And I’m not just saying that because I’m a mega-supporter of (director) Katsura Hashino’s work. If you’ve known me (or been reading this blog) for quite a while, then you should know that both Personas 3 and 4 belong in my top 20 Japanese RPGs of all time. The latter probably even belongs to my top 10 games of the decade, if not “of the forever bitchcakes” as ridiculous as it seems or sounds.
Anyway, nope, there are other reasons to love the game Catherine rather than just simply being a fan of the contemporary Persona team. For starters, the story alone is worth the admission for all you mid 20s and above out there.
You’ve probably heard the premise: It’s a about a 32 year old guy (Vincent) who is currently in a long/serious relationship with a girl named Katherine, but randomly one day he meets a younger –also insert “hotter”– girl who seduces him and also has a phonetically sounding name; Catherine.
Ever heard of the movie The Last Kiss or L’ultimo bacio? I’ve seen the Zach Braff version and it’s pretty much identical in terms of the themes and messages. Only this time, of course it’s, visually restructured through Japanese lenses even though, strangely enough, the game is not set in Tokyo (I heard back in E3 it’s actually set in Chicago…).
Now, that kind of story easily compels me despite the fact that I’m not 32 and I’m not in a serious “let’s tie the knot” relationship. Maybe it’s because I’m an admirer of the slice-of-life genre be it movies, TV shows, Japanese dramas, and of course anime. In short I just love watching these stories unfold and, who knows, I might learn a thingie or two. In this case it’s playing the genre… even if it has gorgeously produced, non-interactive anime cutscenes sprinkled throughout. Not exactly Metal Gear Solid 4 or Xenosaga level, but close.
How Catherine presents the situation or dilemma of a 30-plus man is brilliant, personally, thanks to the narrative and the amazing localization (as expected from Atlus since they’ve been keeping it up since Persona 3). The director knows his shit alright. In his previous games; he was able to handle spunky teenagers and their quest to slay evildoers properly without being too dull and/or melodramatic (well, generally speaking of course). Cliche’ stories or not, there’s a small chance you will hate or bitch about any of the cast members of Persona 4 after the credits rolled. Same thing can be also said with Catherine. You will care for Vincent’s life from start to finish, and probably his buddies too.
But hey, that’s just me because I’ve felt the weight of Vincent’s problems since the First Nightmare. Plus, I can also relate to the topics he and his buddies were discussing during their drinking sessions. Again, just me.
So if the slice-of-life style story isn’t your kind of thing, then maybe Cathy isn’t really for you. In fact I’ll just spit this out before someone nabs the wrong idea here: This game is not for everyone. If you are still with me after reading all this crap and have been somehow convinced, then good. Otherwise, I don’t blame you nor I will force you into liking this game because, clearly, it’s only for a certain type of audience. This isn’t like Rise of the Apes where I’ve been spreading the word and have been convincing people to watch (unsuccessfully I should say… tsk tsk).
It’s a bit similar actually to how LA Noire is for guys who have a college degree with patience, and can munch a bowl of chips too while holding both a pen and a controller at the same time. OK maybe not. But Catherine is essentially for guys who appreciate anime (obviously), have been living in their 20s to 30s, and is open-minded to every kind of bizarre shit only the guys from Japan can come up with.
Wow, I’ve rambled too much and I have not even talked or bitched about how the game plays! Yes, I’m referring to the Nightmare sequences where the objective is to primarily “move and rearrange the blocks as you reach the top”. Those sequences are in fact — in case you didn’t know — the majority of the game. Don’t worry, I’ll just say a few words simply because whaddya know: it is ridiculously hard. Even while playing on easy it was fucking difficult and annoying. However, for miraculous reasons, there’s a “one more try” element to it as you will continuously repeat the obstacle every time you die. Think of it as similar to a typical iOS game where the objective is technically simple, but the process convinces you to be challenging and creative to some degree. Essentially, once I’ve learned and adapted the insane art of moving blocks (despite having a shitty rear camera I should say), it became addicting for some reason.
In case the story aspect of the game has compelled you and this one , a.k.a. “moving blocks”, suddenly turns you off; I (also) won’t blame you. It takes a while to get used to, though it feels fresh and I really can’t say I didn’t have fun because I kinda did. Broken yet fun. Isn’t that odd?
Ultimately, do I consider the game “perfect” or on par with Hashino’s previous works? No, not really. BUT it is indeed a brave concept and truly one of the most original games I’ve played in recent times. Sure, there are things to hate in this game if you are a casual gamer who’s stuck with the Call of Duties and various mainstream offerings. But if you clear your mind and look closely; you will find a game that will be remembered for its intricate plot, beautifully drawn designs and characters, stylish visuals and unique atmosphere.
Katsura Hashino, Shigenori Soejima and Shoji Meguro… I have a feeling about these guys. Particularly Hashino-san. This is gonna sound fucking intense and I’ll be totally responsible for this… so what the hell: he is the the Japanese gaming industry’s version of Christopher Nolan. Think about it: Persona 3? Batman Begins. Persona 4? The Dark Knight. And now Catherine? Inception. If you count the ones pre-Persona 3, then you can find Memento and The Prestige in Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga respectively.
Oooh boy. Comment away if you must…