New Year’s evil: the eponymous Catherine

LOVE IS OVER

On my first playthrough of Catherine, I didn’t like Catherine at all. She is a powder keg, flipping from airhead to knife-wielding maniac in the blink of an eye. She’s every TV/film trope of the creepy stalker/scorned mistress turned up to deafening levels. Also, I could never get my hair to do that, so of course my instincts are to hate her.

On my second playthrough, I felt differently. I never liked Katherine much at all, and nothing about this changed on revisiting the game a few months down the line with a particular focus on the puzzles. However, I grew to sympathize with Catherine, even though as the story unfolds she is clearly meant to be a traditionally “evil” character.

She is a relatively straightforward character with clear motives, and she is the way she is because of her origins, i.e. through not much fault of her own. It seems unfair to criticize her, the more you think about her. Katherine, however, is a flawed human, which is why it’s so easy to keep resenting her despite being a “good” character.

For what it’s worth, my least favorite character in the entire game is Vincent. It’s a testament to how addicting the puzzles are that I somehow managed to return to the game, in spite of having major issues with all three core characters.

An overview of the game

The nuts and bolts of Catherine, for the uninitiated, are that 32-year-old manchild game designer, Vincent Brooks, is working a ridiculous number of hours while turning a blind eye to his girlfriend Katherine’s longing for more commitment. She’s dropping hints all over the place that she wants a ring on her finger and that neither of them is getting any younger.

While Vincent becomes increasingly irritated by this, he meets a ditzy, flirtatious blonde bombshell, Catherine. After getting completely plastered, Vincent ends up spending the night with her. What follows may seem like a typical tale of a two-timer working out whether to dump his long-time partner or end an empty fling, but there are supernatural forces at work, which are simultaneously punishing Vincent and trying to lure him further towards a seedy lifestyle.

The game plays out as a mixture of puzzle game and “social linking,” much like the later Persona games are a mixture of dungeon-crawling and social interaction. The puzzle part is actually bags of fun, and there are even competitive tournaments centred around it; for those who really have no idea about the basic format of Catherine, this involves pushing the blocks which make up the stage around in order to climb to the top and reach an exit, whether it be through creating staircases or triggering whole rows of blocks to come crashing down.

Vincent is in a dream state during these sequences and if he falls/is gobbled up by some spooky butt monster (no, really), then he dies in real life. Sort of like Inception. But not jumping into other people’s dreams. And with no espionage. And with butt monsters.

Vincent is playable as an awake character when he’s hanging out in his favorite bar, the Stray Sheep. You can wander around, drown your sorrows (and find out cool facts about alcoholic beverages such as sake and whisky/whiskey in the process), ruin other people’s relationships or prod lonesome drinkers into giving more information about their own troubles, play an arcade game which is a copy of the dream sequences but with a fixed number of permitted moves, and send texts to Catherine/Katherine/both of them to perk up or put a downer on the respective relationships.

The nature of the texts you send (which function through being able to select a few different options for each sentence) can effect whether you’re swinging towards a life with Katherine, Catherine, or neither. You can even receive needy payphone calls from Catherine and look at smutty pictures of her while you’re on the john; try to resist the urge to bathe in Clorox after playing this game.

Getting Vincent drunk makes him climb faster in the dream puzzle world, which is awesome because his drunken waddle is hilarious.

Katherine versus Catherine

The game pits Katherine and Catherine firmly against one another as Vincent’s romantic partners, though thankfully it gives us an option to go all Jason Derulo on these insufferable fusspots and become a spaceman instead. The two women in his life are complete opposites, though both have unlikable traits.

Katherine is a respectable woman that Vincent started a relationship with after comforting her at a high school reunion (she had just gone through a break-up). She has a steady job at a clothing company and is at the point in her life when she is ready to settle down.

Depending on your viewpoint, she needles Vincent into doing what she thinks couples their age “should” be doing, rather than pursuing a mutual conversation on the progression of their relationship, or she simply has reasonable expectations of where the relationship should be heading if it isn’t going to reach a dead end.

The problem with Katherine is that she is human, and even if you think she has legitimate concerns, she does come across as an unsympathetic nag at points in the game. One view could be that Katherine is using Vincent to tick off her inflexible life goals, rather than factoring him into decision-making. On the other hand, Vincent is so inept at making decisions about anything that it’s no wonder she might have gradually frozen him out throughout the course of the relationship.

Ultimately, while Katherine gets on my nerves, it is because she is a human being with natural or quasi-natural insecurities about a less-than-perfect relationship. Whether she reacts appropriately to those worries is another matter entirely, and is why I’m unconvinced that the Katherine endings are really the “good” endings.

You might think the Katherine/Catherine choice is the classic tsundere/yandere choice, but there is a smidgen of yandere in Katherine McBride.

Catherine is depicted as a very youthful and exuberant character, with no responsibilities tying her down (except for a “dentist appointment”) and little interest in attachment – at least at the beginning. She becomes much clingier, though I never felt as though Vincent was seriously in danger – rather than just being a giant wimp about ending the affair – until the “big reveal” about what Catherine actually is.

Her manic and driven nature become obvious when she’s revealed to be a succubus; not only that, but she is a succubus that has been targeting multiple men in the area, leading to the deaths of several and always taking a physical form which would be most appealing to each weak-willed sucker.

It might seem from this description as though it’s natural to hate Catherine. But Catherine is very straightforward about what she wants, and while both Catherine and Katherine end up playing tug-of-war with Vincent in a toe-curling clash at his apartment, Catherine is so delusional about getting what she wants that you have to admire her at least a little bit. She acts as though Katherine is the one getting in the way of her budding relationship with Vincent, rather than the other way round. She flips out violently and spectacularly.

Besides this incident, she pops up in Vincent’s apartment with very little warning, if any, won’t accept his attempts to terminate the relationship (even beating him to a bloody pulp in the Stray Sheep’s bathroom after he unequivocally but gently rejects her) and is desperate to keep her claws in Vincent at all costs, including suggesting an open relationship out of nowhere. She is genuinely hard to break up with and is quite the literal nightmare affair.

Crikey.

In a human, this behavior would be deplorable, but Catherine knows no better. It’s what she exists to do – manipulate and destroy men. Asking her to let Vincent simply be happy with someone else and to leave him alone is like asking a cat to bark.

I suppose my reasoning is weakened by the fact you can marry Catherine in one of the endings, so it seems like she is a being capable of change, albeit while allowing Vincent to have a harem of harpies in his lair. However, she is fundamentally a creature invented to seduce, use and (sometimes) kill. She does all this, and she does it in an incredibly entertaining fashion.

The real New Year’s evil?

So, yes, Catherine is evil, but I have come to embrace her nonetheless. She is simply following her programming and lays bare Vincent’s weaknesses in the process. I suppose that gets to the core of why I grew to like Catherine – the more I play Catherine, the more I dislike Vincent.

The best endings to Catherine for me are the ones where he walks away a single man, because Vincent’s problems are not really with women, at least not at their epicenter. Vincent’s problems are that he is directionless. It’s a true saying that you cannot be happy in any relationship, even a casual one if you don’t love yourself, and the beginning of the game depicts a Vincent who is very much wandering through life without that love.

He’s sacrificing his goals for fancy goods like the latest mobile, not thinking in terms of what will make him truly happy (his space travel dreams). The henpecking from Katherine and the guilt-laden tryst with Catherine are further manifestations of his internal crisis; he doesn’t want marriage and kids because it will cut short his unexplored dreams, and he doesn’t want constant harassment from a maniac getting in his way, either.

To be honest, though, I don’t think Vincent as a single man is a canon ending because the Vincent I came to know in the game would not have the balls to go it alone.

I have to admit that Vincent and Katherine scrub up well for their wedding photos – though the gang could have made a bit more effort with their outfits! Come on!

The game doesn’t consist exclusively of detestable or evil characters; I liked Vincent’s band of sleazy/naive/jaded (delete as appropriate) friends as well. Erica was refreshing in the scenes of her scolding the main characters, though Atlus is on top form with its questionable depiction of LGBT characters once more. Ultimately, the game’s storyline is made whole by the liveliness of its giggling antagonist: Catherine.

Charlotte Cutts
Likes games, loves speedrunning. Ships herself with the PlayStation Vita.