Initially releasing back in 2011, Atlus’ Catherine was the first title from the developer that embraced the HD-era of video game development. Thanks to some decent scores and sales, it turned out to be quite the success too, but what would you expect from the team known for gems like Persona and Shin Megami Tensei? Eight years on, a re-release of the game with some finer-tuned mechanics and additions seemed like a good idea – enter Catherine: Full Body, a new release of the game on the PlayStation 4 that brings with it all of the original content and a host of new additions, all of which are gloriously remastered in the engine used for Persona 5.
We start off in the shoes of Vincent, a struggling 30-something who is in a long-term relationship with his high school crush Katherine, a successful careerist who is driven but conflicted about how she should pursue her future. You know what’s coming… marriage. Add to this Vincent’s uncertainty to upset the ‘comfortable’ balance that they have maintained as a couple for the past five-years, and… well… we can see where this is going. Now I don’t know about you, but the word ‘marriage’ is enough to send me into a frenzy, so I feel this man’s pain. Add to this the fact that Vincent’s sleep is plagued by nightmares, and there is little wonder why he is so vexed.
You’re thrown into the action after the first cutscene (which is a stunning rendition of actual anime scenes drawn by Japan’s Studio 4°C, who have returned to add an additional twenty scenes of anime goodness to the re-release) and into Vincent’s first nightmare. You ever have that dream where you’re climbing a big tower of blocks, using your wits to make as many step-ups as possible to reach safety and avoid falling to your inexorable doom? No? Just me then…
Yes, you heard. For those returners from the original Catherine, you’ll find even more blocks to work with to wet your cubic appetite, and for the newbies, what follows is a descent into the world of intense block-puzzles. You’ll be pulling and pushing blocks, grabbing inanely at edges and crying as blocks crumble away and you fall into the abyss. Honestly, It’s not as mundane as I’m making it sound; it’s charming, frustrating and exciting all in one hefty package. The aim is to use whatever wits you can muster to find a path from the bottom of the tower to the safety of the door at the very top and out of Vincent’s hellish nightmare. Your first foray starts off quite breezy, with very little thought actually required, but as the game progresses, we start getting things like instant death block traps and crumbling blocks – these require you to be a lot more strategic about your climb with each block movement potentially signalling a long drop into the darkness. You’ll die, it’ll happen, just like in real dreams.
In the following forays into Vincent’s nightmares, you’ll be tasked with climbing more sets of towers at a time. Eventually, you’ll see other climbers too, which are hilariously anatomically-human sheep. In between stages you’ll be hanging out with them, listening to them whine about the unfairness of the climb, learning techniques from them to make your climbing easier (with great video tutorials and explanations I might add), and buying items from them to make your next climb easier. How great are these sheeple (that’s what I’m calling them now), right!?
Not that great, actually. It turns out that you’ll be encountering some of them during tower climbs too, and they won’t be shy in blocking your path, pushing you and vying for the top. Honestly, it won’t take you long to hate those fluffy bastards after the first few instances of their menacing ways. None of this will be new to those returning to the game, but I am excited to add that there is a ‘Remix’ mode that has been added to freshen the eyes for vets of Catherine with all new block rules and types. It spices up the whole experience in new ways and ensures that everyone will encounter something unexpected during their treacherous climbs.
Once you’ve managed to escape the towers, you’re met with a decision-making process before you can move on, asking you real and (likely for some) uncomfortable home truth questions about love, relationships and marriage. Your responses tally up with a chart at the end to show you how other players around the world have answered, and you’ll either be sat there triumphantly fitting in with the norm or questioning whether your wired right. This affects your purity meter in-game, which determines whether you’re closer to the imaginary angel or demon on your shoulder – it makes it all the more sweat inducing. No-one likes being judged, after all…
When you’re not spelunking though nightmarish tower climbs and watching cutscenes, you’ll find yourself at the ‘Stray Sheep’ bar, drinking your woes away and chewing the cud with your three friends over Vincent’s many problems. You can wander around the bar, all whilst talking with its colourful and bizarre clientele. Don’t forget to check your phone intermittently; you will receive messages and are able to send three or four individual sentence responses which will directly affect that purity meter of yours, as well as opening different story paths. The aim is also to be drunk: the drunker you are going to bed, the faster Vincent can climb those towers. Get ‘em down you. You can even hit up the juke box and slap on some classic tracks from the Persona games. Beer, music and complex nightmares about the frailties of your love-life – sounds like my average Saturday night.
The characters are both wacky and fun, which is kind of what you would expect when met with an anime-style game. The faces that Vincent makes at times had me crippled laughing, but in some real way, some of the content had me thinking about how complex relationships really are, and how little thought we give to our decisions when it comes to the pursuit of happiness. It might be incredibly risqué on the outside, but there’s a whole lot more to Catherine: Full Body than it might initially seem.
The Full Body rendition gives us access to a new character with her own story path (there were only two to vie between in the original) which adds extra content for the newcomers, but also a reason to dip the toe again for the oldies. The story is enough reason to play the game, but for those of you who are deterred by the thought of moving blocks in a puzzle fashion, worry not; Atlus have you covered, with the easy mode offering an auto-play function and no crumbling blocks which means all of the story with little or no effort to be made on the player’s part as far as tower-climbing is concerned.
If you’re the competitive type, there are challenging randomised block stages in the ‘Babel’ mode, and competitive head-to-head multiplayer online in ‘Coliseum’ mode. There’s plenty to sink your teeth into no matter what your bag is, with Catherine: Full Body pleasing both the single and multiplayer crowd.
There isn’t anything about Catherine: Full Body that I could find that I disagree with. Yes, it’s very niche. Not everyone likes a puzzler, and this may not appeal from the get-go to those who aren’t interested in anime. You’d be wrong to skip it based on that alone though; Catherine: Full Body has a flair, charm and style of its own that even non-anime lovers will appreciate. It can be borderline risqué at times with the themes it explores, and I will admit to the occasional feeling of mundanity a couple of block puzzles in, but there are options on the table to make that as challenging or easy as you like. It’s a fluid experience no matter what you’re looking for.
There’s no doubting that Catherine: Full Body is wacky and bizarre, but those qualities are embraced in a mighty enjoyable way. It is as stylish as it is thought-provoking with an extra layer of childlike hilarity that ensures you’re kept entertained, whether that’s when divulging in the game’s narrative or during Vincent’s nightmarish climbs. Is it mainstream? No. Will everyone enjoy it if they give it a chance? Yes.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but Catherine: Full Body explores the more mature aspects of human intimacy and the many, many pitfalls that come with love and growing up in ways that not many other games manage. Add to that a solid story, enjoyable block-based puzzling, and some fresh additions built entirely for the new release, and you’ll quickly find that Atlus are onto another winner here.
Platform(s): PlayStation 4