Have you ever cheated on someone you were in a relationship with? Of course you have! Isn’t it just awful? Whether it’s a one-night stand with a stranger or a secret, torrid affair, it’s simply soul-killing. The guilt. The lies. The regret. All for a piece of as$? Is it all worth it? Well, sometimes, YES, absolutely, but still!
So I know you’ve probably been longing for a virtual way to relive — or experience for the first time — the psychological torment cheating on your significant other brings. Thankfully, there’s “Catherine,” a video game that was, yes, huge in Japan and was just released this week here in the States. And it sounds like nothing we’ve ever previously seen in a video game.
The story sees a young man named Vincent having some commitment issues with his long-time girlfriend, Katherine – a strong, career oriented woman. These issues, and Vincent’s inability to confront them, lead him to a night of infidelity with a young vivacious and free-spirited woman he meets at the bar named Catherine, with a “C.”
Adding to Vincent’s stress are ongoing news reports of young men dying of mysterious causes – men who have apparently all been disloyal to their romantic partners. Most importantly, Vincent has also been suffering from night terrors in which he must push, pull and climb blocks as he makes his way to the top of a series of epic towers as a timer causes blocks to fall away beneath his feet. Weird.
So the game revolves around a dude who cheats on his girl — while living in a city where dudes who cheat on their girls are dropping like flies? Sounds awesome.
The gameplay is split between the real world and the dream world. Vincent’s waking hours are spent at the local bar where he can discuss matters with his friends and other patrons. These segments take a new approach to the RPG-style system of conversation. Most dialogue is game controlled – the player simply chooses whether or not to initiate the conversations. Interactive conversations take the form of text messages and emails that they player can respond to on Vincent’s phone. These segments of the game are generally slow, with much of the important and pulse-pounding story development reserved for the well crafted anime cut-scenes.
Vincent’s nightmares are where the most interesting gameplay lies. The block puzzle games start off simple, but even on easy they quickly advance both in difficulty and complexity. Most puzzles are impossible to solve on the first try and require patience and determination. Most of these puzzles will have you wringing your hands and throwing your controller, but ultimately joining Vincent as he gleefully celebrates his success.
The Daily’s Foster Kamer played the game and made note of the “disconcertingly personal” questions the game asks players like, “Do you find it easier to love or be loved?” He adds that it uses the information culled from these question to “attack the player’s own psychology.”
There’s a particularly sadistic, voyeuristic wrench: The results of all of Catherine’s players are logged into a network, which tells you how other players answered the question you just punched in. Even if the metaphor is clichéd — bricks crumbling under you as you scramble up a wall away from a raging girlfriend — it’s still a closer approximation of reality than any other game before it. The player won’t fully grasp the ramifications of his choices until the very end, and even then, he won’t know exactly which ones took them where.
Having already been released in Japan to feverish acclaim, the endings are so closely guarded, Atlus has taken the unique step of getting users who spoil any of them banned from video sites. A string of users from Japanese video sharing website Nico Nico Douga were wiped from the service in February after trying to catalog every ending.
Having logged 20 hours in the world of Catherine, but reaching only three of the endings, we wonder where we went wrong, and whether we should have been more — or less — honest. With a video game. The effect is disconcerting. Shooting zombies in the face doesn’t exactly translate to philosophical introspection. This game might.
I can’t lie, as someone who loves having his head f*cked with, I can’t wait to play this. Holy crap I can’t wait to play it!