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Not since Killer7 have I had the pleasure of playing a unique experience such as Catherine. This game is a true gem. Its greatest strength is that it takes your expectations of what a game should be and makes you realize what a game could be. Like Demon’s Souls, Persona 4, and Odin Sphere that came before it, Catherine falls in the tradition of Atlus Games’ tendency towards the peculiar and the macabre.
Without going into spoiler territory, you play Vincent Brooks, a 32-year-old office worker, suffering through the doldrums of adulthood. His girlfriend Katherine (that’s Katherine with a K) is constantly pressuring him to solidify their relationship with nuptials, however upon meeting Catherine (that’s Catherine with a C) Vincent’s world is suddenly thrown for a loop when he begins an affair with the buxom-young blonde and starts having unrelenting nightmares that slowly eat away at his psyche.
The main gameplay takes place in nightmare stages where Vincent must push, pull, and climb blocks in order to safely reach the top. If the blocks collapse before reaching the summit the game is over. In an age where most cutscenes are computer-generated, developers Atlus Persona Team eschews the competition by inciting the help of Japanese animation studio STUDIO4oC to create anime-style cutscenes that are simply beautiful to watch.
While some critics have met this game with lukewarm reception, this is very much a character-driven story that tackles hard-hitting themes like marriage, infidelity, and commitment. It’s a game that questions the moral integrity of its player (indeed, one of its first promotional videos asked regular couples “Would you ever cheat on your partner?”) and makes you accountable for the choices made in-game. Similarly Catherine is hard to classify. Wikipedia calls it a “puzzle-platformer, horror, adventure game” and in my opinion that’s as close as you’re going to get to a genre. With eight alternative endings in total, this game more than makes the case for repeated playthroughs. While Catherine could be described as “fantasy” or “surrealist”, more than anything it’s an emotional gut-check rollercoaster that doesn’t hand-hold or coddle the player. This is an adult game meant for adults, that asks more of its audience than pulling a trigger or casting a spell.