At the core of Catherine’s story lies the age-old dilemma of “order versus chaos” that’s described by a morality meter that is affected by your responses to certain questions in both the real and dream worlds. The morality meter is simple and the choices are pretty obvious, but Catherine isn’t aiming to be different from the crowd in that manner. Instead, it uses that familiar morality meter we have seen in so many games now in a slightly different manner. Depending on where you stand on the meter, Vincent will behave accordingly during key situations in cutscenes. The player isn’t given any control over Vincent’s thoughts during such moments. The only control they have is influencing Vincent’s thought-process indirectly by doing unrelated action – be it responding positively to Catherine’s flirtatious messages or choosing a specific answer in the Confession Box in the “Nightmare” stage. Such “hands-off” indirect control of your character’s thought-process is quite refreshing.
Those who have played Atlus’ Persona games will be aware of their ability to develop characters that grow beyond clichés and Catherine is no different in that sense. Each character behaves maturely or as maturely as it can be expected from alcohol-influenced folks approaching their middle age. Vincent is the kind of protagonist that players instantly connect with and root for. No matter what mess he gets into, you always want things to turn out alright for him. Stuck in the rut of his life, trapped in a place where he doesn’t care much for the future nor can he look back at the dreams of youth with a smile, Vincent’s odyssey of self-discovery forms the crux of Catherine’s story.
Sombre and gothic in both its tone, the story reflects both the dispassionate mindset of Vincent and how the events of the story force him to bring a change within himself. The cutscenes are neatly animated by Studio 4C and Soejima’s art-style fits the perfect cross between adult adventure and surreal horror that this game is. Catherine narrates a well-told tale that despite some late missteps manages to narrate a story about loyalty in relationships, animalistic allure of sex and the mid-life crisis, themes which have rarely been touched in video-games, let alone be explored with such grace.
In terms of replay value, an average playthrough of the game takes anywhere above 15 hours depending on the difficulty level you choose. On top of that the game has over eight different endings and many other minor variations depending on how you choose to respond to the various dilemmas the game puts in front of you. There is a separate “Babel” mode with tougher, more deviously constructed block towers waiting to be conquered that get unlocked depending on how you score at the end of each story level. Additional multiplayer modes bring in a human opponent into the picture who competes with the player by occasionally sabotaging as both fight on their way to be the first to climb to the top.
Catherine is a strange creature which despite its oddities – particularly its gameplay system that’s almost like an unholy child of two entirely unrelated genres, its simplistic design and its’ unusual story’s themes, despite all of that it still manages to exude great confidence in just about every departments. Be it while your heart races – each beat faster than the last, as you climb block-towers to the sound of Beethoven’s Ninth dodging crazy attacks from a terrifying vagina or be it while you’re put in a reflecting mood as you look upon Vincent’s situation over a glass of whiskey while hanging out with his mates in the bar, Catherine is a sheer delight – odd certainly, but perhaps therein lies the real beauty of this strange but fantastic wonder.
- Well-told story based on unusual themes
- Well-written cast of adult characters
- Intense and exciting gameplay system
- Familiar morality meter is used differently by giving players indirect control
- Shoji Meguro’s music perfectly complements the contrasting mood
- Limited control on camera
- Story stumbles a couple of times
- “Undo” option can be often used as a cheating mechanic
- Gameplay Progression: 8/10
- Graphics: 9/10
- Sound: 9/10
- Unique Selling Proposition: 10/10
- illFactor: 9/10
Final Score: 8.9/10 — illGaming Certified!