In January 2019, I crowdfunded the money to purchase a Japanese copy of Catherine: Full Body for PlayStation 4 so I could see what this thing was. The remake of the 2011 game Catherine, which I will be referring to as Catherine Classic for readability, threatened from early trailers to double down on LGBTQIA+ representation and transphobia. Having played through the entire game, including every ending and every ending variation, I have a lot to say. My summary?
The following article contains unmarked spoilers for Catherine Classic and Catherine Full Body. As Full Body is not yet available outside of Japan, if you are wary of spoilers turn back now. My verdict is to not buy or play this game.
Games directed by and produced by Hashino-san, the new studio lead of Atlus’ Studio Zero, have had many problems with LGBTQIA+ representation. Persona 3 includes a random throwaway (yet unskippable) interaction with a trans woman who is portrayed as a predator to the unwitting and ‘victimized’ male protagonists. In Persona 4, despite the localization team at Atlus USA’s best efforts, there are many frustrating struggles with the sexuality of party member Kanji Tatsumi, as well as the gender identity of detective Naoto Shirogane. I could write 4,000 words just on the portrayal of Kanji as definitely not a gay character who is portrayed with incredibly dated queer male stereotypes, while party members get grossed out and mock him about it for the duration of the game. Persona 5 inserts a pair of unnamed effeminate male NPCs to chase and harass one of the male party members in the hopes that the audience will laugh.
Catherine Classic features another clear look at how the writers and project leaders view trans people. In Catherine, you assume the role of protagonist Vincent Brooks, a software engineer who has been dating his longtime girlfriend Katherine for many years. Katherine, you see, is ready to tie the knot but wants Vincent to propose. Vincent, afraid of commitment, ends up falling into a tryst with a blonde girl named…Catherine. Drama ensues.
Joining Vincent on his journey are his (dirtbag) friends Jonny, Orlando, and Toby. None are especially given much development, but it’s worth noting their character archetypes. Jonny is a cynical man who had a crush on Katherine in school but now feels he’s uninterested in relationships. Orlando is a cynical player who went through a messy divorce and thinks marriage is bad. Toby is much younger than the other three, and has his heart set on the redhead waitress at their favorite bar, Erica, who went to school with Jonny, Orlando, and Toby.
Erica is a trans woman. In the True Lawful ending of Catherine Classic, Vincent and Katherine end up getting married at the Stray Sheep bar. There’s a punchline towards the end of this ending cinematic in which Toby feels as if he’s been cheated or betrayed by Erica, who slept with Toby, because Erica is trans. In the English translation, he says “The other guys knew you as ‘Eric’ back in school! I want my damned V-Card [virginity] back!”
Where to even begin.
Not content to have Toby deadname Erica in the cutscene, once the following credits roll, in the original release of Catherine on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, they list Erica as “Eric Anderson.” The artbook and manual do the same. To Atlus USA and SEGA of Europe’s defense, the 2019 PC release of Catherine Classic at least had the dignity of going in and making the easy fix of changing her name to “Erica Anderson” in the credits. In Full Body, it’s listed as “EricA Anderson” and “Eric Anderson.”
Deadname is a word that may not be fully known outside of LGBTQ+ and queer spaces. As a noun, it refers to the (usually) first name/given name of an individual at birth. When most trans people come out and live and express their gender identities, they adopt a different name that more closely matches their gender identity and expression. For example, someone who was born “Bob” may adopt the name “Sarah.” Almost never does someone adopt a variation of their deadname.
Deadname as a verb (to deadname) means to deliberately or mistakenly refer to a trans person by their deadname. The effects of deadnaming vary by person by person, ranging from frustration and feeling invalid to full panic attacks. Deadnaming is frequently used by transphobic individuals to attempt to de-legitimize and attack the already marginalized trans community. It just isn’t acceptable. For a creative team to write and include a trans character in a body of work and deadname their own character (presumably with the intention of believing the deadname is the ‘real name’) is fucked up beyond relief.
You may have heard of a new ending involving Erica in Full Body. In one of the “Chaos” endings, Catherine (who is a demon succubus…because of course,) rewinds time so that she could meet Vincent when he was still a student in order to pursue a more ‘healthy’ relationship with him. The game then fast forwards to their wedding scene, in which…Erica is not transitioned. She is depicted as happy yet still makes a comment about there being a [suitable] woman for Toby closer than he might think.
Much has been said about this ending, but to make one thing very clear: depicting a trans character pre-transition in this way is an act of violence and violation. I don’t know of a single trans person that I know that wouldn’t feel hurt by a portrayal of them in an alternate universe where they didn’t transition, or hadn’t transitioned yet. To be clear, this is different from pre-transition imagery, which is also uncomfortable; Full Body goes out of its way to present a timeline that shows a modern-day non-transitioned Erica.
The biggest new addition to Full Body is a second trans woman and I haven’t even gotten to her yet.
Qatherine (yes seriously,) or Rin as she’s referred, is the pink-haired woman on the image above. Rin is a sweet character in search of a game that respects her. A self-professed amnesiac-turned-bar pianist, Rin is helped by Vincent early on and begins to develop a crush on Vincent. All of Vincent’s dirtbag friends are rough with her, but Vincent takes on an affectionate role with her.
A late-game scene has Vincent seeing that Rin has male genitals. Rin reaches out to Vincent and he instinctively slaps her hand away and feels betrayed by not knowing about what genitals she had. She runs away. If you are pursuing a story route targeting Rin, most of the rest of the game is about chasing her down to get her back. If you don’t, that’s her exit from the game altogether.
Also, from this point on, Rin starts using masculine ways of referring to herself (he/him.) Fuck that. That’s one change I suspect the English version will make at least.
The toxicity of this scene is obvious yet worth calling out. Trans individuals (and cisgender individuals, for that matter,) owe nobody the information as to what their genitals are. That’s private information that they can share with who they want, and Vincent’s displayed instinctive entitlement and hurt goes a long way towards showing the creative team’s beliefs about what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Atlus game if things were straightforward. It turns out that Rin is an angel/alien that is responsible for miracles. This doesn’t make things better.
With the addition of a third love interest character, I had been hopeful that they would have adjusted the mechanics of how you select your route away from answering a bunch of binary questions. I was wrong.
In between puzzles, Vincent is asked a series of questions in a Confessional. Questions include things like “Do you prefer an older or younger partner?” If you select Older, the game moves you towards the “law” (Katherine) routes. If you select Younger, the game moves you towards the “chaos” (Catherine) routes. The reduction of odd and generic questions to an interpreted moral binary was fucked up in 2011, and is even stupider upon its rerelease in 2019.
Also, if you end up in the middle of the two routes, you either end up in a route where Vincent decides he doesn’t want any of the women in his life, or he gets a bad route with one of the women. Because if you aren’t all the way one thing or all the way the other, nobody would want you romantically. Fuck off, Catherine.
I know the people who are working on the localization of this game are aware of its issues. Its many, many issues. That said, there’s only so much they can do with the bullshit they’ve been provided. I feel bad for Atlus USA for having to put out this thing.
I recommend nobody buys it. It’s just not worth it, especially with its absolutely fucked up views on gender, sexuality, and morality.
At least the puzzles are a’ight.