- Developer: Atlus
- Publisher: Atlus
- Platforms: PlayStation 4
- Release Date: September 3, 2019
PS4 digital review copy provided by the publisher.
During the last generation of game consoles, Atlus released Catherine, a critically and financially successful experiment to help their developers get used to HD development. Eight years later, and the PS4 remake titled Catherine: Full Body presents an undoubtedly definitive version of the original. With additions that feel right at home and refinements where there needed to be, this is a worthwhile experience both for newcomers and those who played the original game.
Catherine: Full Body tells the story of 32-year old computer programmer Vincent Brooks as he tries to navigate a complicated romantic life after cheating on Katherine, his girlfriend of five years, with a woman called Catherine. At the same time, Vincent begins to experience recurring nightmares where he needs to climb towers of large blocks in order to survive, with a rumor that people who die in those nightmares will die in reality.
The major addition to the original’s premise is the introduction of Rin, an amnesiac who runs into Vincent while being chased by a supposed stalker. Rin ends up living in an apartment next to Vincent’s and also becomes a pianist working at the Stray Sheep, a bar that Vincent frequents nightly.
When Catherine: Full Body was first announced, I was worried that Rin might feel incongruous and possibly unnecessary when it came to the clearly delineated morals presented in the original. However, that fear was assuaged as I progressed through Full Body, seeing just how well she fit in.
The game is divided into two main parts: Vincent’s time at the Stray Sheep, and the nightmare sections where Vincent needs to climb to survive. Both of these sections are intermingled with a variety of real-time and animated cutscenes, driving the story forward.
At the Stray Sheep, Vincent hangs around with his close friends. Players are able to talk with them and also walk around to talk with other patrons of the bar, giving insight into their personalities and love lives.
There’s a text messaging system, where important characters will send texts and pictures to Vincent on his cell phone that he can reply to with customized messages based on pre-set sentences.
At the Stray Sheep, Vincent can drink various forms of alcohol—making him move faster in the nightmares based on his level of drunkenness—there’s a jukebox to adjust the music played in the bar, and there’s an arcade cabinet called “Rapunzel” that lets Vincent play a much slower and more tactical version of the nightmare block puzzles.
The structure of the Stray Sheep segments is much like it was in the original Catherine, however a lot of the dialogue and cutscenes have been altered to accommodate Rin, along with the addition of her presence playing the piano.
The additional dialogue is significant, making it feel like Rin properly belongs in this story, despite most of the plot staying consistent with the original game’s. One example is that in Catherine, there was a cutscene between Vincent and Katherine where she admonished him for buying a new phone. In Full Body, that cutscene remains, but there is a new one where Vincent gives his old phone to Rin.
All of the new content integrates seamlessly into the story, without any of it feeling out of place.
One other new aspect to the Stray Sheep are nightly visits by Catherine at the bar once everyone else has gone home, where Vincent can interact with her for new conversations and animated cutscenes.
As with the original game, all of the English voice acting is fantastic. All of the original voice actors have returned, sounding no different for the numerous new lines than they did eight years ago. Rin’s voice actor, Brianna Knickerbocker, is especially great. None of it feels forced, and it makes all of the scenes with extended conversation—of which there are many—compelling. The Japanese voice acting is also available in Full Body if you are so inclined, but you really can’t go wrong with either choice.
The game is also beautiful, graphically. Just like the original, Full Body has a distinct art style with a grounded, muted tone in the real world segments, juxtaposed with an unsettling, twisted horror vibe in the nightmares. The cutscene direction is visibly curated, though a new direction in Full Body‘s new real-time cutscenes is apparent, with a larger focus on characters’ eyes to underline emotion, a camera placed further out, and more character interactions between one another as opposed to individual movement.
The second facet of the game lies in the nightmare world, where the gameplay turns into a frantic, unique take on block puzzles as players think on their feet to guide Vincent to the top of towers, as the floor beneath him crumbles at a regular pace.
There are several different types of blocks, including spike traps eviscearting those who activate them without moving away, ice blocks which cause Vincent to slip, heavy blocks which are much harder to move than regular ones, and so on. There are also items found throughout the levels which help Vincent in various ways, with abilities that include creating new blocks or instantly killing other climbers who hinder Vincent’s progress. The objective is to navigate all of these blocks, generally climbing one at a time, to reach the top.
The game’s “Normal” difficulty is easier than the original Catherine, with changes having been made to streamline the puzzles. If you have an available “Undo”—the ability to rewind an action which pillows strewn throughout the area provide—moments when you would otherwise die are simply undone, without needing to go through the “Love is Over” game over screen first.
Items can now be purchased in the Landings—the rest areas between stages where you can walk around and talk to others—for use during the next level. And Rin’s piano is a new element during the nightmares, where Rin will automatically play for Vincent if he gets too close to the crumbling blocks below, slowing down the process and giving players more time to formulate a way up.
The game’s “Hard” difficulty retains the infamous difficulty of Full Body‘s predecessor, however, providing a genuine challenge from the game’s early stages.
A “Remix” mode has been added to the nightmare puzzles in Full Body. Remix stages have different puzzle layouts than “Classic” stages, with the addition of a new block type which consists of large, Tetris-like blocks which occupy many spaces at once. “Classic” mode is available at the start of a game, as well, which retains the layouts of the original Catherine.
The action puzzle gameplay in the original was divisive. If you did not like them in Catherine, then your opinion won’t change here—however “Easy” mode has been made easier, and you can outright skip stages on “Safety” difficulty this time, if you simply want to experience the story. But if you enjoyed the gameplay in the original game like I did, you’ll enjoy it in Full Body as well, along with the fresh take of new stage layouts in “Remix” mode and the minutiae of how some returning items work differently than before.
The thrill of figuring out the right way to climb your way to the top, while the ground is literally falling beneath you or a nightmarish boss chases you is unique; unlike other puzzle games.
On “Normal” difficulty and below, there is a lot of flexibility for how you choose to climb, which allows for a pleasant, freeform type of puzzle solving. On “Hard,” Full Body becomes much more strict about how you should approach each part of the tower, and you will die and repeat sections a lot before figuring out the exact steps the game wants you to take.
A couple of fun additions in terms of online functionality have been made to the nightmare sequences. For the first. at the beginning of a level, the game will tell you how different players died, giving you an inkling of what to look out for.
The second online addition is that, in a fashion similar to Dark Souls, you’ll be able to see where different players have died along with their PSN names on a level.
A major component in Full Body, just like in Catherine, is how the choices you make both in and out of the nightmare sequences will determine how the story progresses, the cutscenes you get, and ultimately the ending you will reach out of 13 possibilities (five more than in the original).
The choices are determined through your replies in text messages, the dialogue answers you choose in conversation, and the choices you make in the Confessionals at the end of the Landings. How players answered the different questions is displayed after the choice is made.
There are two main paths these decisions lean towards: being more considerate to the paramour Catherine, or having a preference for Vincent’s longtime girlfriend, Katherine. Full Body introduces a third path with Rin, which is achieved through special choices for a “new possibility” telegraphed in the game.
If Rin’s path is chosen, the game expands significantly from the first game, with new story moments and new nightmare stages. If Vincent chooses Catherine or Katherine instead, the story will proceed exactly like it did in the original game. Rin is a fascinating character who adds a fresh new perspective to the love interests of the original, but players can also choose to leave Rin out of most of the game, based on their decisions.
Finally, other than the game’s “Golden Playhouse” story component, Full Body has three additional modes: “Babel,” “Colosseum,” and “Online Arena.” In Babel, you can climb multiple, randomly generated puzzle stages by yourself or in co-op with a friend. Colosseum consists of a 1v1 competitive multiplayer mode, where two players fight each other to reach the top first.
Online Arena is where you can play Babel and Colosseum online. The matchmaking for the Online Arena’s Colosseum is divided between “Ranked” and “Casual” modes, with the ability to play against friends as well. I was not able to find a match pre-release, so I’m not able to say just how well the matchmaking or the online works. If it works as intended, however, online multiplayer will be a great way to further explore the complexities of Full Body‘s addictive puzzle gameplay.
Catherine was a refreshingly unique game which achieved everything it set out to do. Catherine: Full Body expands on those achievements meaningfully, making this remake feel fully earned and worthwhile.
If you’re seeking a game with themes of adult romance and finding oneself, complemented by action puzzle gameplay like no other, I fully recommend Catherine: Full Body, even if you’ve played the original already.