Catherine – Midterm Evaluation
Catherine is, in many ways, like a JRPG. Anime-style art direction, squeaky-voiced women with sculpted bosoms, and a main character who continually bemoans problems that most of the target audience would flay their own mothers to have.
This is no surprise given Atlus’s long and proud tradition of publishing games exclusive to a Japanese audience (portables notwithstanding). Yes, some of their titles have been published (and subsequently banned) in other regions, but it’s clear that they largely cater to the Japanese gaming audience in their level of difficulty, themes, and aesthetic.
Catherine incorporates the near-ubiquitous binary morality system seen in many of this generation’s console games. However, this is the first time I’ve ever found myself questioning the honesty of the system. Unlike the ham-fisted morality systems of today’s big WRPGs (wherein the player must choose between adopting an orphaned litter of puppies or turning them into an adorable source of biofuel for his mechanical heart), Catherine makes the player choose how best to counsel NPCs through various relationship and emotional issues. Just as in real life, the “correct” answer is not as plain as the birdshit on the nose on your face.
For example, last night I found myself in the role of therapist for a sheep with regal hair. Said sheep divulged how his father used to abuse and neglect him. When given the choice between saying “It’s your Dad’s fault!” and “It’s in the past”, I went with the latter. The game promptly shifted my morality dial slightly toward the red angel, indicating that my response was, in fact, reprehensible and I should feel badly about it.
Other morally ambiguous questions and actions have surfaced, each with a predefined “right” and “wrong” outcome. Now, this could be just some bad writing, but I’m starting to wonder if this game will turn the morality system on its ear at some point. The first half of the game gives the clear impression that choosing for long-time girlfriend Katherine instead of cutesy fling Catherine is the “right” thing to do. However, events develop that cast Katherine in a dubious light, making the previous “good” decisions uncertain. I would love to see a game subvert the now-standard binary morality system by having good choices lead to a bad ending, and I’m hoping Catherine does exactly that.