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Catherine: Full Body (Switch) Review

by Matthew Zawodniak - July 3, 2020, 6:00 am PDT
Total comments: 4

6

Love is over.

I was 18 years old when Catherine originally launched on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and at the time I loved the story and thought that it was worth pushing through the frustrating, unenjoyable puzzles. Now I’m 27, and my opinion is pretty much the opposite of what it was back then. Catherine is actually an incredible puzzle game that only got more fun the longer I played, but I was horribly disappointed revisiting its story a decade later. Its themes no longer seem as clever or unique as they did when I was a teenager, and I recognize now that its writing seriously fumbles the mature subjects it’s chosen to tackle -- an issue that’s only gotten worse with the new content in Full Body.

Catherine stars Vincent Brooks, a man who is having nightmares where he is forced to climb a tower built upon moving blocks that are slowly falling into an abyss. In order to survive, he has to figure out how to arrange the blocks in the right order so that he can find a path to climb to safety. Vincent is able to push or pull any blocks other than those that are specifically marked as unmovable, and he is able to climb up onto a block provided there is an empty space next to it that he can stand on first. Time is of the essence, as the bottom row of blocks will periodically fall into the abyss every few seconds, but you have a limited number of ‘Undos’ that can reverse the previous block you moved, allowing you a bit of room for error. The depth in puzzle solving comes from the multiple ways you can use a block’s edges to your advantage. When you push a block, it’s able to connect itself to any other block and stay in the air so long as it’s directly touching the edge of another block. These edge connections can be formed with blocks both above and below the row you’re currently on, allowing you to literally bridge the gap between blocks to move around. Vincent is also able to hang off an edge and climb around the blocks, taking advantage of the 3D space they exist in to move around them. This gives you a lot of mobility that allows you to use complex maneuvers to build a viable path forward in a relatively cramped area. These puzzles get mind-bogglingly difficult by the end of the game and will seriously test your spatial reasoning and ability to think two steps ahead. If that sounds too intimidating, there are multiple difficulty options that not only adjust the amount of Undos but also reconfigure the puzzle layouts to be either simpler or more complicated to better fit your skill level. The difficulty can be changed at any time, allowing you to experiment with which level you prefer.

The Switch version of the game is pretty solid overall, with a minor drop in resolution from the PS4 version being the only sacrifice. If you don’t mind missing out on those extra pixels, then Switch players will actually be getting the definitive version of Catherine: Full Body. It comes with all DLC for free, including the character pack featuring Joker from Persona 5, further developing that game’s asymptotic relationship with the Switch. You’ll also be receiving the “Ideal Voice” DLC packs that make full voice actor swaps for Catherine herself, featuring the talents of some pretty prolific actresses such as Aoi Yuuki, Kana Hanazawa, and Nana Mizuki. Despite my issues with the story I actually think this is a clever idea, but it's sadly neutered by the fact that the Ideal Voice options were not localized into English, and Catherine’s original English voice actress, Laura Bailey, is still the only choice available unless you switch to Japanese voices.

The writing of Catherine: Full Body is sadly a black mark on the experience. Vincent is currently engaged to a woman named Katherine and accidentally ends up cheating on her with another woman who happens to be named Catherine. A lot of time in the story is spent discussing relationships and the different ways that men and women view them, and the game’s opinions on these matters are often hilariously outdated. Men are universally portrayed as being selfish and uninterested in commitment, and women are seen as overbearing and uncaring of the feelings of their partners. Each time you finish a puzzle stage you’re prompted with a question about your feelings on life and relationships that tie into the game’s morality system, and they are unsubtle at the best of times, and gratingly regressive at worst. Saying that you would be bothered by your significant other having a good friend of the opposite sex is an “Order” answer that leads you to staying faithful to Katherine, while it’s a “Chaos” answer that leads you to leave your fiance if you say that you would not let a significant other look at your phone messages.

The bulk of new story content in Full Body is related to a new character named Qatherine (though she’s often just called Rin). Much has been written about Rin’s presence in the story since Full Body’s release on PS4 last year, and there’s very little I can really say about her without spoiling major story details, but suffice it say that she’s inserted into the original game’s story with as much delicacy and care as a sledgehammer. She receives basically no exposition in the opening scenes of the game, and her presence in the story is unnaturally commented on by pretty much every character. Catherine’s story was built around Vincent’s inner conflict between which of two women he would choose, so adding a third woman into the mix just doesn’t work, and constantly feels like it’s being done with a wink to the audience about how you’re playing an updated rerelease.

I’d also be remiss to avoid mentioning the game’s abysmal handling of LGBT characters and themes. The original Catherine received criticisms for its portrayal of a transgender character that was played more for humor at her own expense than anything else. Full Body did very little to improve on these problems and actually introduced new story elements that make things a lot worse. Overall the game’s writing is pretty tone deaf with regards to LGBT issues. In one dialogue exchange, Rin is asked her thoughts on same-sex couples, and she answers that the only thing that matters is if they love each other. One of Vincent’s friends retorts “So they don’t even need to be human?”, to which Rin says yes.

What can I say but “yikes”.

Over the past decade I have largely avoided revisiting Catherine because I knew that it likely had not aged well, and I didn’t really want to spoil the good memories I had of playing the game. My tastes have changed a lot over the years, and while I’ve gained a new appreciation for the incredible puzzle-solving gameplay, I’ve been utterly astounded at just how poorly the story has aged. It’s unfortunate, since the voice acting, visuals, and overall cinematic direction of both cutscenes and gameplay are all excellent. This game is the product of a passionate and talented team. It’s just a shame that their efforts were all in service to writing that is cynical, regressive, outdated, and just plain exhausting.

Summary

Pros
  • Puzzle gameplay is deep and exciting
  • Solid presentation with great voice acting
Cons
  • I felt uncomfortable, confounded, and angry watching the story play out.

Talkback

katjustJuly 07, 2020

I strongly disagree with reviews like this, so I will try to be respectful.

I don't fault the author for pointing to perceived faults with the writing or story. The author obviously has a certain perspective on gender issues and LGBT issues that is growing. However, I think that perspective makes it impossible for the author to objectively evaluate the game. The review focuses heavily on the fact that the writing is "regressive" and "cynical".

I will agree that there is certainly a male + hetero (whatever you want to call it) slant to the perspective, I think it should be noted that Vincent is both male and heterosexual (as far as we can tell). Moreover, he is a a slacker who is afraid of commitment. Much of the game's perspective is through his eyes.

The game actually does an interesting thing by asking us, the player, to make ethical choices. And while the author seems to disagree with the writers' views on ethics or morality (as do I in some choices), the game makes one think about choices. The puzzle portion of the game is outstanding, the voice acting good, and the game itself is very unique.

I am probably about 10 years older than the author, and I am a heterosexual man. So, I can definitely say that colors my perspective, and maybe someone who is LGBT or a woman is going to have a much different experience. Ultimately, Vincent is a guy, who drinks at a bar with his guy friends, and ends up caught in a situation where he much choose between remaining faithful, giving into temptation, or maybe even giving into nihilism.

I think the game is fun and one of the most unique games I have ever played, and I enjoy it just as much now as I did years ago. I think this review is overly harsh of the game. I think one can be critical of the games perspective (if one thinks it is morally flawed in some way), without denigrating in the way this author has.

DannyChungJuly 08, 2020

So, it's actually a review written by political/social views in mind. Maybe someone should have reviewed it who is a little more open? But it's 2020, the game is a forbidden topic at ResetERA so I guess that's that.

So in response to a couple comments here I'll say this. There is no such thing as an objective review. Our own experiences and social views are going to color our perception. If we are to view games as art then they must be subject to criticism in every area, this includes the social issues they choose to cover. In the case of Catherine this is a simple puzzle game that relies heavily on its story. If the reviewer feels that the writing can't carry the game as well as it should then of course that will have an effect on the score. I will also note that by our standards a 6 is in fact a positive score.

This is all to say that of course I have no issue with folks disagreeing with the review itself. But, I would never choose my reviewers based on their social or political views, just as I would never choose them based on gender identity, sexual preference, race, or any other unique attribute. To do so would rob the reader of a new perspective, and would be more like targeted propaganda than an honest review.

OedoJuly 08, 2020

Quote from: katjust

I think one can be critical of the games perspective (if one thinks it is morally flawed in some way), without denigrating in the way this author has.

Which is what they did:

Quote from: katjust

The puzzle portion of the game is outstanding, the voice acting good, and the game itself is very unique.

Quote:

Over the past decade I have largely avoided revisiting Catherine because I knew that it likely had not aged well, and I didn’t really want to spoil the good memories I had of playing the game. My tastes have changed a lot over the years, and while I’ve gained a new appreciation for the incredible puzzle-solving gameplay, I’ve been utterly astounded at just how poorly the story has aged. It’s unfortunate, since the voice acting, visuals, and overall cinematic direction of both cutscenes and gameplay are all excellent.

They gave the game a fair shake. They acknowledge the exact same strengths of the game you did. The difference is that you seem content to handwave the offensive material in the game because you're not part of the community being disrespected, while the reviewer is a reasonable human being capable of empathy.

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Game Profile

Catherine: Full Body Box Art

Genre Adventure
Developer Atlus
Players1

Worldwide Releases

na: Catherine: Full Body
Release Jul 07, 2020
PublisherAtlus
RatingMature
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