Seven years after the original release, and there still isn’t anything quite like Catherine. An erotic horror game that is one-half interactive drama with dialogue options and moral choices and one-half surreal nightmare sequences where you do a lot of sliding block puzzles. In fact, I suspect if it wasn’t for the high-quality presentation and raw style developer Atlus is known for, this original game would have fallen flat on its face and no one would have remembered it.
But seven years is a long time, and gaming has evolved and grown since then; a fact that the remastered Catherine: Full Body has taken to heart. Much like the developers’ prior history of re-releasing installments in the Persona series with substantially more content, this updated title packs some additional features, improved quality of life for the overall gameplay, and some additional story turns that attempt to address criticisms of the original release. While the core of the game remains untouched, it is in these additions that the game is at its most fascinating and strangely refreshing.
The Woman’s Wrath
The main story beats of the original remain unchanged. You play as Vincent Brooks, a thirty-two year old schlub who is in a stable five-year old relationship with his girlfriend Katherine, but she is starting to pressure him for a more permanent commitment. After a night of drinking, Vincent wakes up in his apartment, only to discover that a young and attractive woman named Catherine has jumped his bones. From there, the plot unfolds as a one-week long tense drama where our hero has to man up and deal with the messy love triangle he has stumbled into. Complicating things further are these disturbing nightmares full of sheep men climbing towers of blocks, nightmares that seem to be connected to men mysteriously dying in the real world. Men who seem to be connected by acts of infidelity.
Broadly speaking, the major story beats of the original Catherine are still present in Full Body. You’ll spend half of the game drinking with Vincent’s friends at the Stray Sheep bar and be hit with dialogue options to determine what you care about most in intimate relationships, complete with light commentary on societal pressure and gender norms, and the other half in the aforementioned nightmare sections where you play Q’bert by way of Nightmare on Elm Street to continue the plot. Characters will remember what you’ve said before, certain decisions will have lasting consequences on the story, and there are multiple endings regarding Vincent’s future and whether or not he’s single by the end.
But Atlus has never been content with just updating the visuals of a remaster and calling it a day. In addition to a brand new opening sequence, complete with a jazzy new cover by the always delightful Shoji Meguro, there are additional cutscenes and story beats that help flesh out the supporting cast. The biggest issue I had with the original Catherine was that throughout the runtime, the dynamic between Vincent and the two female leads basically amounted to Katherine being a cold voice of reason with a lot of text messages reprimanding Vincent, and Catherine being this erotically charged, almost cartoonish, vixen that would keep sending Vincent naughty pics, flirt, and just be this force of personality that overwhelmed everything else. While these distinct personalities are still present in Full Body, there is now an honest attempt to humanize Katherine with flashbacks showing how she and Vincent met and how they naturally became a couple.
It’s a small but crucial addition that helps make the central conflict feel more complex rather than an extended case of what type of girl appeals to you most.
Finally, Catherine: Full Body introduces a third new girl to the main plot, Rin, and her addition is where things get interesting. As much as the original Catherine was praised at the time for its earnest attempt at tackling adult themes of sexuality and intimacy, it garnered some harsh criticism for its depiction and portrayal of transgender people through a certain side character. Fast-forward to now and, while I do not wish to spoil, it feels like the addition of Rin and her perspective on things seems to be acting as a direct response to that criticism. Despite the handwringing of people worrying about her portrayal in marketing, her depiction isn’t entirely exploitative or played for laughs, which is a step up from the original. She also represents a sort of enlightened third path for Vincent, one that rejects the expectations of society as a whole compared to the inevitability of marriage or the freedom of being a bachelor for life. She’s integrated into the main story well enough and brings a novel spin to the events of the story that wasn’t present before.
There are also significant improvements in the block puzzle sections. In addition to the various blocks getting brand new visual designs, there are some noticeable changes to make the levels feel less difficult. There is no longer a lives system; if you mess up and fall to your death, the game simply rewinds to your last move so you can try again. However, since undoing your moves are limited in the main game, you will have to start the whole level again if you run out. Granted, this led to a few situations where I was trapped in a loop because I had played myself into a corner, but there is also a retry option if that happens. There are various visual effects to help highlight where you are and where you can go to if you are hanging off a block, and the camera controls are less clunky. And the levels overall appear to be shorter and less obtuse than in the original. These sections will still be a challenge, but there were one or two levels I remember in the original being the stuff of nightmares that didn’t pop up at all in this version.
Finally, there are slightly more refined online features in these levels. Before the start of every section, you will get a tally as to how many players died on that level, then in a Dark Souls-esque twist you can see a glowing ball with a player’s name pop up in the section where they messed up. It helps add to the sinister atmosphere of these sections, but the less psychotic difficulty curve did make the body count lower than I thought it would be. The final sections alone maybe clocked at six deaths total in my first playthrough.
However, if you are the kind of player who can’t get enough of these puzzles, Catherine: Full Body does include additional challenges. There are bonus challenge rooms, online and offline competitive modes where you and other players see who can get to the top of a tower of blocks first, and the main adventure has a Remix mode where various blocks are changed around.
Catherine: Full Body is yet another respectable remastered title from the guys at Atlus. Everything that made the original great is still here and there are honest attempts to address or fix story or character issues with the addition of new scenes and scenarios. If you enjoyed the original, there is just enough to have you come back, and if you missed out on this underrated gem before, now’s the best time to jump in.