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Catherine: Full Body Review

Despite all my rage, I am still just a sheep in a confessional booth on a rocky island in a dream

Catherine: Full Body is the improved edition of Catherine much in the same way as Atlus makes an improved version of all their games after a few years. It just took longer. It brings the game to a bunch of new systems, adds a new character and associated route, and tosses in some new endings for the two existing characters. I never played the original for more than about an hour and didn't do the new route, so this is mostly a review of the original content.

To start out with my biggest positive, I love the idea of a game that takes place almost entirely in dream sequences and a bar. If you're controlling the protagonist - Vincent - it's either because he's asleep and you're climbing the tower in his nightmares, or it's because he's awake and you're talking to people at The Stray Sheep bar. The latter sequences are where the great majority of character development takes place, with your friends and acquaintances providing commentary on Vincent's choices and their own lives. Narrowing the real-world focus to just this bar and a handful of cutscene-only locales makes the game entirely about its cast, and it focuses your attention on their quirks and behaviors as you're trying to solve the mystery of the nightmares.

Once you choose to leave the bar, you're quickly dropped back into the dream sequences, which task you with pushing and pulling blocks in order to climb a tower. In Fully Body, at least, the recommended starting difficult gives you infinite time to climb most stages, so it's purely a matter of puzzling together climbable sets of blocks. Still, there are optional bonuses in each level and some sections manage to be challenging to solve even without time pressure. Each night ends with a boss fight against something thematically relevant, but most of these are functionally no different from the standard game with time pressure. Only some of the later bosses really force you to pay attention to them and adjust your strategy.

I forgot to take more pictures of this game, so all I have is this lousy screenshot

The dream sequences have more than just puzzles, though. In between stages you stop at "landings", where you can talk to other dreamers stuck in the curse and help them with their problems. Sometimes they present dialogue choices which, like conversations in the cafe and the confessional questions I'll get to in a second, can swing your morality meter right or left. The confessional questions that end each landing section are particularly interesting, so it's a shame that they made these the primary way of determining an ending rather than letting you answer for yourself. Several of them really could've made me think, but when one is obviously the right choice for my preferred ending, there's no reason to stop and consider my real feelings on it.

I've made it this far without actually saying anything about the plot or characters, and that's unfortunately because I think they let the brilliant structure of the game down. The plot follows Vincent, whose longtime girlfriend Katherine is pressuring him to marry her, when he gets drunk and assaulted by Catherine at the bar. The game presents this as cheating even though it's obviously not, and Vincent taking no meaningful action on anything for approximately six days until the game decides to check your morality meter and send him down the path towards Katherine, Catherine, or, if you've made specific choices, the new character Rin.

It might've been fine that Vincent isn't sympathetic until day six if the rest of the cast was, but since nothing meaningful can happen until you've been kicked down one route, none of them really do anything worth mentioning either. Mostly they just tell Vincent how awful he is. At least some of the side characters give you more to work with, but you don't see as much of them, and they can die in the dream sequences for reasons that aren't made clear in game.

Eventually you get to the end-game plot twists, and they're also a mixed bag. The person responsible for the dream sequences is a clever idea. Their reasoning for sending people there is also clever... until you think about it and realize it doesn't apply to more than a handful of the people you meet in the dreams. Similarly, while the game does handle your decision between K and C well on day 6, the actual ending sequence is a letdown. You get an ending based on a combination of your morality meter and your answers to four final confessional questions, but it seems like these are just about a minute's worth of a final cutscene and some pictures at the end of the credits.

So, where does that leave me? I love the idea of Catherine, and the atmosphere and puzzle sequences fully deliver on that promise. But for me, the characters and ending flopped. I'd have liked longer game that took the time to explore why Vincent felt trapped in life and would ever consider abandoning K for C, and that gave him real agency in the first six days instead of leaving that time to be driven almost entirely by C. Those flaws don't ruin it, nor do my problems with the ending twist, but they do turn what could easily have been a new top 100 game into one that's just good.

Platform: PS4

Time to beat: 10 hours for one ending

MSRP: I got it for $30, but you can probably get it cheaper now

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