With all the attention Catherine had gotten when it first released, I found myself really wanting to play it. I heard several people talking about how good it was. I was pretty excited. I knew a game by Atlus would let me down in some ways but I didn’t know I’d find all of these problems.
The game’s two love interests, Katherine and Catherine, as characters, really lack any sort of depth. This is possibly due, in part, to the fact that the characters aren’t really given many scenes or much variety in the scenes they are in.
Katherine and Catherine come off as archetypes. There is the nagging girlfriend (K). Then there is a flirty/crazy one (C). Because those seem to be C’s two modes, she’s flirty and naked or she’s crazy and threatening Vincent. These personality traits even carry over to their text messages—there is the sound of K sighing when Vincent reads her text messages while C’s texts are all giggly.
That’s all there is to these characters. As my roommate said, they are two dimensional characters.
To add to their poor portrayal, Vincent always seems to be written as the victim being overwhelmed by these two forces. The women, then, are shown as antagonists, to the point where they are literally a few of the bosses.
Then in most endings, he is never punished for all of his poor choices. Everyone decides to ignore the fact that he actively lied to his girlfriend, and actually did cheat because the succubus was, in fact, a real person, even if they couldn’t see her.
Then there’s Erica, the most disappointingly handled character in the game.
Even from her first interaction with the main cast you can see questionable choices. Similar in theme to Persona 3′s trans woman, Erica’s introduction as an important character is her flirting with the boys and referencing kink. In the scene, Toby is complaining about never getting girls, saying that he wants an older woman and mentions adult fun. Right on cue, Erica shows up saying, “Hmmm? So, did I hear someone call for me?” followed shortly by, “I’ve got a nice pair of stiletto heels I know how to use.” Because, of course, a trans woman in an Atlus game will immediately flirt with the inexperienced, eager, young man.
Throughout the game every major male character says things that are transphobic. First, when Toby starts to develop a crush on Erica, everyone starts to tell him he can’t date her. Before he asks her out, everyone at the table wonders aloud whether they should “tell” Toby. This, of course, hints at the fact that Erica is trans, and that the characters are thinking about outing her.
In another scene, Toby declares, “Got rid of my V-Card, Boom!” and Orlando looks shocked and concernedly asks him, “with who?” Then Orlando looks clearly bothered by learning that Toby had slept with Erica.
Immediately after that, Toby says there was “something weird about it,” after which Orlando quickly and nervously changes the subject.
Later in the game it’s discovered that Erica started having nightmares, too. Toby says, “I thought only men had that dream… So maybe gender doesn’t matter, huh?” to which Orlando replies, “W-Well, I’m not so sure…” suggesting that Erica isn’t a woman.
Near it’s end, the game explicitly states that only men are the ones to have the nightmares with such lines as, “I have these hesitant gentleman climb that…” and other similar lines, but Erica still had the dreams, even though she is a woman, which tells the player that the writers thought of Erica as a man and therefore think of all trans women as men.
As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, in one of the game’s endings it is revealed that Erica is trans in possibly the worst way. During the game’s ending, Toby is upset because he’s never “gonna win big”, to which Erica teasingly hugs him, saying they’ll always have each other. Then Toby complains that “The other guys knew [Erica] as ‘Eric’ back in school” and that he wants his “damned V-Card back…!” To this, Erica just smiles, winks and says a wordy version of “Nope.” Then the cut-scene shows another character video-taping the interaction and enjoying Toby’s misery.
This scene continues the transphobia, because Toby seems really concerned that “The other guys knew,” showing that he feels ashamed/embarrassed by having slept with a trans woman. By recording and enjoying his misery, the other character is confirming that, yes, sleeping with a trans woman is something to be ashamed of.
Furthermore, Erica’s taunting and gleeful manner, coupled with her eagerness to flirt with Toby at her first opportunity, paints the horrible cliché of trans women as deceivers trying to lure men into bed. And with that, Erica is one of the worst portrayed trans characters there is.
So, despite all the flaws in the female characters, how is the game? Well, you spend most of the game playing uninteresting puzzles, in which you have to push around blocks in order to climb a big tower of blocks, most of which aren’t hard by themselves, but then you get to frustratingly cheap boss levels where the boss is set too close behind you and you get killed a few too many times. To make this worse, the dying screen is fairly long and annoying to watch every time and some of the boss’s make noises that are abrasive to listen to. I actually had to mute the game on two portions because the noises coming from the boss were much too irritating.
The other portions of actual game-play include walking around a bar, talking to people, answering text messages and drinking. This part could almost be called fun if it weren’t for the fact that, as you heard before, the characters are badly written. You won’t have to look too hard to find a sour NPC sitting in the bar, uttering something misogynistic. Furthermore, the text message choices were not very good. Each time I found myself thinking, “OK, which is the least bad of these choices?” Despite that, this actually was the best part in the game. A game that was so bad, I actually looked forward to these segments, if for no other reason than that I could see more of Erica, who, despite her poor portrayal, is still my favorite character in this game. That anticipation, however, started to wane as the game continually made transphobic comments.
But surely a game with so much hype has a great story. Nope. Unfortunately I found that the story is at best silly and at worst really kinda stupid. Vincent, for one thing, makes unbelievably poor choices and he’s a pretty terrible person. It makes me feel like all I could do was try to salvage what I could of his pathetic existence so he could continue to be a bad person. To make this task worse than it had to be, none of my choices felt like they impacted anything major in the game’s events, and all the choices I made weren’t actual interactions between characters. I had to answer some of the worst questions they could have possibly thought up like “Are all men stupid?” After playing this game for a few hours, I found myself picking “yes”, because if these male characters I encountered represent men, then yeah, they are.
As I told my friend, the story shouldn’t have lasted more than 20 minutes: Vincent would accidentally cheat, I should have been able to make him break it off with the crazy succubus girl and confess to his loving girlfriend, Katherine, and then she’d break up with him and he’d die alone. But the game didn’t give me any satisfying choices; instead, I had to choose who Vincent ended up with by answering questions that seemed random, and sometimes unclear as to which way they’d cause the in-game morality meter to sway.
I don’t even want to bring up the sociological inaccuracy that is the premise of the main plot twist, if for no other reason to prevent me from spoiling the horribly stupid surprise that you will encounter if you are unlucky enough to decide to play this game.
Then at the very end, in the most condescending way, Catherine (the game not the girl) explains all the themes and metaphors in the game through a chesty girl with an afro.