Friday, January 27, 2017

Review #369: Catherine

 Girls, drinks and nightmares, what else would you need?
 Catherine is a horror-esque puzzle game made by the same team that brought us Persona, which usually implies a brilliant soundtrack, believable characters and top-notch atmosphere. And it delivers.

 Vincent Brooks' the game's protagonist, he is irresponsible, laid back and not ready to commit, much to his girlfriend's, Katherine, chagrin. It was a normal day, after his every-day routine of joining his friends for drinks, that he meets Catherine and cheats on his girlfriend... and the nightmares begin. Now begins Vincent ordeals, dealing with his pushy girlfriend, the pushy lover and the deadly nightmares. The story is all kinds of fantastic. Taking place during 8 days or so, every day begins with Vincent waking up after a nightmare, AKA gameplay section, then a few cutscenes of character development, a brief playable interlude at the bar and then another nightmare. The formula doesn't get repetitive due to how good the story-telling is and how engrossing Vincent story is, not to mention how eventually other people get sucked into the nightmare, and you get to follow their stories during the bar and nightmare scenes. It helps that Atlus nailed the game's atmosphere just right, and unexpectedly for a Japanese game, they treat the game's themes with maturity.
 As previously noted, before each nightmare, Vincent will get a brief respite at his favorite bar, The Stray Sheep. These moments are brief, simple and brilliant. Besides interacting with the many different NPCs, which you should, in order to further their personal stories and make sure they survive the nightmares as well, you will also get text messages from Katherine and Catherine, and you are able to answer them in multiple ways, which will affect Vincent's... morality? This can be influenced through other means as well and will change how he behaves in certain cutscenes as well as change the ending. Back to the Stray Sheep, you are able to move around the bar, and while talking to some NPCs, other may leave or enter the joint, which adds a nice little tingle of realism to these sections. Lastly, you can also get hammered on various drinks, getting drunk not only makes you faster during Nightmares, but it also rewards you with alcohol facts! There're a few other thingies, like a record player and an Arcade machine with a 2-D-version of the Nightmare sections, but based around limited moves and solving the challenge. These were probably some of my favorite parts of the game, since they built up the game's world so, so well.

 But then it's time to go back to your house and suffer the Nightmares. This is the meat of the game, in which you must climb a tower of blocks all the way to the top. But you can't take your time, as either lower levels of blocks are constantly falling or you are being followed by a boss. At first, it's simply a matter of pulling and pushing blocks in order to make your way across, but then different types of blocks get introduced: Icy, slippery blocks, Trap blocks, Void Cup-blocks, Spring Blocks and a few others. While it's easy to exploit Retry items, and the 'Undo' feature is pretty generous, the game gets rather brutal at times even in the Normal difficulty setting. I'm not much of a puzzle-game aficionado, so I'm not ashamed to admit that I wasn't much of a fan of these sections. That said, after every stage, each Nightmare being comprised of two-to-four stages each, you'll get to talk with anthropomorphic sheep who soon reveal themselves to be the NPCs from the game's bar section! So even during these you'll get more story bits, and even questions to answer in order to alter Vincent's morality gauge.
 Beating the game unlocks a competitive two player mode, and then there's also the harder, randomized Babel Mode. However, you must earn your entry into the Babel challenges by getting Gold Cups during the story-mode's Nightmares, so... get good.

 Gameplay-wise, Catherine was not my kind of game, but as far as the story is concerned, it's right up my alley. It's a fantastic, original story that keeps you engrossed all the way to the end. So even, even if you are not into puzzle games, the story is more than worth going through the game, featuring mature, serious themes that are displayed in very ingenious ways, mixing Persona's brand of surrealism and fantasy, with more realistic tones. Catherine is fantastic, no two ways about it.
 8.5 out of 10

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