Review by ROMKratos
Hardly a nightmare, more-so a confusing dream.
Catherine was a title I set myself on obtaining as soon as I heard about it's localization. As an ATLUS fan, I rationalized that, A: the title was a deviation from the norm, something most games fail to do in the current market, and B: a way to support ATLUS. I sat down and tackled this game over the course of three days, and was able to enjoy the title.
Story You play as Vincent Brooks, a thirty-two year old man who's been in a relatively long relationship with his current girlfriend, Katherine McBride. The game starts off with the two discussing issues of a committal nature, and parting. Later that night, after expressing his concerns with his friends at their favorite bar, (the) Stray Sheep, Vincent accidentally meets Catherine (with a C), a young, flirtatious girl who is, by all means, Katherine's opposite. After returning home and going to sleep, Vincent begins to have strange nightmares.
The narrative itself is interesting and delves into topics of a serious nature, like marriage and living life. Outcomes in the story are based on Vincent's actions, represented by a meter that displays Chaos and Law (respectively). Vincent's reaction to a certain situation or response to a patron dictates in what direction the meter moves, along with responding to Catherine and Katherine's texts in the bar. There are eight different endings to the game, but the affect the meter has on the story isn't seen until the very end of the game, which leaves certain scenarios baffling. For example, you could be wooing Catherine, but this won't change anything in the story until the end, which makes some of Vincent's reactions odd or unnecessary, even.
The gameplay itself consists of two parts, Conquering Vincent's nightmares, and chilling at the bar. Vincent's nightmare sequences are a series of block puzzles in which Vincent must "scale" multiple towers each night, accompanied by a boss on the final stage of each night. While these puzzles require fast assessment of any given situation and a fast pace, it can be a bit much, at times. The game does a good job of teaching you "techniques" for climbing the tower and assisting you in any way possible, but there are certain sections that can be rather aggravating without direct guidance. The ingenuity of the puzzles makes the rather one-dimensional gameplay completely bearable, and the satisfaction of said puzzles is astounding after spending a good amount of time on them, but could leave those who aren't truly into puzzle games rather bored.
The remaining time of the game is spent in the bar, where Vincent can text Catherine and Katherine, talk to fellow patrons, have a few drinks, and play an arcade game (with the same concept as the meat of the game, only tougher). I almost felt as if the game could have been completely comprised of these sequences, and I would have been left happy. Sadly, only a small amount of time is spent in the bar, and the activities to participate in are limited. I frequently dreaded leaving the bar, and found myself yearning to have more to do there in order to compensate for the amount of time put into the nightmares.
The game's OST is good, and compliments the games tone. These tracks aren't outstanding. However, tracks in the nightmare stages, modern interpretations of classical and romantic compositions, leave truly memorable tracks lining the majority of the game.The voice acting cast is reputable and performs well. However, sometimes, dialogue seemed forced to fit situations due to the dubbing, and near the end, I found myself questioning what the original intent of the lines was in Japanese. My only true complaint is that, at times, I felt as if the music was always tense, and never relaxing, disallowing me from enjoying certain cutscenes or time at the bar. Lastly, earning achievements allows you to unlock songs to play on the Jukebox at the Stray Sheep, consisting of titles from ATLUS' repertoire of games.
The artistic style in Catherine is wonderful, the in-game cutscenes are beautifully done. The game is lined with Anime cutscenes, which are great also, but seem to almost impede the wonderful style ATLUS set up at the wrong times. I frequently found myself wanting to watch scenes in the opposite medium. No "big" graphical issues.
Nothing truly leaves you wanting to replay the game, other than perfecting stages to get gold awards, or getting all of Catherine's eight different endings. A lack of collectibles diminishes replay value even more, and makes going back to earn all of the achievements seem like a chore. Accomplishing certain tasks in the main game opens up extra modes, but these modes are even more difficult, or seem unrewarding to play through.
+ Deep narrative with a unique and gripping story.
+ Block gameplay is fun and inventive.
+ Gorgeous graphics and an immaculate soundtrack.
- Story, even though has a "morality compass" that tracks Vincent's decisions, seems useless at times, and doesn't adjust the story enough.
- Tough difficulty that may force some gamers to shy away.
- Low replay value.
Catherine is a title that crosses a lot of boundaries, but fails to compensate for some of its other setbacks that could have been avoided. The game itself is fun at the core, but I couldn't overlook some issues while I played through. I recommend the game to puzzle fans and ATLUS fans, but I think of it as more of a niche title.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Catherine (US, 07/26/11)
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