Catherine [PS3] Review (Spoilers)

I won’t be going too in-depth about this game; if you want to see a more thorough review of it, I recommend the one by Matthewmatosis. This is more a collection of thoughts about my playthrough.

To start with the negatives, this game suffered from what I’m starting to call “the Atlas problem,” of being a fantastic narrative-driven adventure attached to a game that I don’t really care about–though mind you I don’t mind it nearly as much as I did in, say, Persona 2. For most of the game, Catherine’s play segments are brief, breezy, and just challenging enough to feel like I’m doing something without being an obstruction. This comes with the HUGE ASTERISK that I was playing on Easy mode, because frankly I wasn’t playing Catherine for the game. I do think that Catherine’s mechanics are actually very strong, and I could easily see getting hugely into the systems and mastering them on all difficulties if it was my kind of game. However, I’m not into puzzle games at all, and I’m very into beating games quickly, so easy mode was fine by me.

At least, it would have been–but the other part of “the Atlas problem” is that at some point, the game is going to expect the player to master it, regardless of how involved the player actually is. Like any Atlas game, Catherine has a huge difficulty spike at the end, even on easy mode, which for me killed the game’s pacing right at the climax. It’s far from being unbeatably hard or anything–hell I probably could chug through the last six stages in a couple hours if I dedicated myself to it–but I had no interest in involving myself in the puzzles on that level, that late in the game, when the plot was starting to wrap up and I just wanted to see it through to the end. I don’t understand why the game would bother having a difficulty spike when I’m playing it on a difficulty setting that suggests my lack of commitment.

My other major complaint about the game (and yes it’s a major one though it won’t sound like it), is the bell sound effect that plays when the player is nearing the top of a stage, or at the hub in-between stages. It’s this very loud, persistent, and obnoxious church bell sound that keeps playing over and over, and I kept having to turn the volume down at those parts to keep my sanity. Considering that the game is always voiced, with probably one of the best dub jobs in video games (though this still doesn’t excuse the lack of a Japanese audio track considering the phenomenal Japanese cast), and the soundtrack is pretty awesome, this is basically a crime. Complaints about things like sound effects are the kind of thing I usually forget by the time I get around to writing about a game, so I hope my talking about it sells how frustrating I found it.

Anyways, now that I’m done bitching, let’s talk about the mechanics that were super cool. What I think this game had going for it the most was a really solid pace (up until the end). What always bothered me about the Persona games was that the parts where you’re walking around town chatting with people, and the parts where you’re in dungeons, are both very long, typically around an hour or two apiece if you’re talking to everyone. To me, it always made transitioning between the two halves of the game really jarring; especially because I was so much more invested in the parts where I was talking to people in town, so I’d often get sad when it was time to go back into a dungeon for hours on end, especially if I wasn’t satisfied with how much plot progression had occurred in the meantime.

In Catherine, the cutscenes and bar segments are typically around fifteen to twenty minutes long, and the play bits in total end up being maybe thirty to forty minutes at most. Because level progress is marked on a large map after beating each level, the player has a great sense of how long they’ll be playing levels before getting back to the juicy part of the story.

But even more brilliant still is that in between every two levels, there’s a little rest area where the player chats with NPCs who are playing through the levels as well, most of whom turn out to also be patrons at the bar. A huge amount of the character development, and even some of the best dialog, takes place during these segments–so even while the player is solving puzzles, they’re constantly getting fed little bits of story progression. A large part of why the final, difficult 6-stage gauntlet at the end is so frustrating is because there are no sheep to talk to in the rest areas, so it feels like the entire story is on hold while the player chugs through these very difficult levels.

All of the minor characters were surprisingly deep and interesting, and while I didn’t manage to keep many of them alive through to the end, I found the resolutions of their conflicts to be some of the most satisfying parts of the game. I felt there was some weight to the camaraderie that Vincent was forming with these characters, and I cared about them making it through to the end as much as Vincent did. The game’s attitude that even if someone does some bad things that they regret, they still deserve to be happy and to find their way through, is something that resonated with me and I thought was cool.

Now, let’s talk about the main storyline. I enjoyed watching the story of Catherine unfold, but I think it stopped short of resonating with me, or making me care about any of the characters. I like how the story is constantly presenting tons of ideas and quotes about the nature of love and humanity, be it through the cutscenes, the dialog of the bartender, or even quotes that show up during loading screens. However, the game doesn’t ultimately seem to do anything with these themes. I guess it works as a meditation on these ideas and an almost open forum to discuss them, but never once in the game did I feel I was posed with a real dilemma, or anything that I didn’t have a clear personal answer for. And maybe that’s fine, maybe it says less about the game than it does about me, but I was a little sad that a game like this didn’t challenge me. That said, I think if I still haven’t had any kids by the time I’m 32, this game will suddenly be a lot more interesting and relevant.

As for the two Catherines, I went full Katherine pretty much right off the bat. Mind you, I had already been spoiled to the fact that Catherine was a succubus and that she was essentially the “evil” option (even though the game pretends it’s not really about good and evil). However, I’m confident that even if I hadn’t been spoiled for that, I never would’ve had any interest in her as a character.

Catherine to me was kind of obnoxious. All of her dialog is vapid and uninteresting, and she wasn’t the kind of woman I could ever see myself wanting to be in a relationship with. I thought her hair and clothes were kinda stupid looking, and while she seemed like she’d have enough fun with Vincent that they could be happy for a while, there just didn’t seem to be any chemistry there besides that she wants his dick a lot.

But that’s where I run into a bit of a problem, because Katherine also doesn’t have any apparent chemistry with Vincent. Now, mind you I find Katherine both more attractive and interesting anyways, so even if I was coming at this from a really shallow angle, I probably would’ve picked her. However, for most of my playthrough I was operating under the assumption that Katherine and Vincent DO or at least DID have some chemistry together, and it just wasn’t being shown yet/wouldn’t be shown. I made this assumption because Vincent and Katherine have already been dating for five years, and aside from Vincent’s non-commital attitude about their relationship, which has more to do with his insecurity than with any problems he had with Katherine, there didn’t seem to be anything unhealthy about their relationship. Even though Vincent’s meetings with Catherine are always sexual and intimate, while his meetings with Katherine are weirdly distant, we can safely assume that the couple have at least been intimate lately, since Vincent believes Katherine’s lie about being pregnant.

The way my playthrough went, Vincent and Catherine really had nothing together whatsoever, and the game’s insistence that Vincent take forever to finally turn her away ended up being immersion-breaking and weak-feeling because of how I’d treated her.

The idea that Vincent would fall for Catherine never made any sense to me, because she actually represents a lot of the problems that he has with his existing relationship to the extreme. Vincent complains at the end that the reason he’d been under these delusions is that he’d felt that he was losing control in his life and decisions were being made for him. He whines about how he wishes things could just stay as they are, with him not having to make any real progress.

So with these things in mind, it’s daft to me that he’d fall for this girl when he’s had no control over any of their encounters (nor even remembers them), and when she’s showed up out of the blue trying to change everything in his life. She’s literally an amplified version of the problems he has with his existing relationship. Yes, she’s supposedly his “Dream Girl,” designed to be “just his type,” but he never seems particularly comfortable or even interested in her.

I never responded to any of Catherine’s emails, because I saw them as terrifying. I couldn’t imagine just going along with this person who appears out of nowhere, essentially takes advantage of Vince when he’s drunk (from his perspective), and refuses to explain anything. She then sends him vapid text messages about nothing and expects him to flirt back. I couldn’t buy it, so I ignored her at every turn, and responded to all the actually-relevant texts of Katherine.

Maybe my decisions are the result of being in a fairly-traditional relationship that I’m really happy with. Maybe it’s just because Katherine seemed more like my type. Maybe I’m just really ethically prudish. I picked the “order” options at least 9 times out of ten throughout the game, and I was answering with total honesty. Maybe I’m not the type to do chaotic things, or maybe my life actually IS chaos and I yearn for order. It’s possible that all of my opinions of the game say a lot more about me than they do about the game, but ultimately I feel let down that I can’t confidently say that the game made me come away with anything, or that the storyline unfolded in a way that was logical based on my choices. If Matthewmatosis’ review is any indication, the game features a very disappointing level of variance between the two story paths, so I can’t feel comfortable calling it my own bias, even if I wanted to.

In the end, Catherine is way too interesting to dislike, and even with the story being the mess that it is, the fact that it’s even a story ABOUT these subjects, told this way, with this much style and intimacy, makes it worthwhile, and I’m glad I played it. I sadly won’t play it again, but I think if I cared about the game part of it at all, I’d be willing to play through again for the story even with all of its holes, just to see what happens if I keep all of the NPCs alive. Catherine gets a recommendation from me and a score of +.

10 Things That Need to Be Fixed In the Next 3D Pokemon Game

Pokemon Y is a fantastic game which I’ve poured well over 150 hours into, but in the process I’ve come up with a list of demands for things I’d like to be fixed in the next 3D iteration of the franchise.

1. The Daycare Box Problem

I suspect this has been a problem as long as breeding has been a part of the franchise, so at this point it’s a bit ridiculous that it’s still an issue. The day care lady will only take Pokemon that the trainer has in their party, and will only give Pokemon back if there is space in said party. There’s a PC right next to her, but here’s why this ends up being a giant pain in the ass:

Let’s say I’ve left my Ditto and Snorlax in the day care so that they can breed the greatest Pokemon ever, Munchlax. I walk up to the Day-Care Man, and he tells me he has an egg for me. Cool! My party is full right now, so let me just drop off Moltres, Garchomp, and Goodra in the PC, so I can grab that hideous female Wobuffet and breed a Wynaut. I need this much space in my party so I can hold both the egg and Snorlax, because I can’t just swap Snorlax with Wobuffet directly.

I go back outside and pick up the egg, then head inside and talk to the Day Care Lady. She tells me that her husband is looking for me. Shit! That means my Snorlax and Ditto have ALREADY produced another egg! (And yes, this happened to me several times.) Okay whatever, I go back outside and get the new egg, which I now have to deposit back in the PC so I have room for Snorlax again. So I do that, and I pick up Snorlax, deposit Wobuffet, and then go back to the PC, deposit Snorlax, and pick up Moltres and Garchomp again.

Instead of all that, how about when I talk to the day care lady, it just opens up the fucking PC and party menu and lets me change things out directly? It could use the same interface used for trading with friends, or even the one from the Organize Boxes part of your PC (which, incidentally, is the only way of organizing party members that actually makes sense).

This probably doesn’t seem like a big deal if you don’t breed a lot of Pokemon, but in the course of catching everything in the Kalos region, I had to breed something like forty of them, and organizing the party became a huge unecessary time sink.

2. Levelling Dramatics

Speaking of unecessary time sinks, I’d love it if there were some way to speed along the text during levelling and learning new attacks. In this case, it makes enough sense to have all the dramatics: when you’re just levelling a core party, every new level and attack learned really matters, and it can be satisfying to hear the “boo-boo-boo-bwuh!” sound.

However, if you’re trying to catch all the Pokemon, then you’re probably making extensive use of EXP share, breeding, and grinding at the Battle Chateux. I had a number of battles in which I watched as many as twenty level-ups after knocking out one Pokemon. The whole “Pidgey forgot Sand Attack… And… Pidgey learned Gust!” thing gets really old, really fast.

This wouldn’t be hard to fix without pissing anyone off. Just put an option in the game to skip the sound effects in those parts. There’s always been an option to skip attack animations if you want battles to go faster, but I can easily tolerate watching my Pokemon do cool stuff over sitting through an endless string of level-up chimes.

3. Sound Effects

Since we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the reason I couldn’t stand to have my sound on while playing Pokemon Y. Mind you, I typically don’t keep the sound on when playing handheld games, especially if they’re RPGs, because I get sick of hearing the same battle jingle in about ten minutes, but in this game the entire sound design was wrecked for me by the overly abundant, obnoxious sound effects.

The new games retain the same sound effect for running into walls and objects that they old games had, but unlike in those games, the spatial relationship between the character and the edge of the environments is way less clear in this game, i.e. you’re constantly bumping into shit. Invisible walls, people, tables, everything makes this annoying noise.

But that obnoxiousness pales in comparison to the roller skates which, for no apparent reason, make a swishing sound constantly, followed by a grating skate sound that isn’t synchronized with the steps your character takes. I found these noises infuriating to the point that I never even bothered checking out the music in new towns. Once again, this would be easily fixed by including an option to disable sound effects.

4. The Skates

Perhaps the most baffling design choice in this game was to map the skates to the control stick, with no option to turn them off. I don’t hate the skates completely–I think they were an interesting idea in trying to make movement around the 3D environment feel less restrictive. However, it feels like the majority of the game was not designed with the skates in mind, making them nigh unusable for certain sections, such as the hedge mazes and this place with all the stupid fucking rocks.

Yes, you can switch to running shoes by using the control pad, but it feels really awkward to use, and I always naturally reach for the control stick. As soon as I got the bike and realized that it was not only faster, but completely lacked the clunky controls of the skates, I found it impossible to go back to skating.

I get that they didn’t want you to have to press the Y button every time you wanted to use the skates, but all they needed to do was give the skates an on and off button like the one EXP Share has. If the skates are on, then they’ll come out whenever you use the control stick; if they’re off, then you can assign them to the Y button and use them when appropriate. And hey, they could even do the same for the bike, because I actually wouldn’t mind having that one come out every time I move the stick.

5. Loading and Frame Rate

This is a big technical problem that a lot of people have noticed, and while it’s somwhat forgivable on the developer’s first foray into a much heavier game engine, there will be no excuse if the loading or framerate is this bad even in Pokemon Z.

Between all the loading times, running into a wild Pokemon and immediately running away takes nearly half a minute, which adds up VERY quickly if you’re running around a patch of grass in search of rare Pokemon. The framerate chugging is particularly bad in group battles, but worse yet, it completely ruins Y’s legendary Pokemon, Yveltal, whose animation stalls every single time you click on a menu item.

Pokemon really doesn’t deserve the free pass it’s being given on these issues just because it hasn’t been 3D until now. If any other game came out with framerate issues this bad, it would be getting points docked on every major review, and there’d be questions of a rushed launch. This NEEDS to be better in the next game.

6. Endgame Content

I don’t have as big a problem with this as a lot of people seem to, but I suspect that’s partly because I never reached the endgame on the last few generations of games. That said, I’ve been disappointed ever since Gold and Silver came out that none of the other generations featured 16 gym battles, and considering how many references are made to older regions in this game, it was kind of upsetting that the game never ventures into any. Now that Pokemon is in 3D, it would be especially cool to see older regions updated into the new graphical style.

Other games had trainers who could be fought again and again, and more extensive battle tower sections, whereas Y just has the Battle Chateaux, which I’ll talk about in a bit. There are at least the Looker missions, which I think are a cool gesture, but by the end of the game I was more concerned about team building and training than about having more story missions. Altogether, I think this is something Z will probably do better if that game is indeed a thing.

7. The Battle Chateuax

I spent a lot of time in this place levelling an ever-changing roster of monsers to evolution, and I could never totally wrap my brain around how this place works. There’s a ranking system wherein you start out as a Baroness and work your way up through social ranks, unlocking stronger and stronger trainers as you go. However, the weaker trainers never go away, and except for the gym leaders and elite four who show up in the later ranks, you can’t tell what rank a trainer is just by looking at them.

The NPCs in the chateuax leave and come back throughout the course of the day at total random, meaning that a lot of the time there’ll be like three trainers worth fighting there, and only one of them stands out, so you end up fighting every single trainer in the place, sweeping the floor with a ton of lowbies, just trying to find the trainers who will actually help you level.

Then there’s a system of sending writs of challenge, which can raise the levels of all enemies by ten, but that isn’t particularly helpful if the place is full of low-level trainers. I just can’t wrap my brain around why they wouldn’t make it clear which trainers were which rank, or better yet, scale the trainers to your level, and give you the option to send writs for lower levels if you need to. It makes way more sense than the blue writs, which reduce all levels by 10, but doesn’t necessarily exude trainers with level 60 Pokemon. This whole place is basically a clusterfuck and ends up taking more time than it needs to.

8. Lumiose City

I love the idea of having a gigantic, interesting city with a lot to do. However, making it so difficult to navigate, with such an awkward set of camera angles, was NOT the way to go about it. Lumiose City is borderline nausiating, and you can totally lose your barings just by turning around a couple of times. Too much of it looks exactly the same to ever memorize where everything is, necessitating the use of taxis, which is kind of ridiculous. The taxis don’t save on travel time by way of distance, they’re just the only way to find your way around.

All-around, this was a cool idea that wasn’t executed very well, just like the big cities from Black and White. I think Pokemon needs to take a note out of big cities from other RPGs and focus on navigability and ease of movement and being able to tell where the hell you are.

9. More Customization

Introducing customization to the Pokemon franchise was a great gesture, but it’s weirdly limited. Why is player creation less multi-racial than the game’s own NPCs? The game features a number of boutiques to buy clothes, but the majority of the clothes are either samey or downright ugly, and there’s literally no option to get rid of your hat. What I don’t get is, why not put all of the NPC outfits into the shops? The assets are already there, and a lot of the NPCs look really cool. I’d love to dress up as one of the Furisode girls, or one of the Pokemon Rangers.

And finally, my last nitpciky complaint:

10. Less Disappointing Train Rides

Every time there’s a light rail in the game, all the NPCs rave on about how cool it is to ride on the light rail. Then you get on, and all you get is a fade to black before you’re dropped at the next station. What the hell? Why even have them? You only need to use each of them once, so why not put in some kind of cool cutscene of scenery whizzing by your window at least?

Anyways, those are my grievances, and hopefully some of it gets repaired by the time Pokemon Z rolls around, or at least by the next 3D generation of games. If you scream loud enough at your monitor, I may do a proper analysis of the game next.