Monday, March 2, 2020

Catherine: Full Body (PS4) Review

Video games and movies tend to exaggerate perceptions of love and romance.  The story plays out as we expect: the good guy stops the bad guy and gets the girl, or the guy reconciles with the girl after a break-up and the two live happily ever after.  Rarely does entertainment offer a realistic examination of love because we don't want to be reminded of reality.  We want to be happy knowing everything works out fine for a fictional man and woman versus what actually happens in the real world.  There are two examples of media I can think of which offer a truthful take on relationships, the first is Don Jon, a comedy-drama film from Joseph Gordon Levitt, and the other is Catherine, a game which juxtaposes the set-up of a man caught in a love triangle with intense puzzle-based action.  Did I forget to mention this game is from Japan?

Vincent Brooks is a man caught in a mid-life crisis.  At 32, he's unsure of what direction his life will go, and he's nervous about marrying his longtime girlfriend Katherine.  He receives a rude wake-up call in the form of Catherine, a wild, young woman who he accidentally gets into a one-night stand with after a drunken night at the bar.  Now, Catherine won't leave him alone, and if Katherine finds out, he's done for.  Not helping his fears is how when he falls to sleep, he ends up in a nightmarish landscape where him and others are forced to climb towers made of different blocks if they want to survive and not die in their sleep.  During all of this, he finds time to help an amnesiac named Rin find a place to stay, a job, and possibly figure out how she lost her memory.

Roses are red, violets are blue.
Vincent a numb-head, and Catherine a screw loose.
As surrealistic as things get, the core of Catherine's story is about commitment and responsibility.  Does Vincent want to close the book on bachelorhood and marry Katherine, or would he rather enjoy the funs and thrills of being with Catherine?  The remake, known as Catherine: Full Body, goes one step further with the introduction of Rin, and what was once a love triangle is now a love square.  There are multiple ways the story could unfold, all of which depends on what decisions are made over the course of the game.  The compelling writing and characters, not to mention the oddball nature of the game itself, keeps things satisfying from beginning to end.  One could argue it puts into perception the player's views on relationships and what it means to be in love.  Now, let's talk Rin.

When Catherine was remastered and released for the Vita and PlayStation 4 last year, new modes and a character were introduced.  Catherine: Full Body is like the director's cut of a movie, with Rin acting as the new scenes.  She's weaved into the main story well enough, although the transition between old and new material can be obvious at times, but her perspective on life and romance is interesting, especially considering what you learn about her late in the story, should you choose to pursue her.  Her path is optional, but if you're a veteran player looking for something different, exploring Rin's story is the way to go.

Catherine's gameplay is split into two parts.  One half is spent witnessing the story unfold and interacting with characters, and the other is an intense game of Q-Bert Meets a Nightmare on Elm Street.  After watching some cut-scenes showing the latest chapter in Vincent's life, him and his friends end up at the Stray Sheep bar.  Here, you can talk with his friends and other patrons there, plus you can check Vincent's phone for messages, replay old stages for a higher score, or save your progress.  Chatting it up with the customers reveals more about their histories and whatever personal demons they might be fighting.  Talk with them enough, and they might survive.

The PS4's online capabilities are put to creative use in
the main game.  As little flames like these indicate where
other players got stuck.
Alternatively, you can choose to do none of the above and drink the night away, though this will affect Vincent's performance when he falls asleep.  Speaking of which, after returning home for the night, he'll go to sleep and end up in the nightmare once again.  The goal of these sections is to make your way up a tower, pushing and shoving blocks to make steps you can climb up.  Make it to the top, and you're one step closer to freedom.  Watch out, as the floors below are gradually collapsing, and if you're stuck at the bottom, Vincent falls to his death.  Things start off simple with moveable and immoveable blocks, but future stages add ones with ice physics, spike traps, or they're rigged to explode once he steps on them, and the blast destroys any blocks caught within its radius.

By night six, your palms will be sweating, your head aching, and your eyes twitching due to how complex these later levels are.  Many times, the solution will seem impossible, but with enough patience, you'll figure out the way up.  Catherine: Full Body is difficult, yes, but it's the good kind of difficult that pushes you to play efficiently and rewards those who think outside the box.  Besides, it's refreshing to have something like this game remind us that we need to be challenged every once in a while.  However, there are few gameplay mechanics to alleviate the stress.  A rewind function lets Vincent undo his previous move if you felt like you messed up, and if it looks like he is stuck on a floor about to collapse, Rin will chime in with a piano melody which slows down time enough to let you make a couple of quick, last minute moves to get to safety.

There are also power-ups to collect.  These include the ability to conjure additional blocks or a drink which launches Vincent up two blocks.  Power-ups are found in each level or can be purchased at the chapel, which acts as a temporary domain of peace from the maddening climbing.  Here, Vincent can save his progress, talk with other sheep to learn new tricks, or step into the confessional when he's ready to move on.  Before leaving, an anonymous figure will ask Vincent to answer a question, and the response he chooses tilts a scale of destiny one way or the other.  It should be noted that buying power-ups for use will decrease the final rank you receive for the next stage you're about to do.  Also, each night culminates in a boss battle where Vincent has to climb to the top towards sanctuary, all the while avoiding whatever attacks the boss has.  Surprisingly, these encounters are easier than the stages you just took on.

Remix mode adds new block types to deal with, and if
a stage gets too hard, you can use autoplay to let the game
beat the stage for you.  But why would you want to cheat yourself?
When it was originally released in 2011, Catherine sported a great, anime-inspired visual style that meshed well with the nightmarish landscapes of the dream world.  The graphics and lighting have been given a boost for the Full Body edition, but it's not too big of a difference.  Voice acting is solid and if you've watched any anime released and dubbed in the 2010's, then a lot of the actors will sound familiar, as the cast includes the likes of Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham, and more.  The music, whether it's the laid-back jazz tunes of the Stray Sheep bar or the twisted tunes of the dream world, sound good.

Catherine is one of the most interesting, unique, and offbeat games to come out in the last decade.  In a time when the gaming landscape was dominated by action-packed shooters and open-world romps, this was a nice change of pace.  It's not every day you play a game that explores topics like love and commitment while on the other hand featuring a main character who has to flee from butt monsters and babies with chainsaw arms when he goes to sleep.  The puzzle-based, tower-climbing gameplay is challenging and frantic, but fun, and like Vincent, you cheer once you figure out a tough stage and reach the top.  The cycle of talking by day and climbing by night might seem like a grind, but it's a fun gameplay loop that leaves you in anticipation of what Vincent will have to deal with the next night.  As for the Full Body edition, the new modes, tweaks to the gameplay, and additional narrative thread are good additions to the base game and are worth checking out.


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