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Catherine: Full Body is still insightful, still troubling

Catherine’s Vincent Brooks is a 30-something man who has hit a brick wall in his life.

Vincent’s dread and indecision come from a romantic relationship that has grown stale. His girlfriend wants to get married, but he isn’t so sure. Vincent wants everything to stay the same — it’s much more comfortable that way — and this immature reaction to the world forces him to the edge of an abyss. He begins having nightmares from all the stress, and, according to the news, young men in his city are dying in their sleep. Could the two situations be related in some way?

Soon, Vincent is put in the middle of what once was a love triangle — and is now a love square — between himself; Katherine, his girlfriend of five years; Catherine, a mysterious woman who seems to be as interested in Vincent as he is in her; and Rin, an amnesiac whom Vincent saves from a stalker.

This is old news to fans who have played the 2011 original. And there are plenty of reasons for those fans to come back for a second helping of the game in 2019. Catherine developer Atlus has stretched and edited the game into Catherine: Full Body, an updated version for the PlayStation 4 that now features 13 endings, new levels, new music, another love interest, and a whole lot more … while still feeling familiar and comfortable to existing fans. New players will simply benefit from a game that’s much fuller and better realized than the original release.

But the game still has a dark underbelly where infidelity, freedom, sexuality, marriage, and an obsessive look at gender swarm together in an unsettling but potent mix that makes Catherine: Full Body hard to look away from, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Just like the original.

Oh yeah, and for those of you who didn’t know: This is a puzzle game.

Climb your demons

Catherine’s most challenging feature is Vincent’s nightmares, which are born from his biggest, most pressing fears.

Each night, Vincent must climb up a wall of floating boxes to access a platform that will lead him back into the real world. But climbing isn’t necessarily easy. To get to salvation, you’ll need to push and pull boxes to make an accessible pathway. Two boxes are too high to climb, but Vincent can manage to get to the top of a single box. Arranging the boxes to make sure he can climb them can be challenging, especially on the game’s higher difficulty levels. There’s also a time limit; boxes will begin to fall away if you wait too long.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=poFB04EkFQc%3Frel%3D0

Each stage consists of a number of tiers that you must complete to reach the ultimate exit, which is a single door that will awaken you from your slumber when you walk through it. There is often a fear that acts almost like a boss battle on the final tier of each stage. Those fears might be Vincent’s girlfriend, a baby, a bridezilla, or even himself. Each fear is designed to be gnarly and uncomfortable: Katherine’s blue, rotting fingers can rip Vincent in two, for example. It’s the perfect motivation to get the hell out of … well, hell. Or, at least, Vincent’s version of hell.

The original game forced you to solve each level if you wanted to continue the story, but Catherine: Full Body includes an “auto” feature on Easy mode that allows you to just watch Vincent climb if you’re playing mostly for the story or if you get stuck and frustrated. The feature removes the challenge of the game and may rankle purists, but it’s also easily ignored if you want to feel like you’ve earned your progress through the game.

Vincent also discovers a world at the top of each level where everyone else is a sheep. Each sheep is actually a person who is trapped in a nightmare, and each one has a different fear or worry that plagues them. You can help rid them of those fears by talking to them, and the game encourages you to do so. The conversations may help them overcome their insecurities to survive the nine levels of struggle and find “true freedom.”

Outgrow your box

“True freedom” is never clearly defined in Catherine: Full Body, which makes sense in a game that is so often at war with itself.

The puzzle-y action sequences in Vincent’s nightmares are broken up by scenes in the Stray Sheep, a bar where Vincent and his friends hang out while drinking and talking about life. You’ll have access to Vincent’s phone in these scenes, where you can text your multiple love interests and read their responses.

Your time in the Stray Sheep also directly relates to what happens in the dream world. For example, Vincent will move faster during his time in his nightmares if you drink too much while he’s awake, which can make it much easier to reach the top. The downside, however, is that time passes when you sit down to have a drink, meaning that some important characters may leave before you can get to speak to them. Speaking to some of these people — aka your fellow sheep that you meet in Vincent’s dreams — can further improve their chances of getting out of the nightmares alive. So be aware of your choices.

Atlus/Sega

I can’t help but root for Vincent and his friends in these moments, as they talk, laugh, drink, and share secrets. But my affection for their camaraderie disappears when Catherine throws transphobic jokes into the situation, seemingly out of the blue.

Erica, one of the main characters in the game and an old friend of Vincent’s, is the target of jabs that make fun of her for not being a “real woman.” Atlus has dialed these “jokes” back from the original game for this release, but some references to the older, controversial dialogue remain as a sharp reminder of past grievances that are now being swept under the rug.

The irony is that both Erica and Vincent are suffering while trying to escape the rigid roles that society has handed them, which makes it even harder to believe that Vincent wouldn’t be more sympathetic toward his friend. It feels like I’m forced to play a jerk, without any justification for the shitty behavior.

Yet with this worldview so ingrained into the majority of the characters in Catherine: Full Body, the inclusion of Rin — the new love interest that wasn’t in the original game — seems like a confusing but earnest decision. I won’t say exactly what is going on with Rin, as it’s a huge spoiler, but the reveal of a certain aspect of Rin’s past leads to confusion in Vincent. It’s confusion that, depending on the route you choose, might lead to Vincent discovering something new about his sexuality and the way he perceives gender as a whole.

To put it bluntly, this addition feels as though Atlus is responding to criticism of the transphobia and homophobia in the original game. It is a thoughtful addition, though, and it brings up a well-needed discussion of gender and sexuality that was sorely missing. It’s helpful that Vincent now has a journey that can be so much more positive.

But adding positive inclusion in the game doesn’t take away from the casual transmisogyny that remains. In fact, it only seems to further highlight the instances that still exist.

Obsession and desire

Catherine: Full Body does show the duality of people in a way that is both alienating and touching.

Vincent is not a “hero” in any sense of the word. He can be incredibly self-centered, often not listening to his friend’s problems or pushing them off to someone else. But he can also be kind and help the other sheep in his nightmares. I was often unsure about whether I wanted to egg Vincent on, leave him to stew in his stagnant lifestyle, or help him change for the better. And Catherine gives you a variety of ways to approach each path.

Will you ignore the texts that your longtime girlfriend keeps sending you? Demand nudes from your one-night stand? Ignore both, and live a life where Vincent only cares about himself? It depends on the player and their perspective about what’s right, or maybe what’s desirable.

Atlus/Sega

But your choices matter, and Catherine’s order/chaos tracker — a blue/red meter that appears after dialogue options — will move in the direction that matches your actions with each choice.

But even this small feature asks the question: What is chaos, and what is order? Treating your girlfriend like a decent human being is seen as orderly, whereas calling her out for pushing you around all the time is treated as a chaotic action. The order/chaos system brings a black-and-white approach to behaviors that are often gray, in a way that ignores the nuance in the rest of the story. How much you care about this meter, however, mostly has to do with how much you care about seeing every ending.

Catherine: Full Body remains a bizarre, but enjoyable, adventure that asks a lot of questions about life without providing many answers. That’s fine; some of the best fiction lets the audience make up their own mind about what it all means. But the game itself seems to be stretching toward an ideal that it sometimes undercuts with its own writing and characterization, leaving an experience that mirrors Vincent himself: messy, uncomfortable, and always falling short of its potential.

Catherine: Full Body will be released Sept. 3 for PlayStation 4. The game was reviewed using a final “retail” download code provided by Sega. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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