Breaking Down the Backlog: Catherine
In this week’s BDTB, I cheated on my girlfriend with a much younger woman and somehow ended up freeing all men throughout the world.
I had heard about Catherine before I started playing it. I knew it was something to do with relationships, developed by the team who made the Persona series and there were block puzzles. What I didn’t know, and what surprised me most about the game, was how they all came together. Catherine is a strange game, but it was one I warmed to the longer I played it and I ended up enjoying immensely.
Like a lot of games I play (at least it seems this way), the story is the main draw. That isn’t to say that the act of playing Catherine isn’t fun, it is just the story is really awesome and became the main reason It has a truly mature story…to a point. It isn’t ‘mature’ in the usual sense but it explores the relationships between men and women in a really refreshing and adult way. Catherine is about a man named Vincent who is adrift in his life with a comfortable job, good friends and a long-term girlfriend, Katherine, but one day he accidentally cheats on her with the bubbly and impulsive Catherine. The game then proceeds to explore the nature of cheating, both long and short-term relationships along with whether it is best to have a peaceful life or an exciting one. Also, there are little optional sub stories that flesh it out by talking to your friends and seemingly random denizens of the ‘Stray Sheep’ (Vincent’s favourite bar). Catherine uses these sub-stories to show different types of relationships men and women can have through the various characters you meet.
The ending to the game, however, sort of spoils it all. After a lot of twists, it transpires that Catherine is a succubus and the bartender, Boss, is a demon who tries to weed out the undeserving weaker men to keep humanity strong. I was severely disappointed when this all happened. Yes, he game has lots of religious and demonic undertones, but I feel that Atlas took the easy way out. By saying that “Vincent had no choice” to cheat on Katherine negates all the drama that comes from Vincent’s hand-wringing. For a game all about examining relationships, going full-blown crazy is such a cop-out. I don’t know what would improve the ending but going absolutely crazy wasn’t the answer.
There are three parts to Catherine and all are atypical. First you spend time in the bar talking to people, drinking and sending texts. Every time you talk to people time goes forward, which means that conversations change and people enter or leave. Doing so affects the game world as the more you talk to people the less likely that they die in the dream world. So you have to make sure you try to talk to everyone before they leave. There are other titbits in the bar as well. For example, every time you finish your drink a little pop-up occurs and tells you a factoid about the drink you just finished. I actually learned a lot about ‘Rum & Coke’ and whiskey just by playing Catherine. This also affects game-play: the drunker you get, the faster you are in the dream world. Finally, texting is basically used as an addendum between cut-scenes where you see Catherine/Katherine react to your choices. You can choose the tone of the texts you send which makes the morality meter change depending on your choice (which in turn changes how Vincent reacts during cut-scenes). This entire third of the game is probably my favourite part.
Then Vincent goes to sleep and the actual ‘game’ part of Catherine begins. Which, it turns out, is basically a block moving puzzle game. The objective is to reach the top without taking too long and without killing yourself. You do this by pushing and pulling blocks on a 3D plan from a 2D perspective, if you understand me. So you can push and pull on the X and Z axis and…that is the entire game. Obstacles like different types of blocks, ice or trap blocks for example and bosses increase the challenge but that is pretty much it. That doesn’t mean it is easy, however. My family can attest to how much a shouted at the screen and got so frustrated with the game I just turned it off to take a time out. Some of layouts of the blocks just left me confounded for tens of minutes to the point where I had to go on YouTube to look up how to get past. It takes a while to get used to how the game works and controlled, but once it clicks Catherine is a surprising lot of fun. In-between each level you talk to some mysterious being, who asks you a philosophical question involving family or relationships in general (which like the texts, effects your morality gauge) and then it is off to the next level. It is a really unique game-play loop and one that kept me engaged for the twenty hours I spent with it.
What really gives the game a lot of points in my book is the style. Catherine’s graphics are very sharp and incredibly colourful. The game is just fun to look at. The people are filled with personality and have very unique designs. Hell, Vincent spends most of the game in his underwear for Christ’s sake. I do take umbrage with how Catherine is designed though. She barely wears anything at all and it is just ludicrous. Yes, maybe in retrospect the fact that she is a succubus explains why she is designed like she is, but they would’ve been less obvious. On top of that the soundtrack is typically excellent and the voice acting is top-notch. Troy Baker voices Vincent and is, unsurprisingly, superb.
Overall I really enjoyed Catherine. It has its problems, especially with the ending, but the rest of the game makes up for it. Maybe I could’ve gone for something a bit more engaging when it comes to game-play, but it was certainly different. If you want to play something quirky definitely give Catherine a look.
Next time on Breaking Down the Backlog: Yakuza.