Catherine: Running With The Herd

I feel like there’s some old myth or folk tale at work behind the story of Catherine that I’m not aware of.  Maybe if I was aware of it I would have enjoyed the game more, and by ‘more’ I mean ‘at all’.  Yes, this article is not going to be a happy one.

It’s an Anime Thing:
Catherine doesn’t stray far in basic concept from Persona 1 through 5, developer Atlus’ previous titles.  I’ll admit I never played a single Persona game, but after going through Catherine not once but twice, I find I’m in no hurry to.

Catherine tells the story of Vincent, a 32 year old spineless man-child approaching maturity filled with paralyzingly terror.  This puts him completely at odds with his long-time girlfriend Katherine; frumpy and sometimes frighteningly controlling.  Katherine is doing her best to usher Vincent towards responsibilities he’s been so desperately avoiding with hints of marriage and job prospects and merging bank accounts and all those other wonderful things adults do when all of a sudden, Vincent is randomly seduced by Catherine, a care-free yet completely psychotic harlot 10 years his junior.  Thus begins the dramatic, sinister tug of war for Vincent’s heart and his future.  And since that isn’t exactly enough to make for a thrilling game, Vincent has also been cursed, and each night is plagued by nightmare where he’s a sheep and needs to climb up a block-puzzle tower while being chased by a giant monster-woman trying to eat him with her vagina.  Did I mention this game is Japanese?

Won't that get confusion in spoken dialogue?

Katherine or Catherine?:
I’ll admit, Catherine has an interesting concept behind it.  While the story itself is interesting enough to keep you playing, the focus on the relationships was what really drew my attention.  There are plenty of game which showcase budding relationships, but one whose focus is on a relationship already in progress (where both parties remain alive through the whole thing) is a refreshing change.  The only problem is Vincent.

Vincent is the biggest tool I have ever had the misfortune of controlling.  He spends almost the entire game whining, never showing any hint of a spine until a sudden and unexplained shift in the last level of the game.  It was the Green Lantern movie all over again.  Neither of his love interests are any better.  Both are wooden and one-dimensional, boiled down to their most basic and then exaggerated to the extreme.  They’re not so much characters as they are symbols and plot devices, and as such I found myself not really wanting to settle down with either of them.  Can’t I find some plucky middle ground between comfortable yet controlling Katherine and exciting yet psychotic Catherine?  Can’t I have Qatherine?  The support characters, while also rather over-dramaticized, are at least enjoyable to listen to.  But the three focal points in this quirky love triangle are painfully static.  Not exactly a plus for this story driven game.

Q*bert from Hell:
Gameplay flip-flops back and forth between exciting and so amazingly boring.  In all honesty, the only time you’re really playing the game at all is during the block puzzles.  Everything else is a cutscene.

It's called "The Stray Sheep". Get it?

Well, there is a bar you’re allowed to walk around in, but all you can really do there is talk to other patrons or play an arcade game which, you guessed it, is exactly the same sliding block puzzles as the ones you’re faced with in the nightmares.  All in all, it seem rather insubstantial.  Not only that, but some of the most basic modern gaming mechanics are missing completely.  Auto-saving is something that seems to have completely slipped the developers mind, so be sure you save at every available opportunity.  Also not making an appearance are automatic checkpoints within the puzzle levels.  Oh sure, checkpoints are present, but they’re treated as a pick-up.  So if you say, don’t take that path, or collapse the section it’s on, or push another block overtop of it, you’re out of luck.  Die, and it’s right back to the beginning of the level with you.  Not helping any of this at all is a frustratingly stubborn camera which refuses to rotate more than 90 degrees.  So if you’re messing around behind the blocks, which sometimes you will be, you may as well be playing with your eyes closed.  And the cherry on top of this delicious cake of rage?  Left and right controls are reversed when you’re behind the blocks.  Cause you know, that completely fixes the problem.

Get used to this screen, you'll be seeing a lot of it.

Catherine isn’t so much difficult as it is obnoxiously hard.  Easy mode is far from easy, and the progression of difficulty through the levels is as uneven as you can get.  While in the bar, you have the option to drink and if you do, a prompt will come up telling you that drinking will effect how fast you move in the nightmare.  But it completely fails to mention whether getting drunks makes you faster or slower (PS, it makes you faster and there are zero negative side-effects.  Drink at every available opportunity).  In fact, there’s a lot the game doesn’t tell you until long after the fact, if it tells you anything at all.  When you get right down to the bottom line, Catherine felt more arduous than anything.  It became a routine; Have conflict with Catherine/Katherine, whine to friends, send some texts, drink, go to sleep, climb block puzzle, talk to sheep, answer questions, fight a symbolic boss, wake up, rinse lather repeat.  For nine freaking days.  Sure there was at least one new mechanic added to each level in the dreams, but on the whole, nothing changed.  For seven days, hardly anything happens at all, and everything that happens in the last two days almost doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with the previous week at all.  Sure there is a wild feeling of satisfaction when you finally make it to the stop of each floor, but it’s a hollow sort of satisfaction which is quick to fade when you realize now you have to sit through 45 minutes of listening to Vincent.

Can't tell if insulting...

Questionable Content:
Despite everything the story has going for it, there are some rather… concerning ideas present.  At it’s core, Catherine is… well… misogynistic.  I mean, everywhere you go women are threatening to kill you or tie you down to their ideal life or eat you with their vagina.

It’s almost operating on the idea that eventually all men will have to surrender all hopes of freedom and fun and chain themselves to a humorless woman to have their hopes and dreams utterly crushed under her stiletto heels.  Although, the game isn’t exactly kind to men, either.  It seems to be convinced that men are all clueless directionless ‘sheep’ and will continue to be so until a woman comes along to put him on his leash.  I will admit, being a girl, even a lesbian girl, there were times when I felt like this wasn’t a game I was meant to be playing.  However, I can’t help but giggle at the fact that a game has been made about commitment issues, a stereotype that seems to plague it’s main demographic.

The Nail in the Coffin:
I mentioned earlier that the story did have something going for it, and this seems to be the general consensus.  There’s no denying Catherine is a story driven game, and near all the reviews of it give the story nothing but praise.  Now despite everything, all the repetitious dialogue and the crawling pace and rather weak twist and the absolutely terrible characters, I found myself enjoying the story.  Right up until the very end.  The whole story of Catherine is told in a sort of Tales of the Crypt Keeper style; a single segment in a larger show.  At the end, you return to the show and your host goes into the typical “now what did we learn tonight?” sum up.  But the problem I have with this is how absolutely condescending it is.  She point blank asks you if you understood it, if you were able to grasp the conflict the “game’s masterful creators” (her words, not mine) put at it’s core.  All the intrigue, all the metaphor, the symbolism, and the careful thought put into the story was shattered in a single instant by a sultry woman with a glowing afro laying the whole thing out for you like you’re a child.  Honestly, it killed the whole game for me.  By the end of it, I was genuinely angry.


Where did that one even come from?

By the way, all the choices you make through the game?  Yeah, they have no effect on the outcome.  Or the story as a whole.  The broad strokes of the plot remain unchanged no matter which direction you take, the only real change being Vincent’s internal monologue.  Even the eight different ending are determined not by your choices throughout the game, but by your answers to the four questions asked in the final stage.  You could be fighting to make things right with Katherine for the whole game and then in the last level decide you’d rather be more of a dick than you already are and run off with Catherine.  If you’d like to experience all the endings, do yourself a favor and keep separate save files.  Trust me, it’s far less frustrating than enduring the whole thing all over again.


The Good:
-Interesting concept
-Fully animated cutscenes
-Satisfying puzzles
-A genuinely creepy atmosphere and some unsettling moments
-Excellent music during the block puzzles
-Booze trivia

The Bad:
-Terrible controls
-Horrible, shallow characters
-Poor dialogue editing
-Surprisingly limited story influence
-Very high and inconsistent difficulty level
-Lack of basic information
-Interesting but in the end irrelevant subplots
-Completely abandoned subplots
-Recycled in-game animation
-Repetitive gameplay
-Encourages multiple play-throughs, but doesn’t warrant it
-Disappointing and lack-luster ending

The Bottom Line:
Don’t waste your money.  Maybe worth a rent at most, if only to be able to say you’ve fought a giant vagina-monster.

I am shocked and appalled, sir!

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