So, we’re about two weeks out from one of the more important games to come out this year— not important in that it will revolutionize video games (because it won’t) but because it will represent the first half of a victory for small and unique import games. Atlus’s much wanted, much imported Catherine will hit game store shelves fairly soon, and as such they have thrown a short demo up for players to determine whether or not they want to see more of the titular Catherine. Touted as the first hour of gameplay (which is actually much shorter if you’re adept at puzzle games), the demo doesn’t necessarily give the strongest feeling of what to expect from the whole game, but offers more of a window into what the full experience may have to offer.
I downloaded the demo the second the Playstation Store updated yesterday evening, as I was more interested in being able to understand the game, seeing as I had downloaded the Japanese demo months earlier (if you have a PS3 and don’t have a, ahem, fake Japanese PSN account, you’re missing an amazing part of the PS3 experience). The very first thing I noticed was the new English voice track. Previous Atlus outings have proven that they are quite good at voicing and localizing games without making the finished product grating or annoying. Basically think of them as the video game equivalent of Disney’s handling of Studio Ghibli films— fair blend of celebrities and voice actors, consistent localization, and sincere performances. The same can be said for the Catherine demo. The voices are on par with the better anime dubs of the day, and choosing Atlus alumni to voice major characters like the protagonist Vincent pays off. This could be a voice acting success up there with the likes of the original Metal Gear Solid.
The second thing I noticed right away was that the gameplay in the demo alone was already significantly easier. The game consists of using Vincent to push and pull blocks in order to make a staircase to reach the top of a nightmarish tower. I remember the first time I played the Japanese demo, I felt very stressed and very rushed. The stressful nature of the gameplay made it feel like a nightmare, giving the moments outside of the nightmare a very relaxed and safe feeling. I didn’t get that here in the English demo, and that’s not because I knew what I was doing. I think overall, there’s a much more lenient time limit on the player, making the couple of puzzles feel like a cringe-worthy puzzle section instead of a nerve-wracking mind bender. Hopefully the higher difficulties in the final product will retain the rushing and stressful nature of the gameplay. While a higher difficulty will certainly alienate some players (many are already talking of how the demo has them scratching their heads), the atmosphere of the dream sequences will go a long way in making this a memorable experience.
Finally, we also get a glimpse of some of the real-world gameplay we can expect to see in the game. Basically it means watching a brief animated scene and then transitioning to beautiful in-engine dialogues between characters. It goes without saying that this is a beautiful game in full HD, and only serves to make me lament the disappointing absence of more cel-shaded games in this future of extremely crisp, colorful, and clear graphics. In these real world scenes, you’ll also need to make some choices for Vincent in how he interacts with other people and responds to messages on his cellphone. An element I clearly missed out on in the Japanese demo, you can choose which lines for Vincent to respond with, which range from defiant and confident to passive and submissive. While I definitely had to think about some of the responses to the text you receive in the demo (which has such a long term effect, it goes unnoticed in the preview offered), it’s good to see that they’re making you really think about how you play Vincent instead of purely black and white choices. I think some players will definitely be surprised how their actions will define how the game perceives you.
The demo concludes with another standard block puzzle (which still felt much easier than the one in the Japanese demo), but the game definitely gets you pumped up to see what happens next, especially with the trailer that follows. However, I certainly think this demo won’t exactly tell you whether or not you will enjoy the final product, but whether you have the tolerance for the game, which presents itself more as an experience rather than a titillating thrill ride. Many people are already writing it off as a generic puzzle game or critiquing for being too cutscene heavy. Be warned, this game is definitely made for a somewhat specific audience. General curiosity may get you in the door, but it will take a level of commitment to immersion to fully enjoy the game. I personally love what Atlus presents here, and I can’t wait to get my hands on this game. It feels like the sorta game I’d want to return to at least once a year to see if anything changes for me. If you’re reading this and haven’t downloaded the demo yet, please go ahead and give it a try, see what you think. I recommend keeping an open mind about it and don’t get too critical about it until the whole thing is over. The game will definitely be a hard sale for most people, but if it goes through, it will certainly be worth the investment.