GBAtemp Recommends: Catherine

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Video games have always struggled to depict romantic relationships in a meaningful way. Some games might ask you to shower a potential partner with a gift they like, or navigate a dialogue tree to win them over with a few key phrases, but even then, it’s only covering the beginning of the relationship. Once you have your beloved’s affection, they’ll generally be yours regardless of what you do afterwards. Atlus’ Catherine, originally released in 2011 and given an expanded remake in 2019 titled Catherine: Full Body, attempts to depict a long-term relationship as the main conceit of the game, and it mostly succeeds. It addresses mature subject matter without being edgy, tackles relatable subjects in a grounded world (despite its fantasy elements) and takes its themes and characters seriously.

Catherine stars Vincent Brooks, a man torn between two women; his long-time girlfriend Katherine, who’s pressuring him into making a commitment, and Catherine, a free-spirited and flirtatious woman Vincent ends up spending a night with. Full Body adds in Vincent's new next-door neighbour Rin (full name Qatherine), an affable amnesiac Vincent develops feelings for. At the same time, the news is filled with reports of men being found dead in their beds, with them rumoured to have all been adulterers and reporting having horrible nightmares before passing. Vincent is plagued by these nightmares and he loses his grip as he spends his days trying to keep Katherine and Catherine from finding out about each other, and his nights sleepless and haunted.

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Gameplay is divided into two distinct sections. In the night sections, you control Vincent at his local pub, the Stray Sheep. These segments mainly consist of getting to know the other patrons or discussing the problems in your love life with your friends. You’ll also get texts from the women in your life, but, with a few exceptions, your responses don’t impact much. The bulk of the gameplay takes place during the nightmare sections, where Vincent is tasked with climbing a giant tower of blocks as the floor crumbles beneath him. Vincent can push and pull these blocks and as long as a block's edge remains connected to another block on the tower, it will remain suspended in mid-air. This is basically the entire premise of the puzzle sections, but Atlus wrings the idea for all its worth without ever stretching it too thin. There’s a surprising number of techniques to learn just for handling basic block formations, and that’s before getting into the special block types, such as immovable blocks, slippery blocks or cracked blocks that crumble after being stepped on enough.

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There are a few different game modes that explore different variations on the basic gameplay. While the story mode forces you to think on your feet to avoid the falling floor, located in the Stray Sheep is the arcade machine Rapunzel, featuring 128 unique puzzles with no time restraints but a limit on the number of moves you can do, forcing a more methodical approach and allowing for more complicated puzzles. There’s also Babel, where players must climb randomly generated towers created from a handful of pre-determined block formations. Full Body also boasts Remix Mode, which takes every puzzle from the story and Rapunzel and adds in Tetris-style connected blocks. It might be a little overwhelming for newcomers but being forced to move several blocks at once completely upends the strategies people have been honing on the competitive circuit for years and breathes new life into the game for hardcore players who have mastered everything in the original. The puzzles in Catherine are the best sort of puzzle; they build on each other in a way that make you feel like you’re learning new skills with a variety of implementations and the solutions are open enough that any time you beat a level it feels like you made that solution happen, rather than figuring out the one way it was decided that level should go.

Another triumph of the nightmare stages is that they never feel totally separated from the plot. On the landings in between stages, you can run into some of your fellow patrons from the Stray Sheep, and through a combination of your conversations in the real world and the dream world, you can help them through their plight that left them stranded in the nightmares. The last nightmare stage on any given night features a boss that will kill you if you lag too far behind, usually representing something Vincent is haunted by in his waking life. Examples include a killer bride, a child with a chainsaw that cries out for its father, and a giant butt monster with a hideous maw where its genitals should be. While the imagery isn’t exactly subtle, the designs are nevertheless inspired and fun to look at, aiding the sense of urgency by tying it directly to Vincent’s psyche. One particular highlight for this blending of gameplay and story is a segment near the end where Vincent must escort his lover up a tower. The AI is at the perfect level of competence, following instructions well and rarely making stupid mistakes, but not taking much initiative in making its own path up the tower. This means you must leave paths open behind you as you climb, forcing you to reconsider many of the strategies you’ve had ingrained in you up until this point. It’s an effective metaphor for how Vincent needs to re-examine the ways he’s lived his life as a single man, and how he needs to be more considerate in how he moves forward in order to accommodate having a partner. Its delivery is all the more effective for making the player do the same thing during an unexpected and hectic puzzle section.

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Unlike the protagonists of Catherine’s sister series, Persona, Vincent is not a self-insert character. He exerts his personality over the player at every turn, mostly through his refusal to exert his will over any of the people in his life. Vincent spends the beginning portions of the game stammering his protests to Catherine, unable to simply tell her he has a girlfriend, no matter how hard you try to make him. If you want to text Catherine to tell her to leave you alone, Vincent will usually type something passively-aggressively curt and hope it does the trick. Similarly, if you want to warm up to your loyal girlfriend, the best Vincent can muster is to invite her to “catch a movie sometime.” As frustrating as he can be, at least Vincent has a well-defined character, which isn’t the case for everyone here. Katherine is mostly defined by her lack of patience with Vincent, constantly trying to control or change him. She will sometimes acknowledge her bad behaviour later, and Full Body adds in flashbacks that show what brought them together, but these things only end up justifying Vincent’s hesitancy about the relationship by showing how hot-and-cold Katherine can be. Catherine’s seductive routine is also turned up to cartoonish proportions, showing up in rain-soaked clothes and forcing herself into Vincent’s lap, cooing about how marriage is a trap and women put too much pressure on men for such a silly tradition. Neither woman feels like a real person, just an abstraction of the lifestyle choice Vincent is trying to make. This would be fine if they were accurate representations of what it’s like to settle down or be free and single, but they’re both such unrealistic and unappealing options that it’s hard to get invested in what the game is trying to say.

This touches on one of Catherine’s strangest quirks: its inconsistent tone. The game is framed as a presentation of the Golden Playhouse, a TV movie-of-the-week style program with a silly host. This might make people expect a campy horror-comedy, and they’d be half right. When the game indulges in its comic sensibilities, it’s charming and funny. These moments make Vincent’s spinelessness less frustrating (what horror movie protagonist doesn’t make stupid decisions?), and the simplistic portrayal of traditional gender roles make more sense in a comedy. The game falters, however, when it tries to be a more meaningful exploration of sexual and romantic dynamics. At certain points, the player will be asked to answer questions about their opinions on relationships. These answers are judged on a meter, awarding points to either order or chaos (though the game does not clearly define these terms until later and, given the design of the meter, it’s hard not to read them as good and evil). The idea is that the meter will determine whether you value the stability of Katherine or the freedom of Catherine, and will push you towards an ending based on your answers. The problem is that you’re only given two very basic options, which doesn’t leave room for much nuance. For example, the question “Is it okay for your partner to stay at someone else’s place if they don’t cross the line?” has the answer representing order as “That’s practically cheating!” While there is an argument to be made for that, one could just as easily argue that that kind of possessiveness would lead to a more chaotic life. These kinds of black-and-white morality systems were common last generation but have since fallen out of favour, so the meter in Catherine feels like a product of a bygone era.

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It's interesting to note, then, that most of the new content in Full Body does not make use of the meter. The original locks you into this constrictive binary and presents the choice between Katherine and Catherine as the choice between order and chaos, but really, both women dominate Vincent and make his decisions for him; they just do it for different purposes. Rin, however, offers real acceptance of Vincent. Though Rin’s innocent, naive act is as over-the-top as the other two, she’s the only one that allows Vincent to take an active role in the relationship and as a result, his interactions with her feel much more believable. In order to unlock Rin as a romance option, there are a handful of questions that must be answered a certain way. Instead of moving the meter towards order or chaos, it will put a crack in the meter until eventually it shatters, and a flower blooms from the centre. It’s not just Rin’s content that disregards the morality meter; the new side characters are the only two on the landing whose dialogue options don’t impact it and the new endings for Katherine and Catherine require the meter to be at the centre.

This leaves the Full Body version with a little bit of an identity crisis. Maybe it’s not as obvious to someone who hasn’t played both versions, but the new content never fully gels with the rest of the game, and sticks out even more as it seems to stand in ideological contrast to the original. The original has a pessimistic view of gender roles that can get tiring, with the men portrayed as immature and the women as cold or manipulative, whereas Rin, even if she’s a bit of a stereotype herself, at least makes sense with Vincent and they seem to be good for each other. Similarly, the original has some transphobic moments, and then Rin’s story is a (genuinely touching) love-conquers-all tale with strong LGBT themes. But since Full Body doesn’t actually remove or alter any of the original content, only adds to it, it’s kind of a half-measure. It ends up feeling like the game is trying to have its cake and eat it too by addressing the issues of its original incarnation without committing enough to actually remove them.

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Catherine tries to be a lot of different things. It doesn’t always deftly blend its different moods and styles together, but it makes them work well enough on their own that the clunky transitions don’t hurt as much as they could. When the game is funny, it flows smoothly, relying on great animation and voice acting to fill in the gaps in a sometimes spotty script. It struggles more in dramatic moments, but its characters are relatable and its themes are universal enough that it can still connect. The puzzles are deceptively complex, hiding unseen depth behind basic block-moving mechanics. These are all interesting things for a game to be on their own, making Catherine all the more special for not only attempting to be all of them, but for pulling off the balancing act as well as it does.



I hope you enjoyed this edition of GBAtemp Recommends. If you'd like to see more, leave your feedback in the thread below or check out our previous articles.
GBAtemp Recommends Issues said:

TAGS: [GAME=/game/catherine.2151]Catherine[/GAME] [GAME=/game/catherine-classic.113905]Catherine Classic[/GAME] [GAME=/game/catherine-full-body.78497]Catherine: Full Body[/GAME]
 

raxadian

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This review made me not want to play the game.

Having relationships depend on how good you are at a puzzle game?
 

2Hack

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Man, the story of this game is so good. I'm not really a puzzle guy but I do recall watching pewdiepie play through it and holy smokes I got so obsessed. I wish they'd make a sequel or a series out of it with different characters as the main.
 
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relauby

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Man, the story of this game is so good. I'm not really a puzzle guy but I do recall watching pewdiepie play through it and holy smokes I got so obsessed. I wish they'd make a sequel or a series out of it with different characters as the main.

If you’re interested in playing it for yourself so you can experiment with different story outcomes and that, the Full Body version gives you the option to totally skip the puzzles and just do story stuff.
 
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rsx

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I have this game on the 360, it was mostly ignored by everyone but I poked at it over the years. Never could figure it out but still, very fun.
 

wiired24

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Yessss, this was one of my favorite PS3 games. Honestly I've probably put about as many hours into Catherine as I did Persona 5 which is suprising for a game that is relatively short but anyone that has played Catherine knows how replayable and addicting it can be.
 
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Empu1

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I don't know how (didn't even think it'd be possible), but I've been convinced! Now I actually wanna play this game. I wonder if it's really coming out for the Switch though, if not, I'll just have to get it for the PS4. It'll likely be cheaper on that console too
 
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relauby

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I don't know how (didn't even think it'd be possible), but I've been convinced! Now I actually wanna play this game. I wonder if it's really coming out for the Switch though, if not, I'll just have to get it for the PS4. It'll likely be cheaper on that console too

I think I remember Full Body being as low as 50% off for the end of the year sales on PSN. I’m sure by the time a Switch version comes around it’ll be lower than that.
 

Empu1

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I think I remember Full Body being as low as 50% off for the end of the year sales on PSN. I’m sure by the time a Switch version comes around it’ll be lower than that.

Oh yeah, it's currently $29.99 over at the PSN right now. And there's just NO WAY the Switch version comes out at that price. If anything I'd expect it to be a full $60. Welp, so much for waiting for a Switch version then :rofl:
 
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Chary

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So I need a quick 10 hour game to tide me over until animal crossing...decided to listen to the recommendation and go with this.

Still surprised just how much persona 5 really seemed to take from this, in terms of style.

Also the third nightmare boss is actually the worst (TM) but I'm having a pretty good time so far.
 

relauby

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So I need a quick 10 hour game to tide me over until animal crossing...decided to listen to the recommendation and go with this.

Still surprised just how much persona 5 really seemed to take from this, in terms of style.

Also the third nightmare boss is actually the worst (TM) but I'm having a pretty good time so far.

I looked up the third nightmare boss to confirm you were talking about the one I thought you were and discovered that, according to the image associated with the achievement on the 360 version of the game, the Immoral Beast has a nose, which I never noticed before and makes it much much more upsetting.

Achieve39.png
 

Chary

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pls that image never again

I AM DISTRESSED

chary when animal crossing is out do you like disappear for a couple of months lol
Ideally, yes ;O;

But really, I'll probably be around even more often, wanting to play AC with people on the site lol

On topic, I just found out the arcade rapunzel game in catherine has...128 levels? wtf lol
 

DANTENDO

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I tried to play this game on ps3 but the difficulty even on normal was bullshit frustrating - I'll hav to read a few reviews to see whether giv another go
 
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