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Catherine: Full Body - Improved but Problematic


The year was 2011. Our last full year on earth, apparently, if the 2012 conspiracies were to turn out to be true. During this year, Atlus' rather uncreatively-named "2nd Creative Production Department" - the team behind the beloved Persona JRPG series - graced us with something unique: Catherine. A puzzle game, of all things.
I was excited. However, my initial excitement came not from the fact that Catherine was a fresh IP from the same minds as persona, but because the gameplay outside its puzzle sections offered a glimpse at what the engine of the then long-awaited Persona 5 might play like. Basically, I was doing it all wrong. I was playing a puzzle game for the bits without puzzles, all because I was yearning for a completely different game. Luckily, after getting into the game a bit more, I managed to set myself on the right path and started to enjoy the game for everything it had to offer.
But then something snapped in me. I got to a certain point, and after not being able to save the patrons of the Stray Sheep bar that play such a prominent role in the game's story, I stepped away from the game. I never finished it. I was just one level away from the goal, too. I'd gone from going into the game for Persona and had come out feeling bummed that I couldn't save brand new characters that I'd grown attached to. There was just something that felt so unfair to me about how, despite my best efforts, I wasn't able to save them. It bummed me out.
So I've had my gripes with Catherine, but many years have passed since I first played it. Last summer I even thought about revisiting it. But then I heard that the game was going to be re-released for PS4 as Catherine: Full Body. This re-release promised to be more than just an enhanced port of the original, being an enhanced remake with particular emphasis on a very important new character. Recently the game has also been ported to Switch, shining the spotlight on this peculiar title yet again.

From left to right: Catherine, Rin, Katherine

For those new to Catherine, let me just give you a rundown of what it actually is. The story revolves around 32-year-old Vincent and his troubles with commitment and embracing adult life. His girlfriend Katherine (with a K) wants to settle down, but he doesn't feel ready yet. Pressure mounts after a drunken night at the Stray Sheep bar, when he wakes up next to a younger woman by the name of Catherine (with a C), having no memory of how he got there. The majority of the original Catherine game focuses on the tug of war going on within Vincent's mind as he tries to decide what he really wants: committing to his long-time girlfriend Katherine and taking some responsibility, or embracing the frivolity of a casual relationship with the younger Catherine.
The plot and general aesthetic of Catherine constantly teeters on the edge of provocative, which has resulted in people I've recommended it to saying it looks "pervy", but I honestly found it to be a fundamental part of presenting the game's story, especially the conflict between Vincent's conscience and his sexual urges. This game isn't overtly-sexual for the sake of being shallow. Like Persona, it definitely has its fair share of shock-value moments, but for the sake of plot depth, it definitely isn't afraid to "go there". 
The majority of Catherine's gameplay takes place in the dreams of the main character, Vincent. Players must guide Vincent, who for some reason has ram horns and is wearing nothing but his boxers, up towers of falling blocks. These sections play like some kind of vertical Sokoban, you must push, pull and climb up these killer cubes to form stairways and make your way to victory. The gameplay in these puzzle sections is simple to pick up and very addictive, and constantly mixes itself up as you progress through the story, with new block types and hazards added regularly. It can prove to be quite challenging, but there's always a sense of achievement when you finally make it through a level. Once you do make it through a level, you are taken to a "landing" where you can talk to and encourage other sheep (who are revealed to be real men experiencing the same nightmares, but everyone sees everyone else but themselves as sheep) who are trying to climb their way to safety, because those who don't make it, well, they never wake up. They die outside of the dream. Scary, huh? After this, you are taken to a confession booth, where you have to answer various different questions regarding relationships and morality. What you choose is what directs the narrative down the path of Order (Katherine with a K) or Chaos (Catherine with a C).


Outside of Vincent's dreams, you control him as he spends time at the Stray Sheep bar with friends. This section of the game is what intrigued me about Catherine initially, as the engine is basically the one Persona 5 uses. You move Vincent around and converse with characters similar to how you might in a Persona game - you can walk around the bar and talk to patrons and staff, drink a plentiful amount of booze, send fate-changing text messages, change tracks on the jukebox, or practise your skills on the arcade machine "Rapunzel", which is basically a faux-retro version of the box climbing gameplay. 
The box climbing segments are fun and addictive, but the real highlight of this game, and ultimately what will keep you moving from one stage to the next, is the storyline, and how you answer those questions concerning morality, as well as how you conduct Vincent's behaviour regarding his multiple relationships.

 
In Full Body's version of the Stray Sheep, there is a fresh face: Rin. Being the major selling point for picking up Catherine: Full Body to those who played the original, Rin is the pink-haired, softly spoken amnesiac that Vincent takes under his wing. Vincent helps Rin find an apartment next to his, and hooks her up with a job at the Stray Sheep playing piano and serving drinks. Playing Full Body, you will quickly come to realise that Rin is an incredibly important character within the new rewrite of the plot, and to Vincent. She functions as pretty much the only calming, level-headed presence in Vincent's life as his conscious is tugged back and forth between the two Catherines. She also now provides extra assistance during the nightmare puzzle stages too, playing the piano when Vincent gets close to losing, to slow down the rate at which the blocks are falling, allowing players to guide him back to safety. 


As someone who's played the original Catherine, at first Rin's inclusion felt a teensy bit wedged in. Only a little, though. But after the second night, things start to flow a bit smoother, with Rin fitting much more naturally within the plot. Of course, brand new players to the series probably won't even notice this, as they won't realise where the scenes involving Rin have been slotted in amongst those from the original game. 
Rin, like the other two Catherines, is one of a now possible three love interests for Vincent. The path players must take to follow Rin's path is a cryptic one.
As mentioned before, between every stage in Vincent's nightmares, he must answer questions relating to his morality. However, if you answer specific answers to a certain few questions you encounter, instead of the meter moving left or right towards order or chaos, the meter will instead shatter. If you answer all of these specific questions correctly you will be led down Rin's route, to a super special ending, with extra levels. 
Now, more inquisitive players will raise an eyebrow at the answers that are required to access Rin's route, and may perhaps grow suspicious. Either way, Rin's secret is revealed about half way through the game. Spoiler alert. Vincent, accidentally walking in on Rin naked, discovers that Rin is not a she, but a he. 
 

Before anyone worries that I'm misgendering Rin, I just want to make it clear that this is how Rin is referred to in the game. As a straight, cisgender dude, I don't want to act like I'm completely clued up on everything to do with the trans conversation, but I am constantly striving to understand more. I also acknowledge that because I am these things, I may be able to forgive the more problematic aspects of Catherine: Full Body's representation of a trans character, while trans individuals might not be able to. When it comes to these things, the game isn't perfect in the slightest, but Rin's story is still one that is unlike anything seen before in a narrative-driven video game. Vincent's initial reaction to finding out about the parts Rin has downstairs is scathing and brash, and unfortunately one I imagine could potentially be really hurtful to watch for many trans individuals, but once the games starts to really explore Vincent's feelings for Rin as you lead him down that path, things really do improve. In fact, it's almost like the game deems Rin's ending as the real one, where Vincent is the most happy and free from strife. One of my issues with the original Catherine was that neither Catherine with a C or Katherine with a K really won me over that much. Neither of them are particularly nice individuals, and I was never quite sure if they made Vincent feel truly content. It turns out that this isn't just something felt by me alone, as Liz Lanier of Game Informer actually listed both Catherines as part of a Top 10 Female Villains in Video Games article, saying "Vincent can't catch a break between Catherine seducing him one minute and manipulating him the next; Katherine isn't much better with her passive-aggressive push toward marriage." Rin, on the other hand, is an absolutely lovely person; patient, kind, understanding, and someone that Vincent admits that he feels most happy with, regardless of gender. He also experiences a much more successful arc of personal growth with Rin than he does with either of the other Catherines, ending with an incredibly satisfying conclusion to Vincent's troubled tale. Many players who go out of their way to explore Rin's path will undoubtedly see this too, and I sincerely hope that Catherine: Full Body's portrayal of Rin and Vincent's relationship has the potential to make many players who never thought about the subject of trans people before, think much harder about it, and in a more positive light. Many will be happy to know it does all this without feeling cynical or preachy, and instead focuses on the strengths of the two characters and their love to push this point across.
 

Unfortunately, it's not an Atlus game if it doesn't cop out just before the finish line. With Rin, Atlus have again made a similar mistake to the one they made with Naoto Shirogane in Persona 4. Instead of keeping Naoto as the unambigously trans character she appears as for the majority of the game, Atlus had to take all that back when they revealed (with no ounce of subtlety) that Naoto was born a woman, and then that was that. Call Naoto a "she" for the rest of the game. The same happened in the original Catherine, where the waitress Erica is revealed to be a post-op trans woman in one of the game's endings, a reveal that is horrendously played off for laughs (followed by Erica being deadnamed in the credits - something that was thankfully changed in Full Body). If only Atlus had the conviction of their ideals to just let these trans characters exist within these plots without being "outted" in some way, because they're afraid of recieving backlash or alienating certain fans who lack the ability to differentiate between sex and gender. Atlus have had many years to do better, yet in Full Body, we see Rin recieving exactly the same treatment, if not worse.
Despite how cool many of us weebs think the land of Japan is, the treatment of Trans people there is shite, really. Individuals who want to legally change their gender have to undergo irreversible sterilisation first. Yes, that is a thing that is done to human beings in 2020. So possibly a hard society to release games including trans or non-binary characters to, perhaps resulting in Catherine Full Body's need to hold back with Rin. Of course, there's also the unfortunate reality that game studios have to risk backlash in the West too, from the "forced diversity" bemoaners who flock to risqué or edgy games because they push the envelope, while completely missing any deeper messages they try to convey. These are the kinds of people who would have thrown a hissy fit if Rin had been identified with "she/her" pronouns. If it's really necessary, Atlus could have kept the bit where Vincent discovers what parts Rin has down below, but then, after a bit of thinking, had Vincent turn around and go "but Rin is a woman". It could have been a pretty big deal for Atlus to do something like that. But instead, we get a scene towards the end of Rin's story where Vincent breaks up with Katherine, saying "woman" "might not be the best word" to describe Rin. When pressed on it, he says Rin isn't a woman. As said before, it just all feels like a big cop out, because as far as I can see, Rin walks, talks and lives as a woman. It's a shame, because they nearly got it right.
 

Gripes aside, Catherine: Full Body got exactly the treatment it required. While the odd thing was added here and there, the game plays mostly the same, just enhanced for a more powerful system. Who knew that all the game needed to take it from a fairly decent game from the seventh console generation, to one of my favourites of the eighth generation, was an extra storyline? While a lot of characters that get wedged into Director's Cut re-releases can occasionally feel half-baked, Rin's inclusion is the complete opposite, and when placed alongside the original routes for Catherine and Katherine, serves to make the game feel much deeper and fleshed out. It's great. And the nicest part is, in my first playthrough of Full Body, I even managed to save all of the Stray Sheep's patrons, something that I failed to do before.

 
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