Atlus is one of my favorite gaming companies and Catherine is a perfect example of why. The game has so much going on that it defies genre specification and it looks to delve into serious adult story content in a theme that is rarely used in gaming. We have games coming out of our ears that are mature because of violence, but sex and sexuality is a much less touched upon theme in gaming beyond the random QTE driven threesome or awkward Heavy Rain sex scene. I got a chance to sit down with Atlus for a bit of insight into this interesting title.
The demo I saw started out with a video of the more adventure based aspects of the game that happen in the bar. Vincent was able to walk around and talk to people, gain insight into the mythology of this world from two elderly twins or just chat about his current romantic conundrum with his buddies. During these interactions the NPCs might ask you questions and how you answer will move you more towards law or chaos on a morality bar, which then affects how the game’s story plays out and which of the about half dozen endings you achieve.
You can also interact with people through texts, an example I saw was Vincent got a text from Catherine saying what a great night she had last night and that if he replied she would send him something sexy. Vincent can then reply to the text in a variety of different ways from the incredibly mean “who are you?” to the almost desperately enthusiastic “PIX NAO PLZ”. The representative from Atlus went with the more enthusiastic reply and he was rewarded with a move to chaos on his morality bar and a sext from Catherine with an attachment you can view in the bathroom.
If you want to practice your puzzle skills you can also play the Rapunzel arcade game in the bar. It plays with the exact same puzzle mechanics as the main stories puzzles but has no time limit and a simplistic arcade-like art style. This is a great place to practice the puzzle skills you’ll need to get through the main game as well as get used to the mechanics.
For the uninitiated the puzzles in Catherine are all presented as towers of blocks that your character is trying to get to the top of. You can push and pull blocks from the tower in order to make stairs that you can climb which is necessary because you can only climb up one block height at a time. The representative told me that blocks will also fall if they aren’t touching another block on at least one adjacent edge which can work to your advantage or disadvantage depending on your planning. Rapunzel isn’t just a tutorial for the main game but it also gets incredibly tough and is a worthwhile mini-game in its own right if you love Catherine’s puzzle mechanics.
One other tidbit that was mentioned but I didn’t get a ton of information about is that Catherine is presented as a metagame of sorts. You are actually watching a TV show that follows bits of Vincent’s life which explains why time magically flies forward to the next story section whenever Vincent leaves the bar.
After leaving the bar the game moved into the nightmare puzzle aspect. Every night Vincent has a nightmare which is presented as several stages of tower puzzles that he must work through to live through the night. There will be 8 nights in total and each night comes with its own boss fight to cap off the experience. The first tower stage I saw was called the Torture Chamber and the area surrounding the tower was an appropriately nightmarish hellscape of blades and spikes that would give even Freddy Kruger pause. This particular stage introduced a new block to the mix called a trap block. As you step on this block you have about a second before spikes will shoot up and rend you to pieces. Luckily the spikes are only a one-time thing and they snap off after use, so you only have to worry about them once each, but they can quite easily take you out if you aren’t careful.
At this point in the presentation the Atlus representative passed the controller over to my buddy Nick Pantazis to let him show off his block climbing skills. It was about two minutes before Nick took a misstep and ended up in several bloody pieces so Catherine’s reputation for difficulty from the Japanese release has been well earned. Nick shouldn’t feel too bad though because I saw the Atlus representative die several times after he took the controller back and that guy had probably been playing the game all week. Not only do traps give you something to think about, but there are also other sheep traversing the tower which can sometimes help but are usually more of a hindrance. If you can get next to them you can smack them off the tower, which is probably the best idea as I was told there’s really no benefit to helping the other sheep along their journey.
After many deaths and some cursing Vincent stood victoriously at the top of the tower and was transported to a little holding area between puzzles. In here you can walk around and talk to other sheep to get tips for puzzle solving, or even buy items to use during them. This particular waiting area was right before a boss so the sheep merchant was nowhere to be found, but there was a confessional. The creepy voice on the other side of the confessional presents you with a question, such as “What seems more like paradise: a drink at a bar or a beautiful park to sit in?” and your answer will have a great effect on your morality. If you have an internet connection you’ll also be treated to a pie chart showing how everyone else playing the game responded to the question.
Now it was time for the boss fight and the monster chasing Vincent this night was just as disgusting and disturbing as you would expect from the guys who made the Persona series. As far as I could tell, for all intents and purposes the monster was a giant ass with a tongue coming out where the butthole should be and huge eyes sprouting out of its cheeks. Not only does the monster chase you and give the time limit on the puzzle tower that much more emphasis, but he has special abilities that make the puzzle even more difficult. Ass-face is apparently called “The Immoral Beast” and his special ability was stars that he threw up into the air that then fell on all levels of the tower. Vincent could avoid these by hiding under some of the level’s geometry but our Atlus host bravely let them hit him once to show that it flips the directional controls of Vincent for a small amount of time much like having a mushroom on your head in Earthbound (and if you don’t get that reference then stop reading this and go smash your head into something hard).
Victory was obtained after climbing to the top of the tower and the game moved into one of the story aspects that showed off some of the more sexy scenes that have been giving Catherine so much press and perhaps undue attention. I will say right now that this is not a porn game, Vincent woke up next to Catherine and had some pillow talk but thanks to tasteful use of camera angles there was never any more skin showing than your average James Bond movie. That’s not to say that there isn’t still some heavy sexual innuendo as Catherine spouted a line that was probably the funniest thing I heard all E3. She commented on last night saying that it was particularly kinky and she had actually never done anything like that before. Vincent apparently had no recollection of the activity and asked what she meant and Catherine seemed too embarrassed to say out loud. This was when I remembered the design of the monster boss from the nightmare Vincent had just had and almost stopped the presentation just to laugh.
I came away from this E3 completely sold on Catherine. I had some apprehension about the puzzle aspects of the game coming into it, but it really looks like a lot of fun even if it’s going to take some judicious swearing to get through. Interesting mature story, funny dialogue, and beautiful visuals that I didn’t even mention seal the deal. Seriously go look up some videos of this game, it’s got quite the pleasing Cel Shaded style. I can’t wait for Catherine’s release in July and I hope everyone that writes this game off as something only meant for 13 year-olds looking to peep some boobies gives it a chance. When you find out how wrong you are make sure to send all apologies and admissions of greatness to kjkoebke@VGChartz.com. And I guess you can send some to Atlus as well.