A wine is considered to be full-bodied when its taste is complex and lingering. In this way, there could not have been a more appropriate name for Atlus’ remake of their 2011 title Catherine. Even as I write this, the taste of Catherine: Full Body still rests on my tongue, sickeningly sweet and mind-blowingly bold. Yet, while I find myself interested in another sip, I cannot ignore the overwhelming bitterness that leaves me feeling just a bit sour.
As a remake, Full Body succeeds in doing all the things a good remake should do. The game looks nicer, runs smoother, is more accessible than ever, and has successfully added new content whilst generally preserving the original story. The greatest deviation from the original comes in the child-like shape of Rin, the newest “Qatherine” to enter the fray. Rin is a quirky young woman with an otherworldly quality that seemingly seeks to help the game break away from its binary view of women. She comes with a tightly woven-in story, two new endings, and a whole slew of problems.
All in all, as a remake the game is successful. If you’re a fan of the original who was hoping for this result, you’ll most likely be content with Full Body. In and of itself, however, the enhanced version of the game is one full of highs and lows, regardless of all that has changed.
Meet the Catherines…
Catherine: Full Body is an erotically-charged visual novel-meets-puzzle game, and that’s not where the anomalies stop. Set over the course of nine days, Full Body tells the story of Vincent Brooks as he navigates his way through what can only be described as the most high-stakes quarter-life-crisis imaginable. After years of dating, Vincent’s partner, the ambitious Katherine McBride, is ready to take their relationship to the next level and tie the knot. Vincent, however, is not so certain he’s ready to take the plunge.
After a particularly tense lunch, Vincent makes his way to the Stray Sheep where he mourns his perceived loss of independence beside his best friends and a few rum and Cokes. Time passes, blood alcohol levels rise, and soon after his friends turn in for the night, a charming young woman makes her way into the bar and later, Vincent’s bed. The next morning Vincent wakes up to find Catherine tangled up in his sheets, but has no recollection of how or why this happened. A sordid affair begins, filled with plenty of deception, lewd text messages, and pressure from each and every direction. To make matters worse, Full Body introduces a third romantic partner with Qatherine, a waif of a girl suffering from amnesia who becomes entirely reliant on Vincent after he saves her life and helps her start anew.
In the midst of all this drama, nightmares begin to haunt Vincent—lifelike terrors involving large blocks and monstrous versions of his greatest fears. What’s even more concerning is that he is not the only one experiencing these dreams. News reports and hushed conversations about young men dying horrifically in their sleep as a result of “woman’s wrath” begin to consume the town and Vincent’s mind. While he cannot remember the exact details of his nightmares, the feeling of dread is not so quickly forgotten, and he becomes certain he too is a victim of this nocturnal affliction.
Sleepy, Stylish & Ready to Climb
The game progresses through the choices you make throughout the day, which either make Vincent a more orderly or chaotic individual, and his completion of the puzzles that emerge once he falls asleep. The puzzles consist of helping Vincent navigate his way up a growing staircase of large blocks while various hazards (ice blocks, crumbling blocks, bombs), time restraints, and competitors in the form of sheep, attempt to stop you. By pushing, pulling, and carefully navigating around the blocks, you rise to the top of the tower and pull the lever that takes you to the next pit stop before you continue your hellish endeavour. There you interact with various sheep, who like you, are men going through relationship crises in the real world. By Interacting with your fellow flock, you can find out more about their situations, real world identities, and how to help them through their own nightmares.
Mechanically, the game is a good time. The puzzles are challenging and rely heavily on techniques rather than reckless pushing and pulling, making it all the more satisfying when you complete them. The choices you make, how you manage your time, and the paths your interactions and ideologies lead you down are interesting and engaging. Furthermore, the game, artisitcally, is delightful. If you are someone who appreciates the art of Atlus legend Kazuma Kaneko, you’ll enjoy the work of his mentee, Shigenori Soejima. Composer Shoji Meguro delivers in creating a subdued but jazzy soundtrack that has come to be closely associated with Atlus as a developer. Where my issues lie with Catherine: Full Body comes entirely in the characters and messages hiding within the pretty packaging.
Beneath the Mask
While the story and characters are engaging, there is not a single character in Catherine: Full Body who is a genuine “character.” In both 2011 and 2019, Vincent Brooks is the modern Everyman. While not exceptionally brilliant, strong, successful, handsome, or morally upstanding, he contains enough of each one of these attributes to be likable and relatable to the average male player who might perceive himself similarly.
Now, whereas Vincent largely acts as a slate for a heterosexual male player, the rest of the ensemble acts as a physical forms for abstract concepts and stereotypes, particularly the women. When it comes down to it, Katherine is presented as the nagging girlfriend who used to be cool, Catherine, an unhinged hedonist, and Rin the manic pixie dream girl; this triad creates the perfect male power fantasy for us to play through. Vincent is presented as more rational than the monogamy craving Katherine, he is the protector and white knight of Rin, who cannot perform basic actions and lives in a home filled with children’s toys and no bed because she’s “free-spirited”, and is absolutely craved by the most desirable and outwardly sexual woman imaginable, Catherine. It becomes hard to pity Vincent and his “woe is me” attitude when he is using three women as crutches the entirety of the game.
Furthermore, the conversations Vincent has with his friends involving commitment, infidelity, and mental health are uninspired and regurgitate the same old lines we’ve seen in movies and television for the past fifty years rather than opening new, healthier conversations. The game talks about sex and the complications of love with a boldness unparalled in many games, espcially AAA titles, yet I cannot fully respect their attempt due to the way these conversations are had. For instance, if you are going to be a game which discusses adult themes and sex, maybe be able to talk about anal sex without avoiding using those words, refering to it as sacrilgious, implying only a deviant girl would permiss to it, and creating an actual ass demon to represent it’s unholiness. For the record, that pun was not intended, but I certainly wish it were.
The Nightmare that is Negligence
The game also seeks to address sexuality and gender, but repeatedly invalidates those who are neither heterosexual or cisgender to the point where them opening this conversation does more harm than good. One instance of this occurs over drinks one night, when the game’s cast discusses sexuality and, for the most part, come to the conclusion that, “it doesn’t matter” what you identify as because people are people. While this seems good-natured, this is essentially the gay version of “I don’t see color.” We live in a world where the reality is this matters, and this stance seems to be written by someone with no grasp of the importance of sexuality and identity.
Later on, in one of the game’s more climactic moments, Vincent is physically violent toward a trans character. While he does feel guilty about the incident and is berated by his friends, particularly Erica, for doing it, the game fixates on how he is dealing with this “deception” and his sexuality. While us seeing this kind of conversation happen is certainly progress, it brings us to another issue: it never feels like interactions are happening between two characters in Full Body, but rather one man is utilizing people as tools to help him find himself and explore his own sexuality.
Throughout the game, there are repeated jabs made at the expense of trans women. For example, when Erica, a trans woman, remarks that she isn’t sure the nightmares only happen to men as she’s been having them as well, her male friends tell her they aren’t sure that counts. Ultimately, the game goes as far as to imply she would be better had she not transitioned at all.
Catherine: Full Body presents itself in a way that implies there is no right or wrong way to live your life then continuously passes judgement. Because Catherine loves sex, she isn’t a “good girl.” Because Rin is a “good girl”, your morality isn’t negatively impacted when you cheat on your partner with her. Because Erica is a trans woman, the game’s men treat her differently and dish out snide remarks that Erica merely accepts. I cannot express how uncomfortable it made me to hear Vincent’s friend Toby tell Erica, at a wedding, that he wanted his virginity back from her because she was trans and he was embarrassed they had slept together. Had this conversation been one that felt meaningful or representative of real transgender issues, it would be one thing, but Toby’s words were treated like a joke. There was no conversation. His cruelty was merely brushed aside.
I have never walked away from a game with as many mixed feelings as I did Catherine: Full Body. There has never been a game that has contained so many elements I absolutely love curled up right beside cruelties that make me feel a bit ill. Atlus has been the subject of many articles and claims of transphobia, homophobia, body shaming, sexism, and more. And each time a new title comes out, we see these half-measured attempts at them being “better.” Even with Full Body, we were supposed to see “better”, but these attempts are not good enough. There is not enough effort being put into being “better” and assembling people who know and live through these issues to work on these games. While Catherine: Full Body is a stylish and engaging game, it’s content and ideologies fail to live up to the standards we should hold both ourselves and games to and it falls victim to its own lack of progressiveness in a game that strives to be transcendent.
This game was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro system with a review code provided by Atlus.