More than eight years after the original release, no game has ever come close to defining the “romantic-horror” puzzler genre than Catherine by Atlus. From the studio that brought you games that break your moral compass, such as Shin Megami Tensei and Persona, comes the remaster of another socially-relevant, morality-testing, and mind-twisting game, but on a smaller, non-world ending scale: Catherine: Full Body.
Warning: Mild spoilers may follow.
The Primer: A Tale of Three Catherines
Catherine was a 2011 game by Atlus, released for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Its expanded remaster (and the subject of our review), Catherine: Full Body, was released eight years later for the Playstation 4 worldwide, and a Playstation Vita version exclusive to Japan. The game is a mix of a block puzzle-platformer game with interactive visual elements in between. This remaster to the 2011 cult classic adds a few new extras to the game, such as a new character and a new route, online puzzle battles, remix mode, and a handful of new anime cutscenes and voice overs. Studio 4°C returned to produce more anime cutscenes, especially for new route. The English voice actors also reprised their specific roles in the game for additional scripts, while the Japanese voice for the Catherine character has a long list of seiyuu to choose from, such as Nana Mizuki, Mamiko Noto, and Rie Kugimiya to name a few.
Catherine, and the Full Body remaster, tell the story of Vincent Brooks, a 32-year old man in a quarter-life crisis. His dilemma stems from stagnation at work, and a stale yet still stable romantic relationship with his long-time girlfriend, Katherine McBride, who has begun hinting at marriage at the onset of the game. His indecision and procrastination to take back control of his life is compounded by the complication of suddenly finding himself awake after a one-night stand with a svelte, blond woman named Catherine. But the troubles don’t stop in the waking world, as Vincent is also thrust into a gauntlet of block puzzle challenges in his dreams that will result in his untimely death should he not survive climbing up. The players, as Vincent Brooks, now have to ultimately deal with his real-life problems through various social interactions and dialogue options, as well as navigate through more than 30 block puzzles in his nightmares. The Full Body remaster’s defining feature is the inclusion of Rin, a new character that adds another layer of complexity to Vincent’s problems.
Catherine: Full Body, for all intents and purposes, is a puzzle game. Whenever Vincent goes to sleep, he is thrust into a shared nightmare world with other sheep, and struggle to climb a crumbling tower of blocks to reach the exit at the top. But it’s not as easy as just simply climbing to the top. Instead, Vincent has to move, reposition, or remove these blocks to open up a staircase going up. As Vincent advances in later stages, the blocks and the tower itself increases in complexity and difficulty, adding new block properties such as immovable ones, heavy blocks, blocks with deadly traps, and crumbling blocks to name a few.
Navigating through each of the puzzles is the main point of the game. This requires a lot of cognitive exertion, in particular your visuo-spatial ability, planning, and foresight. Oftentimes, going up forces you to think outside the box (pun intended) by sacrificing a few layers or dangling blocks on its edges. But every puzzle requires a great degree of quick thinking too, because the stage’s bottom layers slowly fall off one row at a time, plus you’re incentivized with higher scores, better trophies, and greater coin rewards for quick-climbing combos. Ramping up (also pun intended) the difficulty is the inclusion of stage bosses, large monsters that chase Vincent upwards and repeatedly cast debuffs or alter blocks to hinder or slow down your progress; for example a debuff that reverses your controls, or an alteration that turns ordinary blocks into heavy ones. But these stage bosses aren’t just large monsters. These are all nightmarish representations of Vincent’s real world anxieties, and a symbol of his need to overcome it.
Thankfully, each tower provides temporary reprieves from the frantic climb. Items, such as Bibles (that clear out other annoying sheep climbing together with you) and extra blocks (that forms a natural 3×3 layer of blocks on your feet), help Vincent get through the rigors of puzzle platforming. These items are often littered around the tower, or sometimes being sold by a sheep merchant in-between stages. Each stage also has a limited number of Undo Actions in case your block placements don’t necessarily go according to plan. The gauntlet of puzzles also have a landing in-between stages as a rest stop, by saving your progress, talking to Rin on the piano, and even learn new tips and tricks to navigating the increasingly-complex towers.
The remaster, however, brings the same issue it had from its original version. Vincent’s movements on the tower may seldom lag behind your input, which results in a confusing controller orientation when trying to quickly move the character and move blocks in quick succession. In our play around, there has been one too many instances of climbing and grabbing the wrong block, just because Vincent was still catching up to our previous controller inputs. This concern is thankfully far and extremely few in-between, and does not detract from the overall experience.
The structure of the game assures players of an extremely delayed gratifying experience. Especially in harder stages or difficulty settings, failing and retrying will be commonplace. Catherine: Full Body tricks your innate compulsion and sense of achievement as a gamer to traverse the tower with multiple tries until you succeed, an objective that can only be achieved by moving blocks through the process of elimination and memorizing your path to the top. You can breathe a sigh of relief once Vincent rises to the final pedestal and exit door.
Sheep in man’s clothing
In the waking world, Vincent is your run-of-the-mill 32-year-old man struggling with financial and romantic issues. Coupled with a drinking habit as his coping mechanism and a shocking one-night-stand with an unknown lady, and Vincent is mired with problems any man can sympathize with. This is what makes Vincent so relatable, in that the problems of the real world is just as grueling and as horrifying as any fiction or nightmare. It’s easy for us players to evoke a certain type of emotion around Vincent, whether be it of frustration, anger, disgust, or even relief. And the many scenes and conversations he has with other characters weave together a journey unique to games, but commonplace in real life.
The scenes before and after every stage often take place in the Stray Sheep, a bar frequented by Vincent and his group of friends. Vincent spends his night here, drinking and mulling over his problems. Each night offers unique conversations with each of the bar patrons and staff, which gives a clearer picture of the story’s progression and sometimes a few tips on how to deal with Vincent’s dilemma. However, these are all canned conversations and wear out after a few chats. You, as the player, are given the agency to talk to anyone you wish, given the patrons’ limited time staying in the bar. Drinking and chatting with the patrons also give you a convincing yet false sense of time passing, with patrons coming and going at a specific time interval, based on the number of conversations you’ve triggered.
Parts of Catherine: Full Body’s dating sim elements also come into play during Vincent’s waking hours. Scenes with his long-time girlfriend, Katherine McBride, often lay out the couple’s current dilemma and status in their relationship, like marriage and pregnancy. Conversations with Catherine are partly triggered depending on the length of your stay in the Stray Sheep, but conversations with these two ladies are canned in these instances and just progress the story forward too. Ultimately, Vincent’s decision is determined by the game’s Karma Meter, divided into two opposing spectrums of Law and Chaos. The meter will point in either direction depending on Vincent’s responses in scenes requiring his reply, specifically in the confessional box after a stage, and Vincent’s replies to Catherine and Katherine on the phone. The confessional poses social or ethical questions with only two options to choose from, leaning extremely toward law and chaos answers. On the other hand, SMS responses to the two ladies are a bit more diverse. The phone provides you with a multitude of responses to type per line before the text gets sent. Depending on how your SMS is crafted, an unseen score is counted towards ticking the Karma Meter towards either side. The SMS replies are a novel take on the dating sim trope of forced responses, and offers players with a bit more creativity and experimentation in their messages. Most other instances of forced options, like the confessional and phone calls, may feel a bit restrictive in the responses, but these eventually pave the way into molding Vincent into the type of man you want him to be.
Conquering new heights
Catherine: Full Body’s newest addition to the cult classic is an additional character named Rin. Vincent encounters Rin on the streets while the latter was being chased by an alleged stalker. With our protagonist’s help, Rin was given a place to stay in a small apartment next to VIncent’s, and was also offered a job at the Stray Sheep. Rin serves as a new route for Vincent to pursue, which also includes new stages added to the story mode, and additional endings featuring our guy and Rin together. Compared to Catherine and Katherine, the newest love interest, Rin exudes an aura calmness and tranquility, serving as the perfect foil against the chaotic and worrisome mess Vincent is in. This is strongly evident with Vincent and Rin’s interactions both in the nightmare and waking worlds. Vincent drastically changes his mood and attitude to the protective and relaxed big brother type, seemingly able to set aside his worries for a moment whenever he talks to Rin.
Rin’s story is mostly integrated as a new route through newly-added anime cutscenes, and casual conversations with her in the Stray Sheep and in-between stages. The confessional also prompts Vincent of the upcoming question’s opportunity to open up a new route, which getting the right answer “breaks” the Karma Meter. Unfortunately, although Rin is presented as Vincent’s viable third option in the game, Catherine: Full Body does the bare minimum in initially integrating Rin’s route into the game. Rin’s introductory cutscene alone already breaks the mystery of hidden fantastical forces surrounding Vincent’s life, a plot point in the original version that only pops up later in the game. Unlike Catherine and Katherine, Vincent isn’t also given Karma Meter choices to unlock Rin’s route, save for specific questions posed at the confessional box. Despite Rin’s hasty and rough inclusion in Full Body’s story, the new story involving Rin and Vincent opens up seamlessly once enough meter-breaking questions have been answered. Without spoiling anything, this new route evokes the same dramatic and comedic nuances as that of the original two routes, and will surely be a delight to see to its end.
It’s hard to justify putting a full game price on Catherine: Full Body. The new features, and the addition of Rin’s route, could have been a DLC sold separate while the original game gets a discounted re-release instead. However, looking at the individual components, there’s a lot to look forward to in this remastered cult classic. New Japanese and English voice overs, more cutscenes, more towers to challenge, and a third love interest give Catherine: Full Body a fresh coat of paint. Heck, it’s even worth pointing out that the Japanese audio has a selection of different Catherine voices from well-known Japanese seiyuu allowing a degree of customization, which aligns itself with the Catherine character as your “personal” type.
With the hundreds of puzzles to scale, Catherine: Full Body reinstates itself as one of the best and most challenging puzzle games in recent history. The puzzles are unforgiving and mentally taxing, but Atlus successfully manages to balance it out with gratuitous rewards and achievements in the form of a relatable story, and socially-relevant issues. The remastered game provides a low barrier of entry for new gamers with the classic contents of Catherine, while returning gamers and completionists have to surpass more challenges with new endings, the remix mode and online play. Catherine: Full Body is an odd mix of two gaming genres (dating sim and puzzler) married together, but it’s definitely a must-have, especially as a reprieve from the current generation’s usual game releases.
Digital download code for the game received for free for the purposes of this review.