Enough time has passed since I last played Catherine that I’m finding my own views of the game have shifted dramatically while playing its enhanced remake, Catherine: Full Body.
Where I once disliked characters the game portrayed as overbearing and hostile, I now sympathize with them a great deal. Where I once felt the pressures of all of these different characters, motives, and storylines pulling me in so many directions, now very few of Catherine’s routes appeal to me at all. And ultimately, where once my teenage self thought he found an interesting, nuanced view of marriage, intimacy and monogamy, I’ve since found something that feels altogether tiresome in its view of men, women, and relationships.
Perhaps it’s just the nature of Catherine’s story that, as one grows older, its conflict feel more simple than ever before. In most remasters we have to face the fact that games age just like everything else in the world. Every year the industry makes new changes in every genre, whether that’s by revamping structures or through simple quality of life changes that make games that are newer all the more sensible.
In Catherine: Full Body’s case, it’s still a robust and challenging puzzle game that holds up, but in a time where our views about identity, intimacy, and relationships are changing, its story shows a level of age. It’s a great puzzle game entrapped in a story dated in its views of everything and everyone involved. This is to the point where of its four (previously three) routes, only two seem to acknowledge that its vicious cycle of putting everyone into boxes says more about who we’ve been than who we are now.
Most of Catherine: Full Body’s story is the same as the original: Vincent, a 30-something programmer, is around five years into his relationship with a woman named Katherine. She’s dropping not-so-subtle hints that she’s ready to take the next step in her life: marriage. But Vincent is content with the way things are. He’s a bachelor with the freedom to hang out with his friends at the bar every night.
On one such night he’s greeted by a younger blonde woman named Catherine, and ends up sleeping with her. These two women and their lifestyles create an internal conflict in Vincent, specifically about whether he’s ready to settle down with Katherine or pursue a life fueled by his own base desires.
In Full Body, a new love interest arrives in amnesiac piano player Qatherine, or Rin for short. Rin’s role in the game exists on the outskirts of the main story, but pursuing that relationship is one of the two instances of Catherine ever confronting the trite views it has of its themes, and actually makes for some complex views on sexuality and attraction that I won’t spoil here. In the end, Rin’s route was the one I ended up pursuing because watching a game try to reckon with its established story’s views was one of the only ways I found reprieve from the exhaustingly cynical view of intimacy Catherine posits.
As this love square goes on in Vincent’s waking hours, in his dreams he’s dealing with recurring nightmares where he must climb massive walls of floating blocks or risk falling to his death, which will result in his death in the real world. As he ascends, he’ll be asked to answer binary questions with very rigid answers about the meaning of life and relationships, all manifesting in Vincent having a different view of the world that directs you to one of the game’s multiple endings. While the dream sequences can’t fully escape the game’s shallow view of relationships, the puzzle side of Catherine still stands tall as one of the best modern puzzle games of recent memory.
These walls Vincent has to climb are slowly collapsing beneath him, and I had to push and pull blocks to create stairways to help him ascend. All the while, you must account for traps. These include spiked blocks that can kill Vincent if I stand on them for one second too long, ice blocks that cause him to slip and fall off the side, and even ones that can move on their own, disrupting my meticulously crafted staircases.
Catherine is a challenging game, and Full Body is remains so, especially to those who might be playing through for the first time. Even after all these years, I found my muscle memory kicking in as I ascended the walls, and once I got into that familiar rhythm, I was surprised to see how quickly I was able to navigate through most of the roadblocks. Some of these puzzles were also made easier by Rin’s inclusion, who appears in dreams to play piano, which can prevent a stage from falling out from under you for a short time. But if you do still end up finding Catherine too difficult, there are options like Safety Mode that prevent you from getting a game over, or Autoplay, which will send Vincent on an optimal path to the top.
At this point, recommending Catherine: Full Body feels like telling someone to try something that needs a disclaimer that contextualizes it as a relic of its time. It’s only been eight years since the original game, but Catherine wants its protagonist and, to an extent, the player to believe that people fit into two boxes: settling down or sleeping around. Full Body’s new stories and characters do their utmost to alleviate some of the perceptions the original thrived in, but when the core of its story is so ingrained in these preconceived roles, its cynicism is almost too much to bear. Unless you pursue Rin or throw your hands up and wash your hands of all of it, Catherine feels like a contemptuous take on love that no amount of climbing can help you escape.