Originally a PS Vita release, The Caligula Effect gets a second chance with The Caligula Effect: Overdose, an HD update on Switch and PS4. But can it overcome the original’s limitations and rough edges to let its unique ideas shine?
If you’re at all familiar with the high school-set JRPG, The Caligula Effect won’t seem particularly new to you – at least on the surface. The game is set in an illusory virtual reality in which participants live a looped high school existence. It’s all maintained by an AI named ‘μ’ (or Mu), an emotionally unstable construct whose main concern is maintaining the happiness – and cooperation – of those trapped in the half-finished VR program.
After having a split-second realisation about the true nature of the world, and seeing the ‘digi-head’ threats lurking in plain sight, our character finds themselves fleeing in confusion and terror, only to be rescued and recruited by a group of similarly disillusioned students, the ‘Go-Home’ team.
With its story having been penned by Persona writer Tadashi Satomi, The Caligula Effect: Overdose walks a similar path of interpersonal high school relationships and drama, against the larger, seemingly insurmountable problem of the VR program. Yep, it’s JRPG all the way through here. However, the cast is absolutely massive, mapped out in a social ‘Causality Link’ chart. With room for seemingly hundreds of names, we’re sceptical as to whether there’s engaging writing for all of these characters.
The combat system is where most of the game’s unique ideas lie. After beginning an engagement with enemies that wander the VR environment, the battle is tracked along a linear timeline at the top of the screen. Once you begin to select your attacks, you’re able to see how the battle will progress along that timeline if the attacks are successful, including the moves of your opponents, providing you the chance to account for their retaliation.
Of course, things may not play out that way, but this speculative battle system is an interesting twist on the sometimes-dry turn-based combat that many JRPGs are usually shackled with. After factoring in multiple party members and different combat options, the battles become even deeper. It’s genuinely an impressive and fun system to use.
Unfortunately, the worlds (or dungeons) in which you’ll be doing a lot of your combat suffer from a lack of unique ideas. The opening area, set in a high school, is labyrinthine and seemingly endless – lockers and corridors that become mind-numbing in their sameness. Wandering around these spaces can become a real bore sometimes, even with a unique combat system to look forward too.
Ultimately, the problems of the original release that The Caligula Effect: Overdose set out to solve have mostly been swept up. The user interface is far less cluttered now, and the performance in HD is smooth. However, it doesn’t save from the fact that the base game really only has one or two interesting concepts (the combat system and the VR setting) to bring to the table. Trudging through the bloated and unrewarding social interactions system is a chore, and spending hours fighting your way through the game’s dungeons isn’t much better. In a world of Persona 5, Octopath Traveller and even the Yakuza series, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is really best left to Japanese gaming diehards.
The Caligula Effect: Overdose is available now for PS4 and Switch.