We all knew Atlus’ Catherine was coming to PC, but no one expected it to be on Steam so soon. Titled ‘Catherine Classic’, the port is the 2011 original rather than the Full Body expansion coming out in Japan this Valentines Day. This means PC loyalists simply have to make do with picking between two Catherines instead of three. However, while it’s sad that Steam users won’t be able to bang a pink haired, kuudere anime girl, Catherine Classic is still a must-play. It’s the decade’s sexiest and most absurd romantic horror, and like a fine wine it has only gotten better with age.
Catherine Classic puts players in the cheap shoes of the hapless Vincent Brooks. Afraid of tying the knot with his long-time girlfriend Katherine, he is a self-pitying bloke whose life spirals out of control when he wakes up in bed with the curvy, ample breasted, and bare Catherine clinging to his arm. Struggling to pick between the demanding girlfriend and the bubbly succubus who never stops sending suggestive photos involving hot dogs, Vincent suffers from the male curse of morbid and fatal nightmares.
Like Persona 3’s Tartarus, Catherine Classic tasks players with climbing a seemingly never-ending tower that is thematically different at each stage. However, rather than a JRPG dungeon crawler, Catherine Classic is a puzzle game. By pushing blocks, players are tasked with reaching the top of a level before the ground beneath them collapses. While addictive and frequently unique with the constant addition of new traps, all the stages are way too simple on easy and normal mode. The game gives you way too many lives, and it’s also too lenient with the amount of ‘redos’. If you want any sort of challenge, then you must play it on hard. Even on the highest difficulty it isn’t brutal, but it at least has moments where the ways to advance aren’t extremely obvious.
The Tartarus-esque tower is the star of Vincent’s nightmares, along with the ‘bosses’. Rather than confronting the monsters that try to stop Vincent from reaching the top of the tower, players simply have to run away and avoid being hit. Although again none of them are too difficult to escape thanks to easily predictable patterns, the designs of the creatures make them thematically appropriate and terrifying beasties who would cause even the most courageous men to soil their heart-patterned boxers. To list only a few, there’s a baby with a chainsaw, a woman’s hands wielding a fork, and an ass that has a nose, eyes, and an anus with teeth. Really.
Aside from climbing a tower and being chased by an ass with a tongue and erotic moans, Catherine Classic is a depressing life simulator. During the evenings, Vincent visits his local bar with his mates and wastes all of his dough on sake. Although the puzzles are fun and addictive, this is where the game truly shines. By listening to everyone’s dilemmas, the narrative becomes a lot more than just pick your Catherine. All of the bars comers and goes are blokes with interesting and sympathetic problems. There’s a journalist who blames himself for a young ballerina’s death, a policeman who butchered his wife, and a hopeless rich man who is somehow jealous of the cheap, cash-strapped Vincent. You can ignore all of these people if you want, but it results in them dying during the nightmares, and it makes your experience less rich.
When you’re not being a shoulder for everyone to lean on, the game asks you a bunch of moral questions and gives you text messages to respond to. It’s admittedly daunting being asked ‘is marriage the end or beginning of life’, because you don’t want to be honest and called an a-hole. However, even though the game has a paragon-renegade system, it never criticises you for being a douchebag, and it never praises you for pretending to be a saint. All of the endings are satisfying, regardless if you’re being honest, lying to make yourself feel better, or replaying the game to see what it’s like as a different man. Meanwhile, the text messages you respond to come from Katherine and Catherine. How you respond to these messages, as well as the moral questions, dictates which sultry woman you end up with.
Catherine Classic only has two instead of three Catherines to pick between, but it’s still a must-play for PC loyalists. Its romantic horror narrative is gripping and unforgettable, the characters are all likeable, and – despite being too easy – the puzzles are addictive. The game lets you pick which woman you’d like to commit to, and it never vilifies you for your choices. As an 8 to 10 hour game with a wide variety of wildly different endings, Catherine Classic is well worth its £14.99 price on Steam. It’s a fine wine that has only gotten better with age because as an adult rather than a lazy teen, you actually empathise with some of Vincent’s predicaments, and you have a much stronger opinion on the moral questions asked. However, it’s still fortunately impossible to relate to the nightmare of being chased by a literal a**hole that just wants to love you.
While Catherine Classic is a must-play for PC gamers, Catherine: Full Body is a must-buy for PS4 owners. Although we don't know when it's coming out in the West, anxious fans can download the demo from the Japanese PSN store right now.