Catherine is a game about sex. When you read that, your first impression might be to dismiss it as a cheap fanservice anime game (the industry is certainly filled with an abundance of them, I wouldn’t blame you) but it’s not that simple. It presents a rather mature and nuanced look at sex, from the perspective of people in their 30’s still struggling to find their place in the world. It tackles infidelity, in particular, attempting to examine why men would cheat without condoning their actions. We see all this from the perspective of Vincent Brooks, an aimless man in a five-year-long relationship with a woman named Katherine who wakes up after a long night of drinking with another woman in his bed. Struggling to keep his life from falling apart as he accidentally begins an affair with this new woman named Catherine, he also spends his nights plagued by supernatural nightmares where he has to climb dangerous towers to survive. Katherine offers stability, Catherine offers excitement.
Catherine: Full Body is an expanded re-release for the original 2011 game, turning that iconic love triangle into a love square. It offers five new endings, a plethora of brand new anime cutscenes, and a new love interest for Vincent named Rin. She’s an amnesiac pianist who allows Vincent to reveal a softer side of his personality, and has a brand new end-game if you go down her route. There are a large amount of quality of life improvements, gameplay rebalances, more stages, and a brand new Remix mode that lets people play the game in a new way. In my opinion, this is the definitive edition of the game, and the Nintendo Switch version only makes it better. In addition to letting players take the tale on the go, it includes all of Catherine: Full Body’s $25 of downloadable content for free on the cartridge. The biggest of those was a $15 voice pack for Catherine, allowing people playing the game with the Japanese voices to change her voice between nine different voice actors. The Switch version takes this an extra step further, with three brand new voices to choose from.
The gameplay loop of Catherine: Full Body is split between the real and nightmare world sequences. Vincent will spend his days struggling to go through his life and his nights at his regular bar, the Stray Sheep. The only times the player has direct control of Vincent is during the bar or in the nightmare, with everything else being cutscenes. Given the story nature of the game and how much freedom the player has during the bar segments, this is actually a non-issue. You can order drinks (which will improve your speed in the nightmare), talk to your friends, walk around and chat with the patrons about their lives, play an arcade game, answer emails and phone calls, flip through some of ATLUS’ best songs on the jukebox, and learn fun trivia about alcohol. You can’t do everything each night since these segments run on a time system. Doing one thing will cause time to pass, so you need to decide how you want to spend it. The emails, in particular, are excellent, letting you decide exactly how you respond to the girls which branch out into unique message chains. They can even send you selfies, some of which are cute, some of which are lewd. The Stray Sheep moments were the best in the game for me, and the vibe they offer is relaxing and introspective as you listen to the smooth jazz playing from the jukebox. They’re also the best part about replaying it, with different subplots for each patron you get to see play out over time.
Once Vincent has gotten his fill of the nightlife, he falls asleep at his dingy apartment and the game transitions into the Nightmare sequences. Vincent and other men have turned into sheep, only seeing themselves as human. This is where the true “gameplay” of Catherine takes place. Each stage starts Vincent at the bottom of a tower made of blocks, and he needs to push and pull them around to create staircases to make it to the top while the bottom slowly crumbles away beneath him. Each stage increases the difficulty slightly, and each night will introduce new mechanics. In the last stage of each night, you reach a “boss stage” which adds another threat to attack Vincent as he climbs to the top based on one of his fears. If you make a mistake you can undo your move up to a certain amount, and if you fall or get crushed without any redos you get a game over and have to retry from the last checkpoint. There are multiple difficulty settings in place that have been rebalanced in Catherine: Full Body for those who want to customize their experience, along with the previously mentioned Remix mode. Remix mode adds in new combination blocks that require a completely new way of thinking that I just couldn’t wrap my brain around, so I played most of it in Classic. You can change this in the Stray Sheep segments after making your initial choice, along with the difficulty. It took me a while to understand the ins and outs of the puzzle mechanics, but by the end, I was completely hooked. From my experience playing only on Normal, I think one downside to the difficulty is that as it goes on it feels easier. I struggled more in the beginning and breezed through the later levels.
In between stages you can take a breather and talk to the other sheep. You get to understand what led them to where they ended up in life, what they are trying to survive for, and their hopes and fears for the future. How you respond to them can change their fate, so it’s worth taking time to talk to each of them. Doing this will also teach both Vincent and the player new techniques on how to climb the tower. To advance to the next stage, you need to enter a confession booth. A mysterious voice will ask you a binary question about love, sex, or relationships. The two options represent extreme viewpoints, forcing the player to pick between them. This might seem like a betrayal to the game’s themes, but it actually adds to them. The nightmares are meant to torture its victims and remove the nuance from these complicated issues. Your answers here, how you respond to text messages, and the advice you give the troubled people you come across will change Vincent’s standing on a mysterious meter.
There are thirteen endings in Catherine: Full Body. There are a large number of factors that decide this, mainly where your Vincent stands morally. I won’t go into too much detail about the intricacies of how the decision system works, but I will say that for the best initial experience you shouldn’t follow any guides. Make the decisions you would actually make in Vincent’s position, and save the guides for repeat playthroughs to get more endings. It creates a fun experience where you either push Vincent down on a better path or make him a full-blown scumbag. My initial playthrough was around 10 hours long, with future ones being around seven. I ended up gravitating towards Katherine, and found that to be the best result for both Vincent and everyone’s growth as people. I wish Catherine and Katherine’s “routes” had more differences until the very end, and it would have been nice to see more of Catherine’s character outside of the text messages. I was disappointed to see that the endings feel rather tacked on to a story where you would reasonably assume Vincent would end with Katherine, but at least they were still entertaining and fit her character.
There have been numerous new animated and 3D cutscenes meant to flesh out Vincent and the relationships to those close to him. Some of the best ones are the anime scenes meant to show off Vincent and Catherine’s love when they first started dating, showing you a side of them you never got to see before. Every single 3D cutscene in this game looks stellar, which makes sense when you consider that this was the game that laid the foundation for Persona 5. The anime scenes are very well done but miss the mark compared to the 3D ones, and I personally feel that the new ones don’t look as good as the old ones. They don’t look bad, but it’s immediately apparent when they show up. Many of the new scenes have to do with Rin, and, with the exception of the new first cutscene in the game, fit in very well with the flow and structure of the original story. Rin feels a lot less tacked on than many similar characters in previous ATLUS re-releases, but still isn’t as good as Persona 5 Royal’s Kasumi (which came out months later). I like Rin a lot, and is my second best choice between the girls Vincent can pursue.
The story as a whole isn’t anything groundbreaking, but the characterization and how it’s told is what made me really love going through it. I love stories about flawed people that have to find their place in the world, and that works very well with a story with sexuality at its core. The sexualization that does take place doesn’t feel cheap or exploitative, adding to the story in a meaningful way. The views on sex given by Vincent’s friends, all of whom suffer from events in their past that keep them from progressing emotionally feel real. Even if you don’t agree with the characters (which you’re not really supposed to) you can understand how they came to think that way. The sheep in the dream are far more lost than most, and helping them come to terms with their various traumas and to grow to be better people was consistently satisfying. Cheating isn’t something condoned in Catherine, but just examined in great detail.
The biggest surprise the game had in store for me was actually getting me to like Vincent by the end of it. Seeing his character grow from an indecisive man to someone who stops making excuses for himself and takes charge of his life was great to see. He makes a lot of bad choices throughout the story but he’s an entertaining character from start to finish. Not everyone will like him, but it’s undeniable how unique of a protagonist he is.
To modernize the themes of the complexity of sex, Catherine: Full Body attempts to further explore LGBT issues. Given that it tries to tackle it at all, I find it worth dedicating a paragraph to praising what they did right and criticizing what could be better. To preface this, I understand that it was tricky to feed in same-sex positivity from a cast of characters that for the most part likely wouldn’t care before. None of the characters are exceptional people by any means, but their open-minded approach discussion about same-sex couples early on was nice while not betraying their established personalities. It’s not the pinnacle of representation, but without getting into spoilers I think it’s a realistic way to handle it from a character like Vincent. There are certain other LGBT fumbles it carries over from the other game, with barely any improvements to how they’re portrayed. It’s hard to tell if these characters are meant to be stand-ins for how ATLUS’ writers think of these issues, or if their flawed natures mean that you should not listen to them. ATLUS has been criticized for this before and I genuinely want them to be better at this.
Catherine: Full Body has made the transition from PlayStation 4 to Switch excellently, providing a smooth and crisp experience for both handheld and docked play. There’s some slight shimmering on the environments during certain panning shots, but that’s the extent of any visual issues I found. I spent about half of my time playing it on my Nintendo Switch Lite, and the other half playing it on my TV. In both instances, my experience was great with the only frame rate dips being slight ones in the Stray Sheep. These would be immediately fixed on a restart, but they weren’t even bad enough to actually require it. I’d say my only real issue with this port was the sound mixing, as the voices tended to be kind of quiet and there is no option to make them louder.
The voice acting is just as stellar as it was on PlayStation 3, with the main cast all coming back to reprise their roles. I played primarily with the English dub, feeling that both the old and new lines were well acted. They also blend into each other very well, and never even felt like the new voice acting was recorded 9 years later. Troy Baker does a great job playing Vincent, which is refreshing to hear from him after he refocused to do primarily serious AAA games. You’re able to feel the history between these people based on how they talk to each other, and I never imagined I’d be this invested in a story about a bunch of 30-year-old guys that spend all their time at a bar.
I really liked playing Catherine: Full Body. I got invested in the story, the music is great, I found the characters entertaining despite their flaws, and the puzzle gameplay was a lot of fun. It takes baby steps forward on tackling LGBT issues, and while ATLUS is far from perfect at this aspect I guess it’s a good thing that they’re trying to get better. The Switch is a perfect system for his game, and this port is the definitive version of a great re-release. I hope this troubled tale of love coming to Switch is a sign that ATLUS will be putting a greater focus on developing for the system, and this is a great first start.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by ATLUS