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Me, Myself and Vincent

Catherine may have its fair share of issues, but we could certainly use more games like it.

Vincent Brooks stares down the barrel of some difficult decisions in Catherine. By extension, so did I.

Catherine is flawed, an experience that, with every frustrating stumble, one sighs in response, and each misstep underscoring how close to greatness Catherine was. And how it mostly blew it. And how, despite that, you should probably play it.

Every day of the week, I'd rather spend my time exploring an interesting misfire than the same old thing with a new coat of paint, mulling the lessons we can learn. Catherine is anything but the same old thing brought out for another man-this-feels-familiar trip around the deja vu block. If you're desperate for different, Catherine and Katherine are two gals worth calling up.

Atlus may have turned some off from trying Catherine with its overly sexual marketing.

For the purposes of this slab of writing, I'm going to pretend Catherine ends a few hours before it does. There's a moment, a very specific moment, where the game embraces the worst tendencies of Japanese video game storytelling. Yes, yes, I know Catherine comes from the Persona team, so to encounter supreme weirdness should be expected, and yet, here I am, trying to erase this particular twist from memory, despite acknowledging we're talking about a game whose central metaphor is block puzzles in a dreamscape full of sheep.

So…let's pretend that moment doesn't exist, or else I'm going to stop writing this. Flame away in the comments, if you must.

Still with me? Okay.

I'm 26-years-old and recently engaged, having lived with my girlfriend-now-fiancee for five years...or so. Honestly, you start to lose count, in a good way, after a while. This is what you're supposed to do, right? Find the Girl of Your Dreams, lock it down, and ascend into Adulthood. Vincent, the central protagonist (though one might argue he's really the antagonist, depending on the character's perspective), has zero interest in moving forward on his own. He's the definition of a man child, tapping his shoes like ol' Sonic the Hedgehog, patiently waiting for someone else to take control. By definition, the ball is in Katherine's court--and she passes it over.

Vincent's not paying attention, and if we continue the sports analogy, stubs his index finger. If you've ever played basketball before, you know how much that shit hurts. Consequently, he can't hold the ball. Every time he tries, his finger surges with pain, stiffened by the injury. It'd be much easier to just sit on the sideline and have everyone else take this, you know? So Vincent takes a timeout, where he meets Catherine, Katherine's opposite: a blonde, happy-go-lucky sex bomb.

Thus begins Vincent's descent into personal madness, forced to confront his hangups about the future, one that probably involves fewer nightly trips to the bar, through block puzzles. The block puzzles are a mess--thank the lord for easy mode. Only a few instances prompted contemplation of YouTubing solutions, but the lack of variety, coupled with their insistence on being there night after night ad nauseum, are probably enough to turn most people off. Are you one of those people? Are you afraid you're one of those people? Then play through the block puzzles with YouTube walkthroughs. Get over your hangups about cheating (on a game), realize that's not the point--everything interesting is happening on the other side.

Katherine's attitude may come across as forward and condescending, but everyone knows someone like her, right?

Catherine proves there are ways to comment on sex, relationships and our complicated, often contradictory, emotions through not-so-elaborately disguised dating simulation. You don't need to have a sex mini-game to address sex. You don't even need to even really show that much sex to make your point. You wouldn't catch me dead booting up a traditional dating simulator; from what I understand, what amounts to simulation in those games is enveloped in fantasy, rather than plausible reality.

As a 26-year-old who's recently set himself on the path to commitment, and someone who very much likes hanging out with their friends at bars, I can sympathize with Vincent's position. It's not to suggest my own life has much in common with Vincent, as I made the decision to get engaged with little pressure outside of "you know, it's about time," and my better half has little problem with me hitting the bar, so long as the dishes are washed on a regular basis. But there's enough commonality between us, the mutual fears over making a A Big, Fat Final Decision, that places me inside Vincent's head.

This isn't a new conversation, but that's exactly why it's interesting.

When Vincent was asked to make a choice--answering or not answering a text, declaring if lover and best friend are mutually exclusive concepts--I put the controller down and puzzled it out. What would I do? Why would I do that? I like to think I'm a better person than Vincent--I know that--but if we're doing this hypothetical situation anyway, let's run with it for a second. Presented this, what would I do? And while the ending borne from my decisions had me cursing the game with disgust, if I'm to look at Catherine The Journey instead of Catherine The Ending, I really did end up learning some important things about myself along the way.

No, I won't tell you what they were. It doesn't really matter, either.

The point of this probably-too-personal rambling is to suggest my jumbled emotional response is why you might want to play Catherine one of these days. Maybe not now, maybe not for a few years, but if you can identify with my situation, or at one point in your life once feel like you did, it's like nothing you've ever played.

I've certainly never thought this much about a game all year.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
238 Comments
Posted by Lionheart377

Fantastic article, and in no way do I find this too personal. What makes Giantbomb so great is the connection the community has with the writers, so I enjoy hearing stories like about people I feel that I know. You've convinced me to give Catherine a chance, even though I had no interest in it before. I'm in a similar situation that you are, and I feel I could relate with this title (or at least get a great deal out of it).

Posted by FluxWaveZ
@AlKusanagi said:

@FluxWaveZ: The siphoned husks left behind of the men that died are a pretty big supernatural element. Hell, that alone reveals the true nature of the killer to anyone with a small knowledge of Stock Monsterology.

Yeah, I don't think many people know who Dumuzid is.
Posted by Marokai
I find it a little odd for the site to have conflicting editorials about a game, but I found it to be an interesting read nonetheless.
 
@Crushed said:

@FluxWaveZ: @SpaceBoat:

I guess, but it seems like splitting hairs when you say, "Well, the main plot device is magical sheep dreams where you die in real life and shrivel up into dessicated corpses if you fail, but THIS is just way too supernatural for my tastes."

Maybe it just reminds me too much of the people who complained about Persona 4's final twist because they got so caught up in the murder mystery aspect that they forgot about the traveling into TVs and the channeling the power of Shinto gods through your ego.

Thank you. Seriously. It continues to blow my mind how people seem to have some sort of problem with Catherine's ending. The transition is jarring, to be sure, but it is still a game with significant supernatural elements. Did you not expect a fucking explanation for them at some point in the game? I guess it just comes down to whether or not you actually care about wanting to understand everything about what's going on in the story. Silly me; I did.
Online
Posted by Unlogik
@HandsomeDevil said:

This should've been the review.

Yupp.
Edited by Vlad_Tiberius

If the GAMEPLAY part of it is bad, then why praising this VIDEOGAME product?
If the story in it is so mature, then why they chose to tell it through anime, with supernatural crap on top of it?
Since when a love relationship is more mature subject than war, politics, economy ,history or even social issues? (bare in  mind the recent happenings in Norway or London)
If a block puzzle game is considered remarkable in 2011, then why bother creating games like Mass Effect, Bioshock, RDR, MGS, GTA, Fallout and such? Honestly, let's all make tetris games with Danielle Steel/ Hallmark movie romance dramas to them.

Posted by Catolf
@Marokai said:
I find it a little odd for the site to have conflicting editorials about a game, but I found it to be an interesting read nonetheless.
 
@Crushed said:

@FluxWaveZ: @SpaceBoat:

I guess, but it seems like splitting hairs when you say, "Well, the main plot device is magical sheep dreams where you die in real life and shrivel up into dessicated corpses if you fail, but THIS is just way too supernatural for my tastes."

Maybe it just reminds me too much of the people who complained about Persona 4's final twist because they got so caught up in the murder mystery aspect that they forgot about the traveling into TVs and the channeling the power of Shinto gods through your ego.

Thank you. Seriously. It continues to blow my mind how people seem to have some sort of problem with Catherine's ending. The transition is jarring, to be sure, but it is still a game with significant supernatural elements. Did you not expect a fucking explanation for them at some point in the game? I guess it just comes down to whether or not you actually care about wanting to understand everything about what's going on in the story. Silly me; I did.
Took the words out of my mouth. While the game does have issues I don't know how people can be baffled by things explained in the end/wanting nothing to do with it cause it was too supernatural.
Posted by mutha3
@Marokai said:
Thank you. Seriously. It continues to blow my mind how people seem to have some sort of problem with Catherine's ending. The transition is jarring, to be sure, but it is still a game with significant supernatural elements. Did you not expect a fucking explanation for them at some point in the game? I guess it just comes down to whether or not you actually care about wanting to understand everything about what's going on in the story. Silly me; I did.
There was a perfectly fine explanation hinted at:
 
Posted by XChairmanDrekX

This is a good read, although I still disagree with Patrick's as well as Jeff's opinion on the block puzzles.  They are perfectly well made, fun, challenging and the game does a good job of introducing new elements as the difficulty increases throughout the course of the game.  Honestly the puzzles are my favorite part of the game.

Posted by Catolf
@mutha3 said:
@Marokai said:
Thank you. Seriously. It continues to blow my mind how people seem to have some sort of problem with Catherine's ending. The transition is jarring, to be sure, but it is still a game with significant supernatural elements. Did you not expect a fucking explanation for them at some point in the game? I guess it just comes down to whether or not you actually care about wanting to understand everything about what's going on in the story. Silly me; I did.
There was a perfectly fine explanation hinted at:
 

Edited by Juno500

I think the story could have done with some mystery left to it after the end. The game doesn't need to wrap up the story with a complete explanation, I kind of wished that certain things had been left open to interpretation.
 
mutha3 made a great point as well, that still would have been better than the twist the story went with.

Edited by Curufinwe
@billyhoush said:

I remember the days when people felt this way after reading a good book-- not from playing a mediocre video game. I guess we really are coming close to the singularity.

Good stories can be told in many different mediums, not just in books.  And plenty of gamers and critics think Catherine is much better than "medicore".  "We" are not coming close to anything; you are just doing a bad Grandpa Simpson impression.
Posted by edeo

This game confirms to me that Dan Savage's support of "monogamish" relationships is the way of the future.

The entire time I wished I could make Vincent dump both psycho women.

Though you do get this if you get the Chaos ending. Vincent and Catherine both get to fool around and yet are committed to each other and love each other.

Posted by FluxWaveZ
@Catolf: When I refer to the ending, I refer to the reveal and not any one of the 8 endings in the game. My problem with it isn't that it was supernatural, my problem with it is that the act of gods wasn't necessary to convey the ending. Would you really be happy with the ending of every game if mysterious supernatural elements turned out to just be explained as "Gods did it". It's a narrative catch-all that could even be called lazy storytelling.
Posted by cstrang

I'm sorry, I can't agree with the point of this piece. The importance in the lessons or ponderances Catherine tries to teach us or get us to ponder is lost not only in a mess of a game, but in the fact that it has the subtlety of a fucking sledgehammer. "DId you catch the metaphor the masterful creators of this game placed at its core?" No, well let me sit you down and spell it out for you.

Blow.

Posted by Marokai
@mutha3 said:
@Marokai said:
Thank you. Seriously. It continues to blow my mind how people seem to have some sort of problem with Catherine's ending. The transition is jarring, to be sure, but it is still a game with significant supernatural elements. Did you not expect a fucking explanation for them at some point in the game? I guess it just comes down to whether or not you actually care about wanting to understand everything about what's going on in the story. Silly me; I did.
There was a perfectly fine explanation hinted at:
You could call the whole witch thing a perfectly reasonable explanation but I would find that a little anticlimactic. That's basically hinted at in the first few hours of the game. I would rather have a weird twist into left-field than to have totally called the ending before I even got to the halfway point because it made it so easy to pick up on.
Online
Edited by FluxWaveZ
@Marokai: The actual antagonist was easy to guess from the very beginning of the game. Months before I even played the game, I knew who was going to end up being the ultimate bad guy and the proof is in an older thread. It's the twist that accompanies the revelation of the 'Big Bad' that irks me, even though I expected it since the game came from the Persona Team.
Posted by Juno500
@edeo said:

This game confirms to me that Dan Savage's support of "monogamish" relationships is the way of the future.

The entire time I wished I could make Vincent dump both psycho women.



Posted by Juno500
@Marokai said:

You could call the whole witch thing a perfectly reasonable explanation but I would find that a little anticlimactic. That's basically hinted at in the first few hours of the game. I would rather have a weird twist into left-field than to have totally called the ending before I even got to the halfway point because it made it so easy to pick up on.
Then it could have been done in a more subtle manner in the beginning.
Posted by Veektarius
@SpaceBoat: Video games cannot be reduced to 'change' or 'no change'.  If the market embraces a particular unusual style of game, it will not lead to further diversification.  Publishers will not say, "Hey, people loved this game because it was original!  Let's make other games that are also 'original'!"  It's far more likely they will say "We had no idea the date-sim puzzler was an un-tapped market!  Let's get Rare on it posthaste!" So if you like games like Catherine, buy it, but it is by no means rational to buy the game if you like change but suspect its mechanics are not for you. 
 
Not that I feel anyone would actually have been swayed by that argument.
Posted by Marokai
@Juno500 said:
@Marokai said:
You could call the whole witch thing a perfectly reasonable explanation but I would find that a little anticlimactic. That's basically hinted at in the first few hours of the game. I would rather have a weird twist into left-field than to have totally called the ending before I even got to the halfway point because it made it so easy to pick up on.
Then it could have been done in a more subtle manner in the beginning.
Maybe, but then at what point are you basically just asking for a substantial rewrite rather than "It would've been so perfect if it just cut off here instead."?
Online
Edited by Juno500
@Marokai said:

@Juno500 said:

@Marokai said:
You could call the whole witch thing a perfectly reasonable explanation but I would find that a little anticlimactic. That's basically hinted at in the first few hours of the game. I would rather have a weird twist into left-field than to have totally called the ending before I even got to the halfway point because it made it so easy to pick up on.
Then it could have been done in a more subtle manner in the beginning.
Maybe, but then at what point are you basically just asking for a substantial rewrite rather than "It would've been so perfect if it just cut off here instead."?
It wouldn't have to be substantial at all, really just taking away a few lines of dialogue.
 
If anything, I found the twist in Catherine to be more anti-climactic than the other option mutha suggested because it ended up going the same way Atlus stories end up going, some tripe about gods interfering with the lives of mere mortals.
Posted by DavoTron

Patrick brings it, once again. It's things like this that makes me want play this game.

Posted by ItBeStefYo

Nice article, I should really buy this game, but when its really really cheap

Posted by Tim_the_Corsair

With all the shit people have said about Jeff's review and their subsequent justification for why this game is great (and there's a lot about the story that sounds really interesting, especially as a turned-27-today, recently engaged dude), not one person has said anything that convinces me that this is actually a good GAME.

It sounds like it'd be far better as a movie or interactive novel or something. As much as I love a deep, interesting story, I'm not going to play shitty block puzzles to get to it.

Posted by FluxWaveZ
@Tim_the_Corsair said:
I'm not going to play shitty block puzzles to get to it.
Well there you go; you wouldn't like the gameplay. Some people actually do enjoy the block climbing segments.
Posted by Lunar_Aura

Catherine is to puzzle game as Deadly Premonition is to action game.

Posted by Juno500
@LunarAura said:

Catherine is to puzzle game as Deadly Premonition is to action game.

ahahahaha no.
Posted by nick_verissimo

To be honest, I always seem to get these weird emotional attachments to a game and its characters when I play something by the persona team. Catherine has been one if the better game experiences I've had this year

Edited by MindOST

My biggest problem with Catherine was the absurd plot pacing. Each day of the game comprised of the following: 
 
(1) Block Puzzles
(2) A relatively short story sequence involving one or both girls, or occasionally Orlando.
(3) A scene in the bar that inevitably boils down to "Hey, did you know about the rumor, the one where people die in their sleep?" Why yes I did; you've only mentioned it in every second line of dialogue throughout the  
 Whole. Damn. Game. 
 
(2) was the only bit that actually advanced the plot in any meaningful way, and during  (1) and (3), I just wanted to get back to part (2). The game should have done a better job at making you give a damn about the characters in the bar. Orlando was the only other character I gave half a crap about, maybe Erica too, but that's about it. 
 
Also, Patrick's ideal end point only really works on a blue ending, and I ended up almost full red playing honestly my first go.

Edited by Juno500
@Tim_the_Corsair said:

With all the shit people have said about Jeff's review and their subsequent justification for why this game is great (and there's a lot about the story that sounds really interesting, especially as a turned-27-today, recently engaged dude), not one person has said anything that convinces me that this is actually a good GAME. It sounds like it'd be far better as a movie or interactive novel or something. As much as I love a deep, interesting story, I'm not going to play shitty block puzzles to get to it.

Why are you asking people to convince you it's good? It just simply sounds like it's not the type of game you would enjoy, of course nobody is going to convince you of it. This would be like if somebody who hates racing games complained that nobody could convince them that Forza 3 is a great game. No matter how much somebody talks about how well-polished it is, if somebody simply doesn't like the style of gameplay it just won't hook them. Even ignoring all of that, nobody can really convince you that any game is good, you have to make that decision for yourself by actually playing it.
 
Personally, Catherine is my favorite game of the year so far, and even though it's only halfway through I think it's easily a contender for my personal GOTY of 2011. I would say the same even if I were to judge it solely on the criteria of its gameplay. It's challenging, engaging, and creative, but that won't mean anything if it's just not the type of game you want to play. So I ask you again: Why are you asking us to convince you it's any good?
Posted by Nasar7

This article is pretty pointless but I still appreciate your writing it.  Perhaps not in the news section next time? 
 
I for one loved the block puzzles and disagree that they are ' a mess'. They are just challenging and require you to use your brain while keeping your cool under pressure. 

Posted by FluxWaveZ

Man, now I wish they had DLC block puzzle stages or had implemented a feature to let users create their own and share it online...

Posted by MjHealy

Even if Jeff gave this game a poor review, and the idea of repetitive block puzzles is a bit off-puting, I think I may invest in Catherine when it hits European shelves.

Posted by tourgen
@Branthog: Going to have to agree.  If that's really the message it's filthy and sexist.  Unfortunately I guess it's cool to lay out a narrow, sexist, predefined role for men and then say, "if you don't do what we expect of you you're not a man, just a little manchild who needs to grow up."
 
I don't think women appreciate it when you tell them they need to be barefoot and in the kitchen cooking dinner.  I don't think it's O.K. to say the equivalent to men.  Most people seem pretty cool with it though.
Posted by text

@Branthog: Sure, I'll be a hipster for you.

I can see why you'd get that impression from peoples' description, but that's really the opposite of how the game treats the situation. In the some of the chaos endings, Vincent talks about that exact point: doing what everyone else in the (sheep) herd does just because they're doing it isn't the way to true happiness. The game doesn't deride him for his decision at all. Vincent's journey into adulthood isn't "go get married," it's "stop screwing around and decide who you are."

Hell, without getting into spoiler territory, Katherine isn't exactly portrayed as an innocent or completely moral person. She does some pretty questionable shit and is really far removed from the "Lifetime movie protagonist" you're talking about

Posted by FluxWaveZ
@tourgen said:
@Branthog: Going to have to agree.  If that's really the message it's filthy and sexist.  Unfortunately I guess it's cool to lay out a narrow, sexist, predefined role for men and then say, "if you don't do what we expect of you you're not a man, just a little manchild who needs to grow up."  I don't think women appreciate it when you tell them they need to be barefoot and in the kitchen cooking dinner.  I don't think it's O.K. to say the equivalent to men.  Most people seem pretty cool with it though.
But that isn't the message (if I understand your complaint properly). My favorite ending of the game has the protagonist have a big speech about how he now realizes that he doesn't need to be in a relationship anymore and decides to do what he wants and get what he wants out of life.
Posted by Claude

Giant Bomb must have the best flame shield ever. This game is not for me.

Posted by Juno500
@tourgen said:
@Branthog: Going to have to agree.  If that's really the message it's filthy and sexist.  Unfortunately I guess it's cool to lay out a narrow, sexist, predefined role for men and then say, "if you don't do what we expect of you you're not a man, just a little manchild who needs to grow up."  I don't think women appreciate it when you tell them they need to be barefoot and in the kitchen cooking dinner.  I don't think it's O.K. to say the equivalent to men.  Most people seem pretty cool with it though.
That's not the message in the story at all.
 
Play the goddamn game people.
Posted by XelaO

I am so happy Patrick is at Giant Bomb
Edited by Juno500

I'm going to spell out why the whole "sexist, Lifetime movie" angle is completely wrong here, since some people here either A) are complaining about the message in the story they havn't played yet, or B) completely missed the point of the story they did play despite it being  very obvious and unsubtle.
 

Posted by ev_rowe

Wonderfully written, Patrick. I feel as though I can relate to Vincent in much the same way as you said you could; approaching the need to make a Big, Fat Final Decision (and more importantly, coming to grips with the implications of said decision). I've been holding off on playing Catherine just yet, but what you've had to say about it further convinces me before I've even played it that it tackles some extremely relevant and interesting issues about the constructs of romantic relationships and how they relate to maturity in men of our (or similar) age.

I'm very curious to play this game and see just what impact (if any) it may have on where I'm at in my own process of wrestling with some of these issues (even if only in a minor sense, as I suspect I don't struggle with them nearly as much as Vincent does), and I'm glad to know that even if the final outcome of the game's story has the potential to be infuriating, that there's still value to be had along the way. And truthfully, that's typically much more important and meaningful anyhow.

Edited by spiralsin

Thanks for the great article, Patrick. It was interesting to read about your perspective. I definitely applaud a unique game like this, but the tedious block puzzles just went on too long for my liking. I suppose I was more interested in the storyline which is why I played on Easy as well.
 
I truly wish it was an RPG or Adventure game with more character interaction instead. The characters and the subject matter were the most engaging part for me after all. Anyway, I struggled through the puzzles and answered the questions honestly as I could. I pretty much got the result I expected.  
 
While it's not for everyone, I agree the game should be experienced at least once at some point. It was a nice distraction in this age of FPS oversaturation.

Posted by shodan2020

Fucking crushed it, Mr. Klepek. This is an excellent read, and yes it's why I love Catherine so much. The other endings are really good too, from what I've experienced.

Posted by shodan2020

@MindOST said:

Also, Patrick's ideal end point only really works on a blue ending, and I ended up almost full red playing honestly my first go.

What does that say about the game? What does that say about YOU, more importantly? :)

Posted by MisoRonery

Great exploration of how different stages of life can change the way we perceive media, while still addressing the shortcomings of the game. Bravo, Mr. Klepek.

Posted by Afroman269
@HandsomeDevil

This should've been the review.

Jeff's review is just fine, it's the score that people are getting butthurt over. After going through that game both this article and the review are spot on. My issue is that the anime nonsense got in the way of the game having a good story.
Posted by ThePickle

@Afroman269 said:

@HandsomeDevil

This should've been the review.

Jeff's review is just fine, it's the score that people are getting butthurt over. After going through that game both this article and the review are spot on. My issue is that the anime nonsense got in the way of the game having a good story.

Jeff's review had more issues than the score. While the score did seem arbitrary, so did many of his complaints. Detach the review from the score and it makes no sense. Put the two together and it makes slightly more sense.

Posted by shodan2020

@HubrisRanger said:

Great article Patrick. I know this isn't technically a review, but THIS is what I want to read more of when I read people's reflections on games.

Jeremy Parish had a pretty great review along these similar lines on 1up.

Posted by BonzoPongo

I can see how you could relate to the story but the package it comes in just puts that too far out of reach for me.
 
The anime, the gameplay, the creepy as fuck collectors edition. Too many hurdles, and I basically in the same position as Patrick in my life.
 
Each to their own though I guess.

Posted by afrofools

Nobody's a better person than me