April 22, 2011

Catherine Preview

So which will you choose? Settle down with the safe, familiar girl you've been with for five years or take a risk with the seductive free spirit who gives you a sense of adventure?

‘Catherine’ is the latest game from the team behind the excellent ‘Shin Megami Tensei: Persona’ titles. The Persona games, particularly those on PS2 were some of the best RPGs ever made, so it’s great to see the developers make the move to the current generation of consoles,

In an odd move, Catherine is not an RPG, but an action/puzzle game, in which players must guide main character Vincent up a series of movable blocks. The closest comparison I could make would be Kurushi crossed with Mr. Driller, but that doesn’t quite explain it.

The gameplay basically revolves around moving blocks in order to make a staircase for Vincent to climb. Blocks can be pushed so that they fall, dropping others down a level, or pulled to create a platform. It all plays out in real time, and is surprisingly difficult. The challenge makes the game rather compelling. Getting to the door at the top of the stage is extremely tough, even on the easiest setting, though an ‘undo’ command helps a little. Making things even harder are the boss stages, in which Vincent is chased up the level. Stop too long or get stuck and he’s killed. The time limit makes puzzle solving frantic in ways Tetris never dreamed of and it adds a palpable tension to the otherwise thoughtful gameplay.

The real draw with Catherine though, is the story. While the gameplay is very good and quite addictive, the cut-scenes between levels are incredibly impressive. With animated sequences by Studio 4°C, the studio behind ‘The Babysitter’ from Halo Legends and Linkin Park’s ‘Breaking the Habit’ music video, amongst a number of feature films, games and animated series. These scenes transition smoothly into the game engine, making for a very fluid and well-directed game. It looks more like an animated movie than a game and if this is the engine that will be used for Persona 5 it should really please fans of the series.

In terms of plot, from what I could establish through my total lack of Japanese, the game looks like it could be quite unique. Vincent is in a love triangle with two women, one called Catherine and the other called… Katherine. Vincent is in a relationship with Katherine, who wants to get married, but ends up sleeping with Catherine. (Confused yet?) Following this he is plagued by nightmares, which make up the gameplay portion of the game. The dream world is full of sheep who speak to Vincent, and there is a general ovine theme at play, with much of Vincent’s time spent at the ‘Stray Sheep’ bar. The local news reports of the mysterious deaths of young men, and if Persona is anything to go by, the bizarre alternate world in which death is a real possibility has much to do with this.

Catherine, despite similarities, differentiates itself from the Persona games with a much more mature storyline. Games rarely deal with love or sex, and certainly rooting a game in the reality of a young man’s infidelity is a far cry from the average game’s plot. It plays out more like an indie movie in many ways. Catherine is at times a tad over-sexualised, but if the plot plays out as well as it could this may actually be a necessary inclusion. In his difficulties committing to an adult relationship, Vincent sleeps with a younger woman who appears innocent, although as mentioned, highly sexualised. This suggests that the game revolves around Vincent’s struggle to accept an adult life.

Vincent’s tortured dreams appear to reflect his guilt, as well as tying into the overall story of young men dying. With her blonde locks, white minidress and large blue eyes, Catherine represents youth and lust, she is an unrealistic fantasy, basically, while Katherine, Vincent’s girlfriend, wears dark clothes and is serious in both conversation and appearance, suggesting a more intelligent, reserved and realistic persona. This sets the scene for a mental battle between maturity and youthful indiscretion played out in a bizarre nightmare landscape filled with twisted symbolism which, if the game delivers, stands as a stark contrast to what most games offer with their stories. Vincent’s harrowed sleep and choice between growing up or clinging to the last vestiges of youth could create one of the best games of the year as far as narrative is concerned, and the Persona team certainly have the pedigree to pull it off.

Catherine is already available for both Xbox 360 and PS3 in Japan. (PS3 is region free, but is Japanese language only). The game has no European release date as yet, but will arrive in the US on July 26 of this year. European PS3 owners will be able to play the game with a full English translation, but 360 owners will have to wait until a publishing deal for Europe is finalised.

Credits: http://www.the-nextlevel.com,http://www.push-start.co.uk

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