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Quite a surprise for me to learn that Catherine was mostly a puzzle-solving game, rather than a Visual Novel or similar.
The story is rather simple, with Vincent's long-standing girlfriend beginning to talk about making things permanent and the emotional turmoil it brings up in him, not sure if he wants to go that step yet. And then temptation arrives and complicates things. A definite emphasis on the emotional aspect of a hurdle in a relationship, which is quite nice. It's not a huge deal that involves the entire world, it's just the story of a problem in a relationship. Unfortunately, it does go a bit of a bigger spectrum, as more of the nightmares' meanings get explored.
Majority of the game will be spent doing the puzzles, though. The story is told as nothing but scenes, akin to a visual novel, before going back to the puzzles. Though you can also talk to sheep, whom you can help deal with their own problems. And you'd better, or they'll die...
The puzzles of moving blocks to head upward is pretty difficult. While talking to some sheep can have them come up with 'techniques' on how to move blocks to head up, it feels like the game expects you to know these before you play the game. And even when knowing the techniques, the game suffers from Fake Difficulty later on, with anything involving a lot of ice blocks or random blocks.
The English voice actors are decent, though I personally have to say that I feel like Troy Baker works more for Vincent late in the game, when he's more confident and not early on, fretting about things. And I have to say, I found Laura Bailey to be a terrible decision for the tempting Catherine. I personally found her voice to be too childish, which really made any 'sexy' scene with her come across as very uncomfortable...
If I could add alterations to the game, it would include an option to turn voice acting off entirely or have Dual Audio. The other would be to remove the separation of Catherine and Katherine, as - while the pronounciation is identical - the subtitles result in telling you which girl is being talked about, which ruins the suspense or shock value of certain scenes.
Overall, a definitely addicting game, despite the obnoxious difficulty at times. But if one is terrible at three-dimensional thinking or puzzles overall, I'd suggest to just look online for the scenes.
When first hearing about this game, I have to admit that I first wondered if this was going to be some incredible blunder on the part of Atlus. A company known pretty much for JRP Gs creating a puzzle platformer with a big focus on the main character's relationship issues with two women and some horror elements? Fortunately, I can say that on the very first time I played this game, I was hooked.
That isn't to say that this is for everyone however. Atlus, a company known for the old school difficulty of its games, had to put a patch on the game when it first came out in Japan simply because the game was too hard for many. And even now, some might find the game too difficult even with the patch just because understanding how to move the blocks to move upward requires some changes in thinking about physics and understanding how block moving can interact with the structure you're scaling. Additionally, once or twice during the game, there were instances that I would call fake difficulty (mostly in the ice level) and so far as this troper could tell, there is no proper way to see behind the wall of the tower even if you're back there which can make things dangerous.
In terms of story, the majority of it receives little criticism from this troper but it would have been nice if more could have been done to show that Katherine and Vincent had a good relationship that was just going through a bad phase. It's also hard to tell exactly what conversation options you should have with other people who experience the dreams, which means that convincing them to keep trying is a chore.
But all that said, if you can get your head around it, this game is a gem. The types of blocks you use are creative, ranging from regular ones to black holes, spikey death blocks, living blocks, trampoline blocks and more. The levels are a challenge, but usually never unfair. The music is perfectly suited for the scenes, much of it is remixed classical music but still very strong and able to make you feel whatever the game wants. Visually the game is likewise very good, the characters all look exactly what their character should, the levels are all creative in different creepy ways and there are little extras available such as trivia on drinks and conversation choices that can give more backstory on other characters.
Definitely one that gets a recommendation.
There are some very strange games out there that I'm very glad I've tried, such as Katamari Damacy, Killer 7 and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. If I'd written them off as too strange, I would have missed out some really good experiences. So when I heard about Catherine, I put off on buying it for a while, until I finally decided to just go ahead and do it.
The game's many elements, from its "social" gameplay to its story, its block-pushing puzzles and its morality meters all come together to form a surprisingly cohesive whole. The mixture of a puzzle game about a man who climbs block towers in his dreams as a punishment for the things he's doing with his love life somehow stopped being weird to me very quickly, and I just accepted it.
The puzzles are hard. VERY hard. I played on Normal until I got overwhelmed and just wasn't having fun anymore, so I lowered the difficulty to the inaccurately named "Easy". I also like that they split up the puzzle gameplay into two variations on the puzzle gameplay - the time limit-based normal gameplay in the nightmare world, and the moves limit-based gameplay in the bar's arcade. Each variation forces you to think differently.
The story generally does a great job of balancing the real world and Vincent's relationship troubles with the nightmare world and the supernatural mysterious deaths going on, as well as believable drama with cartoonish exaggeration (mainly Vincent's attempts to cover up the affair).
I have a few complaints though.
For one, I think the social aspect of the game could really be expanded upon. You can talk to people in the bar, and the order in which you talk to them seems to influence what topics they talk about. Occasionally, you get a chance to respond to someone, often influencing one of several morality meters that appear. However, this occurrence isn't as common as I feel it should be. Ultimately, the bar amounts to an extended dialog sequence with limited player control, and very few choices.
Also, the story has some supernatural elements, but at one point they enter into the forefront of the story and overshadow the realistic infidelity plot in a way that made it impossible for me to take the rest of the plot seriously.
Still, with these caveats, this is a very creative game and there's nothing else out there like it.
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