Where does the story of Catherine actually take place? There are clues that the setting is supposed to be American: there’s the Western character names, the pizza, the paunchy police officer (whose uniform looks like Chicago’s), and towards the end of the game we see our hero Vincent wandering around outside on city streets lined with picture-perfect brownstones. Yet many of the other elements, such as the design of Vincent’s cel phone or the interior of his studio apartment, feel quintessentially Japanese. So perhaps it would be most accurate to say that Catherine is set inside a hazy mental space somewhere in between Japan and the United States.
You of course come to know that unusual territory if you sometimes play games created in Japan but set here. It’s the place where one of your average, everyday guys hanging out at the local dive bar is named Orlando. Where the bar’s special of the day is “iron chicken”. Where the bar’s server wears a sexy diner waitress costume in McDonald’s colors, complete with artificially red hair. Where, in stark contrast to the dark paneled wood of the walls and floors, the bar stools themselves are mod 60s-looking orange plastic egg-shaped… things.
It’s not just the Stray Sheep, either– the other eating establishments feature the same funny slant. Love-themed café Chrono Rabbit, with its pink heart-shaped pillows, is difficult to imagine as the kind of place that would, one, remain a going concern in this country for very long, and two, be a regular hangout for the kinds of characters that Vincent and Katherine are. Kappa Heaven, the dingy-looking conveyor belt sushi restaurant, apparently serves Corona, too.
I think Catherine is ultimately more entertaining for the weird mishmash world in which the events of its story unfold. The plot itself, while not exactly logical or hole-free to begin with, would make even less sense if its developers had made the evocation of a specific time and place one of its major goals. Adding the expectation of idiomatic realism would just raise more questions. Would you really expect to find an auto mechanic and a corporate heir drinking in the same establishment? How is Vincent allowed to smoke inside of a restaurant in a major American city, anyway? Why is that uniformed police officer having a beer?
At the same time, the game’s oversimplified take on its own characters is reflected by the nowheresville spaces that they occupy. Others have already characterized Catherine’s mitten-handed treatment of the serious questions it comes close to raising. If none of the main characters seems particularly well-developed, it might be partially because they don’t really seem to live anywhere, or come from anywhere. To deal with issues like marriage and infidelity in a serious way, you must to be able view them in their cultural context. Devoid of that, the surface-level tension– nervous gulps, slapstick sweatdrops– is all that’s left.