The first trailer for Atlus’ Catherine, released in August last year, is an interesting blend of a casual relationship in its early idyllic stage and a mindfuck of head-spinning stair-climbing and brutish goats, some bucking disturbingly in a manner not different to that of human sexual intercourse. Title character Catherine, looking almost bored as she sits in a restaurant booth with protagonist Vincent, soon becomes a seductress, her youthful golden curls springing back and forth as she rocks atop his body, murmured promises dripping from full, perfect lips. Her curves are admirable, but it’s clear that this is something that can only be experienced at a cost, with brief glimpses of half-decomposed corpses spliced into the whole, sexily dubious mess, a betrayal of things to come. Set to a mind-mannered hip-hop beat, it’s clear that Vincent, and the player, have no idea what they are supposed to think.
Vincent dreams of dying. Catherine dreams of killing somebody.
I was thrilled. The game had promise. It seemed years since I’d played a game that dealt with sex in a larger capacity than just “dude gets laid; gamer catches glimpse of side-boob”. In fact, I hadn’t played such a game since 2001’s haunting, horrific Silent Hill 2, which explored a side of sex so sinister that it left me retching, physically repulsed. Colette Bennett’s wispy, wordy analysis of Catherine’s trailer established exactly why the game was so feverishly anticipated by myself and others.
Katherine, the character, had not been announced at that point, and she played no part in the trailer. When Atlus finally brought her into the public eye, I felt that an illusion had been shattered. Catherine, the game, had the promise of being a psychosexual mindfuck, but adding a second woman to the mix diluted it to a seeming heterosexual fantasy. Vincent, the handsome single man, was suddenly the target of two stereotypically attractive women; one was a blonde, young honeytrap, the other a sexily stern-looking librarian type. I felt that Atlus would need to play their cards very, very carefully in order to make this work – to make this more than something shameless, bordering on hentai.
My doubt grew further today when, during lunch, I was given a copy of Catherine. It came with an art book which I excitedly flipped through in the middle of the crowded restaurant, before realising that I actually felt a little uncomfortable viewing such a thing in public. Besides a brief list of game characters, it included several pages of… Catherine. Catherine slipping off a dress to reveal a frilly bra. Catherine in a corset, her legs spread wide. Catherine with her back arched, her strapless pink dress straining under her bust. Only a step-by-step analysis of the book’s cover art vaguely validated its being an art book.
But upon flipping over the game’s case, I felt some restoration of hope. A screenshot of a veiny fetus (confusingly captioned “Compete or cooperate with a friend!”) brought that ugly side of sex to the fore again.
So tonight, I’ll be attempting to let go of the preconceptions that I’ve let accumulate for the past year. Tonight, I am hoping that Catherine will prove me terribly wrong. Perhaps Catherine really will be that gruesome coupling of sex and death that I dream of.