Catherine is a game that does many things, many of them well. It is a fantastic puzzle game, with block-pulling action that has even found it space at EVO and other competitive events. It definitely handles horror well, since there’s the idea that Vincent could die in his dreams. The visual novel elements are there, since we’re watching an emotional tale of a man caught between two women. But there’s one area in which it may or may not be at its best. While this is a horror/puzzle/adventure game, it is also very much about sex. With Catherine: Full Body announced for the PlayStation 4 and Vita, now’s a good time to go over how it handles the topics of relationships, sex, and gender.
I mean, even though it is one of those games where you have to list multiple categories for genre, you can very easily identify Catherine as a game about cheating. Vincent, our protagonist, has been with his girlfriend Katherine for five years. She wants to get married, but he’s not sure. He meets Catherine at their local bar and has sex with her. The rest of the game covers his indecision at being caught between two different kinds of women and lifestyles, by which I mean something lawful and serious as opposed to something chaotic and with no commitments.
Vincent ends up experiencing the horrific nightmares each night following this encounter, requiring him to pull blocks to avoid death. Think of it as a sort of divine punishment for his actions until he decides to make a permanent choice. While this is a goofy way to handle guilt and karma, it makes sense. We get to see a tangible expression of how Vincent’s actions are haunting him, as they are ruining his actual life and mental health. It’s a mature way of looking at the action, and there is no easy out or brushing aside of his decision to cheat.
This means Catherine offers multiple looks at the consequences of sex. I’m going to avoid spoilers, since some people might end up getting into Catherine: Full Body and want to go in unaware. However, Catherine is chaotic and crazy. Once Vincent gets involved with her, she jerks him around and upsets his life. Also, Katherine tells Vincent at one point that she is pregnant. Which of course is something that can happen when people have sex, even if people use protection.
But the serious look at consequences of love and sex isn’t limited to Vincent and the two heroines. Orlando, one of Vincent’s friends, was married and had serious problems with his ex-wife that led to divorce. And Johnny, another one of Vincent’s friends, is in love with Katherine. Not to mention Toby, the youngest member of the group, is still very inexperienced and chasing after older women.
The way in which endings are managed is interesting too. While there is some sensationalism, especially since they would tell you how other people voted in regards to issues, it gives you opportunities to get true, good, and bad endings with Catherine or Katherine and true or good solo endings. Rather than each answer being good or bad during these stage segments, they are tied to lawful or chaotic answers. Then, when you get to stages 9-2, 9-3, and 9-4, the answers you select there and the Karma Meter based on previous stages’ responses trigger different results. In this way, the virtual relationship is tied to how lawful or chaotic you were when speaking about sexual matters and personal relationships in the game. It is a gimmick, but one that does have some substance to it.
However, Atlus and Catherine fail Erica, one of the heroines in the game. Erica is a transgender woman. However, she is treated as a joke in the game. Vincent repeatedly disrespects her identity by using the wrong pronouns to refer to her and behaving as though she is not a real woman. Even if this is being done to set up Vincent as a jerk, one could even say the game itself disrespects her. It often treats her identity as a gimmick or some sort of joke, when this is a serious issue and Erica is a woman who deserves to be respected and treated as one. Not a punchline for Toby experiencing a relationship and sexual milestone.
So really, Catherine is hit or miss when it comes to dealing with relationships, sex, and even gender. It does manage to broach serious subject matter, like cheating, in a rather sensible and serious way, not treating it as some sort of joke. It shows the repercussions of engaging in sex and also handles it mostly well. Decisions people make lead to actual, sensible endings, even. However, the game does a terrible job of dealing with LGBT issues. It could have done a much better job of respecting her and her identity. Still, I suppose it is progress for a game to handle such topics in a reasonable way.