Review by odino
"To be with Catherine or Katherine, that is the question"
This review is for the Japanese release of the game. I would think most of the readers are trying to find out this first: can you play this without knowing Japanese? In short: yes. You can play it with basic understanding, trial and error as well as knowing "yes" and "no" in Japanese to save your game. A lot of text in the game is English almost as if the localization could be done in a jiffy. The problem is that the main bulk of the story, conversations, is not in English and you would miss out on a lot of the game by skipping this. The puzzles alone don't really justify playing. Atlus likes to tease with localizations and this game is weird in the way that a Western release is too niche for proper marketing. It has to been seen if Atlus reckons the Western niche market supports this type of game, and Catherine is just one of those games: it's weird, it's insane, crazy, wacky, zany, frustrating at time and somehow erotic, with the latter a big evil to North American censors alone (just see Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit).
Let's start with the game. You play as Vincent who recently met a girl called Catherine. However, he has also been with Katherine (not the pun there already since both are also pronounced "Kyasarin" in Japanese, it makes for a lot of gags in the plot) for five years and marriage is on the table. His friends advise him on how to deal with the situation since, well, being a guy he is confused at what to do with those two women in his life. Catherine is hip and cool but Vincent has started to get nightmares. There have also been recent incidents in the neighborhood, strange deaths with people dying in their sleep. Might there be a connection? Without giving much away, the entire game will have you choose between two girls and on the way you will have small choices that directly affect your ending. This is not a spoiler, this is your objective. The fun thing is watching the story unfold and getting these choices thrown at you, either in a confessional or just plain when asked. This will affect your "good/evil" gauge and in the end you are given a different outcome to the story depending on this slider. This will allow you to replay the game and see different results, although I would guess there are just two (maybe more, don't quote me on that).
This game comes from the Persona development team and you will notice the style. There is a big mix of cell shading, anime as well as what appears like full motion capturing all blended together. The graphics are great to look at if not blocky at times and lacking some details. Don't get me wrong, they really made the environments look neat, with bars having detailed characters lingering in the background and smoke puffs displayed accurately, beer glass contents even tilting as it moves, yet the amount of polygons going into some objects seems limited and the cartoony look doesn't help. Vincent doesn't look so great in his sheep form but at least he is smooth to play with. This is rather important since the core of the game, the puzzles, need quick movements.
So what are those puzzles? They look strange, almost like Devil Dice at first, or Boxxle meets Tomb Raider. You will have to climb and push your way to the top of a pile of cubes. Sounds easy and the first levels are super easy, but as you progress you will find yourself failing and becoming frustrated easily. There are also gold (points) and other items to be found in the level, some needing to get out of the way to collect. Getting to the top is one thing (survival!!) but getting a good score is another. Score is made up of your collected points as well as your difficulty multiplier and a bonus thrown in, which consists of how fast you made it to the top. If you do not make it up to the escape "door" in time you will, well, die... Don't fret, you can play the game on Easy and it even gives you a reverse function to correct mistakes. Want to know more about this puzzle section? It's explained in a tutorial so anyone can really understand. It's also done quite humorous at that. Even a few puzzles in you will be given advice on how to play and the tutorial voice over guy really doesn't start leaving you alone when you might want help the most.
The stages have great design around the major blocks and the camera allows you to tilt around enough to see everything. The puzzles are smooth and controls are tight. Well done. Now, if you expect an action game you are out of luck. This is all action puzzle. Speaking of expectations, I mentioned erotic themes above and this is marketed as an adult game, but there is really no nudity or anything like that in the game, no cartoon boobs you will grin at or pause the game to "enjoy". It's not that kind of game, at all. Catherine and Katherine are hot gals, that is all. If you got your hopes up from the hype of the game and the revealing, almost lewd game covers and screenshots then you will be disappointed. I would not be surprised that a lot of people still bought the game just for that...oh well.
The music is done really well, and the voice acting is top notch. There are funky hip-hop beats at one point, then organ music in other. It's a refreshing mix and something for everybody. Did I mention Catherine sounds hot? Oh...moving on.
This all sounds like a pretty game so far, but of course there are some downsides. Vincent is going a little insane (wouldn't you at the prospect of dying in your nightmare) and as you meet your fellow Sheepmen in the nightmares it all becomes too odd. This is mainly an issue because the main story seems kind of a supernatural thriller slash film noir with some eroticism thrown in (errr, don't misunderstand that last part), and then the night sections are such a total change to ruin it. The difficulty can be too much for the average player, especially with later levels and that is even on the Easy difficulty. Props to the players that endure to the end. If you had enough of the story modes then try some multiplayer which is implemented rather well, not only for the vs matches but also for questions. I can see there will be DLC (I'm not a fan of those but oh well) for additional stages since there aren't that many right now. With the game doing rather well in Japan I would not be surprised to see that along with, of course, a sequel.
What's most important: this game is FRESH. It brings something new to industry where a newly rehashed FPS is announced for every Christmas shopping season, a sports game with nothing but new roster once again, platformers done to death and so on. I highly suggest you check it out to play around, see what people are talking about. With some guidance and help you can get through the language barrier and even cutscenes were translated on streaming websites for you to watch and understand the plot. In short, you can import this, it's worth it.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 03/01/11
Game Release: Catherine (JP, 02/17/11)
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