When I first played Catherine in 2011, I had never been in a relationship before. I was 18, fresh outta high school and already living on my own. In a few months time, I'd start dating the person I would remain with for seven-something years; I would learn the hardships of living off of student loans, naively once thinking that would be enough, before I opted to start working part-time jobs to get by. But when I played Catherine, I didn't really know about the world yet, nor about being an adult.
Catherine is Atlus' standalone puzzle-adventure game that shares the style and wit of the Persona series the team behind it is known for, but not much else. It was billed as a game for "adults," no longer focusing on teenagers as Persona and the wider Shin Megami Tensei series was largely known for. Today, Catherine finally ventures beyond PlayStation 3 and is out today on PC under the "Catherine Classic" moniker, as a remaster for PlayStation 4 with a brand new love interest called Full Body is just around the corner.
In Catherine, you play as Vincent Brooks, a 30-something doofus who's in a long-term relationship that's lost its romance. He hangs out every night in the same neighborhood bar with his old friends, drinking and talking about life. (If he looks vaguely familiar and you haven't played it before, it might be because it's the same "Man Drinking Alone" that we saw in Persona 3 Portable.) Playing Catherine is split between two worlds too. There's hanging out in the bar, where Vincent can chat with local bar patrons who come and go depending on the time of night, getting drunker and redder all the while. It's also where he can text his girlfriend, and, as things get complicated later on, Vincent's accidental mistress he wakes up beside one fateful morning.
And then there's the other half of Catherine, the part that isn't about texting back Vincent's girlfriends in the ways you think they'll appreciate; the part where you're trapped in a nightmare filled with sheep, and you have to climb blocks in a terrifying tower to escape. The part that will frustrate and delight players the absolute most. The puzzles there are difficult and intimidating, with wrong moves or slow decisions being potentially disastrous. For a team known for building RPGs, going the puzzle-route was a surprising step, but it turned out to be a worthwhile one, even just judging from Catherine's still lively competitive community.
Catherine is a game about fidelity, but it's really about happiness, and pursuing what makes your life feel fulfilling. Catherine doesn't necessarily have a canon path—as the three particular paths split between Katherine (Vincent's girlfriend), Catherine (Vincent's new mistress), and ending up with neither—and they all have "True" versions, as well as slightly toned down versions if you weren't completely successful at maintaining a relationship. When I played it, I was something of a renegade. I pursued Catherine with a C, the blonde-haired mistress, because I simply found her cuter than Katherine. Catherine's route is the most unrealistic and ridiculous one of all. I ended up with the True Cheater ending.
For a game so hung up on narrative and adult decision making, it was the puzzles that I remember the most. I remember my eyes zig-zagging across the tower, plotting potential routes in microseconds. Through trial and a lot of error, I eventually overcame the horrifying giant monster babies and beastly girlfriends that swiped at me along the way. Even on Normal difficulty, I recall Catherine being a challenge. Maybe with some distance, I'll come out the other end and the life-altering choices will be what hits me most. After all, I'm not a dopey 18-year-old anymore.
Since 2011, adult-centered games have become something of the norm in video games, judging from the successes of God of War, Firewatch, Florence, and many other games treating relatable life happenings with some measure of nuance. But in 2011, Catherine was an anomaly; existing in a league of its own with still one of the most clever structures to ever grace a big budget title: half-slice of life, half-puzzle hell. Compared to modern games with similar themes, it takes on a slightly lighter tone at times—sometimes to its detriment—but largely doesn't scoff in the face of issues of fidelity and finding happiness in life as an adult. Much like the Persona series, it shows another side of life that isn't often present in video games, and in Catherine it's front-facing. Even the puzzles serve a narrative purpose with Vincent's greatest fears manifesting.
There's still a chance that, for new players, Catherine won't be as impactful in 2019 as it was eight years ago when it debuted, now that we have a healthier dose of games tackling what it's like to be an adult with responsibilities on the market. Still, Catherine stands as one of the more original outliers from any well-established studio. Even if its themes may not stand as unique today, its split of slice of life gameplay and intense puzzle-racing is still one of the oddest blends of any two genres video games have ever seen, and it's a marvel it works as well as it does. If you've never played Catherine, and are disinterested in its upcoming Full Body remaster, then you can check it out on Steam for $19.99. Love is never over.