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Thursday, 16 April 2015

Catherine.


Hey, guys. Sorry again for there not being a proper post yesterday. If all goes well, there should be a Let's Play going up today too, but in general it's still up in the air as to whether there will be a regular posting schedule today, tomorrow, and possibly even Saturday (saying that we'd definitely be back on track by Friday was, perhaps, premature).

I will, however, be doing my level best to get content out.

Catherine.



'Murphy, didn't you say you were going to do a Persona 4 review this week?' Okay, right, yes. Yes, I did say that. The thing is that was when I was twenty-five hours into the game, and now I'm forty-five hours into the game and, er - still not done playing. In fact, I've literally only just got the last member of the party, so there's that. I have clearly massively underestimated how long this game is.

But here's a shorter game, for shorter people, set in the same universe: Catherine. 

Revolving around twenty-to-thirty-something office worker Vincent, the game is centred on his relationship with his responsible, thoughtful girlfriend Katherine. Feeling somewhat stifled, Vincent's life takes a turn when he unexpectedly ends up in an affair with a reckless and seductive young woman, Catherine. At the same time, he starts having a recurring dream in which he and a legion of sheep are forced to participate in block-sliding and climbing puzzles.

That description makes it sound weird, and that's for a couple of reasons, the most pressing being that it is weird. Like Portal, it has the seeming of an amusing side project that was never really expected to take off, except that while Portal was made mostly with reused assets and a single voice actor, and was only three to six hours long; Catherine has a reasonably large and entirely voice acted cast, its own very pretty graphics, minigames, and a single player campaign of about fifteen to twenty hours. 

Which is odd. I am alarmed by this.

Vincent has very striking eyes, I've just noticed.

In terms of gameplay, it's very much the kind of game that is more fun to watch than to actually play. The block sliding puzzles have a frenetic energy to them that is more enjoyable when it's somebody else being frustrated by them, especially since the puzzles are often unintuitive and littered with difficult to avoid traps, forcing a certain amount of learning-by-rote in order to come out the other end alive. When you're not sliding puzzles, you get to engage in the typical Persona life simulator schtick, only instead of simulating the life of a high schooler, you're simulating the life of a man who avoids all of his responsibilities and goes out drinking with his increasingly scornful friends every night. These sections do have some influence on the gameplay, as you can send text messages to your various paramours, either brushing them off or welcoming their communications. You can also try out different alcohols and get fun factoids about them! Who even knows why.

The game has been accused of sexist, and I can definitely understand the criticism - it has artwork and promotional materials that hinges heavily on sexualising both Catherine and Katherine, and with a storyline focused with nigh-on laser precision on Vincent feeling like he has to give up his freedom because of pressure from those Nasty Evil Women, and a rather uncomfortable secret ending in which the game's narrator becomes seduced by the player's gaming skills, an interpretation that this is a game meant to appeal to the neckbearding mouthbreathery sweating Gamergate type is an entirely valid one.

Vincent's friend, who, er, definitely has a name. Johnny?

What puts me on the fence a little is that when I played the game, it wasn't Vincent I was sympathising with. Vincent is utterly spineless, lazy, irresponsible, actually quite cruel, deceitful, have I mentioned spineless, and quite probably an alcoholic. It was Katherine, whose long-sufferingness seemed only compounded by the fact that she was objectively correct about everything, who had my sympathy, and the game's arc seemed to be less about breaking free from the demands of Them Terrible Womelings and more about Vincent becoming a worthy boyfriend to Katherine, something he decidedly isn't at the start of the game.

The game has also come under some - although oddly less - fire for its treatment of Erica, a trans woman who is close friends with Vincent and his gang of friends, and again, I waver over where I stand on that one. Several of Vincent's friends - most often Orlando, the group's resident terrible person, and Vincent himself - drop veiled and sometimes quite snide remarks about her being transsexual. While they notably never use the wrong pronouns for her, and much is made of Erica's self-confidence and popularity, it's still very uncomfortable, and I found myself unsure of whether the game was making jabs at trans people or trying to hammer it in the fact that Vincent and his friends aren't good people.

In true Persona fashion, Vincent's shadow appears.

It's a game that makes me scratch my head a bit, all told, because the game's rather myopic focus on a reprehensible sack of flesh and misery makes it difficult for me pick apart malicious creator intent from characters being unpleasant (and meant to be seen as unpleasant) in this instance. But the criticisms of it being misogynist and transphobic are worth taking a look at, whether you're thinking of buying it, have already played it, or are just interested in these issues as they affect the medium of video game. 

But, you know. Either way, maybe don't buy it if you don't like prohibitively difficult block puzzles. 

Actually, quick rec: Cryaotic has a marvelous Let's Play of it, watch that instead, if you're interested but either hate block puzzles or don't necessarily want to drop money on it.

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