Monday, April 18, 2011

Catherine: A Step Forward or a Fall Backwards?

An honest depiction about the troubles of love?
I've recently come across some previews about Catherine, a curious game that is raved about in Japan and is grabbing the attention of the North American market. I am particularly interested because of the many risks the game seems to take, as well as the effort to re-establish Japanese video games. When it comes to my preferred genres, I've found that Japanese games seem to stay with the tired and true and rarely change their methods; RPGs that have been critiqued for being too linear and disregarding the player while recycling the same tropes and storylines. The last bastion of hope of Japan securing a place in my collection rests in Atlus' hands, as it seems like Square-Enix is only looking to squeeze every last cent and yen that its prestigious name can still obtain on reputation alone. I was caught in the Shin Megami Tensei craze and found a particular love for Persona 3 and 4, and hope that the same caliber of games continue to be produced.

That aside, the screen shots, previews, and advertising for this game gives me mixed messages. At first, it seemed heavy on the fan-service with risqué shots of the title character, Catherine, which already has me groaning on the inside. Since it's dealing with a heterosexual (as far as we know, at least) male's love life, it seems in context, so I'm giving it a chance to grow on me. The advertising, however, is looking for documentation of love and marriage, which implies there is more than random cleavage shots, and the gameplay ties in the anxieties of a committed relationship with the nightmare puzzle levels and the 'social' aspect of answering text messages and interacting with patrons at a pub. The game seems to be taking a chance with having the narrative feature a crucial part of the gameplay experience (which turns some players off and I personally enjoy), evidenced by the legal threats Atlus has put out to anyone who posts videos about the game outside of the demo. If the game succeeds, ti will show that games can still be entertaining while making the narrative integral to the whole process from the beginning.

What worries me is the success of the character creation and interaction; the story so far is set up in a very stereotypical manner: Vincent begins to claustrophobic in his relationship with Katherine, both assumed to be in their early thirties, late twenties (nice for a change), and starts to have nightmares after he cheats on her with Catherine, who so far is a mystery girl. There is a set up of the virgin mother/whore dichotomy that so many games and media use, and the male is in a predicament yet gets to choose. My hope is that they all end up very complicated characters and not fitting their stereotypical roles, or else there will just be a reproduction of the same kinds of female characters in an industry that needs compelling female characters.

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