Game review: Full Body is the director's cut of Atlus’ adult classic
Gaming’s only ‘sex horror’ game gets a director’s cut with extensive new content, but how well does the new character fit in?
The thing we most enjoy about politicians and other busybodies getting riled up about sexual content in video games is the fact that, broadly speaking, there is none. There may be skimpy clothing in abundance but even supposedly adult-minded games, like The Witcher or Grand Theft Auto, can barely mount the courage for more than a soft focus shot of someone’s breasts.
This prudish attitude is entirely the fault of the American market and if the French or Japanese had their way things would be very different. In fact, they are in Japan, where low budget hentai titles flood the PC market and indulge every form of debauchery known to man and tentacle monster. But that’s hardly any more mature an attitude and comes no closer to trying to portray that which obsesses every other form of art in existence: love.
Coming from the creators of Persona, the level of confident storytelling and subtle characterisation in Catherine is all the more impressive given how inexpertly other games handle the same subjects. This isn’t a simple Hollywood love story, where two people who have only known each other for minutes instantly fall for each other. It’s a story about a thirtysomething man with commitment problems and the three very different women in his life.
If you’ve played previous versions of Catherine and are wondering where the third woman came from, that is the major addition to Full Body – which is intended to be the definitive edition of the game that first came out in 2011.
As the story begins Vincent’s long-term girlfriend Katherine ups the ante regarding their relationship and begins talking about marriage and even parenthood. Vincent’s reaction to this is something close to terror, as he retreats to his favourite watering hole, the Stray Sheep, to whine to his semi-sympathetic friends.
It’s there that he meets the younger and more seductive Catherine, and after waking up with her the next morning his troubles – both psychological and otherwise – really begin.
As you might gather, this is not the usual sort of set-up for a video game, but the presentation is wonderfully assured, with a mixture of anime cut scenes (including several new ones) and some excellent cel-shaded visuals. The dialogue won’t win any literary awards but by video game standards, and especially considering the subject matter, they’re very good – a notch above the earnest but sometimes unconvincing voiceovers.
If you’re wondering where the video game aspect comes into it, it’s first important to point out that this is not a role-playing game in any shape or form. Most of the storytelling takes place in the Stray Sheep bar and other enclosed areas, and although you can wander off and talk to people as you wish there’s no other action of any real kind. Or at least not in the waking world.
Vincent’s dreams revolve around a strange block-pushing puzzle game, where each stage takes place on a crumbling tower where Vincent is pursued by a perverted image of his current fear. His goal is to make it to the exit at the top, moving blocks to create stairways or removing them so that the ones above fall into a more useful pattern. Although gravity is in effect in that sense, blocks only have to be touching along one edge to remain suspended in mid-air. As the game progress additional obstacles come into play, such as icy blocks and extra antagonists, but the basics remain the same.
The puzzle game does figure into the main plot – an early news report reveals that young men are being found dead in their sleep and Vincent meets a range of transformed sheep-men in his dreams – but the connection with the rest of the game is often tenuous at best. That’s not to suggest it’s not fun in its own right, the fact that the game has its own esports scene proves that, but it and the story sections do feel barely related at times.
The game features a morality system of a sort, where you’re presented with a tough but binary quandary at the end of every puzzle stage. How you respond to events in the real world, including a simple but flexible text-messaging communication system, also factors into the movement of a scale between law and chaos. This isn’t a measure of good and bad morals though, but instead societal norms.
Catherine (the game, not the woman) certainly isn’t perfect but it’s a bold attempt to ignore all accepted wisdom about what a video game should be and what it should talk about. It’s also eight years old at this point, so it really is a cheek to be charging full price for it – especially as a lot of the new additions are fairly weak.
The new cut scenes and endings are welcome, and the game does now offer a little more context for Vincent and Katherine’s original relationship, but the new female character Rin is so obviously shoe-horned in that nothing about her story really works. Especially as she’s much younger and more emotionally immature than even Catherine, which, along with some awkward handling of gender issues, results in some of the weakest elements of the whole game.
Rin’s story is relatively interesting but it’s much more fantastical than the others, which only makes it more obvious that it was never part of the original plot. For such an old release, Full Body does brush up remarkably well, but the best new addition is simply a new mode for the puzzle game and some new options to make it easier to play if you’re having difficulty.
While we’d warmly welcome a sequel, Catherine: Full Body is an ill-advised attempt to try and keep the original relevant. It was a great game when it first came out, but times have moved on and we’d much rather see what the same team can do with a brand-new story. Although given how they’ve handled the new additions here we’re now more apprehensive than we were about how that would turn out.
Catherine: Full Body
In Short: Still one of the few video games to deal with love and relationships in anything like a realistic manner, but the attempts to shoehorn in an extra new character fall flat.
Pros: Compelling characters and excellent presentation, with visuals that have aged very well. Fun and surprisingly competitive puzzle element.
Cons: The puzzle sections have only a tenuous connection to the rest of the game. Some mediocre voiceovers and hit-or-miss end game. Very expensive and Rin’s story is an awkward fit.
Formats: PlayStation 4
Developer: Atlus/Studio Zero
Release Date: 3rd September 2019
Age Rating: 18
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