(Interested in some spoilers? The review doesn’t have any, but check out the bonus editorial at the end of this review!)
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Fingernails on a dining table. An icy, accusatory stare. Sweat pouring down my face. I’m really in trouble this time. How did I get into this mess? How can I escape? The mountain before me seems to grow taller every time I climb higher. I can’t stop. I won’t. Not even if it kills me. For my survival… for our future… for her… for… who am I doing this for again? I can’t remember. But such is life in Catherine: Full Body. There are always obstacles to overcome, and roads that don’t fork, but overlap into a confusing, twisted route on an uncertain path where the destination may be different by the outcome than at the onset of the journey. And when it’s all over, the only logical thing to do is start the story anew.
Like in the original Catherine for PlayStation 3, which was released back in 2011, in Catherine: Full Body, the protagonist, Vincent, finds himself in a love triangle between his longtime girlfriend, Katherine, and a young and very seductive woman named Catherine, who suddenly appears and turns his life upside-down. This time around, the triangle becomes a quadrangle when Vincent encounters another temptation in the form of an amnesiac, Rin, who greets him with innocence, a sweet smile, and an outlook on life that is more open-minded, and unchained by the weight of the expectations of society. By day, Vincent tries his best to stay out of trouble with Katherine. In the evening he spends time in a bar, where he interacts with and gets advice from his friends, the bartender, the waitress, the locals, and Rin as well. When it gets late, he might bump into Catherine, whether he wants to or not. And then finally, he goes home, falls asleep, and that’s when the nightmare begins.
In the nightmare, Vincent is forced to climb a crumbling tower of blocks. Unfortunately, he can only climb one block at a time, and if the next level of blocks is stacked two blocks high, we won’t be able to reach it unless he pushes or pulls other blocks into an appropriate position. This very simple puzzle mechanic is the main form of gameplay in Catherine: Full Body. If he can make it to the top of the tower of blocks each night, he will wake up the next morning and go on with his life. If he fails, there’s no tomorrow. Matters are complicated by a variety of traps and unique blocks, such as ice blocks that Vincent will slip on, spike blocks that will impale him, and bomb blocks that will explode and damage blocks that are nearby. There are even other climbers–nameless sheep–competing with Vincent, who can knock him down, get in his way or even directly attack him. To make matters worse, the blocks below Vincent are constantly crumbling, one layer at a time, adding a stressful time limit to each stage.
It sounds much worse than it is. I mean, it can be stressful, and really it should, because the gameplay is very much aligned with the stress and anxiety that Vincent is experiencing in his day to day life. So if you start to feel that way as you climb the tower, it is by design. On the other hand, there are a plethora of features in place to ease the potential for frustration. The most basic is an undo button, that can take you back a few steps for when you find yourself trapped. There are also checkpoints throughout each stage, and to make them even more useful, there is an option to have Vincent automatically climb to the highest point the player has reached when retrying. Interestingly, the AI does not follow the same path the player took, so it’s not unusual to end up back where you left off with a much more playable set of blocks to work with, and you get to learn a proper path to get there so that hopefully the next time you encounter a difficult pattern you will know what to do. There are also powerups that allow Vincent to plop down blocks, climb 2 blocks high, or to remove enemies from the screen. And if that still isn’t enough, you can turn the difficulty all the way down to safety, where the time limit is removed, autoplay can be enabled, and levels can even be entirely skipped. With all of this quality of life in place, Catherine: Full Body is the most accessible version of the game by far, and players of all skill levels should be able to enjoy it, even players that don’t want to deal with the action puzzle gameplay at all, who would prefer to treat the game strictly as a visual novel.
I do recommend trying as hard as possible to learn the techniques you need to beat the game without autoplay or skipping levels though. I’m not saying this to sound elitist, I just particularly enjoyed how much better I got at the game as I played. There is a visual language that you learn as you play Catherine: Full Body, and if you stick to it, you will find yourself employing advanced techniques as though they were second nature. And the game does a pretty good job of teaching you the skills you need if you are thorough with talking to the other characters. More importantly, it feels really good to get good at this game, so don’t give up!
In between stages of the nightmare, Vincent can interact with other climbers who are trapped in the nightmare. The player can get to know these characters’ backstories, and learn techniques for climbing from them as well. And then, before starting the next stage, Vincent goes into a confession booth, the player is asked a question, and the game reveals how other players have answered (if you choose to play online). How the answers affect the game’s story should be a mystery to first time players, but they always revolve around the game’s central theme, which becomes clearer and clearer as the game progresses.
When Vincent reaches the final stage for that night’s nightmare, he will have to climb while being pursued by some kind of boss. These monsters try to kill Vincent in a variety of creative and violent ways, from lightning strikes to straightforward melee attacks. They even knock entire rows or columns of blocks off the tower, complicating the route to the top. These stages tend to be faster and more frantic than the other stages, but I found them to be some of the easier stages in the game because the puzzles aren’t as challenging as on stages where you have a little more time to solve them. Still, they are quite fun, and when Vincent reaches the summit, he wakes up in his bed the next morning, the memory of the nightmare quickly fading from his mind.
What he wakes up to when he opens his eyes is another matter entirely. Will there be a knock at the door? An uninvited guest? A phone call or text message with news, or perhaps an ultimatum? I’m being intentionally vague here, as I don’t want to go into spoiler territory, but I do want to emphasize that no matter what is happening around Vincent, the game tells its story with style and high production value. Whether playing in English or Japanese, the voice acting is incredible. I do prefer the English acting (which is unusual for me), but if you play in Japanese there is an option to change the voice actress for Catherine, with additional voice actresses available as DLC. The option is called “Ideal Voice,” with the idea being that Catherine should have a voice that is as alluring to the player as possible. The music is also wonderful, with great remixes of some classical pieces, as well as new, original tracks. The jukebox at the bar even has some music from other games, particularly from the Persona series.
Visually, the game oozes with style and detail, from the menus to the environments and especially in the story sequences. There are not a large number of locales in the game, but those that exist are fully realized and exquisitely detailed. The sushi bar has delicious looking food moving around on a conveyor and the bar is absolutely covered in drinks and decorations. The animation also goes a long way to make things even more immersive. Drinks empty slowly as the characters drink them, smoke drifts realistically from cigarettes, and even the cheese on pizza stretches off the slice when a bite is taken. There is also a large number of cut scenes in the game–well over a hundred–which are split into in-game renderings that the game calls events, and anime scenes, all of which are a joy to watch thanks to excellent cinematography and animation.
But what really makes Catherine: Full Body a top tier storytelling experience is the way the player, through Vincent, interacts with the other characters. While at the bar, Vincent may receive text messages from Catherine, Katherine, Rin, or any of the other characters. Responding to these texts brings up dialogue options where you craft the reply one sentence at a time. It feels very realistic! There are moments where you’ll delete something you typed, second guessing your decision and going with something else. You will stop to ponder how the recipient will react, and what the best approach is to stay out of trouble, or to manipulate the outcome of the story. And when you get that text message with an attachment that might not be safe for work, Vincent will be sure to step away to somewhere private before looking at it. There are also lengthy conversations with Vincent’s friends and love interests, frequently giving the player the choice of what to say. Whether it’s a text or spoken dialogue, the game is paying attention to these decisions, and Vincent’s attitude changes throughout the game accordingly. The player also becomes more and more invested in the characters and story as these decisions are made, so when the next major scene comes around, it is that much more impactful.
The scenes also manage to do something that few games pull off; they make the player feel the feelings of the protagonist. I felt my nerves building up as Katherine asked Vincent the tough questions, and jumped whenever a character pounded a table suddenly. The looks in the characters’ eyes, the facial expressions, the gestures… they do so much to heighten the intensity of the scenes. I was reminded of many of the relationships in my life, and what it felt like to be in an argument, or to be pushed back against a wall. I even thought of what it was like in the moments when I met someone new, when the miraculous happened and they showed interest in me. Catherine: Full Body manages to make the player experience a wide range of emotions and feelings, and it should be commended for this achievement.
Of course, much of this was already in place in the original Catherine. Catherine: Full Body just adds a lot more to it. There are new characters to meet in the bar and the nightmare, and the game now has a total of 13 endings, two of which are exclusive to the new character, Rin. Catherine and Katherine each get new endings as well, and having taken the time to watch all of them, I can say with confidence that they are highly varied and always interesting. There is some overlap among them, but an ending you might think you saw before will take an unexpected turn and end up with a very different outcome. Replaying the game is a breeze, thanks to safety mode, and once you know what you are doing, it’s possible to play through the entire game in about an hour if you beeline it to the ending and skip most of the scenes, while making sure to meet the requisite conditions along the way (it’s worth noting that my first game took 14 hours). I definitely recommend seeing as many of the endings as possible, even the bad ones! After you beat the game for the first time, you might consider following a guide to get the rest of the endings, so that you know which save files to revisit and which ones to avoid overwriting.
If you want to replay the game properly, you can also try out some of the harder difficulties. Normal is no cakewalk, and though I didn’t play it, I understand that Hard is a serious challenge. New to Catherine: Full Body is remix mode, which changes all of the puzzles in the game by sticking multiple blocks together into larger shapes. These shapes can be pulled or pushed, but given their size, they drastically change the puzzles. Remix mode also affects the arcade game at the bar, so there are now over 500 puzzles in the game, which is more than twice the number of the original. There are also multiplayer options that have been enhanced from the original, including Colosseum, where two players can compete locally, and Online Arena, where players can face off against a random opponent or a friend, in ranked or casual matches.
All in all, Catherine: Full Body is the definitive version of Catherine, and manages to take an already fantastic game and make it better, with tons of new content, quality of life features, and an entirely new character that changes things up in more ways than one. I have more to say on that particular subject, so keep reading after the score below for a brief editorial, but it does contain spoilers, so if you haven’t already found out about the big surprise, skip that part for now. In any case, Catherine: Full Body is a wonderful video game. It excels at emotional, provocative storytelling that can hit close to home for the player, and it’s an excellent puzzle game as well. The target audience would be a player who enjoys both visual novels and puzzles, but even without the puzzles, the visual novel is still worth experiencing fully. It superbly acted, animated and presented from start to finish, and it even manages to be sexy in a world where most games that try to be end up being awkward instead. It also succeeds at being thought provoking, by giving the player many things to ponder in terms of how to look at life and relationships, ambitions and goals. Truly, Catherine: Full Body is a masterpiece.
Ari played about 30 hours of Catherine: Full Body and experienced all of the game’s endings. He completed the game on Normal difficulty in both Classic and Remix mode. He received a copy of the game for free from SEGA of America.
+Exceptional voice acting, cinematography and storytelling
+The stress and feelings of the protagonist can be felt by the player
+Great soundtrack, with remixes of classical music and original themes
+Entertaining and challenging action/puzzle gameplay
+Lots of options to make the game as hard or easy as desired
+13 endings with a wide range of entertaining outcomes
Available on: PlayStation 4
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4 (Pro)
Bonus Editorial (Spoilers)
If you haven’t already experienced or been spoiled about Rin’s path in Catherine: Full Body, you might want to stop reading now.
Okay, here we go. You’ve been warned!
Catherine: Full Body has a diverse cast to say the least, and that diversity is exemplified by the new love interest, Rin. As I was playing this game, I started to stress out a bit about how to approach this review. There has already been quite a bit of controversy surrounding the Japanese release of this game due to an issue about insensitivity regarding a transgender character in the game. Adding to that is Rin who, (and this is your last spoiler warning) despite her girlish appearance, turns out to be male. So the romance between Rin (Qatherine) and Vincent represents a road less traveled thus far in the history of video games. The reason I was stressed about this review, is I wondered how I could write about this as a straight cisgender male. Should I even say anything on the subject? Am I stepping into an internet minefield? I’d really rather not be the subject of an internet hate mob if I can avoid it.
Anyway, I recently played Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and chose the male protagonist. In that game, you can choose which character for the protagonist to romance at the end of the game, and there are a few same-sex options. It would never have occurred to me to even consider one of those options. They were there for other players, I thought, and picked the most interesting female instead. That’s normal for me. Even had I picked a female protagonist, I still would have been inclined to choose a female romance option. I doubt I’m alone in this train of thought, but I’m also progressive enough politically to take a moment to wonder if I’m being too close-minded by thinking this way. There’s nothing wrong with seeking out what you like in a video game, but there shouldn’t be anything wrong with the alternative either.
Being a reviewer, I felt it was my responsibility to experience Rin’s route in Catherine: Full Body, regardless of my usual gaming habits. I am thankful for this nudge in the right direction. Rin’s route through to the true ending was absolutely adorable. Though perhaps a bit spontaneous, the romance between Vincent and Rin was believable and utterly inoffensive. It was sweet. It was kind. It was open-minded and good. And just as importantly, it was very entertaining, and even funny! Given my sexual orientation, Catherine’s routes are perhaps the most appropriate for me if I’m playing the game to enjoy something provocative. Katherine’s routes are also worth experiencing, as there is value to a committed relationship and a somewhat traditional happy ending. But Rin’s route was something else entirely, and focused on love being about what’s in the heart more than physical attributes. It’s a good message, and one that I hope will resonate in the hearts of players, particularly those who may have been closed-minded to such things in the past.
It saddens me to see posts on the internet from people that say unapologetically that because Rin is male they won’t buy the game. Catherine: Full Body has plenty of content for a player interested exclusively in women. In fact, it’s one of the sexiest video games that exists, in my opinion! But more importantly, the content regarding Rin is nothing to be afraid of or offended by. Am I surprised that there are people reacting this way? Of course not. But if there was ever a game to help bridge the gap between tolerance and intolerance, this would be it.
Does this mean the next time I play Fire Emblem: Three Houses that I’ll be hooking male Byleth up with Linhardt? Probably not, if I’m being honest. I’m still just as inclined as I was before to see a romance develop that is more in line with my own orientation. But I’d like to think that after having experienced Rin’s route in Catherine: Full Body, that I’ll be less inclined to avoid such content in the future.