Catherine’s been on my to do list for years now. The game has always fascinated me: taking control of a man who needs to decide between his girlfriend of many years and a new girl on the scene. It always appealed to me, as it’s exactly where I am in life at the moment, with me reaching my 30’s soon and not settled down (whilst everyone else around me is having kids and getting married). After I had heard good things for years, I finally started looking into buying it, only to find that it was already on my PS3 as it was free on PS+ many years ago.
Trying to find a perfect time to play the game was a challenge though. Thankfully, my friend and I was looking for a new game to complete together, and decided on Catherine, since we could see the story whilst taking it in turns to solve the puzzles. To say I’m glad we played Catherine is an understatement.
The game of Catherine takes place in a little Japanese city, with you playing and watching the life of Vincent as he unexpectedly gets dragged into a world of drama between two girls, all whilst men are dying from strange dreams. Upon night time, Vincent himself has these strange dreams, where he needs to climb a weird puzzle game in order to live another day. By day, he speaks with friends to try and get to the bottom of what to do in his current predicament. Half puzzle game, half dating simulator. It’s a weird combination of gameplay, but one that really speaks volumes to the games core underpinnings: it’s ability to use gameplay as a metaphor and tell a fantastic story.
You see, whilst you have some control over Vincent and his decisions (do you drink more at night to have an advantage in your dream, but will most likely mean that Vincent sleeps with the wrong Catherine again?) the game still wants to tell a story of it’s own, with some of your reactions/replies to moments being not what you’d want to say. I’d find many instances where Vincent would need to reply to a text he had gotten, only to find that none of the replies suited what me and my friend wanted to actually say, meaning we’d need to do the lesser of two evils. This is all fine and good though, as you still have some control over Vincent, it’s just annoying when a situation presents itself that you wish you could actually have some control over.
The nightmare sequences are cool, but nothing special. Catherine’s puzzle mechanics are simple, but solid, with Vincent being able to move blocks to progress up a tower, and climb them. What starts off simple enough soon becomes harder, with ice blocks, explosive blocks, and many others soon forcing you to constantly rethink your strategy of how to make your way up the tower. The stages are big enough that you have plenty of freedom to come up with your own solution, meaning Catherine is still giving your freedom to choose in both it’s main story and it’s gameplay.
The true brilliance of the game is during the day, when you control Vincent in deciding what he does around a bar. It’s here that you get to learn more details about the world around you (more men dying, details about special drinks being poured for you etc), but it’s also here where you’ll make new friendships and answer questions which will change your characters morality. It’s this “morality” system which will have an effect on the ending, with multiple anime scenes playing out depending on how you answered the questions, or responded to Catherine (and Katherine)’s demands.
I was hooked on these day scenes, with me shouting at Craig telling him what to reply in a text back to Catherine. The characters felt real, and were certainly enticing enough for me to have an opinion on what should be done with them. I wanted to have an impact on the world, and wanted so much for Vincent to get with Catherine, the new girl on the block who enticed Vincent to cheat on his girlfriend of many years: Katherine. Lo and behold, the developers actually made the two Catherine’s out to be a visual metaphor; Catherine (the young, blonde free spirit) was freedom manifested, with Katherine (the dull, safe girlfriend) being commitment. It was a good contrast, and was interesting to see that I went with freedom each and every time, whilst my good friend (who’s about to get married and already has a kid), chose the latter. It was these decisions and constant scenarios which made me truly love the game, with their being no “right” or “wrong” answer, merely decisions to be made like what would happen in real life.
I genuinely loved Catherine, and may actually be tempted to play it again in the near future (when I’ve got less games to play). The decisions, atmosphere, and everything about it enticed me to a point I was shouting my friend down on what decisions to make all the time. It was also fascinating on the breadth of different choices people would make in the exact same situation given the same questions. If you’re the kind of person who likes a fantastic story (one that’ll make you look at your own life and the decisions you make), then look no further, as Catherine is sure to get you thinking about your life decisions so far. Just be warned: don’t play the game with a loved one around. They may affect your decision making, or would be annoyed at the answers you give.