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Inside the Twisted Psyche of Catherine

Jeff Rubenstein's Avatar + Posted by Jeff Rubenstein on Jul 22, 2011 // Sr. Social Media Manager

There are plenty of Mature-rated games. But look past the killing and the cursing and you’ll see that many Mature-rated games are anything but. Catherine is an exception, the rare Mature-rated title that tackles a truly mature theme – infidelity – in a thought-provoking and unusual way.

If you’re a gamer, you’ve likely heard about Catherine. Whether you read the somewhat skewed early impressions or the more recent glowing reviews, Catherine is probably not the game you think it is. It doesn’t help that early screens of the game played up the sultry, eponymous co-star of the game. If nothing else, Catherine is unique: a puzzle game with fast, tense pacing and a well-developed storyline that has something to say.

Catherine is a hard game to describe, so I recommend downloading the free demo that hit the PlayStation Store last week. Shortly after the demo landed, Aram Jabbari from publisher and developer Atlus dropped by to speak with us and show us a deeper dive into the strange world of Catherine. I focused my talk on questions that the demo didn’t answer.

Many of Atlus’ biggest hits – including recent entries in the Persona series – have been on the PS2. So in making the jump to PS3, Catherine is a milestone for the Atlus team. “Not only is this the first Atlus-developed HD current-gen game,” said Jabbari, “it also happens to be the first current-gen game from the Shin Megami Tensei team, the Persona team. The composer, the character designer, and a number of others have worked on Persona 3 and Persona 4. It was directed by Katsura Hashino, the director of Persona 4. So Catherine is basically the Atlus all-star team’s first current-gen project, and one of the more unique games that the company’s ever created.”

PlayStation Blog: How would you categorize this game? Anime-puzzle-adult-dating sim?”

Aram Jabbari, Atlus: There are several genres that come up. I’ve even seen some people refer to this as an RPG, but we don’t really consider that accurate. A dating sim traditionally entails the goal of finding some significant other, and that’s not really what the focus of the game is. We call it an action/adventure-puzzle game. Probably more of an adventure-puzzle game, but we don’t want people to dismiss how frantic and visceral the puzzle sequences can be. In a lot of ways, it does feel like a platformer, and in a lot of ways there are elements that are more like what you’d find in an action game than in a puzzle game. The core of the gameplay are these tower nightmares, but the adventure element is a huge part as it is a story-driven game.

PSB: How much control do you have over that story?

Atlus: That’s a tough question to answer. The story itself unfolds the same — it’s the ending that changes. Vincent has a lot of moments where the camera zooms in on him and a meter will appear. Based on where you land on that scale, his inner thoughts will be different, which hints at the ending.

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Vincent carries an interactive mobile phone with him in the bar scenes, and can reply to both of his love interests in ways that affect that morality meter. He’ll face additional judgement in the confessional booths that lie in-between the nightmare sections, answering questions such as “Are you more afraid of being with people, or being alone?” Interestingly, your answers don’t just affect the game’s morality meter: they’re also compared to the answers of other players, anonymously, via PSN. But the meter isn’t tracking good versus evil, or right versus wrong. Aram described it as “law and chaos meter,” meaning “how selfish you are versus how altruistic you are.”

PSB: What’s up with that Golden Playhouse overlay you see on screenshots for the game?

Atlus: Golden Playhouse is kind of like a Saturday morning theatre, with a bit of a Twilight Zone vibe: we’re following this guy’s life and what’s going to happen. Trish is the host of that, and she intros us to Vincent, and is also the mechanism by which the game sends you texts to let you know that you’ve unlocked certain things outside of the game.

PSB: How many hours of gameplay are in Catherine?

Atlus: I was telling people eight to 12 hours, but then Phil Kollar from Game Informer comes to me and tells me it took him 14 hours. So eight to 12 is what we’re saying, but eight to 16 is more of what we’re seeing. If you’re actually invest the time and really experience the story, it’s definitely over 12 hours.

PSB: Was this game’s localization process any different than usual?

Atlus: Yes and no. I think there were a lot more cultural challenges. The game was actually written to take place in the States. A lot of fans say it takes place in Chicago, and that’s not really the case. It’s supposed to take place in an undefined American city. So in that sense, the developers did a lot to make it authentic and culturally, there wasn’t a lot to do. But our localizers talk about the challenges that lie in its realness. The characters interactions with each other – some of it is tongue-in-cheek – but most of it is supposed to be real human interaction. And there’s some dialogue things that will come up, including references and jokes, so our localizers go the extra mile. Our localizers say: “it’s not translating the definition, it’s translating the intent.” So a lot of care is taken to find that. Even though the game is so bizarrely unique, visually, it actually I don’t think it was as dramatic a localization effort as one might think.

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Something you won’t see in the demo are the scenes that take place in the town’s bar, the Stray Sheep. These sections are completely optional; you can just head right for the door and back into the game-y world of Vincent’s nightmares. It’s worth poking around, though. The bar sequences flesh out the story, as you can chat with your friends and other barflies, play an old-school arcade game and learn some interesting trivia whenever you finish your drink. If nothing else, after playing Catherine I know a lot more about sake and the history of prohibition as it relates to cocktails now. Getting Vincent to toss back a couple beverages is actually encouraged, as it speeds up his movement in the nightmare sessions.

About that gameplay – it’s tough. Really tough. IGN’s Jim Reilly, a two-time Platinum Trophy earner in Atlus’ notoriously difficult Demon’s Souls, thinks Catherine has it beat. Having played through most of the game, I can safely recommend playing it on Easy, at least the first time. But the challenge is rewarded every time you escape the nightmare, and get a little bit more of the story. In fact, Catherine’s engrossing story is what propels you through the game’s myriad challenges, even when the going gets tough. Which it will!

Catherine will be out on PS3 this Tuesday for $59.99. In true Atlus tradition, there’s also a bonkers collector’s edition that includes a pair of Vincent’s boxers. Go get ‘em, tiger.

//Add Your Own

68 Comments   9 Replies

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51

+ kingkranz on July 23rd, 2011 at 5:21 am said:

I graphics are awful and it’s not worth 60 bucks. Not my type of game. Rather spend it on borderlands.


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+ mao_788 on July 23rd, 2011 at 7:34 am said:

Every one has there taste on games, For me this shall be on my shelf this Tuesday can’t wait =^^=


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+ FfoegNosnibor on July 23rd, 2011 at 7:57 am said:

I totally dug the theme of this game on the demo. However, the block-nightmare-tower thing is interesting, but it feels a bit gimmicky. I appreciate the effort to push out a non-traditional game, and I do not think the graphics were awful as some have commented.

The voice-acting didn’t bother me. I think I may pick this up eventually, especially because of how much I appreciated the PR from Altus on this blog when the demo dropped.

I’ll probably pick this up when Amazon drops the price to $39.99. This game seems too niche to command a $60 price point for long (unless you guys artificially constrain supply).

I do think this sucks as disc-based games are becoming more blockbuster and trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. The next FPS clone will probably match sales at least. I’d like to support this game with my wallet, but I can’t justify the $60 price point.

Altus, I’m hoping you get good sales. I’ve seen this consistently in the top ten pre-orders on Amazon for a few months now.


54

+ phinnv8 on July 23rd, 2011 at 8:22 am said:

The concept looks awesome, but if the actual gameplay is mainly just climbing blocks I have no interest.


55

+ Chuckbait on July 23rd, 2011 at 9:04 am said:

Release this game on PSN…..


56

+ big-ant59 on July 23rd, 2011 at 11:25 am said:

@dinsouza whats wrong? Afraid to carry a game with a half naked girl in the front and ask “how much?” Don’t worry, just wear an over sized trench coat and fake I.D. you’ll be fine :P


57

+ devilmosh on July 23rd, 2011 at 1:45 pm said:

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get through the demo. It was like playing a soap opera and even my wife was bored from watching.


58

+ WelmoscaBR on July 23rd, 2011 at 2:25 pm said:

I still need to try the demo.


59

+ FullMetalGear on July 23rd, 2011 at 9:00 pm said:

Just pre-ordered my copy recently. I’m looking forward to getting all the trophies, if it does have trophies, but I’m hoping there’s no trophy on beating it on Extreme, that would be dreadful, I had enough problems on easy. Tho, as much as I died, the more I was determined to keep trying.


60

+ fahmy_taichou on July 23rd, 2011 at 10:50 pm said:

will be getting this game on tuesday! Love the game’s art and atmosphere


61

+ XFRod on July 24th, 2011 at 12:38 am said:

I’m a HUGE fan of Atlus. Although, I am a bit disappointed in the “Love is Over” edition. A t-shirt and, a pair of boxers my fat arse will never fit into, don’t justify the extra cash, for me at least. I’ve said several times though, I really think a tie-wearing, sheep-man plushy would have been a much better pack-in. Thank you, for making the art book and soundtrack available to all pre-orders… At least my Atlus artbook and soundtracks collection won’t suffer because of it.


62

+ Kirajc on July 24th, 2011 at 3:58 pm said:

This game is going to be amazing… It is always nice to try something new in the gaming world… looking forward this this energetic title.


63

+ IxGunMonkeyxI on July 25th, 2011 at 12:03 am said:

Nice! This game looks different, i pre-ordered it after trying the demo.


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+ DarthOni on July 25th, 2011 at 7:36 am said:

My wife has been playing through the Japanese version, she’s a huge Shin Megami Tensei fan. The fact that Vincent shows up in a bar in the PSP version of Persona 3 was a blast for her. This isn’t my kind of game, but she’s a puzzle nut and is a good way into the Japanese version but I told her she had to get the US release so that I could understand what was going on. She gets enough to keep Vincent neutral although she’s trying for the “good” side. I recommend this title.


65

+ Buchi1324 on July 25th, 2011 at 7:36 am said:

so Katherine and Catherine …cant wait to see if they are the same person i want tomorrow to be here :(


66

+ mgsnull617 on July 25th, 2011 at 9:10 am said:

I played the demo and truly liked it….The storyline is close to home 2…..Great job Atlus…..I wish i could afford the steep price-tag 60 bucks is pushin it…..if there were more to do other than the block puzzles you might have had me sold I do like the rpg style decision making ….seems you cant take the rpg outa Atlus even if they switch up the genre lol


67

+ mgsnull617 on July 25th, 2011 at 9:24 am said:

2 bad I keep hearing that the japanese version is better….this brings me back 2 when half my boys had japanese dreamcasts systems….I had both systems and the japanese games were better and had consisted more titles…..if the japanese version is better and harder than why do we get the watered down “American” version….I wont buy a easier game cause other people arnt as good as me when it comes to playing video games…If that were the case I should have gone Wii….


68

+ v28mr on July 31st, 2011 at 10:06 pm said:

I’ve tried the demo and it’s amazing. When it’s going to be available for download on Playstation Store??


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