Before I dive into the Japanese videogaming industry, allow me first to provide you with some facts about Japan itself. Tokyo is home to the largest fish market in the world, handling 2000 tonnes of marine product per day. For that matter, Tokyo also has a vending machine on every street corner with which customers can choose from a selection of food, condoms, and beer. In case you thought that beer being so easily available was bad for your health, the population of Japan have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, with the average Japanese person biting the dust at the ripe age of 82. You may wonder why all of this is relevant, but it’s this unique and lovable culture that Eastern developers pour into their videogames.[drop]An exemplary example of this devotion and dedication comes in the form of recently released Catherine, where you play as Vincent, a man who falls for a mysterious blonde (Catherine) whilst contemplating marriage to his long-term girlfriend (Katherine). As he foolishly attempts to balance two relationships, Vincent begins to have nightmares with which he finds himself traversing collapsing towers whilst attempting to escape from a selection of horrifically grotesque creatures. It soon becomes clear that if Vincent dies in the dream he dies in reality, and will lose both his girlfriend and his newly found seductress.
It’s an interesting and unique plot for what is essentially a story driven game, but it’s the little details that stamp “straight from Japan” on the cover. The other men that appear in Vincent’s dream look uncannily like sheep, and between ventures into his conscious Vincent is set free to explore the Stray Sheep Bar, where he can send text messages, talk to customers, and select playlists from the jukebox. It’s a fun concept that is based around an immensely sinister plot, which developers Atlus have reinforced by pitching every cut-scene in an exclusive art style that serves to only add to the deepening sense of doom as the game progresses into its later stages.
Although Catherine can be imported (if you are proficient in Japanese) it is not currently scheduled for a release over here and it’s plain to see why. It’s certainly a respectable game (receiving a score of 80 from PSM3) but the human race has a natural aversion to anything that breaks the trend, and unfortunately for Atlus, Catherine not only breaks that trend, but smashes it into oblivion. It will no doubt sell well in Japan (and possibly in North America in the summer) but in a Britain that is saturated with tedious first person shooters and an obsession for ranking up, it is likely that a Catherine release over here would see it gradually lost on the shelves amidst the debatably more popular and conventional titles.
It’s a sad state of affairs when finance takes control over innovation, but ultimately, consumers vote with their wallets and if a developer doesn’t make a large enough profit to make a venture worthwhile, they are inevitably going to stick to the tried and tested formulas which we have all become somewhat tired of.
We should welcome innovation, especially from across the shores. It allows us to access cultural differences through the medium of videogame, and as such, learn from our fellow humans about how life could be lived. A quintessential Japanese videogame such as Catherine would not only serve as a title on the shelves, but also as a bridge between two drastically varying countries. That’s the opportunity that no one should be able to pass up, but first we have to support innovation with our purchase, because that’s the only way to show foreign developers such as Atlus that we are completely open to new, and potentially amazing, ideas.