In my individual research project, I focus on playing the Video Game “Catherine” which was released in Japan in 2011. The JRPG puzzle game “Catherine” is unlike other JRPGs in the way there is no “battle system” or “levelling up”, there are just constant decisions and crazy puzzles. So what’s the difference between WRPGs and JRPGs and why is Catherine so different from both?
Western RPGs often follow singular character development and vastly open worlds, putting less focus on main story lines and having plenty of side quests and stories that players can lose themselves in. This focus gives the players a large amount of freedom and implores the player to explore throughout the video game’s own world. JRPGs tend to have more epic storylines and usually don’t allow the player to create their own character but instead customise the abilities and strengths as opposed to super custom non-linear stories often found in WRPGS. The action scenes within WRPGs and JRPGs are usually the standout points for each of the genre’s, as WRPGs normally follow a more action styled state of play which involves non turn based attacks whereas JRPGs are mostly turn based. I have played WRPGs such as Fallout, Elder Scrolls and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. as well as JRPGs such as Final Fantasy, Star Ocean, Blue Dragon Plus.
Although I prefer the story line and graphics from JRPGs I much prefer the action of games similar to the Elder Scrolls which is why I wanted to play something different. This is when I came across Catherine, although the game doesn’t encompass either of the combat systems found in traditional WRPGs and JRPGs it was a game that stood out to me and even still carries the developing storyline of a good JRPG.
So where can I even begin talking about this game when I’m still getting over how raunchy the cover art is and how awkward it felt buying it over the counter.
The game cover in an uncanny way stays true to the theme of the game but still looks saucy enough to look like one of those Japanese Dating Simulators. Although the game does put dating and relationships into perspective the game takes a giant step away from the simulation and throws it into a horrific nightmare filled with Climbing and Suspense.
I’ve played the game twice now and experienced two different endings which I will bring up later but first I will talk about what the game is about. You play as a man named Vincent who has been dating a woman named Katherine which he has known since high school whilst being seduced by another girl… Named Catherine… Most of the interactions take place within a bar, where Vincent drinks and hangs out with his best friends, otherwise the game takes place in a nightmare world where you are forced to climb to survival. There are plenty of cut scenes outside of the bar and nightmare world that take place within Vincent’s apartment with Catherine or around Vincent having lunch and spending time with Katherine. Time spent in the bar is used on interacting with Vincent’s friends, the bar tender and waitress as well as the rest of the minor characters, along with drinking which leads to different conversations and a speed boost within the nightmare puzzles, playing the arcade which gives you hints and tips with the puzzles and how to beat them and also sending and receiving texts from both Katherine and Catherine.
As the story goes on you begin to learn that the nightmares that Vincent has been having are the same nightmares that the people around the Bar that you interact with are having. It makes for an interesting plot development when you find out that the people that are dying within the game are the same people that have been having the nightmares. It is heavily implied by the first puzzle that you must ‘climb to survive’, which gets you thinking about the people that are dying within the game. At the beginning of the climbing you race and compete against these ‘sheep’ unknowingly who or why they’re within the nightmare with you. All that you know is they’re conscious of being in the nightmare with you. The more you race and the more you talk to the sheep you begin to realise that they are the people you know from the bar and people that are dying in reality outside of the nightmare.
What else I found interesting was all the drinking involved in the game. Every night you’re at the bar you can choose to drink which is a bad influence on your relationship with Katherine but gives you a speed boost of climbing within the nightmare.
And those speed boosts definitely come in handy, especially when you’re running away from one of the bosses which just happens to be a giant foetus with machine gun and chainsaw limbs (yes you read that correctly).
All in all, I found this game to be incredibly interesting and terrifying at the same time, but I was constantly drawn by the relationships of the characters not only between Vincent, Catherine and Katherine but also between characters like Erica and Toby where Erica turns out to be a transgender so begins to suffer the nightmares as she decided not to tell Toby they couldn’t have children which he strongly desires.
I’d like to found out more about the reception this game received globally and how its idea’s even started!