. It is one thing to not like a game, but at least you can give it a fair review. By the by, I do realize that this is not the actual review of Catherine on this site, and I think that what was said above was fair, but I think you can understand what I'm getting at. 

I don't think a "fair review" involves giving a game a higher score just because you think someone else would like it more than you do. I think Jeff gave the game a fair review, because it was honest. I'm not saying that other reviewers weren't honest. Not at all. It's just that a review is a very subjective thing. He didn't like the game, so he rated it 2/5. It was a fair review, because he rated it based on how he felt.  By the way, if I'm coming off as a dick, I'm not trying to. none of this is meant as a personal slight, I'm just trying to make a point.
Edited by ocdog45

I played this game and got all the endings. I loved it. Yes I hated the puzzles but getting gold on them was satisfying. I liked the Cathering True ending better than the Katherine True ending. Support the game.
Posted by bhhawks78

I hated Katherine so much in this game. The way she acts pre pregnant was pushy and downright hostile to the point I wondered why Vincent didn't leave before cheating. Once pregnant I wish I could have pushed her towards abortion and dumped her.