Review: Catherine: Full Body (PlayStation 4)

Reviewed by Stephen Peddigrew, posted Sep 22, 2019, last updated Sep 23, 2019
I tried to structure the review as a comparison of the original and the new content in Full Body as I thought the way they contrasted was interesting. I also hoped this would give fans of the original better tools to decide if it was worth paying full price for the remake while also giving a comprehensive overview to new players. I decided to fully embrace the political side of the game even though people hate it because it would be disingenuous to talk about a game like Catherine without discussing its politics.
Sep 22, 2019
  • Release Date (NA): September 3, 2019
  • Release Date (EU): September 3, 2019
  • Release Date (JP): February 14, 2019
  • Publisher: Atlus
  • Developer: Atlus
  • Genres: Horror, Puzzle Platformer
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
A Japanese video game about sex and gender politics in 2019? What could go wrong?
Stephen Peddigrew
When Catherine came out in 2011, it felt like an exciting new moment in gaming to me. Here was a game that was mature without being edgy, that tackled relatable subjects in a grounded world (despite its fantasy elements), and took its themes seriously. There were, of course, games that did this before Catherine, but 15 year-old me didn’t know that, and certainly most other games getting mainstream attention weren't doing the things Catherine was doing. In the eight years since, however, we’ve had the rise of walking simulators and the proliferation of visual novels to propel storytelling in video games to new heights, robbing Catherine of some of its uniqueness. The world's view on sex and gender have also evolved in the eight long years since the original's release, positioning Catherine: Full Body to course-correct and hopefully let it stand the test of time.

Catherine stars Vincent Brooks, a man torn between two women; his long-time girlfriend Katherine, who’s pressuring him into making a commitment, and Catherine, a free-spirited and flirtatious woman Vincent ends up spending the night with. Full Body also adds in Vincent's new next-door neighbour Rin (full name Qatherine), a mysterious amnesiac who Vincent slowly develops feelings for. At the same time, the news is filled with reports of men being found dead in their beds, with them rumoured to have all been adulterers and reporting having horrible nightmares before passing. Vincent starts to be plagued by these nightmares and his sanity unravels as he spends his days trying to keep Katherine and Catherine from finding out about each other, and his nights sleepless and haunted.

Gameplay is divided into two fairly distinct sections. You can control Vincent during his nights out at The Stray Sheep, his local bar. These segments mainly consist of talking to the other patrons, learning more about them. You’ll also get texts from the women in your life, but, with a few exceptions, the responses don’t impact much. The bulk of the gameplay takes place during the nightmare sections, where Vincent is tasked with climbing a giant tower of blocks as the floor crumbles beneath him. Vincent can push and pull these blocks and as long as a block's edge remains connected to another block on the tower, it will remain suspended in mid-air. This is basically the entire premise of the puzzle sections, but Atlus wrings the idea for all its worth without feeling like it’s stretched too thin. There’s a surprising number of techniques to learn just for handling basic block formations, and that’s before getting into the special block types, such as immovable blocks, slippery blocks or cracked blocks that crumble after being stepped on enough. There are also a few different game modes that explore different variations on the basic gameplay. While the story mode forces you to think on your feet to avoid the falling floor, located in The Stray Sheep is an arcade machine called Rapunzel that features 128 unique puzzles, with no time limit but a limit on the number of moves you can do, forcing a more methodical approach and allowing for more complicated puzzles. There’s also Babel, where players must climb randomly generated towers created from a handful of pre-determined block formations. Full Body also boasts remix mode, which takes every puzzle from the story and Rapunzel and adds in Tetris-style connected blocks. It’s a small change but being forced to move several blocks at once completely upends the strategies people have been honing on the competitive circuit and should be able to breathe new life into the game for hardcore players who have mastered everything in the original. The puzzles in Catherine are the best sort of puzzle; they build on each other in a way that you constantly feel like you’re gaining new skills and can’t wait to implement them, and the solutions are open enough that any time you beat a level it feels like you made that solution happen, rather than figuring out the one way it was decided that level should go.

Another triumph of the nightmare stages is that they never feel totally separated from the plot. On the landings in between stages, you can run into some of your fellow patrons from The Stray Sheep, and through a combination of your conversations in the real world and the dream world, you can help them through their plight that left them stranded in the nightmares. The last nightmare stage on any given night will feature a boss that will kill you if you lag too far behind, usually representing something Vincent is haunted by in his waking life. Examples include a killer bride, a child with a chainsaw that cries out for its father, and, most infamously, a giant butt monster with a hideous maw where the genitals should be. While the imagery isn’t exactly subtle, the designs are nevertheless inspired and fun to look at, aiding the sense of urgency by tying it directly to Vincent’s journey (also helping on that score are the excellent re-arrangements of classical music that surge through every level). One particular highlight for this blending of gameplay and story is a segment near the end where Vincent must escort his lover up the tower. The AI is at the perfect level of competence, following instructions well and rarely making stupid mistakes, but not taking much initiative in climbing the tower. This means you must leave paths open behind you as you climb, forcing you to reconsider many of the strategies you’ve had ingrained in you up until this point. It’s an effective metaphor for how Vincent needs to re-examine the ways he’s lived his life up until this point, and how he needs to be more considerate in how he moves forward in order to accommodate his lover. Its delivery is all the more effective for making the player do the same thing during an unexpected and hectic puzzle section.

Catherine1.
There, now you don't have to Google "Catherine butt monster."

Vincent is, unlike most Atlus protagonists, not a self-insert character. He exerts his personality over the player at every turn, mostly through his refusal to exert any personality over the other characters in his life. Vincent spends the beginning portions of the game stammering his protests to Catherine, unable to simply tell her he has a girlfriend, no matter how hard you try to make him. If you want to text Catherine to tell her to leave you alone, Vincent will usually type something up passively-aggressively curt and hope it does the trick. Similarly, if you want to warm up to your loyal girlfriend, Vincent may invite her to “catch a movie sometime,” a bizarrely casual thing to say to someone you’re considering marriage to. It can be frustrating watching Vincent be completely unable to tell Catherine to leave him alone, but it makes him feel more important to the story than any of the protagonists in this game’s sister series, Persona, which is refreshing. And as frustrating as he can be sometimes, at least Vincent has a well-defined character, which is more than you can say for most of the other cast. Katherine is mostly defined by her lack of patience with Vincent, constantly trying to control or change him. She will sometimes acknowledge her bad behaviour later, and Full Body adds in flashbacks that show how the relationship began and that she used to be fun, but they mainly end up reinforcing Vincent’s hesitancy and indecisiveness about the relationship by showing how hot-and-cold Katherine can be. Catherine’s seductive routine is also turned up to cartoonish proportions, showing up in rain-soaked clothes or forcing herself into Vincent’s lap. This would be fine if they’re not supposed to be real characters, just representations of the lifestyle choice Vincent is trying to make, but they’re both such broad, unattractive options that they don’t feel like accurate representations and it makes it hard to get invested in what the game is trying to say.

But maybe none of this is supposed to be taken seriously? This touches on one of Catherine’s strangest quirks: its confused tone. The game is framed as a presentation of the Golden Playhouse, a TV movie-of-the-week style program with a silly host. This might make people expect a campy horror-comedy, and they’d be half right. When the game indulges in its comic sensibilities, it’s charming and funny. These moments make Vincent’s indecisive and spineless nature less frustrating (what horror movie protagonist doesn’t make stupid decisions?), and the simplistic portrayal of traditional gender roles make more sense in a comedy. The game falters, however, when it tries to be a more meaningful exploration of sexual and romantic relationships. At certain points, the player will be asked to answer questions about their opinions on relationships. These answers are judged on a meter, awarding points to either Chaos or Order (though the game does not clearly define these terms and given the design of the meter, it’s hard not to read them as “evil” and “good”). The idea is that the meter will determine whether you value the freedom of Catherine or the stability of Katherine, and will push you towards an ending based on your answers. The problem is that you’re only given two options, and even if these questions could be boiled to an A or B response, this system doesn’t have the nuance to account for the complexities of modern relationships. For example, one of the questions is “Is it okay for your partner to stay at someone else’s place if they don’t cross the line?” and the answer representing order is “That’s practically cheating!” While there is an argument to be made for that, one could just as easily argue that that kind of possessiveness would lead to a more chaotic life, and that’s assuming the player is in a traditional monogamous relationship. These kinds of black-and-white morality systems were common last generation but have since fallen out of favour, so the meter in Catherine feels like it should have been first on the list to be reworked.

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Rin, the game's third love interest.

It's interesting to note, then, that most of the new content does not make use of the meter. The original locks you into this constrictive binary and presents the choice between Catherine and Katherine as the choice between chaos and order, but really, both women dominate Vincent and make his decisions for him; they just do it for different purposes. Rin, however, offers real acceptance of Vincent. Though Rin’s innocent, naive act is as over-the-top as the other two, she’s the only one that allows Vincent to take an active role in the relationship and as a result, his interactions with her feel much more believable. In order to unlock Rin as a romance option, there are a handful of questions that must be answered a certain way. Instead of moving the meter towards order or chaos, it will put a crack in the meter until eventually it shatters, and a flower blooms from the centre. (It’s not just Rin’s content that disregards the morality meter; the new side characters are the only two on the landing whose dialogue options don’t impact the morality meter and the new endings for Katherine and Catherine require the meter to be as close to centre as possible.) Rin’s incorporation feels sloppy at first as she doesn’t interact much with anyone besides Vincent and isn’t involved in the love triangle, but as you learn more about her and what she represents it’s clear that’s by design.

Frustratingly, the new game is still married to its old content. As much as Full Body attempts to update the social values of the original story, it feels like a half-measure since the original content hasn’t been altered. It has a disappointingly pessimistic view on gender politics, with the men portrayed as immature and the women portrayed as cold or manipulative (and since Rin only features prominently in her storyline, she usually won’t be there to provide a counterbalance) while also having a new ending where Vincent's lover uses his mistreatment of her as inspiration to become her better self. The transphobia displayed towards Erica remains, despite Rin’s story being a genuinely touching love-conquers-all tale with strong LGBT themes. It ends up feeling like the game is trying to have its cake and eat it too by being progressive without fully committing to it. Despite these missteps, the story is still engaging. The themes are relatable enough that they still resonate even though the tonal changes keep the game from feeling totally cohesive. The game’s absurdist sense of humour keeps things lively and the excellent music, art direction and voice work can help patch up the messier spots in the script.

Catherine: Full Body is a game with an identity crisis. The same way Vincent can’t decide between his love interests, Catherine: Full Body can’t decide if it wants to be a campy horror story or an examination of how traditional relationships look in the modern world. It can’t decide if it wants to be a progressive, accepting game or one that makes its trans character a target for easy jokes. Regardless of how muddy the story can be at times, there is enough worthwhile material to give it at least one run-through, and the puzzles are addicting enough that you may be hooked by the end of that run.
Verdict
Pros
+ Engaging story
+ Tight puzzle gameplay
+ Huge variety in the puzzles
+ Terrific music and visuals create a haunting atmosphere
Cons
- One-dimensional characters
- Shallow morality system
7 Presentation
Though the characters are broad and the message gets lost, Catherine’s themes are relatable enough to stay engaging throughout, aided by an absurdist sense of humour. Just be ready for the insightful moments to be interrupted by strange antics and the funny moments to be interrupted by sudden shifts to earnestness.
9 Gameplay
Catherine’s puzzles can be intimidating at times, but that only makes them all the more rewarding. With all the different modes of play and the number of puzzles on offer, it’s satisfying to see a game explore a core mechanic so thoroughly.
- Lasting Appeal
This comes down to what you’re here for. Story-wise, it lasts about 8 hours and has a decent variety of endings, though actually seeing them in-game can be quite tedious. If you’re here for the puzzles, however, the game is a bounty.
8
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Catherine: Full Body doesn’t have enough new content to justify double dipping at full price (except for the most dedicated puzzle fans), but new players will get a much richer, more satisfying experience than the original.


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