Catherine Demo Impressions

By James E. - Sun Jul 17, 1:23 pm

Last week, the Catherine demo was finally released, and I finally got around to playing it. Known for the Persona series of late, developer-publisher Atlus announced an adventure-puzzle-action game called Catherine as their first PS3 title, and not the genre busting RPG that we were expecting them to drop on the PS3 for their first outing.

The demo is what you’d expect from an Atlus-developed console title these days: upbeat, urban music and slick anime-inspired visuals, a combination that propelled RPGs Persona 3 and 4 to success near the end of the PS2 era. Right at the start of the demo, we’re given a taste of the core gameplay: clambering up the side of a tower, constructed by the sleeping subconscious of Vincent, the protagonist.

These sequences came off like the frantic puzzle platformers of the 90s, games like Intelligent Qube, (if anyone evenremembers that). The pace is fast and the deaths are even faster. That’s right, this game is HARD; even on the easiest difficulty. In the second of two puzzling sequences, I died a total of 11 times. Granted, some of these were due to the relative control scheme or stupid mistakes, but failure is a distinct possibility.

The scene shifts to Vincent, our oft-slack-jawed protagonist, at a lunch with his girlfriend Katherine. The only gameplay element on display here is a familiar one these days – the cutscene. Catherine’s cutscenes are non-interactive from what I can see and usually involves you watching a conversation in the game engine, or a wonderfully animated cutscene. Yet more talking with Vincent’s friends at the aptly named ‘Stray Sheep’ bar, and the game shows off another gameplay feature: the text message system.

Instead of the archetypical RPG dialog tree (prevalent in Persona 3 and 4′s questionable social link grinding metagame) this all takes place within Vincent’s cell phone, where the player can respond to text messages from the game’s characters, improving or souring Vincent’s mood for some reason that isn’t made clear in the demo.

What’s interesting is the execution of this idea; when replying, you tap the confirm button to enter a line of dialog. If you decide that’s not how you wanted to come across, hit cancel, and confirm again to enter a different line of text. For example, Katherine sends Vincent a text message asking if he’s at the bar. You can either come across as sheepish, defensive, or lie outright, changing the response you get back entirely. One more puzzle sequence, this time being chased by a giant pair of hands with a fork, and the demo was over.

All in all, I’m cautiously optimistic about Catherine, odd gameplay aside. I’ll be taking a closer look at it in a little over a week when it hits.

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