Catherine: Full Body (PS4, coming to America and Europe on September 3, 2019), is a messy mountain of male angst that made me grit my teeth and wonder how emotionally broken today's men are. After playing the game for a week, I've only chipped away into the middle of the title, and so this review will be a living diary of what it feels like to jump in Vincent's shows.
Right now, I can say that I'm intrigued with the game, but still not sure if I'd recommend it to someone else. The puzzle side of the gameplay is still intriguing and challenging, but I want to see the twists and turns of its story to see if I find the game's ending rewarding or upsetting.
What is Catherine: Full Body?
Catherine: Full Body re-release of Catherine, a 2011 Japanese horror game that's part puzzler, part romance sim, and hit the market in an odd moment. We were in the aftermath of Persona 4 and struggling to wait for Persona 5. And if the game's adultery-focused storyline wasn't odd enough, its ending packed a punch that alienated gamers.
What's the story of Catherine: Full Body?
This is a tale of three Catherines, each of whom meets Vincent Brookes (a software coder who drinks every night at the same bar with the same friends) in different manner.
Vincent met Katherine (an office manager who works in the clothing industry) in college and they're in a long-term relationship that he's seemingly feeling tired of, or at least he's feeling resistant to committing to her.
Then, late one night at The Stray Sheep (Vincent's favorite bar), after one many gulps of soju, Vincent comes across Catherine, a bubbly blonde who he goes home with. Before you know it, the two wake up together, and Catherine speaks as if they slept together. Vincent panics, but doesn't confess his adultery to Katherine, or tell Catherine that he's in a relationship.
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All the while, news reports on The Stray Sheep's TV show a series of mysterious deaths, and Vincent begins to experience surreal nightmares where he's surrounded by sentient sheep-men (or ... sheeple) in a reality where he has to scale steep stacks of block, or die. This is the Puzzle side of the game, and it increases in difficulty, with added complexity and bosses, every "night" in the story.
One new character in Catherine: Full Body is a woman named Rin, an amnesiac who Vincent meets as she's running from ... something. We soon discover Rin is actually named Qatherine. At the point I'm up to in the game, Rin is playing piano at The Stray Sheep ... and in the nightmare world that Vincent's struggling to survive.
So, how do you actually play Catherine: Full Body?
By day, you're making choices about how to talk to Katherine, Catherine, Rin and the rest of the people at The Stray Sheep. A lot of the interactions take place on Vincent's flip phone, which feels utterly esoteric, especially in how you compose messages to the women in your life, one line at a time.
Each decision you make will move the needle ever so slightly on a moral scale that presents itself. A flustering part of this game is the fact that it normalizes cheating, as you start to learn more and more about how many in its world are committing adultery, and that Vincent's scale could still be on the positive side of this scale while he is lying about his behavior to two women, as he's sleeping around.
Also, as you spend a lot of time at this bar, you'll find yourself futzing with its jukebox, playing the retro-style arcade game named Rapunzel, which is basically the nightmare mode of the game, with lower stakes. It's a neat little world, but the one bar room is a slightly restrictive playground.
Persona 5, comparatively, earned my love by having a wider, breathing world. Maybe more areas open up the further I get into the game, we shall see. Speaking of Persona 5, I love that The Stray Sheep's jukebox now includes songs from P5, including "Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There."
The most traditional gameplay in Catherine: Full Body begins once you enter the nightmare space. Here, you will feel infinitesimally small, as a mere speck inside of a giant set of slowly falling blocks that you have to push and pull and move to climb.
Soon, blocks turn to ice and become slippery. Bosses begin to terrorize you and beguile your ascent. Each boss takes the form of a part of the relationship that Vincent is afraid of, including a giant veiny baby that yells "DADDY!"
While the movable bricks in Catherine were rather simple 1x1x1 cubes, Full Body introduces a Remix Mode that has larger blocks of weirder shapes, which look like bastardized versions of Tetris bricks. As someone who got bored of the puzzling in Catherine, and finds Full Body's gameplay to be more engaging, I'm ready to say this is a definite win.
What's the big controversy with Catherine: Full Body?
Since I haven't finished Catherine nor Catherine: Full Body, I can't speak to having seen the below endings for myself, but I need to try and explain what's being said, in order to not overlook anything.
Of course, explicit spoilers lie below, and let's just say this is also a content warning for transphobia, because that's the major topic at hand.
So, one of the major characters of both Catherine games is Erica, a waitress at The Stray Sheep. As reported by Polygon, the original Catherine game revealed Erica to be a trans woman, and characters in the game shamed her partner for sleeping with Erica when her identity is revealed. I've yet to get to this part of the game, but it appears that this moment was done very far from good taste.
Catherine also apparently named her as Eric, in its end credits, defining her by her birth name and not her post-transition name. Many a sign that the game was coming down as defining the character as Eric, an act that Laura Kate Dale (of Kotaku UK, SyFy Fangrrls) declared "a lack of basic respect for trans identities."
Which brings us to Rin/Qatherine, whose identity has been a topic of question and debate during the long wait for the release and language localization for Catherine: Full Body. In a trailer for the game, Vincent appeared to be horrified by her naked body, leading many to think the sequel was doubling down on its transphobic content.
And then, in February, before the game was released in America, word leaked out that an ending where a character aimed to improve everyone's lives left Erica as Eric, denying the character their transition, and possibly suggesting that they'd be happier without transitioning, further disrespecting the trans community.
Many are saying we need to wait to see how the final English language translation of Full Body plays before we can actually place judgement upon the game, and I'm inclined to agree.
Only the beginning (stay tuned)
As we learn more about Catherine: Full Body, I will continue to detail my experience with the game in this review, and eventually give it a rating score. For now, I'll call it perplexing and interesting, and not something I can easily dismiss, no matter how weird it is.