As an ATLUS fan, I had this game pre-ordered with its Deluxe Edition for the XBOX 360 as soon as it was available. Knowing ATLUS, they’re going to make a game that has great character development and an interesting story line, the two features I praise them of. This strange tale of CATHERINE, is no exception. ATLUS brought to us another fantastic story with intuitive game play.
In this tale, you star as a thirty-two year old man called Vincent Brooks. You have a lovely girlfriend named Katherine which you’ve been dating for years now. Soon in the story, another attractive young girl will enter the Vincent’s life. Her name is Catherine.
CATHERINE’s story focuses on relationships and what they mean to you. Depending on your decisions facing both Katherine and Catherine, Vincent’s thoughts will change. Each answer you give will affect the game’s final outcome. There are a total of eight endings to the game, and I have only completed two.
During gameplay, there are several phases you go through each “day”. You start each night with a “nightmare”, where Vincent will have to conquer his dreams in order to survive into the next day. Shall you wake up in the morning, the game usually rewards the player with an in-depth cutscene that progresses the story. These cutscenes is what kept me going because the story only gets more interesting, keeping your curiosity to what may happen next. Cutscenes are either in a 3D cel-shaded style or 2D anime cartoon style, both extremely well done.
Finally, after your day is over, you always hang out at the “Stray Sheep” bar with your friends. During your time at the bar, you are allowed to chat with all your friends, the bartender, customers, check your phone, and even text back to your messages. These messages will also determine your ending and even pictures you receive from your two ladies. There is also a mini-game in the corner of the bar where you can test your skills similar to the ones in Vincent’s nightmares.
Getting the meat of the entire game, are the nightmare puzzles where you are forced to go through every night after Vincent leaves the bar to return home.
The game was tackled in a short three to four days with some frustration in between but mostly filled with enjoyment. No doubt everyone will have a moment in this game where they’d want to chuck their controller at something. Personally, I’m a big fan of puzzle games because I found myself at a comfortable pace at the “Normal” difficulty setting but my friends beg otherwise.
The puzzles are arranged as blocks that you have to “scale”. The objective is to climb this tower and reach the top while the bottom is slowing falling away. Not only will you have to think, you will have to think fast. The puzzles are composed of big white blocks that you can pull, push, and climb in a 3D plane. You can also learn “techniques” between each stage. ATLUS was smart to make random blocks which will make the blocks heavy, have spikes, explode, or other neat features which even the best climbers cannot predict, making it a surprise each time.
My best tool was the “undo” feature, the back button. It allows you to “undo” up to nine actions just in case you really messed up somewhere and have to go back in the puzzle. This also helps in a pinch during those nasty boss battles each night where you have to run extra fast. During boss stages, not only does the tower crumble at the bottom, the boss will also chase you with an array of attacks.
Puzzles are very challenging but not impossible. You are most likely to keep playing because you can get further and further each time with trial and error. You are constantly reminded that the light is only at the top, not too far away! A literal “Hallelujah” is waiting for you.
The music in this game is very fitting for each scenario and is composed by Shoji Meguro, whom also worked on music for ATLUS’ Shin Megami Tensei series. The pieces never goes unnoticed when you play, it heightens the emotions for each scene and is not presented as just a background noise. As you go through the introduction credits, CATHERINE presents you with Meguro’s general style of music which is hip-hop with J-pop. There is also an option to listen to more of his tracks at the jukebox at the Stray Sheep.
Though the game received a mature rating, I believe it’s only because it discusses about sex and has one cutscene which Catherine is somewhat revealed. In my opinion, the mature rating should have come from the subject of the story which is marriage and responsibility. This story would be hard for anyone to relate to if they’re not in a relationship or doesn’t care to be in one at all. However, through the beginning of the story, the player is smacked with the burden of all this lovey-dovey marriage responsibility stuff which is not what the game advertised to do.
Also, the story never really quite tells you what could happen and your actions do not affect the story at all, just the ending. They don’t tell you how many endings you can have, and it does not explicitly tell you there are more endings to achieve so you may never go back to play it again at all.
For players that are not anime fans, this game can be hard to understand. I’ve had people confuse sweatdrops for tears when I played through the game. Many of the scenes use anime-stylization and features which only people that watch anime would understand.
As for fans of achievements, there are many side story features you can do. “Encouraging” other customers and completing the mini-game at the bar. If you are intended on getting all the endings, you can skip the puzzles which you go through the game again if you achieved gold medals at the same setting.
Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed the game. Personally, I can relate to the story very well and I am a huge fan of anime and ALTUS. The actors and actresses are charming, even though I find Vincent to be a spineless good-for-nothing male character. I would recommend this for gamers that enjoy puzzle games, Japanese style, and quirky story lines.
Score card: 8.5/10