When Catherine came out back in 2011, it was one of the most unexpected things that could have come from Japanese developer Atlus. This was a massive studio made up of multiple teams that, for the most part, had been making nothing but RPGs in one form or another for the last 20 years. Sure, in that time they also made soe weird genre experiments like the criminally underrated Maken X (go play Maken X) or the grim and gorgeous fighting game series Power Instinct, but even by their more experimental standards, Atlus truly went outside of the box with Catherine.
Now, nearly ten years later, Shigenori Soejima and his team at Atlus have revisited the cult classic and packed it full of extra content that is guaranteed to please fans of the story, the gameplay, and even the niche competitive scene that this absurd narrative-puzzle-platformer has spawned.
Catherine is framed as a special TV broadcast of a romance horror series, and the protagonist of this story is one Vincent Brooks. He’s a 32-year-old burning the candle at both ends with a gruelling, poorly paid coding job and frequent late nights spent at his local bar, the Stray Sheep. With his longtime relationship with Katherine waning due to differing ideas about their future, Vincent begins experiencing vividly deadly nightmares that involve him climbing endless towers of blocks in order to escape death, reflect on his life and survive to see another day. All the while, he’s juggling confusing and potentially self-destructive feelings for a mysterious blonde girl named Catherine who he may have hooked up with the night they met.
The original game puts forward a simple, choose-your-own-adventure style premise. Do you want to settle down with your somewhat distant partner Katherine, or do you want to be free and try something new with the mysterious new Catherine? Your decisions during cutscenes and how you interact with bar patrons or respond to text messages will dictate which route your story ends up following, but this waifu war is just scratching the surface of the game’s narrative.
There are poignant themes in Catherine about coming to terms with one’s future, and fighting against the standards that society places on people in order to define your own happiness. Vincent and his supporting cast all struggle with their futures and society in different ways, and it’s touching to see the way they move forward or change as the game progresses. Catherine: Full Body throws more wrenches into all of this with the introduction of another mysterious woman named Rin.
Early on in Catherine: Full Body, Vincent has a chance encounter with Rin as she’s running from a mysterious stalker. The two end up becoming friends as he helps her find a job at the Stray Sheep, but their lives intertwine in very messy ways as the plot progresses. For at least the first few in-game days, Rin’s story often feels shoehorned in. I’d watch a cutscene about Vincent struggling to come to terms with his cheating and how it would affect his life with Katherine, only for a moment of silence to pass and be accompanied by someone saying “uh, by the way, Rin is playing the piano here now” or something similar. It takes a while, but her story eventually folds into things in a way that brings some really interesting new development to Vincent. The original story of the game focused so constantly on the tug of war between Katherine and Catherine, so having a B-plot in the form of Rin’s mysteries was a great way to keep the pacing even and the story from fizzling out. Rin can also become a third possible partner, if you follow the right story paths.
Something I’d like to specifically address in regards to the new story additions is sure to be a make-or-break deal for some players. Catherine features a cool and sassy trans character named Erica, both in this and in the original game, and characters sometimes poke fun at her, but never in a truly insidious ways. When Catherine: Full Body launched in Japan back on February 14 of this year, it was reported by some players that the game supposedly added a couple of truly twisted anti-LGBT scenes to the game. I personally encountered both of these scenes during my time with the game, but with the proper context they are absolutely normal and non-offensive scenes fitting the rest of the game’s tone. In one, Vincent lightly slaps away the hand of someone who’s gender is ambiguous during a moment of confusion, and immediately runs after them to apologise. In another scene, without spoiling too much, we get a peak at into a “what if” timeline where Erica hasn’t transitioned, but there’s dialogue that explicitly hints at the fact that she still plans to and is perhaps in the process of doing so.
Catherine is an important game to a lot of trans people due to how powerful and inspiring of a character Erica is, and I only felt it was worth sharing with these fans that Full Body does nothing to tarnish her story at all.
Beyond narrative additions, there’s a wealth of gameplay improvements and adjustments that add a lot to this package. When Vincent has nightmares, he enters tower-climbing puzzle stages that task him with shuffling blocks around in order to create platforms and staircases he can use to climb his way to victory. A large variety of new difficulty modes ensure that both puzzle-masters and novices alike can get through the entire story without any roadblocks or headaches.
Remixed puzzle levels add new types of blocks to each stage in the game, making the challenges fresh for returning players while also adding some more convenient navigation for first-timers. In particular, blocks can now be linked together in twos, threes, fours and more, coming in different shapes.
This puzzle aspect of the game inspired a healthy tournament scene consisting of players who would challenge these levels at the same time, racing to be the first one to achieve victory. Atlus saw the Western popularity of this competitive scene and has added offline and online competitive modes to the game in order to facilitate this action. Now, players can choose from a variety of characters and stages in order to directly compete with each other in Catherine: Full Body, and even though I’m personally here for the story, it’s incredible to see such a wealth of new features added by Atlus in response to the guerrilla popularity of competitive Catherine.