Review: Catherine

catherine 23 Review: Catherine

Love & relationships have been (ab)used to death in popular culture which is why it is a surprise that video games with its “younger brother” complex in regards to the older mediums haven’t tried imitating them more often in this regard. Sure, there have been ventures into romance before but they have either ended up as fairy-tale romance of Link & Zelda or the hormone-driven emo teen romance of Squall & Rinoa in Final Fantasy VIII.

This is where Catherine steps onto the scene.

Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Release Date  Feb 23,2012(EU)

Genre: Adventure, Block Puzzler

Developer: Atlus Persona Team

Publisher: Atlus

Catherine by the virtue of its very decision to focus on themes of loyalty in relationships is venturing into new territory. Further, it surrounds itself with characters suffering from an acute mid-life crisis. How depressing. They even go further by giving it a surreal horror twist and take generous inspiration from the master of Japanese surrealism himself – Haruki Murakami. But despite the bold ambition, Atlus does manage to create the enticing illusion of a highly believable world that teeters dangerously on the edge of insanity.

Players take up the role of Vincent Brooks, a thirty-something who is as trapped in the boring daily routine of his life as he is in his long-term relationship with his girlfriend Katherine. Besides being pressurized into what men often call as the “final death sentence” by Katherine, he is increasingly un-motivated by absolutely anything in his life. Highly relatable in every possible sense, Vincent’s character acts as the balanced platform for players to observe as events from the twisted story of Catherine unfolds. After a pregnancy curveball courtesy the nagging Katherine and a one-night stand with a mysterious seductress named Catherine, Vincent’s life delves into the surreal as his internal dilemma is brought out to the fore. Worse, amid the news of men mysteriously dying in their sleep, he keeps having nightmares of sheep-men and climbing tall intimidating towers made up of blocks that slowly crumble from the bottom.

catherine atlus ps3 06 Review: Catherine

Catherine puts its adult characters trapped in mid-life crisis within a surreal environment

But Atlus being who they are were never going to be satisfied with just that. An absorbing setting and an intriguing horror-mystery? Not enough. A cast of well-written adult characters? Nope! Still not enough. Where most developers would have been satisfied with their creation and would have stopped thinking and started looking for ways to find a gameplay system as a placeholder –as a means to merely keep the players entertained while the urge to watch the next cutscene drives the player forward, Atlus – typical Atlus – they *had* to go one step beyond everyone and make gameplay equally important and essential to the whole experience as well.

Typical to the style of Team Persona — the internal studio within Atlus from where the twisted minds behind Catherine hail from, they combine two entirely different genres, in this case, block puzzles and adventure — two genres you will not imagine placing side-by-side no matter how drunk or high you get. But Team Persona happens to be on stuff not meant for us mere mortals and they have managed to yet again combine two disparate and unrelated genres into a system that is so engrossing and intense to play – that part of the pure genius of Catherine would be lost if it weren’t for its odd, challenging and intense block puzzles.

cath4 Review: Catherine

Taking inspiration from Kafka and Murakami, Catherine’s bizarre-nightmare world is entirely memorable

Another thing that struck me different about Catherine initially was the simplicity in its design. It is neatly divided into its two halves – gameplay and story. Atlus don’t waste time in performing any clever tricks to keep its players under an illusion– no interactive cinematics or anything. Catherine’s two halves remain distinctly individualistic but it’s how these two separate halves interact with each other and affect events in one another that is part of the reason what makes Catherine so memorable.

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