The Caligula Effect: Overdose PS4 Review

The Caligula Effect was originally a Vita exclusive Japanese role-playing game by Aquria, the team that developed some of the Sword Art Online titles for Bandai Namco. The game arrived late in the Vita’s lifespan, releasing in Europe early May 2017. Given the limited reach of Sony’s handheld device and the lack of fanfare around the release, Aquria decided to aim for a broader market and remake the title for PlayStation 4, Switch and PC using Unreal Engine 4, dubbing the new release with the subtitle Overdose to signal all the extra content that was added during development.

So for anyone who already played The Caligula Effect and are thinking about jumping in for a second run, what’s the difference between this extended release and the original Vita version? The obvious one is the platform, with PS4 (version reviewed), Switch and PC all receiving it. Overdose comes with improved visuals and a smoother performance, something the Vita struggled with during battles. The more streamline and cleaner UI helps to keep things on top of what’s going on in the game and it’s various mechanics. One thing that is instantly noticeable at the start is the option to play as a female protagonist, although for the most part it’s identical to the male, there are some characters away from the main story who will act differently based on on being female, opening up alternative dialogue options. It’s a nice feature to include to give people who have already played the game a slightly different experience.

A new protagonist is only the start of the additions. The developers have tried to offer a good amount of extra content for existing fans to give them a reason to pick up The Caligula Effect again. The biggest addition is the new story route dubbed “Forbidden Musician Route,” which gives the player a chance to become a traitor and begin working for the rival gang called the Ostinato Musicians and go about undoing the work of the heroic Go-Home Club. It’s a lot of repeated dungeon crawling that comes with this twist on the original story, and is probably not the ideal route to take if you are a newcomer to the game. It could have been integrated better than it currently is – something like Front Mission 3, where in that title the path is done with a branching dialogue option about 10 minutes into the game that leads to seeing the story from the point of view of the other side of the conflict, rather than a few hours into the game like it is done here. New characters are also added across both the members of the Go-Home Club and The rival Ostinato Musicians, while throwing in multiple endings and more NPCs to interact with for good measure (more on the latter’s meaning later).

For first timers, this means all the above and the experience of the original content. The story in The Caligula Effect: Overdose is an interesting concept where its world is based in an virtual reality simulation known as Mobius. The game waste no time with introductions, as it begins with a school ceremonial event, where during this scene, the main character is asked to speak, only to see the staff and various pupils’ faces begin to distort bizarrely. This leads to a discovery that something is wrong, something about this place isn’t quite right. It’s soon known that this place is used for people in the real world to escape their pain or issues by moving into a virtual haven and indefinitely live out life as a student, offered constant carefree happiness in exchange for staying away from real life.

A pop idol, Mu, is the creator of Mobius, and has decided that positivity needs to remain – most users have forgotten about their real life existence, being so overwhelmed by the joy Mobius has brought them, unknowingly being under the spell of the pop idol’s music. A small group, who the player joins, called the Go-Home Club, have figured out that this isn’t the real world and want to simply go back home, but Mu and her supporting group, the Ostinato Musicians, want to eradicate anyone who could spoil this “paradise,” because to them, why would anyone want to go back to the pain of reality?

The story has a great premise, something JRPGs seem to often bring to the table, but like a lot of the lesser known JRPGs, the story has plenty downtime, filled with many static images and dialogue text across the bottom that interrupts the flow of the main story. That is not to say that the dialogue is always wasteful, as each of the main characters has a distinct characteristic (as unique as the typical anime cliches come) that you’ll be able to able to enjoy or detest the heroes and villains in the game. The best comparison would be to the Hyperdimension Neptunia games and how they present the story, although, with the school setting and the friendship mechanics, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is a bit more closer to the recent Persona series than Idea Factory’s comical gaming RPG.

Comparisons to the last three Persona games comes down to The Caligula Effect‘s gameplay feature called Causality Link that enables the protagonist to befriend over 500 students situated around the game’s locations. A huge spiderweb of classroom students and their friendship links is display within the game’s menu that helps keep track of their status, while offering bite size information about their real life issues. It sounds like an ambitious task to achieve to flesh out over 500 characters to make them worthwhile companions, it is, and there is clearly many shortcuts taken to achieve such an high number.

All interactions with students is usually mundane since it involves finding them in the world, talking to them and then reading some generic dialogue that is repeated across multiple students, then they suddenly like you and their relationship status is increased a level. Repeat this after a given time has past to increase said relationship status to higher levels and unlock small fetch quests to unlock a reward. Why they suddenly became friends with my hero is never clearly presented, which means this is nowhere near the detail of the superior social link mechanics in the Persona games. Those games, since Persona 3 when the feature was introduced, demonstrate greatly the reason why your friends care to befriend you – there’s just no reason to feel invested in The Caligula Effect‘s blank slates apart for the reward at the end, which shouldn’t be the main reason to want to chat with them.

When you aren’t making friends, you are fighting them. Students that have lost control of their emotions are called Digiheads and will rush to put a stop to your progression in each of the themed dungeons. Battles are mostly turned based, with characters allowed to attack at the same time to initiate combinations. The attack order is based on the character’s speed and the length of time it takes to perform said action (attacks, magic, moving position, defending). It’s the attack timing that is given emphasis in this battle system, as it wants players to have their team of four working in sync to deal the most damage in a single turn.

An inventive feature, the Imaginary Chain, reminds me of the Monado in Xenoblade Chronicles, a sword  that enabled the player to preview the next move that would lead to death, although, this previews the upcoming actions to see if everything combos correctly. A small demo is played out, which is import to see how each member interacts, since each one has specialised moves (range, physical, airborne) or excel at starting or extending chains, so some moves will hit in the air, while others only when the enemy has a shield. Throw in the ability to change the timing on the move to delay its motion and you can see how involving the Imaginary Chain could be, but there is issues with its incarnation.

The Imaginary Chain does not take into the account the hit percentage, instead, it show the chance of the attack hitting, but it’s down to the player to take the risk, change position in the arena or switch to a move that is guaranteed to hit. When it comes to challenging fights, the Imaginary Chain is a cool feature, something I haven not seen in an RPG before, but a lot of times against the general enemies, it just gets in the way and I spent a lot of time having my party members on auto, controlling the protagonist and having the AI do its best to compliment my attack choices. It doesn’t help that most battles are easy on the default difficulty, giving another reason not to use the advanced features in a fight, such as Overdose attacks (limit breaker-esque powerful move) and Risk Breaks that weaken enemies onto the floor to make them more vulnerable to damage. Even some bosses fall short on difficulty, having defeated a few of them in a minute or so, and I didn’t grind to make my party overleveled at that point in the game. The mechanics are probably better suited on the higher difficulty, where strategy is a little more involved.

Visual differences are night and day between Vita and the much more powerful PlayStation 4, offering sharper visuals, improved textures and less jaggies. That said, this game isn’t one to show off what the platform can do, because while the art style has a unique use of muted colours for its great looking character designs and portraits, the actual models aren’t all that detailed, such as the lacking facial expressions. Their animations are stiff, giving off a vibe that this is a last generation game given a face lift, but without managing to cover up all the ugly spots. This spans out into the colourful, but rather flat and bland dungeon designs (these are only easily navigated due to the on screen mini map), and the copy/pasted student enemies that full up each area of the game, where their only distinguishing factor between them is the type of weapon used. All this becomes tiresome, but thankfully, this does not spill into the bosses, who bring some personality to battles. Still, it performs much better than it ever did on Vita, not once having a hiccup with frame rate, no matter how hectic battles became.

The Caligula Effect Overdose is a mixed bag, a Japanese RPG filled with potentially awesome ideas and concepts that don’t quite work or need fleshing out more. The story is fascinating in its themes and the main characters are likeable, but pacing is all over the place. The inventive NPC interaction feels flat and lifeless, turning all these characters into fetch quest rewards rather than interesting personalities, and the battle mechanics have truly brilliant ideas, but the challenge isn’t there to require the use of them. The Caligula Effect Overdose could have been so much more, I would never say no to more games bringing unique ideas to the Persona formula, but this game doesn’t deliver on that and is instead filled with repetitive and undeveloped systems. It can entertain and be fun, but I feel that The Caligula Effect Overdose truly is a game for the serious hardcore fans of the genre that like the idea of a less developed Persona title.

5 out of 10