We all make mistakes in life. Some of these are small little things such as eating the last of something that your significant other may have been waiting all day for. Other times it can be as bad as cheating on them sexually with another person while in a monogamous relationship and this action was clearly outside of the rules you both set and agreed on. Finding himself in the second category, our poor protagonist Vincent will have to navigate to the fallout of his actions all while trying to survive the nightmares that have been claiming the lives of other men under what is known as the curse of the “Woman’s Wrath”.
There are two things that Atlus does very well. The first is that they are amazing at making dark supernatural thrillers all while using bright vibrant colours. The second, and this comes off the back of Persona 5 Royal, is adding whole new content into an already existing and solid narrative like it belonged there the entire time. Unlike Nick who had played through the original years ago before getting to compare it to the Full Body version on the PS4 just late last year, I had never gone past about the third chapter. So for me, the inclusion of the newest character felt so natural that if I didn’t know about it, I wouldn’t have suspected anything which in a way makes your choices that much harder.
This is really the premise for Catherine. Choices. As Vincent, that’s about all you will be doing and while some of these choices are quite blatant and in your face, others will require you to actually think it through. From your current relationship with Kateherine, to your current affair with Catherine and the possibility of something with Qatherine, between your personal interactions, your text messages and your other reactions, plenty can go wrong even if you’re trying to do right by the person you’re actually in a relationship with. It’s messy, it’s quite adult, and even while I squirmed in my seat a few times. The way it’s written? The way it’s voiced out? Was stellar.
Unlike the Persona series that have events take place over the course of a school year, Vincent has a lot less time as his nightmares could just as easily kill him as they’ve been killing others. Spanning the course of a week, each day is a combination of:
- waking up in dread,
- seeing part of his daily life,
- winding up at the bar for some drinks either with his friends or alone,
- making some serious choices while there, and
- then heading home to face another night of nightmares.
The first parts of these days are simple enough with walking around, texting and drinking. The nightmares? This is where the gameplay challenge showcases just how serious our protagonist is about surviving while also showing how much of a stand up person he is at heart, or, how much of an asshole he really is. Choices, you can’t get away from them.
Once Vincent steps foot into his nightmares he’ll find himself on a platform with others that take on the appearance of sheep. Wearing scarves, hats, jackets or glasses, each sheep looks different enough as they are just like you. Plagued by nightmares, every one of these souls looks like a sheep to everyone else while retaining their human appearance only to themselves. You can chat with these sheep if you want or you can head straight up to the challenge ahead of you. That’s one choice. If you decide to chat with these sheep you can bond and look out for each other as you devise strategies and lend emotional support, or, you can be an ass and tell them that all is fair in survival and they are on your own. Like the real world with actions and text messages, these actions will also affect Vincent’s overall personality and the type of person that you are making him out to be.
Holding some rather Christian religious tones, the platform that you find yourself on is in the appearance of a chapel, or a church, and the only way up is through the confession booth. Sitting in this booth you’ll have to answer the questions of the person hidden behind the privacy screen and only then will you be brought up to face the challenges of the night. Adding in some “holy” tunes for ambiance and a good ol’ hallelujah for beating a stage, it’s clear which pantheon you’re working out of which if measured across the rest of Atlus’ work from the Shin Megami Tensei series, is par for the course as anything is game when dealing with the other worlds.
If I had to describe the gameplay for the challenge portion of Catherine, this is what I suspect hell would be like. Starting at the bottom of a tower of blocks, you have to push, pull and climb up until reaching the top to allow you to escape to the next platform or to escape from the nightmare for that night. There are HUGE thanks to be given to the development team though as while I played through the whole thing on normal, there’s a mode that exists for players that either want to just sit and enjoy the story (especially if it’s the xth time you’re going through for a different ending) or for those that may not have the manual dexterity to pull it off. It’s bloody hard and while the bottom is falling out underneath you, you have to both work your way up while also looking above to plan out your next moves.
Only making the above worse, there are a ton of different block types and the last stages of the nights? Those have bosses trying to kill you all while the ground is giving way underneath you. The blocks though come in “normal” types that allow you to move things around. From there you have unmovable blocks, cracked blocks that will break as you step on them, ice blocks that you slide off of, monster blocks that will move on their own and lick you off of them if you’re trying to shimmy across the ledge, explosive blocks that will destroy everything around and a few others for more personalized versions of hell. All of these are between Vincent and the top and it’s up to you to figure out how to scale these. Some stages can take minutes while others… others probably took me an hour of retrying as I just wasn’t getting it. Thankfully you can always go back over the strategies that you’ve learned or shared with the other sheep.
From there, it goes back to morning for another round of a day in the life of Vincent. The gameplay breaks up the narrative a bit allowing for a storytelling portion in the mornings, a bit of an interactive what do you do at the bar in the evenings, and then a good old fashioned gameplay-a-thon at night before restarting it all over again with more intense everythings the next day. It’s brilliant. Between the dialog of the characters and the incredible work of the voice cast from some of my favorites like:
- Liam O’Brian: My horsemen of War, Nier’s Grimoire Weiss and .Hack//G.U. Endrance,
- Laura Bailey: Disgaea 3’s Raspberyl, Persona 4’s Rise and Gear’s Kait
- Yuri Lowenthal: My Prince of Persia and .Hack//G.U. Haseo, and
- Johnny Yong Bosch: Trigun’s Vash, .Hack//G.U.’s Kuhn
- before even mentioning our protagonist Troy Baker: Yuri from Tales of Vesperia is what truly made me fall for this man’s voice, I won’t deny it,
it wraps you in and makes you want to continue on the adventure even if you should really be going to bed as its past midnight and you have to get up at 6am for work.
Now that’s just the story. Side to this there are a few other modes such as the Tower of Babel, yes, that one, and the Coliseum. The Tower of Babel is like a speed run challenge of sorts in which both you and another player can try to make it to the top through the stages that are unlocked as you go through the main storyline. Adding in a bit of spice, you don’t have to do this as Vincent as I had a lot of fun doing this as one of my favorite Phantom Thieves, Joker. The cast from Persona 5 make an appearance of sorts and it was a neat little addition to see. The other mode is the Coliseum in which you compete against another player either locally or online to see who survives. As if the main mode wasnt’ challenging enough…