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.