One long nightmare
Catherine is two things; a puzzle game and an interactive anime, and in my 15 hours or so with it I was forced to conclude that in both these dimensions, Atlus have produced something of a stinker.
Catherine tells the tale of Vincent; a relatively charm-free and rather witless young man, and his peculiar love life. I say peculiar as it baffled me as to how any sane woman would be interested in this way-faced little twit, but sure enough we are introduced to Katherine, his long time and one presumes long-suffering girlfriend. Soon after, we are also introduced to Catherine, who is intent on challenging our hero’s ability to stay faithful.
Now I could spend time venting my frustrations at the horrible nature of Catherine’s narrative and characters, so I will. The plot is stupid on an intergalactic level; the rationale for the events which take place are so at odds with anything logical that it’s a shock that no one at the story meetings raised a hand to object to any of this. Both Katherine and Catherine are mere ciphers for stereotypical and over-simplified views of love and relationships, and both lack depth and texture.
With the fussy and nagging Katherine, no attempt is ever made to make you understand or believe why her and Vincent are, or in fact, were ever together, as they don’t seem to even get on. As for Catherine, beyond the provocative outfit and the boobs lies not much else. She flirts, pouts and goes through the motions of seducing Vincent, but she never reveals any personality or thought outside of this. Over the course of the story however she is at least entertaining, if only for some lovely jumps from the sensual to the psychotic. Only Vincent's friends save the story from being completely without worth.
As the game’s plot unfolds, interactivity come with the opportunity to make a number of choices as to your views on a range of issues, and this will affect your “Law” and “Chaos” meter, with each end representing faithfulness and infidelity respectively as to Vincent’s choice of girl. The game also boasts about 9 endings, but the appeal of that is somewhat tempered by the game’s inability to tell either an emotionally engaging tale, or an intellectually stimulating one.
But what compounds it all is that even the “game” is lacking. What ostensibly is a puzzle game suffers from not actually being much fun to play. In each of the puzzle stages, which take the context of a massive tower, you must guide Vincent up a number of blocks which you can push, pull and otherwise manipulate into a path up to the escape. Time is also important as the floors slowly fall away, requiring a degree of quick thinking and utilising of the various techniques which game shows you to get around ever more complex obstacles.
The central problem here is that of the animations and the controls. Having to wait for Vincent to finish his climbing animations becomes a chore as it isn't always clear when the animation is actually over, and makes the pace of movement awkward and frustrating, even more so when the game requires you to haul ass or avoid the number of trap blocks which you find. The controls themselves are perfunctory, but are often finicky, having you pull something you didn’t want to, or pull it too far, or generally not doing what you wanted it to do. Luckily for those playing on normal or easy, there is an “undo” button to save you from these moments.
Outside of the main puzzle and story moments, the game offers little else other than more of the same puzzles in either Rapunzel; the bar arcade game, or Babel; a special set of unlockable puzzles with random block drops as you climb. The question as to whether or not to play them will more than certainly be decided by how much you actually enjoyed the game’s main action.
In the end, I can’t legislate for what others will think of the puzzles and narrative, but I cannot shake the feeling that this is in fact a very bad game, where neither of the two main aspects are fun or interesting, and only the relative uniqueness of the game (or more worryingly, the revered nature of the developers) hides it from the damning criticisms which it ought to merit.