The entirety of my Catherine playthrough was bipolar; I would be loving the game one second and find myself annoyed the next. It's not that the game ventures into bad territory, but simply goes down a path of nonsense that took me out of the experience more than once. Some may say the Persona games were just as ridiculous, if not more, but those games made sense in their own, contained worlds. In all honesty, Catherine's world isn't the problem; in fact, the main character's [Vincent] personality and uncontrollable choices are the problem.
My biggest complaint is that the game gives you numerous choices, but in reality every choice is an illusion that means nothing. Yes, the story will alter depending on the choices you make at key moments, but there is far too much already set in stone—I sat in front of my television wanting to take control of a cinematic's narrative more than I'd like to admit. It is a huge disappointment when the game utilizes interesting ways of giving the player choice, as well as the stereotypical morality meter.
The unique ways in which the game gives you a choice is through text messaging and the less unique aspect of asking the player a simple question before each 'Nightmare' stage. The text messaging gives players the choice in what they say to a degree—each line has typically two to three different choices—and what you send when you're all said and done affects the morality meter. The questions asked before each stage also affect the meter, but what makes them interesting is that you see how every other players answered via pie graph. It can be looked at as a gimmick, but I always enjoyed seeing how answers were split between the collective. I also want to note the morality meter is made so much more intriguing when the game ends and you find out exactly what each side stands for.
The actual act of climbing mountains of blocks—which takes place exclusively in the 'Nightmare' world—was fun and challenging. The basic gameplay involves pushing and pulling blocks in order to best maneuver your way to the top. What may seem simple at first quickly increases in difficulty and the later levels especially were quite tricky. The act of climbing doesn't differ much from beginning to end, but enough new obstacles were added to keep me interested, forcing me to rely on my own creativity to escape a dire situation. But if I'm being honest, the gameplay was always second to the story and the story didn't grab me like I expected.
You may wish to hear me discuss the story, but I have no desire to spoil what is a good, but not great story. All you need to know is the story surrounds Vincent's struggle between commitment/settling down and the freedom that comes from not being tied down to some broad with glasses, who may or may not share similarities with a female dog. This struggle is held back by Vincent's already-in-place personality and choices that take away all feeling of control. It doesn't completely ruin the story, but it makes a potentially great, immersive story feel like little more than an anime you occasionally influence. I also would have preferred the game be called 'Erica' as she is the only female that didn't completely annoy me.
Catherine is ultimately a good game that could have been something special. I may come off more negative than I actually feel, but coming from the studio that created two of my favorite games of all time—Persona 3 and 4—I couldn't help but have high expectations. My expectations were not met, but I still had a good time and if nothing else, the game was a nice change from all the same ol', same ol' thrown on store shelves week after week. The gameplay kept my interest throughout and the story, for better or worse, had its moments. Lastly, I must say I loved the visuals—which felt like a more colorful take on Valkyria Chronicle's watercolor style—and would love to see a Persona 5 in this engine. Hell, I'd even take a Persona 3 or 4 remake.