Catherine: Full Body Review – Love is Mindless

Out of necessity of reviewing the new content, this review contains spoilers for the new “Rin” Route in Catherine: Full Body! If you don’t want spoilers, come back later when you’ve finished the game! The spoiler-free take? It’s a largely appealing game hampered by some mean-spirited and poor writing choices that undermine many of the very things the game is trying to do.

It’s 2019, and the world is a very different place than it was towards the beginning of the decade. Communities on the margins have grown louder and stronger, and the pushback against them has tried to do the same. Complex social ideas have gained more mindshare, and at the same time, media like video games have strived to grow along with the social discourse. Catherine, a game from Atlus’ Persona team that seemed edgy at the time, almost feels tame today. Nonetheless, it has its cult status, and the team has revisited its grand experiment-slash-genre blend with more content, more options, and a brand new character and accompanying route. Revisiting Catherine has been a strange experience, as with such a long gap of time comes just as many personal changes as the external. And despite it being such a strange little project comprising some unique and compelling play, time has not been kind to Catherine’s narrative ambitions, or frankly, lack thereof.

Head Over Heels in Danger

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Catherine hit in 2011, after Personas 3 and 4 helped bring Atlus into a much brighter spotlight than ever before. It was a striking, strange game, that took the look and vibe of Persona but applied it to a puzzle game more reminiscent of Q*bert than Shin Megami Tensei. Thematically, Catherine also tackled love and relationships in ways video games seldom do, especially in the RPG space. The story’s core conflict was infidelity, from a protagonist who seemed incapable of being honest. But at the same time, Catherine also seemed to want to explore why cheating can’t always be black and white, how sexuality and romance can be as painful and messy as any other part of life, and how important it can be as a person to be decisive.

Catherine: Full Body is pretty much a remake. It’s the same story (sort of) with the same visual style, level structure, many of the same cutscenes, so on and so forth. However, there is a ton of additional content, which also results in actual narrative changes. Most of those changes revolve around Rin, a new character who is injected directly into the main plot, and is also a route option. Rin’s inclusion in the story, if you don’t end up in that route, is sort of in the outskirts of everything else happening, so it doesn’t significantly alter the story otherwise. That said, Rin does feed into a big part of what makes Full Body tangibly different from the original version, which is in accessibility.

Folks Play Games on Easy Sometimes; Deal With It

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Catherine: Full Body provides options to ensure anyone who wants to play can get what they might want out of it. The original game was quite challenging, as its core concept was inherently challenging (requiring practice and learning) and unforgiving at the same time. Climbing a tower of blocks you must push and pull to create your own footholds is a lot of fun, but part of that fun is the constant threat of death as the cubes slide into the abyss under you. Or, a manifestation of Vincent’s anxieties will stab you or something. The original game saw a patch that gave an additional difficulty option, but Full Body takes players’ response to the original difficulty to the next level. This means several difficulty options and failsafes, including a special support ability from Rin that can save players on easier modes in a pinch. You can also choose to have the game play itself, for RPG and anime enthusiasts who aren’t into challenging, old school-flavored video game-ass game mechanics play but are interested in the story.

Of course, there are also plenty of options for hardcore players and returning fans who want new challenges. There are multiple multiplayer modes now and online play, which feels like a direct response to all those competitive streams and Evo side tournaments. You can play through the main story with remixed levels that add new block types, and of course crank up the difficulty and play the side puzzles that have nothing to do with the story and are even more difficult. There’s something for everyone here, and hey, I can’t argue with efforts to make games more accessible. That said, while there are a lot of new accessibility options in terms of gameplay, many of the new story additions are perhaps more alienating than mechanical difficulty.

It’s Spoiler Time; Buckle Up Kids

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Ahead of its localization, an article began making the rounds about some of the new content in Catherine: Full Body. This article spoke to some of the game’s new endings, as well as the bulk of Rin’s story route. And it didn’t land well with the author, and for good reason. Much like has been discussed before with games like Persona 4, the writing here seems to have issues with trans people, and in this context, results in some stuff that comes off as truly mean-spirited. Word went around that the Atlus USA localization team was aware of this response, and was seemingly planning to address it. And, in a couple ways, it did. A line of dialogue was changed, and a tweak was made to the end credits that previously deadnamed a trans character. This much is confirmed in a follow-up article from the same author. Making those changes is great and all, but when it comes to the actual narrative in Catherine: Full Body, you can’t localize away issues so deeply rooted in the plot.

You’ve probably read plenty about Rin’s route at this point. The story is out in the open, and it isn’t like the game’s marketing materials have been subtle. Rin has been coded as trans since day one. Japan is no stranger to trans people in both its media and society, and obviously there are huge differences between what’s happening there versus what’s happening here. Other games have tackled the subject before, to varying degrees of depth and intelligence. But ultimately, what’s happening here isn’t even an attempt to tackle the subject with nuance or respect. And it all starts with the big reveal, the reveal that has been teased since the announcement, the one that writers who have no sense of empathy or how this lived experience actually works lean on for cheap drama: genitals.

Vincent sees Rin’s body for the first time and the entire cutscene revolves around trans panic. Vincent acts like he’s just witnessed a murder and even gets violent with Rin, which is essentially the kickoff point for the route. You either chase after Rin or let them exit the plot entirely. After that, Rin is never again referred to as a woman. It’s “guy,” “him,” so on and so forth. But beyond misgendering, Catherine: Full Body takes a turn to the absurd by revealing Rin isn’t actually a trans person, Rin is an alien from an extraterrestrial race involved in curating humanity, is male, and presumably sporting an artificial human appearance. Despite the text bending backwards to insist Rin isn’t trans, by the way, the choice colors change from the normal red/blue to the literal colors of the trans pride flag. HUH.

Vincent pursues Rin anyway, with frankly insulting screeds about being open-minded and choosing love over judgment or scrutiny. Catherine:Full Body is a game that wants to be taken seriously for its edgy dissection of relationships and loyalty, preaches acceptance but is so afraid of having an actual trans character as a romance option or genuine narrative factor it opts to jump the shark so hard it burns to ashes in the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s in addition to cracking lowkey jokes about the actual, canonical trans character Erica, and even going so far as to drastically run the clock back on her transition in one of the endings, presenting it as a positive. At the same time, fetishistic art depicting a new character clearly signaled as trans was key to the marketing. It’s the scuzziest example of a creative work trying to have its cake and eat it too I’ve seen in a while.

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These people knew exactly what they were doing.

This whole thing is bad for dehumanizing and making fun of trans people and their existential struggles, and it also encapsulates the overall problems I have with Catherine as a narrative or commentary on human relationships. The story doesn’t actually go anywhere that suggests the writers have a theme or message or conclusion in mind; it’s just a bunch of kooky, branching storylines that pat Vincent (and the player) on the back for being an asshole the whole time. And the branching is so unclear and unearned, the connective tissue between sequences rarely makes sense. Dialogue exchanges between Vincent and his potential partners has no place in reality, often contradicting or passing over things that would be huge, dramatic sticking points in real life. It’s like the characters forget Vincent exists if they’re not right in his face.

Growing Pains

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Because of that there’s a lot of disconnect between moments throughout Catherine: Full Body, that rob them of weight or consequence until it’s time to move closer to an ending. And even then it’s hard to care, because Vincent doesn’t really feel like a character who grows or learns anything. He spends most of the game sweating, panicking, and lying to everyone around him, then gets to be a big hero while facing few consequences for hurting everyone else involved (in the good endings, natch). Combined with how weird and nonsensically binary many of the choices are, it all comes off as cowardly and self-indulgent. All the edge is surface-level, a coat of paint over a puzzle game to make it seem more substantial or poignant than it actually is, when the true nuance and appeal lies in the actual well-crafted play environments.

My reaction to Catherine: Full Body feels in a lot of ways like a side effect of personal growth over time. I was drawn into the original’s striking visuals and edgy themes back in “the day,” and found intrigue in its messy themes and scenarios I could barely relate to at the time. Nearly a decade later, I’m a full-on adult with a family and a tattered list of life experiences that goes on for miles. Now I look at Catherine and while it’s still fun to engage with its systems, and the soundtrack still rips, I don’t find it nearly as clever as it wants me to. All I see is a story that embraces its own toxicity, with views on relationships so useless and counterproductive it’s almost suspicious how desperately it wants Vincent to be a hero.

Catherine: Full Body review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a Standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.

7.0Bronze Trohpy
  • Moving boxes around quickly is always a hoot
  • New multiplayer options feed into Catherine's raw appeal
  • Difficulty selections make Catherine more accessible for the full spectrum of Persona fandom
  • Alcohol trivia still rules
  • Storytelling trips and falls over itself constantly, from contradictory and awkard dialogue sequences to an overall unchallenged pessimism and toxicity masquerading as positive character development
  • Bizarre and aggressive beef with trans people
  • Choices are weird and make judgments and comparisons between behaviors that don't make sense either morally or practically
  • All of the above and more can be summed up with "bad writing"