We actually reviewed The Caligula Effect when it originally released in 2017 on the PlayStation Vita, and Jessica was simply not impressed with it. While she had small amounts of fun due to the style it was mimicking, the game underneath just wasn’t that fun to play through. Now almost two years later, developer FuRyu has been working hard on a port to current platforms that is best described as the Golden version to the original entry. So is it worlds better than before, or does it fall back into the same ‘ol, same ‘ol that we saw a few years ago?
Title: The Caligula Effect: Overdose
Publisher: NIS America
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 Pro
Release Date: March 12, 2019
Game Provided By NIS America for the Purpose of This Review
The Caligula Effect: Overdose features the same narrative as before. A virtual world officially known as Mobius but oftentimes referred to as Miyabi by the citizens, was created by two sentient virtuadolls to give humanity a place of escape. μ (pronounced like ‘Myu’ but technically spelled ‘Mu’, which we will be using from here on out in this review) and Aria are very much in touch with the emotions of humans, and they wanted everyone to be happy. In Mobius, everyone is exactly who they want to be and of High School age, regardless of who they are in the real world.
We learn as the story progresses that it’s your typical “stuck in a virtual world” idea we’ve seen countless times now. It doesn’t do anything too entirely new or fresh, but it doesn’t make anything worse either. The group that the protagonist joins up with is known as the Go-Home Club, a group of students that want to leave this virtual reality and get back to the physical plane of existence. Aria is more or less the game’s version of Navi, and she sticks with you helping out whenever a hint is needed and, more importantly, to keep the emotions of the Go-Home Club in tune so they don’t fall down the path of the dark side. The other group, known as the Ostinato Musicians, are the ones working alongside Mu to keep everyone in Mobius and to further strengthen her powers.
Speaking of the protagonist, one of the changes made for Overdose is the inclusion of a playable female character. While a good chunk of the story remains the same regardless of if you’re playing as a male or female, there are certain characters that will react differently to you and different dialogue options depending on your gender. It was nice to see this addition, and the inclusion of a trophy that requires playing through as both the guy and girl will ensure completionists see everything the game has to offer.
Back to the Go-Home Club. The characters you’ll be directly working alongside and using during battles consist of Shogo Satake, Kotaro Tomoe, Kotono Kashiwaba, Mifue Shinohara, Suzuna Kagura, Kensuke Hibiki, and Naruko Morita. All of these characters know they are trapped in a virtual world and can see the rifts. Due to this, they form a tight bond and friendship and want to help each other get back to reality. Each character has a distinct personality and fighting style, as it’s heavily inspired by the Persona franchise. So much so, that each character also has Character Scenarios which can be unlocked by using them in battle to befriend them even more, and then seeking out the characters between chapters to progress the scenarios. It’s very much a Social Link system, just not nearly as in-depth.
Another system that is heavily used throughout The Caligula Effect: Overdose is the Causality Link, and it’s this mechanic I have a lot of issues with. Jumping into the menu and exploring the Causality Link in Chapter 1, I was immediately overwhelmed. It allows you to see every student that attends Kishimai High School, details about them, their stats, and their issue that needs solving once you talk to them three times. Not only do you need to seek out each student and initiate a conversation with them, but you then need to figure out what their trauma is that needs solving, make sure you have the appropriate skill or item to fix the problem, and then invite them to your party and solve the issue. That’s right. Not only are there the eight main members of the Go-Home Club, but technically there’s an additional 524 party members that you can max out friendships with, bring with you on missions, level up, and do quests with. It’s overkill.
Now I will say, it gets quite a bit easier to manage naturally as you progress further and further into the game as long as you’re constantly talking to new students that you see, but come on now. 530+ characters to manage in one single game? That sucked a lot of the fun out of it for me, as I largely began ignoring the mechanic and just seeking out the students which had a reward I wanted to unlock for one of the actual main characters. You can get increases to your main stats or abilities by doing these, but unless you really want the reward or are struggling in certain areas for stats, it doesn’t seem worth the time investment.
If you do decide to tackle this mission, the messenger tool known as WIRE is a great way to keep track of everything. Once you talk to people a handful of times, they get added as friends in WIRE, and you can then message them asking where they are at currently. This helps if you need to seek someone out to complete a side quest, if you want to chat casually with members of the Go-Home Club to get to know them better, or if you need to ask Aria for a helpful hint.
Let’s talk the battle system, which is insanely fun. Battles in The Caligula Effect: Overdose are three phases. In order, the phases are selecting actions, Imaginary Chain, and executing actions. Selecting actions is exactly as it sounds, you go through your skills, defense abilities, or support abilities and figure out what you want to use. Imaginary Chain is where things get super interesting and is a great mechanic. This allows you to see the anticipated outcome of not only your actions, but also what the Digiheads (the term used for the enemies in the game, as they have lost control and don’t care how they are perceived) plan to do during each phase. It’s a beautiful mixture of a turn-based strategy system and an action RPG. Imaginary Chain is not always accurate, as there is a hit chance percentage at the top of the screen. Sometimes it’ll show attacks connecting properly in Imaginary Chain, but when you actually execute them, they fail. You can move attacks around in the timeline before executing them to try and get a better hit chance, so definitely take advantage of that. Three actions can be assigned each phase for every character in the party, so with four party members doing three actions each, battles are often chaotic and over quickly. Especially later on as you get more powerful and better equipment.
Known as the Catharsis Effect, a releasing of strong and suppressed emotions is what draws out our main characters’ weapons for battle. Every character has something buried deep within them that shapes the way they fight and the weapon they use. Sometimes that narrative can seem a bit cruel to other characters in the game, especially during Chapter 2 when it seems they are fat-shaming a particular NPC, but finishing that section explains why those certain terms were used.
Different pieces of equipment can be found scattered about the world and obtained as drops from battle. Referred to as Stigma, there are Attack Impulses, Defense Instincts, Amplifications, and Clothes. Alongside that, there are also four slots for Passive Skills to be equipped down the road. This allows for a much deeper level of customization so you can build your characters to be more efficient in certain areas, and truly shape the group how you want them to be. Throughout the game, I was constantly changing back and forth between every available character, as I wanted to continue building their friendship to unlock the Character Scenarios. Thankfully, reserve members do obtain a certain amount of experience as well!
Another major complaint I have with Overdose is the size of the maps in each area and the insane design choice to make everything look the same. The layouts of the locations you’ll be visiting are quite large and extremely confusing. While running around the shopping mall several times throughout the game, I was constantly getting lost, as each floor and area looks identical with twists and turns all over the place, and you can only see a small section at a time on the mini-map. These feel more like labyrinths than anything else with the amount of dead-ends present and areas that are just pointless to explore. Some locations work better than others, but for the most part, it was very confusing.
The soundtrack is quite beautiful with a combination of soothing melodies and Japanese pop idol tunes. One thing I particularly enjoyed is the usage of the same track in each area for exploring and for combat. While exploring and probably getting lost in the areas, you hear an instrumental version of the song. When you engage in battle with a Digihead, the song keeps playing, but it morphs into the version that actually has lyrics. It’s a clever design that I really found myself enjoying and humming along with. Oh, and there is no English voice acting in the game, which was to be expected.
Without question, the biggest change made for The Caligula Effect: Overdose is the inclusion of a brand new route to follow during the story. You can join forces with Mu and the Ostinato Musicians at one point and then work to undo everything you did with the Go-Home Club. It was interesting getting to see the plot points from the other side, but I feel as if things could have been better implemented. The Ostinato Musician route is not nearly as satisfying as it could have been, and the better route still is the one with the members of the Go-Home Club. The UI also received a major overhaul, which looks a lot more aesthetically pleasing than it did on the PlayStation Vita. Graphically the game performs much better as well, thanks to the switch to Unreal Engine 4 for modern consoles.
I’m glad the team at FuRyu didn’t give up on The Caligula Effect after it received such a poor reception when it first released. While still far from being amazing, this enhanced edition is a step in the right direction for the team and the franchise if they want to continue moving it forward. There’s a lot of interesting ideas and gameplay mechanics that are fun, but the inclusion of things like the Causality Link and the overall design of each area left a lot to be desired. While there are much better options out there for those that enjoy these types of gameplay and story beats, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is still worth a playthrough at some point.
7.0 / 10