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Catherine: Full Body (2019): Love is a Diplomacy

System: PS4, PS Vita, Nintendo Switch | Publisher: ATLUS/SEGA

Developer: ATLUS | Reviewed On: PS4


The concept of love and lust has been ingrained in society for many millennia. Its presence is everywhere; from books, songs, movies, TV storylines, even companies using public events & mobile apps as a means to help match individuals. It all spurs from a inherent desire commonly found in people; a wanting or feeling of affection and/or attraction towards another person. In video games, we have seen its presence throughout history; the most common example being Mario on his journey to save Princess Toadstool in the original Super Mario Bros game. However, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, its rare that we see games delve deeper into the concepts of love and relationships from either a mature or realistic perspective. Usually, it‘s inclusion is seen to be optional, minimal or excessively-sexualized.


Although a little late to the party, I discovered Catherine back in late 2018; released for the PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360. It blended a intense story of romance with elements of puzzle-based gameplay that I had never experienced before & I wasn't alone in my enjoyment. Reception for the game was very positive and it went on to sell approximately half a million copies by the end of its release year. It unfortunately did have steep competition with the likes of Portal 2, Skyrim, Arkham City and Uncharted 3 back in 2012. On reflection, I can see why it became somewhat of a hidden gem, but the great thing about video games is that it‘s never too late to discover a new title that peaks your interest at a moment in time.


However today, I am going to talking about its expanded re-release; known as Catherine: Full Body. When it comes to this revised work, will the sheep stay with the flock or will it stray away and forge its own path? Pour yourself a glass & let’s break it down!


Preface


To avoid mixing up opinions, I will be reviewing this game as a singular piece with my focus on the newer version only; removed from any opinions I have on the original game. I will include a small section at the end of my review, for those who are interested in my opinions on their differences.


In terms of spoilers, I will be overviewing story material from the first hour of the game. I want to keep details to a minimum, whilst informing people of the game’s basic premise. If you prefer this to remain a mystery, I recommend skipping ahead to the Gameplay section of this review.

Story


We begin this tale with a 32 year-old computer programmer named Vincent Brooks, who lives a comfortable and complacent lifestyle. He’s in a relationship with his girlfriend of 5 years, lives in his own apartment & often spends his evenings socialising with his friends at their local bar. One day, he experiences a shift in his way of life when his girlfriend implies that she wants to take their relationship to the next level. This throws our protagonist into deep thought, as he believes things are great as they are & they shouldn’t be one of those couples who rush into things (at least from his point of view).

The previous night, he becomes acquainted with a pink-haired individual who has experienced amnesia, following a scary encounter. Vincent offers to help by securing them a place to stay and a job as a pianist at their local bar. The two become friends as a result, which is explored further as the story progresses. Back to the present, Vincent ends up drinking alone near the end of the evening when an attractive lady enters the bar & asks to sit next to him.


The following morning, he wakes up to find this lady laying next to him in his bed & has no recollection of how this happened. In addition, he keeps having the same reoccurring nightmare every night; being forced to climb up a structure to avoid falling to his death. Is this just pure coincidence or is there more behind this occurrence?



As the story progresses, we witness Vincent in a perfect storm of drama & consequence which attempts to mentally sober him into confronting the events that arise in his life, to come to terms with his feelings & to fight for what he believes in, all whilst trying not to lose his mind (or something more valuable).


One of the key elements of this game is that your choices & decisions will impact the way the story progresses & concludes. There is more than one path you can take & there are a multitude of endings that you can experience. The story is confident enough to keep its foot firm on the accelerator and its endings range from pleasant conclusions, sobering realisations & some that go beyond the point of realism whilst retaining its integrity. Almost all of the characters have a blend of qualities that concur & differ from each other, helping to create tense & entertaining encounters. Even those that have a small part in the game's overall story have a deep enough backstory, if you wish to explore them.



Overall, I found the plot to be very enjoyable. Its themes explore the anxieties surrounding the spectrum of commitment, relationships & infidelity, which gave the story a realistic edge. Throughout, it's able to craft a suspenseful plot surrounding both Vincent's actions and inaction to the events that transpire; creating a essence of unpredictability as things escalate. Its multiple conclusions all felt satisfying and in each instance, it gave me the itch to try and seek out each alternative ending.

The only issue I had with the story was that some of the interactions with Vincent and one particular character that felt a little forced. It’s almost as if they pressed pause, added a segment & then pressed play. It’s hard for me to say if this was intentional or due to its localisation, but I felt a little polish would have helped these interactions flow more smoothly.


Gameplay


The game plays out in two phases each day; Daytime & Nightmare. Daytime is a more relaxed affair, where you will experience most of the storyline events & social simulation stages. Each night, you end up at The Stray Sheep where you can drink, speak with your friends/fellow patrons or play an arcade mini-game, similar to what you will experience in Nightmare. Whilst these actions are optional, some of these provided added context which I found helped enhance my experience; especially my newfound knowledge of alcohol-related trivia.


Nightmare is where your puzzle skills will be tested, as you are forced to take on levels that consist of a tower of stacked blocks with your goal simply to reach the top before the floor drops beneath you. You must push & pull blocks into positions in order to create a path allowing you to climb higher. As you progress through the various stages, you will encounter a number of elements that will both aid, hinder and challenge you in your efforts to reach the top.



First, there are a variety of different block types that appear which will change the way you traverse certain parts of each level; including use of heavy, cracked & immovable blocks, even those comprised of spikes & bombs when triggered. You can also collect items that you can use to help you on your journey, such as the addition of blocks, removal of enemies or the ability to jump higher. There is also a safety feature that will slow down the fall of the bottom rows if you're located near the bottom, giving you a little extra time to work out your next actions.

If you happen to fall, you can retry an unlimited number of times; either at the beginning of the puzzle or at a checkpoint you’ve reached. You can also undo your previous actions a limited number of times, which can be incrementally increased by collecting pillows. The level of your success each night is measured using an arcade-style points system; using coins that you either collect as items, through a safety bonus & through a points multiplier that increases each time you reach the next level in a certain time frame. This will certainly appeal to high score enthusiasts & completionists.



You can choose your level of difficulty at the beginning of the game; ranging from a Safety level that offers various perks including auto-play & no game over, all the way to Hard mode which disables these perks & your ability to undo your moves, meaning you must make every choice count. These difficulties can be changed through your playthrough, so you can go down a level easily if you wish.


One of the newest settings is a new level setting called Remix, which mixes up the gameplay by introducing block clusters (similar to Tetris-style pieces) into the puzzles. It may seem simple, but I found this to be rather tricky in certain occasions. They certainly gave me a challenge, which I did enjoy trying to figure out. If you do feel intimated by the learning curve, the game does a great job in introducing its gameplay elements through in-game tutorial tips, which didn’t feel intrusive.



In between each level, you’ll reach a landing floor that allows you to interact with other characters thrown into this nightmare. You can hear their experiences & learn new techniques, which will help you when the difficulty of levels increases. You can also buy an item from a merchant using the coins you’ve collected, to use in the next level. When you are ready to move on, you’ll be required to enter a confession booth where a mysterious entity will ask you a moral-based question. These cover a range of situations & insecurities involving love, marriage, even whether you’d prefer to kiss a squid-like alien or a beautiful corpse (……no comment).


As noted previously, your decisions affect what storyline path you take and what ending you'll receive. This is influenced is through both your decisions in the confession booth and through interactions you have with the three main people in Vincent’s life at this time. Responding to these interactions will sometimes bring a meter on-screen, which will update depending on your choices. It reminded me a lot of the karma system used in the Infamous games & I felt it worked pleasantly here. Its inclusion also brings an air of ambiguity & freedom, which allows you to control Vincent & choose how you want to react, allowing you to play from different perspectives; either on a different playthrough or even changing this mid-playthrough.


If this isn’t enough for you, there is also a mode called Babel; an advanced stage in which you have to climb to the top of a randomised puzzle with no additional items, Undos or checkpoints available. This also comes with a 2-player mode so if you have a friend nearby, tag them in & take it on as a dynamic duo. Finally, if you don’t have the luxury of a nearby & willing companion, there is also a Colosseum mode that allows you to take part in online matches with other players around the world.

Overall, there is a lot of elements here but everything synchronises beautifully. The stages are fun and challenging with plenty of variety & the alternate paths/endings added further replay value. My only gripe was that the social simulation stages felt a little restrictive. I felt limited to the bar every night and whilst I understand this is something Vincent would do in his comfortable lifestyle, the option to walk home or visit somewhere en route home would’ve been a nice addition; especially since I know this is something ATLUS have included in other games.

Presentation


Overall, the graphics & textures are pretty solid; nothing too detailed, nor too poor of quality but full of colour. There are a number of animation cutscenes that are played throughout, generally lasting no more than a minute & primarily used in key scenes of the story. These were crafted by Studio 4°C, most popular for their award winning films “Mind Game” & “Tekkonkinkreet”. Their quality was very good and there was a level of vibrancy to them making them pleasant to watch. One thing I will note is that some of the scenes appear to use a slightly different art-style for the characters. It was a minor detail I noticed, but it wasn’t something I was completely thrown off by.

In terms of voice actors, there is a fantastic array of talent present in this game including likes of Troy Baker, Michelle Ruff, Laura Bailey & Yuri Lowenthal to name a few. As someone who has previously enjoyed anime & games involving a majority of the game’s featured voice actors, it was a pleasure to learn of their contributions & whilst I felt they weren’t put into scenarios that demanded an Oscar-winning performance, each person carried their character(s) effectively to the point where I couldn’t hear them voiced by anyone else. That for me is always a positive indicator of a well-assembled cast.



The music in this game is fantastic. Composed by Shoji Meguro, his music covers a number of genres including classical, jazz & ambient; making effective use of the piano, stringed instruments, guitars & electronic instruments to invoke a sense of atmosphere that complimented each moment in the game. The eerie nature of ‘The Melancholy of R30’ unsettled me with a sense of dread whilst remixed versions of classic tracks from Beethoven & Chopin felt meaningful & not just thrown in because of their popularity.

The sound effects were also very good but as a prior warning, you will hear the phrase ‘EDGE’ very frequently. Hopefully, it will appeal to you in time as opposed to the latter. For ATLUS fans, there is also a jukebox at the bar that features select tracks from the game; including tracks from their previous series including Persona & Shin Megami Tensei . EVERYONE, PREPARE THE DANCEFLO… (oh wait, wrong ATLUS game).

Conclusion


Catherine: Full Body is a roller-coaster of tense puzzle gameplay and suspenseful storytelling that will keep you glued to your screen. It offers a variety of content that will certainly keep you entertained after your first playthrough; all layered with a high-level of presentation, a tightly-woven voice cast and a memorable soundtrack. The only way I can describe the plot using film examples is if you put Fatal Attraction & A Nightmare on Elm Street into a cocktail shaker, topped off with a tiny squeeze of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Care to take a sip?

While it may appear that it glamorises the act of cheating, the ramifications balance this effectively. The scariest parts of this story don’t come from the despairing music or the frightening visuals of it’s boss levels, but rather it plays closer to real-life than you would expect. At its core, it’s a cautionary tale of empowerment, in which the consequences of our inaction can often more fatal than the choices we make.



Comparison to Catherine (2011)

When comparing this to the original, there are a number of differences present. First, one of the primary characters is omitted. As a result, it minimises the story to a single path and removed over a third of the endings. However, I feel the story is more refined and focused as a result. That’s not to say I did not enjoy our omitted character, as I enjoyed how their story was interwoven with the original plot & felt they offered a different perspective and personality that was not present in the original game.


In terms of gameplay, a number of the safety features are either not present or altered. The Undo system is fixed with pillows being used as continues. As a result, there is a higher risk of death in the game & gave the levels more of an arcade style of “do or die”. Full Body’s Hard mode does provide a flavour of difficulty from the original game, however I played the original on Normal mode and felt it was rather a challenge compared to its Full Body equivalent.

Speaking honestly, I will admit that there is something about the original game I prefer; whether it’s the general increase of difficulty or the focus of the story, but it’s not to say that I felt Full Body was inferior. The re-release was able to incorporate new content whilst not jeopardising the formula of what made the original game great, all whilst retaining its high-level of presentation. It offers existing fans an expansion to their original encounter whilst allowing new players an opportunity to experience a definitive version of this game.



The Classic game offers a more concentrated and challenging experience, whereas Full Body gives a greater sense of accessibility and variety. Either version is worth your time & money but with Full Body, you’ll get those extra sprinkles & they are pretty sweet.







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