By D_W 16 Comments
This will be a sort of review, but since I want to discuss my feelings on the way the story unfolds and how the game presents itself I don't want to make it an official review. Also note that I have not read Jeff's review as I did not want it to color my opinions at all. I played the PS3 version so I'll be using that terminology.
In a nutshell, I really like Catherine. It is fun and challenging in all the right ways. It's rough in places (namely the controls), but generally the game gives you everything you need to get through it without holding your hand and that's really to it's credit. It can be very difficult for puzzle games to explain everything the player needs to know without explaining too much or not enough. Many don't get the ratio correct at all (Braid, Limbo, Puzzle Agent 2.) Catherine does however, and that is refreshing. It does so at a pace which isn't overwhelming too. I would go as far as to say it's the best puzzle game with a story since Portal. Or rather I would like to say that, but there's a point in the story where it all just went from "Oh this is a really awesome outcome," to "... Really?" This happens shortly after you complete Cathedral.
Allow me to preface this. I was answering questions as honestly as I could up to that point and ended up with the elder Katherine. I am not sure how this event plays out otherwise and plan to play a through it again to find out. Had you not take the path I did, it may not be a good idea to read any further. This is where the spoilers appear.
Once the Cathedral is completed Vince wakes up and finds Katherine("K") at his door wanting to discuss things with him. Catherine with a C appears in his apartment. Things go real bad and the younger Catherine ends up impaled on a kitchen knife. Then it leads to a stage where you must guide K through while a monstrous version of C chases you both. This was a great twist on the mechanics and would have suited for a wonderful finale! However this is actually relatively far from the end. The next day, or rather the same day since it all turns out to be a dream, K wakes Vince up and breaks up with him. She has no memory of his dream, nor knows anything about C other than Vince was cheating on her with someone. I thought that this would have been a great, albeit, sobering ending. Since it was said that those who reach the top get a wish, I figured Vince's wish was that C never existed. That would be that. Tie up a few loose ends and roll credits.
Unfortunately that's not how things play out. Vince goes a bit crazy after this. Which is sensible. His girl friend just broke up with him, the girl that he was seeing every night doesn't exist, and not to mention he never seemed like he was altogether emotionally stable. During this day of freaking out there is a scene with the Bartender, Boss, where it is revealed that Boss is actually the boss behind all the events of the nightmares. Something that's an obvious twist from early on. At first this point is glazed over by Vincent and I thought that would be a good way to leave it. Have the protagonist too drunk and damaged to realize the origin of his woes is right in front of him and go on. This also isn't the case. Boss continues to expound that C is actually a succubus and can only be seen by Vince, him, and non-mortals. Vincent then decides that he shall take up arms and bring down that whole system, essentially saving the human race from a terrible block pushing nightmare prison.
This is lazy, trite writing. It takes a great story about infallibility, the nature of adulthood, and love, and turns it into a story about saving humankind from a great injustice. Not everything has to end in a "save the world" plot. Nor does every single aspect of a fictional world have to be explained. Having C be some supernatural force is so boring and banal. It leaves no mystery to her. No allure. Maybe she was just a crazy co-dependent with an unfortunate past? Nope! She's a 100% succubus sent to make Vincent cheat on his girlfriend. Now let's go beat the entities that are responsible for this since we obviously can't release this without having the main character be super empowered and take out the bad guys! That is immature story telling. It shouldn't matter how and why cheating men have to endure the nightmares. The rumors alone are enough of a back story. The main character doesn't have to be the all-conquering hero of absolute justice by the end. It's alright if a character has a bittersweet outcome (Honestly neither K nor C were good fits for Vincie-boy.) Explaining it is akin to explaining the laws of gravity in a crime drama set on Earth, then going after a dastardly personification of said fundamental force because the victim's were being thrown from roof tops. This is a notion that I'm not particularly against, it is just used it just about every form of media targeted at the demographic that I happen to be a part of and I'm just plain sick of it. (EDIT: How could I forgot this little jewel!) The worst thing about the story, that really pissed me off when I heard it, was how the writers bluntly said they were "masterful" when Trish is telling you about the nature of story at the end. Talk about arrogant bullshit. Really? Guys? Really? You're really going to say that unironically after such a cliche plot twist? *grumble grumble*
It's common knowledge that this game was developed by the team that made Persona 4. While that game took no simple effort to explain it's story to you, it's an SMT game. What happens at the end of Persona 4 makes sense for nature of spiritual/paranormal beings in the SMT universe. The team did not distance themselves enough from working within that canon when writing Catherine. It might as well be another game under the SMT umbrella.
Let's discuss the controls during the puzzle portions of the game. These have been a complaint from even the people that enjoy the game. What a lot of game developers and enthusiasts are often unaware of is that every aspect of a game informs it's player of the game's narrative. EVERY aspect. From the simple color scheme to the UI, sound, and so on. This is infinitely true for the controls. They tell a player how the character we are controlling feels. So what does Catherine's controls tell us about Vincent? Well... More importantly does the player feel like they are controlling Vincent? This player didn't. This is not a negative thing, per say, it's only that the way the puzzle sections control are like you are playing something that is controlling Vincent instead of the character himself. For example, when shimmying along a ledge sometimes left will move you right and vice versa. From what I can tell, it depends on which side of the block Vince is hanging on from the player's perspective instead of Vincent himself. The camera is like this as well. It's unable to completely swing around the block towers freely, and is mostly restrained to the arbitrary front view. Not only does this make some of the puzzles somewhat more difficult, it puts a soft limit to their design. Generally they were able to design with the camera limits in mind, but it still feels like a missed chance on some truly clever designs had they used a more free camera.
More importantly, how do these controls impact the narrative? In some ways it makes complete sense. It's a dream. Even at their most lucid, no one truly has full control over their dreams. But does that mean that sleeping Vince was watching a horned and boxer totting dream Vince and guiding that version of himself as the player guides his decisions? That's a bit Inception-esque, but I suppose so. Now the practical question. Does that make the game play better? Well... If the players were given full control over the camera and the shimmying controls worked relative to Vincent then how would that impact the narrative conveyed through the controls? Through the game Vince is congratulated for being a wonderful climber. A true master! The current control scheme doesn't accurately represent that. It shows a man who is being lead by some unknowable force. Not a master of his universe.
Ah ha! That conflicts with the bit of the story that I disliked, right? No.
No, the controls in some way enhance that aspect. These awkward controls present the idea that anyone, no matter how insignificant, can overcome forces beyond their imagination pretty well. Regardless of any narrative sense they make, I would have much rather them be the way I mentioned. Playablity outweighs narrative in this particular case. Especially since they would better empower the player the way the character becomes empowered. That still fits the narrative.
Accidentally pressing X when hanging over an endless pit then falling to the retry screen is just frustrating.
Not being fully sure whether a directional input will take you in the direction you're intending is just frustrating.
Falling off the world because you walked into an area which you can't rotate the camera is just frustrating.
Fortunately, (on Normal) retries are frequent to the point where having a limit is irrelevant. Also I kind of feel that it's a similar type of frustration as games like Super Meat Boy cause, but these controls are not nearly as refined.
This last thing is a bit of some nitpickery, but there's some odd choices with the audio post production in parts of the game. It's not frequent, and I probably shouldn't be bringing it up, but there are few cases that made me go "Huh?" to their choices of sounds. Why does Vincent's front door make the sound of a submarine hatch. Was the guy at Vincent's door wearing high heels? And is there concrete or marble out there? That's all I say about that. Minor things, but very obvious and silly things.
Like I stated at the start of this little weblog, I really like Catherine. I even plan on going for a gold medal on each level. There are just some aspects about it that I don't like. Those issues really keep a great game from being an amazing experience. Despite the story issues I'm still excited to see the other endings and how things change if you don't save your bar-buds (Though the cop died on my game.) I would wholeheartedly recommend Catherine to fans of puzzle games. If I was pressured into giving it a score, then it'd get 3/5 stars or a 6/10 (which is quite the good score despite what most people that use an 10 unit system).