If you missed Atlus’ punishing puzzle game, Catherine, the first time it came around, good news: Atlus is releasing a remake of the romance-thriller for PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. The new edition, Catherine: Full Body, will include a new love interest, more puzzles, and online content.
Catherine first launched for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 back in 2011. Visually, it has the vibe of a modern day Persona game (and notably, featured longtime series artist Shigenori Soejima as its art director). Narratively, it explores adult relationships and their complications: infidelity, lust, sexuality, and so on. Vincent Brooks, the game’s hero (and I use that term loosely), is torn between the pressure to marry his longterm girlfriend Katherine and a seductive young woman he meets named Catherine. The choices he makes — how he answers their respective questions, for example, or responds to texts — impact his relationships with them and, ultimately, his fate.
While Vincent spends his days navigating his complicated relationships, his nights have turned into recurrent nightmares that echo his real-life anxieties. A stressful lunch with his girlfriend leads to a pair of disembodied hands trying to murder him with a fork; a pregnancy scare is followed by a monster baby. Once asleep, he finds himself trapped in a dream tower full of anthropomorphic sheep. But the floor is falling out from under him, and he has no choice but to climb. And the stakes are high: If he dies in his dream, he’ll die in real life. These sequences, punctuated with two-answer questions about love and life, play out through increasingly tougher levels climbing-based block puzzles that Vincent has to surmount before the ground falls out from underneath him and sends him tumbling to his death. The game’s design is clever. Your ability to best its challenges isn’t about power-ups, but your own skill. The techniques you learn are available from the very first level — you just don’t know how to use them yet.
Catherine is sometimes simplistic in its symbolism. In his real life, Vincent is grappling with emotional blocks related to love and marriage, and so in his nightmares he has to move literal blocks. But the questions Vincent must answer before being allowed to move on open the door for a deeper inspection of oneself: “Do you prefer to stand out from the crowd or fit in?” “Could you show everything in your inbox to your lover?” If you’re seeking a specific ending with a specific woman, the answers are easy to pick. It’s far more fun to choose as you personally would, however, and compare answers with a friend — or, with the game’s online features, everyone else.
The game isn’t flawless — Atlus struggles with problematic representation and restrictive views of gender — but it offers an interesting, if not bizarre, modern parable about relationships. It’s a perfect game to play with a friend or romantic partner, whether you’re interested in discussing its moral quandaries, or you just want someone to swap with when the puzzles get too hard.