I should let it be known right here and now that I speak zero Japanese. Could I have taken a Japanese course in High School? Yes, but I thought French was way more badass. Point being: I had a tough time understanding what exactly went on during this demo, especially during cutscenes.
So, the Japanese demo for Catherine finally hit today and I felt the urge to try it out for myself. I've been curious about the gameplay mechanics ever since I saw that crazy trailer that made it look like a puzzle game. Of course the story and characters will probably be the best part about Catherine though. After playing through the demo three times strait, I feel confident in saying that I still have very little idea of what this game actually is.
It starts off with a little hand-drawn lookin' cartoony video of... well, a bunch of things. It looked to me that Godzilla and The Grudge were referenced in this short little cartoon, so I'm guessing it's something referencing Japanese film? Anyways, after that you are dumped directly into the puzzly world that you've probably seen at some point in the trailers. The one where there's a ton of blocks and you're climbing all over them. From what I can tell, this is not the only situation in which you will control the main character ( Vincent?). It looks like you will control him at some point outside of this dream world too. But within the dream world, the goal is to climb these blocks and get to the top as fast and as efficiently as possible. You can push and pull blocks in order to create makeshift staircases to ascend. It gets complicated when you start pushing blocks out from under other blocks and the entire structure starts to collapse in spots. As far as I can tell, as long as a block is adjacent to another block, it won't fall, even if there are no blocks beneath it. Also, every time you move a block, you can press the back button to rewind to the last block moved. This way if you make any mistakes, it's easily fixable. There didn't seem to be a limit on that in the demo, but that may be because it's on easy mode. Climbing up a block gives you a step bonus. Getting the first step bonus starts a combo meter, and each step up to a new level you take before the meter runs out gains you more points. It's in your best interest to ascend quickly. It is possible to fall to your death as well, both by falling yourself, or not moving fast enough. The ultimate goal is to reach the door at the top and exit the dream.
This all probably sounds super confusing. Sorry about that. If you watch this video, you'll probably understand a bit better:
So, I guess the question is whether or not this section is compelling and interesting. I liked it; I didn't love it, but I liked it. Navigating the 3D space is a bit awkward, but it works well enough once you get used to it. The whole visual experience is interesting to say the least. There's a sense of pressure as you try to figure out how to climb these blocks, but it's not too stressful. At least not yet; I can imagine this getting super tough later in the game, or on harder difficulties. There are sheep in these levels with you. From what I can tell, I think they're supposed to be other people trying to escape this dream world just like you. I was able to shift the blocks in a way that allowed me to reach one of them my third time through, but when I walked past him, he just ran away and ended up falling to his doom. I thought maybe I could save them. Anyways, there are pickups along the way that let you throw down additional blocks, give you more retries (lives), or just give you more points. So there is some incentive to go a bit out of your way on occasion. When you get to the top it will tally your score and give you various bonuses depending on difficulty and how fast you finish.
After that it cuts away to a long cutscene sequence. You can watch the above video for that stuff. The cutscenes look nice though. They use a sort of 3D panning effect that looks really interesting with the Anime style. The characters seem cool, not that I know what they're talking about. I tried using Google Translate on my phone with no luck. :P
The next gameplay mechanic that comes up is the cell phone. The cell phone appears to be the means in which you control what looks like the game's morality system. you can read and answer text messages, which then results in a meter swinging further into either blue or red territory. On my second playthrough, I actually just elected to close the cell phone and not read or respond to any messages. This allowed me to skip the morality meter all together and head strait into the next section. Seems a bit weird that you can do that, but I like that it gives you the option to skip that stuff if you want.
After you leave the bar, you're dumped back into the dream world. This time it's much more dire though as you have some kind of crazy fork-wielding demon actively chasing you. The demon at times will turn a set of blocks into stone, making them much harder to move. It just takes about twice as long to push or pull them. There's really not a whole lot to say about this section though. It's similar to the first dream section, but harder. The demo ends shortly after this section.
As you can see in the video, it appears that lots of people are facing the same kind of dream world that the main character is. You see a news report of a dead man in his bed. He looked all dried out, and I'm going to assume that he was one of the sheep that didn't survive the dream world. It's an interesting concept. Of course I wouldn't expect anything less from the team responsible for Persona. Catherine seems cool so far. This demo probably raised more questions than it answered, but it seems promising. Reading over this, it's more me trying futily to describe what I played, with some impressions peppered in.
What did you guys think of the demo, whether you played it as well, or just watched on YouTube? Is it everything you wanted out of a 360/PS3 Atlus game? Discuss!