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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #46—Catherine

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OnlySP Favorite Games 46 - Catherine

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week sees the Japanese re-release of a strange one-off title that captured the hearts of its players. For this remarkable game we are trying a new format—with Damien and Daniel trading the story back and forth.

Catherine header

#46. CATHERINE, by Damien Lawardorn and Daniel Pereira

Damien: Catherine was one of the most surprising games not just of 2011, but of the whole of the previous console generation. The team behind the Persona series opted to cut its HD teeth on something smaller than the massive RPGs it is best known for, with the result being a bizarre hybrid of puzzler, platformer, and visual novel.

Perhaps on paper, the game should not have worked, but the disparate elements were woven together into an unexpectedly cohesive whole thanks to an uncompromising vision of infidelity that dares to question the nature of virtue, while also presenting a bildungsroman narrative that skews older than the YA audiences and characters common to the genre.

Catherine screenshot

Daniel: Though Catherine manages to combine elements of different genres into a cohesive experience, everyone’s initial experience with Catherine will feel unique and personal. As a game directed towards a niche audience, Catherine holds a lesson to be found by anyone who attempts to climb its towering story.

Those who walk into the in-game locale of the Stray Sheep Bar for the first time may expect an experience similar to Catherine’s Persona relatives, only to find that the gameplay requires more thought and skill to accomplish its puzzling challenges. Players who are able to overcome the nightmare are treated to a narrative that overreaches its supporting cast and communicates directly with its audience.

Damien: Where most games are entrenched in their fiction, inviting players beyond their fourth walls only through control, Catherine goes further. Between levels, Vincent—and by extension the player—receives questions designed to test his moral judgement: do you focus on personal happiness, or are you willing to sacrifice that in service of a perceived greater good?

Catherine screenshot 4

Vincent’s long-term girlfriend Katherine desires marriage, but the commitment-phobic man is unprepared to take that step. At the same time, the young temptress Catherine appears to test his fidelity. With the character torn between these two lovers, the player’s beliefs—as well as the actions they push Vincent to take while in the Stray Sheep Bar—will determine the path he takes and the outcome he earns.

Daniel: The moral conundrum that Catherine asks the players to participate in is important because it represents the real-world implications that Vincent’s struggle holds. While far from perfect, Vincent finds himself in a situation that questions the morality around desire and virtue. Although the entirety of the narrative is bound within the context of the gameplay, the situations that patrons of the Stray Sheep find themselves in are reflective of a subsect of society at large.

Part way through the game Vincent realizes that the other sheep he encounters within the nightmares are fellow men in the real world. While he does not necessarily recognize them, the player can connect the dots with each sheep’s confession of infidelity with the problems faced by the patrons of the Stray Sheep Bar. This important plot-point of shared stress in Catherine’s narrative symbolizes the reality that many members of society face. The concept of being shunned by your peers due to straying from society norms is a reason why many individuals, Vincent included, create their own falsified public persona.

Catherine screenshot 3

Damien: Is life—or at least the state of living—then an illusion? Catherine never seeks to answer or even directly ask this question, but it nonetheless looms large over the narrative. The threat of death as a result of falling from the tower may be real, but the nightmare setting lends Vincent’s plight something of the uncertain. Are the dreams intrinsically connected to his duplicitous waking life or are they mere manifestations of his fevered fears of commitment? Both possibilities are equally viable, as the monsters that pursue him draw inspiration from both Catherine’s and Katherine’s words and actions.

Furthermore, through discourse with fellow Stray Sheep patrons, Vincent (and, by proxy, the player) learns that each man faces unique nightmares based on their own situations and histories, which further brings into question what deeper meaning, if any, the dreams might possess. However, the most prominent questions pertaining to reality stem from Catherine herself. To Vincent, she is the perfect woman, yet she is capable of the impossible. Without fail, she appears in his bed every night, even when Vincent has not seen her in his waking day. This cycle is what brings to Vincent his moral crisis and the nightmares.

Daniel: Vincent’s nightmares reflects the guilt and burden of shame he carries around each day. Vincent’s inability to escape his inner demons causes him to experience the nightmares every time he falls asleep. Within the constant nightmares, Catherine presents another metaphor to be found within society. Even when awake, Vincent is haunted by his actions as they begin to eat away at his psyche. Regardless of whether he survives the nightmares in bed, during the day he will encounter more as he continues his masquerade.

Catherine gameplay

As a species, humankind is driven by the desire to be socially accepted by others. This often results in the masking of one’s personality to reintroduce a persona that is more accepted by public eyes. As a result of his actions, Vincent feels shame, preventing him from being completely open towards anyone else but his most trusted compatriots. The ever-ensuing nightmares are a result of Vincent’s refusal to address the problems he has created, insinuating that his torment is a product of his own volition.

Damien: What torments! What nightmares! The beasts that chase Vincent are manifestations borne out of his subconscious, amorphous in nature but always reflective of his waking life. Over these twisted forms, the player’s actions have no influence, but nor should they. Catherine tests Vincent, while Catherine tests the player: their morality, honesty, and, of course, their skills. This latter aspect takes up the bulk of the play time, challenging the user to clamber up a disintegrating tower, often while thinking laterally about the placement of blocks.

In a way, the game owes a debt of gratitude to Tetris, but inverted, and those inspirations are folded into a character platformer. Combining this already odd coupling with the horror and life-sim elements results in an experience that remains almost unmatched in its novelty and oddity, even now eight years on from its launch. Nonetheless, that uniqueness could never last forever, yet few could have predicted that Catherine would be matched only by Catherine, as the game returns this year in a new, expanded form.

Catherine screenshot 5

Daniel: Catherine is truly a unique experience. Despite its stylistic barrier to entry, the journey that Catherine asks players to witness speaks volumes towards societal standards and the vices found within them. Perhaps the greatest flaw within the game is how players are asked what they would do in each situation, then reminded that Vincent is a man of his own actions.

Catherine: Full Body is set to relieve some of the frustration of falsified agency, as it adds an additional K(C)atherine into the mix referred to as ‘Rin’. Those who experienced the original love triangle with Catherine will find that Full Body’s introduction of Rin has the potential to either alleviate some of Vincent’s stress or cause even further chaos. The PlayStation 4 version of Catherine: Full Body will be released in English later this year, with new interactions, gameplay features, and decisions to be made with Rin. The introduction of a third love interest for Vincent will provide players with enough new material to prove the relevance of Catherine’s convoluted narrative within today’s society.

Catherine screenshot 6

Thanks for checking out this soon-to-return cult classic. Next week, we discuss another game from a fantastic developer whose work has already featured in our list once. For more single player games content, keep it locked to OnlySP and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #12—Uncharted

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Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s entry covers an action-packed series with an incredible amount of emotional depth—and one that shares a writer with last week’s entry in Amy Hennig.

Uncharted 1 Drake's Fortune gameplay screenshot

#30. UNCHARTED series, by Rhain Radford-Burns

“There is no such thing as [Uncharted] 1,” Nolan North told me at Supanova earlier this year. When he was cast as Nathan Drake in an upcoming video game from Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter developer Naughty Dog, North did not know what he was getting himself into.

When Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was released for the PlayStation 4 in November 2007, it was well-received, selling over one million copies in less than three months. The story follows Nathan Drake, who claims to be a descendant of explorer Sir Francis Drake. As he searches for the lost treasure of El Dorado, Nathan is joined by his mentor Victor Sullivan as well as journalist Elena Fisher.

The game’s narrative is engaging, keeping players on their toes as they search for the treasure and encounter some creepy creatures and interesting characters along the way. Above all else, though, the dialogue is a winner in Drake’s Fortune. The conversations between Nathan and Sullivan are a standout of the entire series, and they all started in the first game.

When Drake’s Fortune received critical acclaim and several award nominations—but no wins—Naughty Dog knew it had to outdo itself in the sequel; and outdo, it did.

Uncharted 2 Among Thieves gameplay screenshot

“I remember just being excited to do the second one,” North said to me. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves exceeded its predecessor in basically every way. Set two years later, the game sees the return of Drake, Elena, and Sullivan, now joined by the charming Chloe Frazer, as they search for the Cintimani Stone and the lost city of Shangri-La.

The game’s narrative is even more engaging than its predecessor’s, taking Drake across the world as he searches for the treasure. The set pieces throughout the world—usually running, falling, and jumping away from nasty enemies—are stunning and could easily be mistaken for a scene from an Indiana Jones film. The graphical fidelity of Naughty Dog’s engine also clearly saw an improvement from the first game, and players took notice.

After it was released in October 2009, Uncharted 2 became one of the highest-rated games of all times and has since sold over six million copies. Having won the most Game of the Year awards for 2009, Naughty Dog knew the success that it had on its hands—and it knew what it had to do to continue that success.

“When [the second one] really took off, [Naughty Dog] pretty much knew that there’d be a third and a fourth,” North continued. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception continued the trend of Drake looking for historical artefacts: this time, the lost city known as the Iram of the Pillars.

The witty banter between Drake and Sullivan returned, as did the character of Sullivan himself, taking a more leading role here than in Uncharted 2. The cinematic quality of the gameplay and cutscenes hit a new high in Uncharted 3, combining voice acting and motion capture to make the player feel as though the characters were real.

Naughty Dog split into two teams to develop Uncharted 3—with the other half working on The Last of Us—and this split focus shows, with the game never really living up to its predecessor. While the game received critical acclaim and sold well upon its release in November 2011, the second game remained the leader of the series.

For now, at least.

In Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Nathan has retired and settled down with Elena, now his wife. When his estranged older brother Sam returns to his life to look for the lost treasure of Henry Avery, however, Nathan joins him, bringing Sullivan along.

The emotional depth of the narrative truly hit a new high in Uncharted 4. Watching Drake struggle as he lies to his wife about coming out of retirement, and the tension that ensues as a result of his lies, leads to some of the most emotional scenes in any video game and prove that Neil Druckmann perfected his writing craft after his work on The Last of Us. The performances of Nolan North as Drake and Emily Rose as Elena are incredible, building upon the three predecessors to make the player feel truly engaged in their lives.

The graphical quality of the game exceeds most other games that came before it (and many since). The new open world-style gameplay adds a level of replayability not found in the game’s predecessors, and the improvements to several gameplay mechanics—including more stealth options and the addition of a grappling hook—even more so.

Whether or not Uncharted 4 exceeded the quality of Uncharted 2 is an argument that continues long after the former’s release in May 2016. Nonetheless, Uncharted 4 stands as a worthy adversary for the second game, selling more copies and winning more awards. But what about a sequel?

As North said to me, “It wasn’t until the fourth one kinda started that there’s no fifth one, and you’re kinda going, ‘Okay, what’s next?’”

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy Chloe and Nadine

Thankfully, something did come next—but without Nathan Drake. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, released in August 2017, followed Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross (from Uncharted 4) as they search for the Tusk of Ganesh within the mountains of India. The chemistry between Chloe and Nadine mimics that of Drake and Sullivan, though in a different way. The player remains engaged through the narrative, with some incredible moments that will stun them along the way, and the fine-tuning of some of Uncharted 4’s gameplay features such as the swinging and vehicle gameplay make The Lost Legacy a fine addition to the franchise.

And, for now, that is where the story ends.

“It was bittersweet to end the franchise, but we’re proud of what we’ve made,” North concluded. “If that’s the way that Sony and Naughty Dog decide to leave it, then I’m fine with that.”

Jak and Daxter

Don’t Forget Jak and Daxter

Hi, Mitchell here. At the end of the Hellblade piece, I popped up to say how one should not skip Enslaved, and that fans of Hellblade would find more Ninja Theory greatness therein.

For Jak and Daxter, the story is very different.

These games were Naughty Dog’s series prior to Uncharted, and are different from the latter in almost every way. Where Nathan Drake styles himself after Indiana Jones as a globetrotting adventurer, the Jak games were an American spin on the fantasy cartoon universes of shounen anime—filtered through the chunky aesthetic of Joe Mad’s Battle Chasers comic (just look at how similar the two logos are).

Devotees of the consciously cinematic, endlessly propulsive linear action of Uncharted need not apply. Instead, Jak and Daxter is an almost perfectly balanced midpoint between such cinematic ambitions and the earlier Looney Tunes energy of Crash Bandicoot: a sort of preteen, but slightly edgy action-adventure with weird human-like characters and interesting, magical locales.

For the young or young-at-heart fan of series like Fullmetal Alchemist, Star Wars, or Avatar: The Last Airbender, the three Jak and Daxter titles were the ultimate in fantasy escapism on the PlayStation 2, save maybe Dark Chronicle (a game that hewed even closer to the king of the genre, The Legend of Zelda).

The first title, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, began proceedings in 2001, with an original fantasy universe featuring lost ancient technology, big ugly beasts and a cornucopia of different level themes. From the aptly named Misty Island, through a forbidding jungle temple, across a mountain pass and into various rainy swamps, sunken cities and spooky caves, The Precursor Legacy was a fascinating implementation of the Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie format on then-next-gen hardware.

Still remarkable today is how the whole game plays without load times, a feature Naughty Dog continued to champion into the present. Aside from its era-appropriate collect-the-things objectives, The Precursor Legacy was highly influential thanks to its Saturday morning cartoon presentation—the game more or less set the standard for dozens of western-developed PlayStation 2 games afterwards.

Jak 2

With 2003’s Jak 2 (dropping the “and Daxter” entirely), Naughty Dog was not content to merely iterate, instead making the controversial and occasionally-mocked decision to transform Jak from voiceless do-gooder into tortured monster, experimented upon by the new villain, Baron Praxis.

Rather than the assumed edgelord reasons for “darkening” the series up, this was actually an attempt by the developers to craft its own version of the Grand Theft Auto III formula. Far from being just another Super Mario 64, the game’s setting was now a futuristic authoritarian city, though the game also has other creative levels that take place in the surrounding landscapes.

Thanks to Praxis’s experiments, Jak gained a little in anger management issues, and a lot more in Jekyll-and-Hyde style Dark Eco powers. With more going on under the surface of his heroic personality, Jak (now a voiced protagonist) participates in a dramatic Star Wars-like tale of rebellion and old wounds, with plenty of plot twists and new characters to meet. At the same time, despite being dropped from the title, Daxter continues to provide comic relief and is even playable at times determined by the story.

Jak 3

After Jak 2‘s epic glow-up of the story and tone, Jak 3 came along one year later as a final episode to tie the series together. The less said at this point the better, as the third game has its own twists that are best not spoiled. The game also suffers somewhat from a lack of challenge and less dramatic story compared with its distinctive predecessor. Yet, even as a lesser sequel, the third game’s story presentation benefited from Amy Hennig’s involvement—she joined the Jak 3 team while the other series that she had been brought on to lead (later titled Uncharted…) was still spinning up.

Although the series could reasonably be characterised as the studio’s adolescent years between mascot platformers and serious, dramatic stories in Uncharted and The Last of Us, the Jak and Daxter games are no half measures or mere historical curios. Their animation and story presentation remained heavily influential on western-developed action-adventure games, and their type of game has only become more rare among triple-A releases.

If nothing else, Sony should remember that despite its current focus on “serious” cinematic presentation and adult-rated open worlds, it once developed a series of cartoony adventures that nevertheless boasted triple-A production values.

Thanks for joining us for a look back at some Naughty Dog gems. Next week’s game is an interesting one, with a graphical style significantly different to that of Uncharted. Be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.

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