Every once in awhile you find a developer that you can't go wrong with. They almost always put out high quality titles that fit into a similar model, and you love them for that. One such developer I've come to feel that way about is P-Studio, the developer responsible for the Persona series. I've played a bit of Persona 2: Innocent Sin, and all of Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden. However, just because their name is a reference to their most promient work, that doesn't mean they haven't worked on other titles before. The stand-out non-Persona game from P-Studio is Catherine, a unique romance-horror-puzzle game that is similar in style to the Persona series, but is also unique in its own right. I recently started a playthrough of the game after seeing it on sale on the PlayStation Store...and I'm having a grand old time playing it.

SHEEP.

Catherine centers around a Persna-esque scenario; young men are dying in their sleep from no apparent cause, but they have looks of pain on their faces. Meanwhile, the protagonist Vincent Brooks is facing his girlfriend Katherine's pressure to marry, as they have dated for five years and Katherine wants to settle down. Vincent is "comfortable" with where they are, and doesn't want to be tied down. He also has just recently changed jobs, and is thus broke...so he doesn't want to hurt Katherine by failing to support the both of them. One night while alone at a pub, a seductive temptress named Catherine appears before Vincent, and suddenly Vincent finds himself once again in his nightmares.

However, his nightmares have started to become a lot more deadly than Vincent has ever seen. Armed with a pillow, and sheep horns, Vincent finds himself at the bottom of a collapsing tower made of stone blocks, and he must climb them in order to reach the top and escape the nightmare. Falling into the abyss means certain death not only in the dream, but in real life. While in the nightmare space, Vincent meets other people in his predicament, who appear to him as sheep-with everyone else seeing him as a sheep. 

After escaping, Vincent wakes up to find Catherine is beside him in bed, and he has no recollection of what passed between the two of them last night. So begins Vincent trying to hide the existence of Catherine from Katherine, while also trying to stay away from the former...only to find her in his bed again each morning. This introduces the morality system of Catherine; if Vincent is more favorable to his girlfriend, than his scripted thoughts will show this, and the morality bar will go more towards the blue side. However, if he tends to lean more towards Catherine, he'll move to the more demonic side. The morality bar can be affected by various things; sending text messages, talking to people, and also making decisions in the nightmare world, answering questions like "Is marriage the beginning or the end?".

Catherine is mostly fine with the morality system; almost always you can tell which outcome favors who, and thus which side you're going towards. This will probably make getting all the endings easy for me, since you can be clear on which one you're going for and not be super in-the-dark.

Visually, Catherine is stunning. It was the first HD game from P-Studio, and I couldn't be happier with it. The anime cutscenes are gorgeous, and character models look great. In the nightmare world, the backgrounds of the various parts of the tower you climb look great, but aren't enough of a distraction to take you away from the gameplay.

Edge.

The gameplay of Catherine is one of the most unique puzzle ideas I've ever seen. As Vincent climbs the tower of blocks, he can push or pull them to make stairs and move upwards. Sometimes the camera angle can be a bit weird if Vincent moves to the other side of the tower, but this doesn't occur often. There are a lot of techniques you can use, which are taught by the other Sheep, and the really help you get ideas for how to get better times/use safer routes. Sometimes, unfortunately, it can be a bit repetitive, since you might die in one section, and need to keep replaying the parts before that in order to get to the part you're stuck on. 

The game is challenging by nature, and later in the game it only gets harder. Blocks that have spike traps are added, as are ice ones that you skid on, and ones that explode after a bit when you step on them. When these different ones get combined together, things can be tough...but finishing a stage is highly rewarding. There are things to make it easier, like extra lives and items like "create a block" or something. Something that was thankfully implemented was an undo function, meaning you don't have to worry about petty mistakes, for the most part.

The most harrowing parts of the game are when the boss fights happen. A large monster will appear at the bottom of the tower, and will destroy the tower as it tries to kill Vincent. These are the most fun and frustrating sequences, so again this is where the game gets satisfying...and maddening. In the end, I really enjoy the gameplay, but if you try the game, don't expect to not groan every once in awhile.

I'm really liking Cathernie. It sort of employs the hard, grinding nature of the Shin Megami Tensei series into a puzzle game, and I appreciate that it works so well. I'm still only a little halfway through the game, so I don't know how much I'll like it in the end, but so far, it's pretty awesome.

Peace.