Monday, August 1, 2011

Second Opinion - Catherine

Catherine PS3 Alternate Box Art

The Japanese studio Atlus has always been known for crafting difficult RPG's. Some would even say they are masochistic in nature, like the Persona series. Imagine my surprise when I find out that their latest game Catherine is not an RPG at all, but rather a puzzle game. This fact, combined with a rather unique premise, captured my interest and made me want to play it. After actually doing so, I can say that I ended up kind of liking it.

The story involves the relationship between Vincent Brooks and his girlfriend Katherine, who he has been seeing for five years. Suddenly a girl named Catherine enters his life and proceeds to turn it upside down. While the game goes on, he has to deal with the two of them and ultimately decide which one he truly loves. This romantic part of the game was pulled off amazingly in well-animated cutscenes, but has a surprising layer of depth from the player's intervention. While playing, you are asked various questions from other characters and during the Nightmare stages that relate to relationships. Doing this, and responding to text messages in the bar, influence an unmarked meter that determines how Vincent reacts to the situation at hand. These actions from Vincent influence the kind of ending the player gets out of the possible eight. I managed to get the best ending possible, but I don't know if I would go through this game again to view the others.

My reason for this is the other half of the game, the sliding block puzzles. While I have played other puzzle games in the past, I wouldn't consider myself a master of them. That said, the approach used here is rather unique, but it can get difficult. There are trap blocks aplenty as you are introduced to new ones gradually, and sometimes even a special technique tailored to getting around them. My puzzle instincts got better as I went on, but the difficulty curve serves to make the last handfuls of stages particularly annoying due to the fact that it is completely possible to overlook possible routes to take. Retrying a stage isn't a complete problem either, but the same sections can still be pretty frustrating. The difficulty isn't completely crippling, but I can see how those who are not as adept to puzzle games could have more of a problem.

Praise goes more to the music and voice acting, which were selected nicely. The classical pieces add a great atmosphere to the game and offer a nice variety to listen to, especially in the aforementioned cutscenes. I also found it interesting how the player can learn alcohol trivia just from merely drinking the substance, which can be rather enlightening if you don't know it already.

Overall, the story was the most enjoyable aspect for me, but suffering through the puzzles was sort of worth it just to see what exactly kicked it all off. In the end, I think I can recommend this game to those who enjoy Atlus titles or people who play puzzle games and are willing to bust their minds open with a new challenge. And remember, if you find it too difficult, just hold back/select at the mode select screen for a few seconds for a very relieving surprise.

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