I missed Catherine the first time around so it was really interesting coming into the game anew.
I love the idea of a visual novel meets a block puzzler, facilitating several steady climbs to the top of a perilous mountain with the game constantly throwing new curveballs at you along the way.
You’ll need to factor in the different tactics needed in your assent. The extra obstacles that crop up. The way narrative creeps into the game and how it affects your gameplay.
Catherine Full Body is a surprise package, constantly playing with convention in order to create something quite fresh and different.
At first glance, the game seems to be a dating simulator with Vincent and Katherine talking about their relationship, their love for one another, but also the prospect of commitment and marriage. But over time its sinister side starts to seep through.
And it throws some pretty bold questions at the player through its Confessional system, like ‘What makes you more nervous? Being alone or with others’. Or ‘Do you look for appearance or personality when looking for love?’ You make a choice by pulling the chord on your left and right, then provided you’re connected online, you’ll get to see what others have said in the same situation.
Admittedly, some questions are there for a bit of fun, like ‘Do you talk to the TV’ but others can give you pause for thought. Reading back on some results certainly surprised me.
Basically, the gist of Catherine Full Body is figuring out Vincent’s love life while dealing with incredibly immersive and creepy nightmares he keeps having about sheep, pianos and blocks. I mean, it’s specific, so you’ve got to give them that.
You run through various conversation options, check your phone for messages, all while sitting around moping and drinking. The game captures that moody ambience so very well with its vibrant setting and relaxing jazz tunes.
The big change to this version of Catherine over others is that there’s now a third romance option. So Vincent could stay with his girlfriend of many years, or one of two other potential lovers who enter his life over the course of the story.
After an argument of sorts with Catherine, Vincent’s life is turned upside down when Katherine sits next to him at the bar and then ends up spending the night with him. The thing is, Vincent can’t remember a thing except for a horrid nightmare about sheeps and blocks.
Did he go all the way with Katherine? Are his feelings for Catherine changing? What does this all mean?
And then there’s Rin who takes a shine to Vincent and sees him as a loyal protector and guardian. Vincent’s relationship with Rin is different from the others as they meet in both the dream and real world, which creates an interesting new dynamic for the game.
Your choices throughout the game – the way you respond to texts, how much you drink, the confessional questions etc – all impact the ending you’ll get when the credits roll. One of thirteen different endings, so there’s plenty of scope to replay the game.
And that’s what makes Catherine: Full Body so interesting. It’s a game that plays with morality but also choice and decision making. For a game that seems limited, you have a surprising amount of control over your actions.
Get past the sex, nudity, and questionable dialogue, and it’s a game that will often give you pause to think and contemplate what’s actually happening on screen. Dare I say, you might even enjoy it. For me personally, I see why people really stuck with the game all those years ago because it all links up very well. The pacing is smart and the climbing mechanic is surprisingly addictive.
It’s been a long time since the original release, though, and the game has been bettered, both in terms of story and the puzzle-solving, so it’s not quite as groundbreaking as it was at the time, but all combined, everything still holds up reasonably well.
And this is a game that is even played as a competitive esport, with players rushing to be the fastest to the top of the mountain, occasionally pushing blocks and obstacles in others way. There’s a massive competitive Catherine scene, believe it or not, and bringing the game to modern platforms with additional modes is only going to ensure it stays current and relevant.
It’s certainly not without controversy, though. Much of the content often plays to the conventions of certain held stereotypes of men and women, and lines of dialogue can be dangerously playful and suggestive about the destructive nature of relationships, quite casually brushing aside serious issues.
Indeed, this builds into some of the game’s endings which might be seen to glorify Vincent’s actions throughout the game to reach said conclusion, even if those are actions one shouldn’t be glorifying.
And then there’s the inclusion of Rin and the treatment of the character throughout the course of the game. Catherine has already been slammed for its treatment of Erica, and, well, not much of that appears to have changed.
Cut scenes and dialogue featuring Rin suggest the developers still have a lot to learn about the representation and diversity of gender and relationships from the first release. Particularly the sub cast who can be incredibly dismissive and cruel in their choice of language. Vincent doesn’t really help matters either with his reactions and tone throughout.
Catherine Full Body Edition does offer plenty of reasons for fans of the original to dive back into it, with improved visuals, a new character storyline, extra modes, and more levels for the Rapunzel themed mini-game.
In my opinion, it’s a slightly more difficult recommendation for newcomers. While there’s an autoplay option to ease you into the puzzles, the content can be unsettling. At a time where people are coming to understand more about themselves and are identifying in a way that feels comfortable and appropriate for them, there are several throwaway comments and scenes in here which are quite inconsiderate and hurtful. Many of the big issues the game tries to tackle are quite clumsily handled and frankly, Vincent often comes across as an incompetent dick. Which can be a tough sell considering he’s the games’ lead, though it at least goes some way to explaining why he’s juggling three different romantic options, a model of indiscretion.
As a game, Catherine Full Body plays very well and the transition between interactive fiction and puzzle solving is surprisingly seamless and has a great hook. In that sense, the game has aged well and holds up as a great visual novel. But in terms of the story the game tells across it’s vast, branching narrative, there are question marks around some of the content in the game. Both in the way it defines the relationships we share as human beings and how it normalises some individual behaviour in those relationships. And while it’s also encouraging to see new forms of representation in big budget games, as far as Catherine Full Body is concerned, then the way that representation is implemented still has a long way to go.
Catherine Full Body Edition is now available on PS4 and Vita in Japan
A copy of the game was received for coverage purposes from SEGA of America