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 a night with. Full Body adds in Vincent's new next-door neighbour Rin (full name Qatherine), an affable amnesiac Vincent 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 is plagued by these nightmares and he loses his grip as he spends his days trying to keep Katherine and Catherine from finding out about each other, and his nights sleepless and haunted.
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 features 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 a giant butt monster with a hideous maw where its 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 psyche. One particular highlight for this blending of gameplay and story is a segment near the end where Vincent must escort his lover up a tower. The AI is at the perfect level of competence, following instructions well and rarely making stupid mistakes, but not taking much initiative in making its own path up 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 as a single man, and how he needs to be more considerate in how he moves forward in order to accommodate having a partner. Its delivery is all the more effective for making the player do the same thing during an unexpected and hectic puzzle section.
This touches on one of Catherine’s strangest quirks: its inconsistent 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 spinelessness 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 dynamics. 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 order or chaos (though the game does not clearly define these terms until later and, given the design of the meter, it’s hard not to read them as good and evil). The idea is that the meter will determine whether you value the stability of Katherine or the freedom of Catherine, and will push you towards an ending based on your answers. The problem is that you’re only given two very basic options, which doesn’t leave room for much nuance. For example, the question “Is it okay for your partner to stay at someone else’s place if they don’t cross the line?” has the answer representing order as “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. 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 a product of a bygone era.
This leaves the Full Body version with a little bit of an identity crisis. Maybe it’s not as obvious to someone who hasn’t played both versions, but the new content never fully gels with the rest of the game, and sticks out even more as it seems to stand in ideological contrast to the original. The original has a pessimistic view of gender roles that can get tiring, with the men portrayed as immature and the women as cold or manipulative, whereas Rin, even if she’s a bit of a stereotype herself, at least makes sense with Vincent and they seem to be good for each other. Similarly, the original has some transphobic moments, and then Rin’s story is a (genuinely touching) love-conquers-all tale with strong LGBT themes. But since Full Body doesn’t actually remove or alter any of the original content, only adds to it, it’s kind of a half-measure. It ends up feeling like the game is trying to have its cake and eat it too by addressing the issues of its original incarnation without committing enough to actually remove them.
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TAGS: [GAME=/game/catherine.2151]Catherine[/GAME] [GAME=/game/catherine-classic.113905]Catherine Classic[/GAME] [GAME=/game/catherine-full-body.78497]Catherine: Full Body[/GAME]