What's the Greatest Video Game: Catherine

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imunbeatable80

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Edited By imunbeatable80

This is an ongoing list where I attempt to do the following: Play, Complete, and Rank every video game in the known universe in order to finally answer the age old question "What is the greatest game of all time?" For previous entries find the links on the attached spreadsheet.

How did I do?

CategoryCompletion level
CompletedYup
Hours played>15
Ending ReceivedTrue Katherine
Order vs Freedom (Good v Evil)Order

What a weird F-ing weird game! Catherine is a game that has been on my radar for a while, because the elevator pitch of the game sounded so appealing for me. I had even started it multiple times, but would peter out fairly quickly, from either getting distracted with other games or life reasons. However, when I spun this game on my roulette wheel, I was genuinely excited to pick it up again and have a reason to stick with it. (Yes, this blog is enough of a motivation for me to finish games that I spin, even if I have fallen off them before). Of course I am getting way ahead of myself we need to educate the world on what Catherine even is.

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It’s actually hard to describe this game in a nutshell. At it’s core, the game is a puzzle game, but just a very specific type of puzzle (sliding box puzzle). However, while the puzzles make up the main gameplay, there is still a large emphasis on what amounts to watching a soap opera, and making small choices in terms of how you respond to texts, and who you are going to talk to in the bar. I referenced the elevator pitch earlier, and if I was the one making it, I would describe the game as a “life and death puzzle game with a story.” The game even sets up at the very top that you are watching what amounts to a TV show or movie, granted that is in-world, but it would explain why there is a just as much an emphasis on the puzzles, as there is on watching cutscenes.

However, we should talk about those block puzzles first, as it is your main gameplay and something you are going to have to get good at, if you want to make it very far. Without getting into the story much (that comes later), every night in your dreams you are transported to the puzzle area where you are asked to climb a tower. The tower is made of blocks that, for the most part can be pushed and pulled in any direction, allowing you to climb up. Your character can only climb up anything that is one block high, so you find yourself trying to create steps as often as possible, so you can climb as fast as possible. Now obviously there is a lot more to it then that. Some blocks have certain characteristics, such as having traps on them, or being immovable. There can be enemies on the map, that will try to push you off the tower or potentially move blocks. While it is not stated, each map has a time-limit to complete as the bottom floors start falling into the abyss as time ticks away. Also there are boss fights that occur, where you are being chased up the tower by a boss that has different move sets that can mess up your plans.

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One of the obstacles that certainly took me by surprise was the need to quickly come up with new techniques as you climb in order to solve these climbing puzzles. It’s not that I was cocky going in, but I remember thinking to myself that there really can’t be that many different ways to create a climbable tower outside of typical stairs. Early on in the game, you will certainly have that difficulty jump, where you can’t just approach each tower that you are climbing in the exact same way. You have to learn different techniques, because there are some towers you are going to climb that are going to break your brain. Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise, as clearly the game would get harder, but there were multiple incredibly frustrating moments for me in this game, where that happened. I would get to a certain part in the tower, and my brain could not wrap around how I was supposed to get higher up. The problem in these moments is that you don’t have endless time to piece this stuff together. The timed levels, the enemies, the sound of the game is constantly propelling you upwards. This is not a game where you have time to outline each step before you start moving blocks, this isn’t a sudoku puzzle, you just have to start employing a strategy and see if it works. That can get you into trouble, as it is very possible that you can build yourself into an impasse, or that you pushed a block out that you needed. There is a fairly generous ‘undo’ button that lets you backup up to 7 moves, but even employing that rigorously, you might find yourself having to reload checkpoints or the start of the level because you messed something up that can’t be fixed in 7 moves. Towards the end of the game when you are employing strategies that involve having blocks fall, you can realize too late that a tower fell too far, or a block you needed you pushed down earlier in the building process.

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Now that can all sound like garbly-gook, because if you haven’t played the game before, what I wrote means absolutely nothing to you. Until you start experiencing these towers, you might not appreciate the difficulty some of these towers hold. Even watching an expert on Youtube won’t educate you, because it will look so effortless and easy, because it doesn’t show all of the careful planning that led up to that victory run. It’s not all bad of course, there are items that you can collect that can change the landscape including items that kill all enemies within a certain range, items that can create a block out of thin air, and a plethora of extra lives. I played the game on normal, and it is fairly generous in terms of dolling out extra lives, especially if you know that the items will re-populate even when you restart a level from a checkpoint or from scratch. An extra life (in the form of pillows for this game) might be two steps away from a checkpoint, and even if you die on the third step 20 times, that pillow will re-appear every time you restart meaning that as long as you make it to the same space everytime, you aren’t losing lives. I was fairly late in the game and had a bank of 50+ lives for the final run of levels.

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I mentioned it earlier but you also have to keep an eye out for trap blocks and enemies that roam the regular levels. Enemies come in really two forms, early on in the game they will just push you off a block if they get close enough, causing you to fall to a lower level. Something that you can usually recover from fairly quickly depending on your setup. In later levels the enemies wield weapons, and instead of just pushing you, they might just outright kill you. While there are items that can take care of the enemies, they really aren’t that big of an issue, and I found that I could usually build around them or push them out of the way without too much worry. The trap blocks on the other hand can be a run killer if you aren’t paying attention. There are spike blocks that trigger….spikes.. that in order to avoid you have to step on and off of the block as quickly as possible. Ice blocks that will impair your pushing and pulling of other blocks and cause you to slip should you try to move on them. Bomb blocks, blocks that prevent you from hanging on them, and even instant death blocks. All of them are a pain, and can destroy your flow, but in some levels you will need those blocks to progress because even if they are traps, they can still be stepping stones. I died far more to trap blocks then I did to regular enemies or even bosses, so watch out.

Speaking of bosses, they are big creatures that chase you up the tower and have a variety of different moves. While I found the boss towers easier to climb as I think they tax less on your puzzle solving skills and more on your reflex and avoidance skills, they are still harrowing nonetheless. Any wasted time gives the boss a chance to catch up, and some of them have moves that can wipe away entire rows of blocks, or send saws up through the floor which will obviously mean an end to the run. Each boss signifies the end of your night, and beating them offers you a reprieve to re-visit the story, as the bosses are there to be projections of what your character is thinking about at the moment. I think when all is said and done, I think the bosses are more of a footnote for this game rather than anything more interesting. Yes, there are bosses that chase you that are fetuses and angry vaginas, the bosses themselves might be memorable, the fights are not on par with how you might remember a Dark Souls or Final Fantasy boss.

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Ok, that is all the block talk we are going to do. It makes up the majority of the gameplay, because the other times you are experiencing a story. The rest of the time you are playing, you are talking to people, responding to texts, making choices and watching cutscenes that all further the story. I will warn now, that there will be some spoilers ahead for the story, this is a very story oriented game so even if I avoid speaking of the ending, some aspects will get spoiled. Warning out of the way? Great… The story of Catherine revolves around a character named Vincent, who is a 30 something, who is in a long relationship with a girlfriend that wants things to get more serious. One night while out drinking, a younger girl stumbles into the bar and starts chatting him up. One thing leads to another and he ends up cheating on his girlfriend with this younger girl. That is the main crux of this story, and there are different paths you can take because there is a morality meter that affects the story in different ways. That morality meter can change on almost all actions you take outside of the tower climbing gameplay. You will get texts from your girlfriend and the girl you cheated with, and how you respond can make you good or bad. If you act towards being faithful to your girlfriend you are considered good, and if you lean into the cheat then you are more evil. The biggest variable to the morality meter is that at the end of each round of the puzzle climbing, you get asked a question. These questions are meant to be ambiguous but only have two answers. For instance, do you want a short life full of experiences or a long life that is relatively boring? How you answer will move the needle towards one direction and sometimes it makes sense, and sometimes your interpretation doesn’t align with the game and it is something you will have to live with.

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Now there is a bonkers act 12 reveal that somewhat saves the game for me (see.. this is why I play to beat), but I will admit that the story itself and the questions seem like they are written to appeal to teenage boys. As a 30 something year old man myself, I found all the behaviors of Vincent incredibly frustrating because he behaves like an idiot and not how I would act. Granted, I have never cheated on my wife or previous girlfriends, but if you are even remotely serious about your relationship you cant just bumble your way through and hope for a resolution. He doesn’t call it off with the girl he cheats with, to the point where she starts to act like his girlfriend, he never has an honest conversation with his real girlfriend about anything. Eventually he gets told some heavy stuff involving a potential pregnancy and marriage, it takes him the whole game to work up the nerve to say anything to his girlfriend (in my story). However, here is where I think the writing was meant for adolescents, outside of the normal titillating factor of almost seeing nudity. The morality questions the game asks and how it portrays the two women are fairly juvenile. The long-term girlfriend comes off as callous and mean in interactions with Vincent, she does one “nice” thing for him in the course of the game that we see. The other girl talks about all the dirty stuff you do in bed, sends you naughty pictures, and is way to into you based on who you are. I think the makers of Atlus want you to see this sexualized, “younger”, submissive girl as a better option because that is what you are led to believe. We don’t see any history that Vincent has had with his long time GF, they have clearly been together forever, but we never see the good things. The questions that you are asked are meant to paint marriage and having one partner as this boring life that is unfulfilling, which is something that I certainly believe 16-19yr old boys probably believe. You will get questions like:

Do you prefer to stand out in a crowd or fit in?

Is Romance annoying?

Who would be responsible if you cheated? (you, or someone else)

Are actors in sex scenes lucky?

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Maybe not everyone will see those as leading as I do, but the answers that lead you to “order” or good morality is almost always just choosing the boring option. Sorry game, I don’t think marrying my wife was the start of the end of my life. I don’t envy the life of a 30yr old who gets black out drunk every night at the bar, so that he can’t remember if he cheated on his girlfriend again. There are also other men you will meet in the dreams and in the real life, that are also haunted by these nightmares and it is because they are all crappy human beings too, and while I think there are a lot of terrible men and women in the world, I find it hard to believe that more than half the clientele to the same bar are all cheats and abusers.

*****Spoilers***** The big reveal that comes at the end of the game, is that you find out that the girl you cheated with was a succubus from another dimension, and you were cursed by the bartender because you were committed to having children and helping the population grow. Just that knowledge drop is an insane reveal that makes some of my story problems disappear (why does Vincent not remember inviting her, why does he keep cheating, why does everyone suck?), but it also changes the story that gives Vincent a pass on being a shitty human being. I have issues in storytelling for both movies and video games where we need to write around the main character not having a huge negative trait. Vincent cheated and after the fact he tried to hide it and still keep the young girl around for longer then he should. That is a bad character trait, and he shouldn’t get a reprieve at the end because it turns out that girl was a demon and he can’t be held against anything he did. The story to me, would be far more interesting if we kept it semi-grounded and admitted that Vincent was a piece of shit, and he had to redeem himself over these nights if that is something he wanted to do. We get a redemption, in my story, but its almost too far. Instead of him just working with his GF to get back on better footing, he instead challenges a god to battle and wins saving all of mankind. That is not the Vincent we have spent 8 days with, so why does he get to be this person at the end? Where were these qualities throughout the rest of the game?

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I am glad I completed Catherine, I am glad I saw the bonkers reveal and got an ending, and I am glad I had some truly triumphant moments playing this game. However, I am a little sad that I didn’t like this game more. It is a game that should have been up my alley, because I love stories and I love puzzles, but both of those sections felt off for me. The towers range from what felt pretty straight-forward to excruciatingly difficult, and it isn’t just a difficulty spike. You will be tempted to just look up solutions to puzzles, because there are only so many times you can bang your head against the wall when it is not coming up with a solution that works. For the story bit, I started off intrigued, then got annoyed, and then just found it funny, but if the game was trying to have a deeper meaning (and I think it is obviously trying to do that), then it failed in its execution. I didn’t finish Catherine feeling any different about relationships whether in general or the ones I have had, I don’t feel I learned more about my tendencies and what that says about me. I played the whole game and felt bad for Katherine (GF), because she seemed like she could do a million times better then Vincent, and Vincent acted like a child throughout the whole game. Hey I got a crazy idea, if you keep blacking out drunk and waking up next to Catherine and worry that you cheated on your Girlfriend, maybe try staying at your GF’s place, or having her stay with you for a night. Maybe crash at a friends, or maybe don’t get blackout drunk.

Is this the greatest game of all time?: no

Where does it rank: I wanted to like Catherine more than I did, but I have to admit that it was a bit of a let down. I found Vincent as an unlikeable protagonist and his friends weren't much better. I found his hesitation to make things right, infuriating, and the canonical ending, no matter how you play should have been him ending up alone. Do I think it is funny that they went so crazy at the end, sure.. but I don't think that wipes away the rest of the story that felt very amateur. Climbing the towers was mix of euphoria and mind-melting frustration. Keep in mind this is just OG Catherine and not Catherine Full Body which would be a separate entry if/when it gets played. I have OG Catherine ranked as the 87th Greatest Game of All Time.It sits between "Flower" (86th) and "WCW NWO World Tour" (88th) out of 155 total games.

Anyone looking for it: here is the link to the list and more if you are interested in following along with me (this is not a self promotion).Here. I added links on the spreadsheet for quick navigation. Now if you missed a blog of a game you want to read about, you can get to it quickly, rather than having to scroll through my previous blogs wondering when it came up.

Thanks for listening

Future games coming up (actively playing) 1) Judgement 2) Lonesome Village 3) Goldeneye 64

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wollywoo

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Nice review as always. I haven't played this and I don't think I will, because it doesn't sound like my cup of tea. But I'm happy that these kind of weird games exist and can leave their mark on the industry.

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imunbeatable80

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@wollywoo: well thanks for the comment. I'm very happy these weird games exist and I gladly bought this one, but I just want it to be a little better written.

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#3 chamurai  Online

I played this on my PS3 and liked it enough to beat it and then pre-order Full Body when it came out. I agree that Vincent is the worst kind of non-commital boyfriend and he is written as such and I would've liked to see him kicked to the curb by either C/Katherine in the end. Alas!

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imunbeatable80

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@chamurai: Thanks for the comment. I really thought about getting full body when I knew I was going to play catherine, but figured I should test the original first. For Vincent, it's not even the fact that he couldn't commit to marriage with Katherine (why he is in this mess in the first place) it's just that he lacked any motivation to rectify his situation. I can't even argue that "it was how I played him", because I was morality in the blue the whole game. Yet he just bitched and moaned about everything without trying to fix something.

Don't like that you cheated? Do something about it!

Love that you cheated? Then lean into it!

But in either instance don't just mope around for 9 days getting drunk every night without a plan. I can't respect that as a character.

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chamurai

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#6 chamurai  Online

@imunbeatable80: Oh, that's what I meant when I said non-commital, not just about marriage but about most everything. He didn't take any real action at all as you said.

By the way I JUST fired up a new game of Full Body so thanks for the motivation. Let's see how far I'll get before Tears of the Kingdom comes out.

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imunbeatable80

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@chamurai: I always wondered how they could work in a third catherine, especially if he is going to continue being as indecisive. Either its a complete re-work of the story or just new cutscenes interspliced into the same story which would make it more confusing.

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lapsariangiraff

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The block-pushing gameplay is honestly slept on. I got into this after watching some EVO (yes, that EVO) sideroom multiplayer matches, and the multiplayer is really fun! Only downside to that is that, at least in the OG version, that only unlocks after you beat the story, which is a surprisingly stiff hurdle due to the difficulty you mentioned.

As for the story... yeah, I have all the same issues you do. It's still novel and interesting, just because so few mainstream AAA/AA games involve relationships, let alone sexuality, but it really has the maturity of a teenage boy past the premise itself. "WHOAAAAAA SEXY FUN BLONDE, YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT BLONDES VS. BRUNETTES LOL" like cmon.

The look and sound of it is great, though, as with a lot of Atlus' work.

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imunbeatable80

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@lapsariangiraff: thanks for the read and comment. Yeah I saw that this game has an EVO presence and I do think playing the towers multi-player would be a lot of fun(I did not try it). As someone who has yet to play a persona game (gasp!) Is this the same type of writing? Because I always heard those were well written.

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lapsariangiraff

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@imunbeatable80: Re: the writing, yes and no...? To me, the maturity didn't stick out as much to me in Persona, but that could just be because of the high school setting, where characters with a level of immaturity are to be expected. Like, there's juvenile "heehee hoohoo what if we saw hot (underage high school :grimace:) girls in bikinis" moments, but that reads like horny teens to me; Vincent's immaturity, however, comes across far crasser due to his age.

I wonder if Atlus views Vincent's actions similarly to the way we do, and just tilted their framing in the writing a bit to make the choice between Catherine and Katherine debatable, like, at all? Because if we look at just the facts Catherine is a nightmare, Vincent is an asshole, and Katherine deserves better -- but to create any tension in the story it has to be framed like "welllllll Katherine is REALLY MEAN and Catherine is REALLY SEXY and Vincent REALLY DOES want to put his foot down one way or the other, but [insert narrative contrivance why this goes on another day]!" The late game twist feels like an unearned Spec Ops The Line deal where they go, "aha! the nightmare woman we pushed you toward and forced the main character to interact with was BAD!" Like uh... yeah? I was trying to kick her out of Vincent's life as quickly as possible?

There is, however, a similar conservative streak present in Persona, regardless of the quality of the writing. I think of how Persona 4 manages to introduce both trans and gay-coded characters while still resolving their stories in a way that seems to write off or dismiss those very identities? It's rough.

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imunbeatable80

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@lapsariangiraff: thanks for the response... I think my dream Catherine path would be; day after Vincent cheats, he tells Katherine what happened.. apologizes, and says it was a one time thing. She stills breaks up with him, dates his friend that had a thing for her, and then when Vincent tries to get Catherine back, she tells him he is too old for her and she was the one that made a mistake, and the game ends after 1 day.

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imunbeatable80

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@pulstdefrt: you seem like you are pretty stable. Joined just to post this beautiful comment. Keep up the great work.

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SethMode

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@pulstdefrt: LOL maybe go outside and get some fresh air. Def seems like you could use it.

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redwing42

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How am I supposed to follow that mess?

To get back on topic, the morality meter in the game isn't really good/bad. Because this is the Persona team (which shares some DNA with the SMT games), it is much more of a Law/Chaos meter than a good/evil one. ATLUS generally skews towards saying that Law is over-controlling and restricts free will, while Chaos offers personal freedom but at a societal cost. The full Chaos ending is just very silly.

Also, Erica is best girl anyway. Vincent should have broken up with Katherine and dated her.

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imunbeatable80

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@redwing42: yes you are right, it's not good and evil, that is perhaps just the easiest generalization. I did watch the super chaos ending after beating the game and it is amazing.

Erica is great, I'm like 20% surprised that in full body she wasn't an additional love option.