I just got around to finishing Catherine, and well, the feelings I have for the game range from general happiness to outright frustration. I didn’t pick up Catherine until well after the media buzz surrounding it had evaporated, and despite the words from reviewers who urged fans of the Persona series to manage their expectations, I couldn’t help but be excited to finally dive into Persona Team’s take on a narrative driven puzzle game.

Without analyzing the actual puzzle mechanics of Catherine, which mix old-school design with a 3D polygonal sheen, it is really the execution, or lack there of that brings Catherine into the realm of Kusoge. I am tempted to call the game excruciatingly hard, but I think the problems I had with it were due to my skill level rather then a punishing difficulty.

Catherine puts you in the shoes of Vincent, a computer programmer whose one positive in life seems to be his girlfriend of 6 years, Katherine. The thought and effort into creating Vincent is arguably Persona Team’s best characterization to date, as he simply feels like a real person as opposed to the overly anime archetype cast of the Persona series. Vincent is all about complaining, something often missing in games, and with good reason. Many people play games to escape reality, and nothing creates the illusion of reality like having someone constantly bitching about their problems for 8-12 hours. The sense of “why is she with him” seems to creep in more and more as you realize that Vincent is equal parts unappreciative dick and ignorant jerk – a realistic characterization if ever one existed.

The text may be in Japanese, but it probably just translates as "Fuck, my life sucks!"

The real issue with Catherine’s narrative is shown through the confused manner by which Persona Team tried to tell it. Trying to shoehorn plot into a puzzle game sounds like a daunting task, then again Portal 1 and 2 sit as prime examples of execution making all the difference. By using the puzzle mechanic of climbing a daunting structure, Catherine opens itself up to numerous biblical and literary comparisons, but never manages to capture any defining qualities as a vessel for its narrative. Sure, when looking at the climb as Vincent’s ascent to maturity or to self-realization, arguments could be made that it does indeed work well as a metaphor, but everything else surrounding that basic premise falls apart under any bit of scrutiny.

Every night when Vincent is propelled into the nightmare, he ends his battle with a boss encounter, which takes the form of a problem he has encountered in the real world. Commitment, a child, and a nagging girlfriend all come to life in terrifying ways (both terrifying in design, and literal design as in the character designs of the bosses are uninspired and dumb). Vincent completes each stage by simply surviving and not really defeating his worries in any meaningful way – almost acting as an argument for leaving these stages out altogether.

Catherine has been criticized by gamers and reviewers alike for having an inane plot twist about three quarters through which attempts to rationalize the realities of the nightmare (which is not simply Vincent’s problem as numerous other individuals also experience the nightmare), and rightly so, as the truth behind the curtain is a move so out of left field that it is easy to see why some games are never localized in America.

So where does that leave Catherine? Is it a good or a bad game? Not to get all existential but it is both, and neither at the same time. It is a game weighed down by an overbearing narrative that never really goes anywhere, a puzzle mechanic that is equal parts fun and infuriating, and a cast of well-realized characters that never manage to break free of the state they were in at the outset.

Might as well ask him who is on the way and means committee.

Under the guise of having an impact on character progression, the moral meter by which Vincent’s answers questions regarding love and relationships is utterly pointless. By pointless, I mean there comes a time when your (the players) answers do have a profound effect on the narrative. All the choices you make now suddenly matter and have little to no context within the narrative or supposed evolution Vincent should have undergone through his experience in the nightmares. These last few choices made by the player (not by Vincent, or based on the choice you made throughout the game) ushers Vincent down a path where he ends up with Katherine, or Catherine. But there is a third path where he spoilers Vincent ends up leaving both women, placing a bet on a female wrestling match, and then uses his winnings to go on a trip to mother fucking space. end spoilers

So forget what I said about the rest of the game, the inclusion of the last option for Vincent’s ultimate destiny destroys any previous criticisms.

Catherine is a good game.

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