Initially, Catherine may seem like a glorified puzzle game, and I had fears about that in the beginning too. However, what one will discover is that the puzzles are incredibly addictive, difficult, and deeply layered in technique. There is also a great sense of satisfaction in completing them, not only because of their hair-pulling difficulty, but because they almost serve as challenges to thwart in order to continue watching the story unfold. Speaking of which, the peculiar tale of Catherine is definitely the focal point of this game.
You play as Vincent Brooks, a 32 year old who's a bit lacking in the passion needed to commit to his long-term girlfriend Katherine. He's stuck in a rut; too hesitant about being chained down by marriage but unable to let go of his responsibilities. Life decides to kick Vincent in the ass, however, after a drunken night at the bar, when he finds himself in bed next to a blonde beauty who is ironically named Catherine. All this happens while Vincent experiences reoccurring nightmares where he is a sheep climbing a tower, which, rumor has it, is a curse on unfaithful men.
The game is separated by time periods, much like the Persona games. During the day, you'll watch the story unfold at places like Vincent's apartment, a cafe, and Vincent's work lavatory. Then at night, you'll be at the Stray Sheep, the local bar and hangout. This was personally my favorite part of the game. You will be able to walk around and converse with the bar patrons, which is important because listening to their problems can determine their fates. Dotdotdot. You can also drink your choice of alcoholic beverage (Rum & Cola for me), change the music on the jukebox, and play a mini-game called Rapunzel. Finally, you'll occasionally receive text messages from both Catherine's, which you can reply to with a set of pre-written sentences.
This talk of texting brings us to an important aspect of the game: the morality meter. Basically, the things you say to people, the way to respond to texts, and the responses you give to important questions in the nightmares tilt the meter towards whichever alignment their associated with. If it's what a selfish cheater would say, the meter hand goes to pink. If it's a general goody-goody response, you'll get a point in blue. To sum it up in a semi-spoilerish fashion, you'll be determining which Catherine you want to end up with (pink is Catherine, blue is Katherine). It's a pretty simplistic system because the alignment of the choices you make are really obvious, and you can pretty much max the meter towards one side blind-folded. Despite this, responding questions from your own heart is undeniably fun and adds a nice role-playing touch to the game.
And finally, we come to nightmares stages and the puzzles themselves. As I mentioned earlier, they are layered in technique and require stressful amounts of thinking in order to solve, which is made more intense by the time pressure imposed by the scoring system. The hubub surrounding this game is true; the puzzles are freaking difficult. Even on easy mode, you'll often find yourself stumped. With bomb blocks, spike blocks, cracked blocks, random enemies, and slowly disappearing floors, there's no end to the possibilities in which this game can cause you to tear your hair out. But as I've said, you'll soon find yourself addicted, and the amazingly rewarding feeling you'll feel will be worth it.
To top things off, Catherine looks and sounds great. I love the anime style cel-shaded graphics; they are very stylish and look amazing in HD. The character designs are great as well, especially the sexy Catherine. The visuals were honestly the reason I was drawn to this game in the first place. Every now and then, cutscenes will be replaced with animated scenes, which are just as good and move seamlessly with the game. I loved the funky soundtrack too; it has that familiar jazzy hip-hop feel that the Persona games had.
The game may seem a bit short when completing your first playthrough, since it won't take you any more than 10 hours. Fortunately, there's plenty of replay value to be had. There are actually 8 endings in total, so it will take you two additional playthroughs to view them all. You can focus on the other Catherine, pay more attention to different people at the bar, and if the puzzles are frustrating you, note that you can skip them once you score a gold trophy on a specific level. I worked furiously to get gold on every level so my next playthroughs would be made easier for me. I clocked in 26 hours by the end of it, and I hadn't even completed the extra "Babel" levels you can unlock. That's showing you that there's actually quite a lot to this game, and there's plenty of fun to be had when the main story is over.
Catherine is definitely more for experienced gamers, who know how to appreciate a great story and a challenge. Casual gamers may be turned off by the sheer difficulty of some of the puzzles and the deep focus on plot, so that is a fair warning. But, if you're craving that peculiar air of uniqueness that Japanese games have been known for and you just plain love video games, you simply cannot overlook Catherine.
[C.Jin's Overall Score: 8.5/10]