Levelling Up: My Gaming Experiences – 5/2/12 – Catherine
So, this was unexpected. Giant avalanche of university assignments, sport business and a broken collarbone are all really good at stopping me from following up on a blog for 5 weeks or so. Anyway, hopefully I’ll keep to some sort of schedule, just to have some sort of consistency. So, this week: subconsciously analysing my potential future relationships.
For those who don’t know, this is really a time-capsule-esque blog, for me. Feel free to read, I don’t mind.
So Catherine comes to me at an interesting time in my love life. I’m between relationships (here’s hoping) and have spent some time thinking about my past one, which involved some of the best times in my life so far. I think I did fairly well in it, considering that the reason it stopped wasn’t solely (again, here’s hoping) my fault. So to play a game where relationships were the focus seemed an interesting concept, and one which could give me an interesting perspective, was intriguing. It turned out that I liked the game quite a bit, even though there were parts which seemed oddly flawed.
The most impressive part of the whole game was the story, because of the depths to which it was willing to go. In most games I’ve played involving love, sex and whatnot, the game doesn’t bring a relationship up to anything more than a game mechanic. Fable II had my favourite example of shallow love. Pick a random person, in this case a lady because you choose to be a lesbian; do enough expressions and bribe them with gifts until they love you, over the span of 5 or so minutes, if you’re a bit slow; get married, take her home and have lots of “sex”, which is not sexy, until you discover that, because your brand of sex can’t use condoms, you’ve developed 15 different STDs from your “faithful” wife. Catherine is very mature about its approach to love. A relationship is not something to take lightly. It requires commitment, attention and patience, and these are sometimes difficult to maintain. Throughout, the question of why some men stray is explored well, I think. The focus isn’t on staring directly at some cleavage or hearing some porn-level fake moans, but more about how to deal with the demons plaguing your thoughts and overcome them accordingly.
It also helps that the story is actually compelling. I was always genuinely interested to see what was going to happen to Vincent, the protagonist, always dreading the moment when Katherine would walk in and meet Catherine. It’s very close to well-made anime in spots, since there were times when I would just put down my controller and watch for a steady amount of time because it was all interesting. It’s not like Skyrim where I thumb through all the dialogue to try and get to the quest icon; I would sit and listen to all of them, because I liked a good deal of the characters. The core friend group around Vincent, including Erica, were all interesting people, who weren’t just straight archetypes. These were characters that came across as realistically developed, even though there was a weird dissonance where I’d here them and try and identify their Persona 4 voice actors. That made for some confusion early on. Apart from the most fleshed out group, though, the side characters were well put together, and I went back to them time and again because of their cool dialogue and identities.
It’s a slight shame, then, that the characters I ended up disliking most were Vincent, Catherine and Katherine. I have my reasons. Vincent is an indecisive sap who doesn’t have the balls to say no about anything. He can’t keep away from Catherine (although that could be explained away), he can’t tell Katherine that he’s dumped Catherine, and he’s basically only got any initiative in the dream world, which doesn’t count in my books. He aggravated me, as quite a direct, firm decision-maker, and made me not care a wink whether he came out good or not. Catherine is the clingy, head-in-the-air type who can have mood swings at a moment’s notice, which was both non-realistic, and made her extremely distasteful. Why you’d stay with the manic girl who’s probably had childhood issues, I don’t know. And Katherine, who is perhaps the most agreeable of the three, is some weirdly control-centric lady who treats Vincent like a pile of shit. Her relationship with Vincent is weirdly distant as well, considering that they still live separately after the 5-7 years they’ve been together. If anything, they seemed a bit more life friends who had decided to go out on a date, before realising how awkward it felt and wanting to leave right now. It wasn’t a deal-breaker, in the end, but I could have been totally invested in the story if they’d been better. But, it’s a video game, so moving on.
One thing that I could never get past was the morality system, which felt completely arbitrary. In a game like this, there should be more of an opportunity for grey, because that’s what a lot of the game seemed to me: Vincent was in this very grey area, where he was cheating when he didn’t want to, but didn’t want to hurt anyone. To reduce it to “Blue = good = Katherine, red = bad = Catherine” seems like a wasted opportunity. Sending text messages and phone calls was pointless, because of how clear it was to say one thing to go down one path. And then the ‘moral’ questions were not only blatantly either-or situations with no room to manoeuvre, but sometimes seemed to be ambiguous to the point of non-answerable. There was one question that boiled down to “Would you marry a robot if it was like an actual human?” with the answers “I don’t do robots…” and “Is it fully featured?” or something. How can you answer that without having a mind-bend? I was attempting to follow the path of Order, since Catherine was disturbing to me, and I thought “Well, if she’s fundamentally a human, then technically I’d love her just the same, right?” Nope, turns out following Order means not boning robots, even though that’s not what the question asked.
Of course, apart from a somewhat stodgy but otherwise entertaining dating sim, there’s a block climbing puzzle game. The levels went from mildly interesting, to infuriatingly frustrating, to simply being a thing there; it was as if they were designed after the story, and couldn't quite fit in with the overall design. At first, I could not stand them, purely because of how monotonous and frustrating they were. The puzzles are well designed, for the most part, and the concept surrounding them that fit with the story, with the sheep men, was intriguing. Climbing those blocks, though, was not, because the controls didn’t seem tight enough and it was boring trying to get to the top. Plus, there was some random challenge spike at a point which made playing prohibitive. It was around the time of the ice blocks that I began actively turning off my console, such was my disdain for the puzzles. I pushed through regardless, and soon found the Inazuma tip, which was handy to say the least. It was practical, it could be done in quite a few situations, and it was easy to pick up. So, after that, the game became boring in another way, by becoming too easy. Scaling walls became a non-issue, to an extent, and building stairways became easy too. Soon I could just blast through levels without thinking, and without fear of death either (I had 99 retries way before the end came). It’s way more fun than dying because of crap knowledge, but that still doesn’t redeem it. Ultimately, the puzzles felt like giant ads in the middle of story bits, even though I look back I think I enjoyed it in the end.
Apart from all that, the only weird thing is how odd the block puzzles make the whole situation in the end. Why would Vincent, for all his talk of trying to get some sort of control, repeatedly get trashed every night for a week, like a sad alcoholic? It’s like congratulating a smoker for quitting as you see him fish a lighter out of his pocket. Then there’s the story twist, which was very left field. When was the decision made to make a fairly shallow, boring character the main villain all of a sudden? Beats me, since I thought that decision was stupid. But, oh well. Catherine is still a good game in my opinion, if only for the story. If this were some sort of anime, I would be totally on board with it, but I was suitably happy with the final package, even though it left me wanting that little more.