Feature: Dreaming of Catherine

I’m in a monogamous relationship, but marriage just isn’t high on my priority list. That doesn’t mean I’m not in love, and it certainly doesn’t mean I’m some kind of non-committal flake looking for a good time. What it does mean is that I do not think that a legal union makes sense at this stage in my life. The two of us are in our early twenties, just beginning to live our lives the way we want. I’m not even able to completely understand myself, let alone him. And I staunchly believe that marriage is not a magic cure-all. I’m not going to love my boyfriend any more than I currently do simply because a little piece of paper has our names on it. “Holy” matrimony? Religion plays virtually no role in my grand scheme, and neither does the government or the “benefits” of marriage. But that’s just me. Whether right or not, I don’t think I need a state-sanctioned symbol of the bond I share with the man I love.

Love does not mean becoming one with another and losing yourself in the process. It means genuinely caring for that special person, sharing with them, and becoming intimately acquainted with a side of them the rest of the world may never see. Marriage, to me, should never have evolved into a status symbol or bargaining chip, nor should it be considered “proof” that a relationship is real. I’m happy on my own terms, doing what I want, and enjoying the time I spend with my boyfriend. Quite frankly, I’d appreciate it if people stuck their noses into more pressing matters other than my life, my decisions, and my relationship.

That’s why Catherine intrigues me.

From a woman’s standpoint, Catherine’s almost a reflection of my anxiety toward the M-word and society’s views on commitment. From a gamer’s standpoint, it’s an adventure I’ve been following for months, a game that I dreamed of importing for the longest time. Atlus’s Catherine looks to be a colorful breath of fresh air to liberate me from earth-toned first-person shooters and tired platformers. It represents what I perpetually find myself seeking: something that stands apart from a sea of cookie-cutter cash-ins. So when the demo became publicly available, I knew I had to dive right in to get a taste of what would be in store for me upon the much-anticipated English release.

This is a story that was predictably handed off to a male protagonist (imagine a female lead faced with the same situation — that’d be amazing): a thirty-something named Vincent, who’s dating the lovely Katherine-with-a-K. She’s gorgeous, career-driven, and may be carrying Vincent’s child. Although the demo’s introduction to the longtime couple is brief, it very clearly communicates two things. One: Katherine, influenced by friends and family, is fixed on getting a blatantly anxious Vincent to settle down. Two: Vincent appears unable to comprehend why Katherine continues to push marriage on him. The game sets Vincent up as an unreliable, uncaring buffoon for rebuffing Katherine’s earnest advances, making me feel guilty for honestly expressing the same sentiments in real life: I’m happy the way things are, and that’s not just a cop-out. This all takes place before the game’s namesake, Catherine-with-a-C, is introduced — a sexy little nymph with a penchant for dirty pictures and naughty interludes.

Meanwhile, Vincent’s friends are turning up dead. As if that weren’t bad enough, he’s also been having some pretty insane nightmares. Each dream is filled with bizarre hallucinations: sheep men, a monstrous version of someone who appears to be Katherine, and blocks. Plenty of blocks. Even though you may have been reeled in with Catherine’s risqué anime art and press materials, the meat of the game, at least as showcased in the demo, is decidedly smart and fast-paced. There’s no Persona or MegaTen mechanics here — instead of deep RPG narratives or dungeon-raiding adventures, Catherine adopts the more novel approach of sliding block puzzles. With an ever-heightening sense of urgency, you must guide Vincent through multiple tiers of floating blocks riddled with obstacles, special items, and allegorical visuals. As Vincent ascends, you’re constantly required to rearrange said blocks as quickly as your mind can process their position.

The laws of gravity and physics don’t always apply. As long as any edge of a block is connected to another, it won’t fall into the abyss. Vincent can also push and pull most of these large stones like they’re big pillows. The basics are extremely simple to learn, but challenging (and satisfying) to master. There’s a foreboding sense of dread as you take in each stage for the first time — being such an unfamiliar experience for today’s gamer, you can’t simply rely on tried-and-true tactics like grinding for experience or honing your uncanny accuracy. It’s a puzzler for adults — and for those looking for a killer narrative. With only two stages under my belt, I’m already hooked.

The semi-interactive anime that communicates the narrative is refreshing, almost palate-cleansing. One of my favorite moments of the demo offered a sneak peek into how the player’s decisions — whether to stay faithful to Katherine, or to cheat with Catherine — would come into play. Players “write” text messages by cycling through predetermined sentences and creating a cohesive thought. If done correctly, I can see this being an effective means of controlling the story while still playing to the gamer’s individuality. I sifted through the demo’s boilerplate responses and was able to express my empathy for Katherine’s frustration while still remaining firm in my unwillingness to marry so soon. I could envision myself texting many of the same sentiments. I do so hope this trend continues even after Catherine enters the picture, so that I can feel like less of a voyeur and more like an active participant in Vincent’s destiny.

The freedom to run away from a lover conditioned to want the “traditional” family and instead take solace in a more youthful, carefree, and sexual being is enticing, reinforcing the idea that men often feel obligated to marry longtime companions despite their own desires. While there are obviously plenty of men who do desire the family mentality, it’s refreshing to see a game explore the issue and let players choose rather than force infidelity and “fun” above an everyday woman who wants to settle down. I can’t say I’m delighted that it must be explored from a male perspective, but I can appreciate both extremes of the C(K)atherines’ personalities. I’m hoping to see the best sides of both women in the full game, as the video preview at the demo’s conclusion displays plenty of slut-shaming out of Katherine and insensitive allegations on Catherine’s end, treating the more mature woman as someone who is “confusing” Vincent, an adult perfectly capable of working out what he truly wants from life. I’m interested to see how the game handles both womens’ arguments and feelings, rather than championing one lifestyle over the other. There’s a chance for maturity here; I don’t want to see Catherine end up as another adventure parading a sexy tart around as the “enemy”.

It all relates to what I said before: I’m not ready for marriage. Who knows if I ever will be? That doesn’t make me right, wrong, insensitive, or stupid. I need to make the right decision for me, and so does Vincent. I just hope Catherine can properly explore these issues without resorting to tired sexist tropes and pointless meandering

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