The Caligula Effect: Overdose
Playstation 4/Nintendo Switch
THE Caligula Effect received mixed reviews as it made its way to the Sony PlayStation Vita in June 2016 (and localized on the same platform about a year later), with not a few quarters expressing disappointment on its inability to live up to promise. In part, it suffered from an unfair comparison to iterations from the Persona series; the involvement of publisher Atlus and writer Tadashi Satomi in the intellectual properties gave rise to heightened expectations the new release wasn’t likely to meet. In larger measure, it was bogged down by the depth of its ambition; it put forth novel ideas that could not be executed fully in light of the inadequacies of its host hardware.
Creditably, developer Aquria took the reactions to heart and resolved to work off the feedback to come up with a bigger and better product, and on bigger and better consoles. The result is Caligula Effect: Overdose, just released out West on the PS4 and Nintendo Switch. As the title suggests, it’s an improved version of the original, presenting gamers with crucial choices from the get-go, additional characters, narrative tweaks that allow for alternate endings, and graphical enhancements otherwise unavailable on the constrained Vita.
Story-wise, The Caligula Effect: Overdose prudently retains the already-compelling approach of its source material, albeit with a vital twist. At the outset, gamers are afforded the freedom to provide the name and gender of their character, and the tweak, while seemingly subtle, ensures expeditious engagement and enhanced empathy. And as they go through the narrative which has them realize that Mobius is a Matrix-like made-up world created by the sentient vocaloid Mu, their heightened identification with their dramatis persona informs their decisions. Do they help other equally wisened protagonists in the Go-Home Club expose the dichotomy? Or do they act as a de facto double agent and perpetuate the status quo, leaving affected individuals stuck as high school students in an artificial representation of life?
The Caligula Effect: Overdose unveils the blue pill-red pill dilemma in compelling fashion. The Go-Home Club is composed of enlightened students determined to expose the truth and free the minds of unwitting victims (or, as the case may be, beneficiaries) of Mu’s creation. At the other end of the spectrum are Osinato Musicians, who compose songs for the latter to perform in order to keep Mobius’ inhabitants in a trance. Along the way, gamers are aided by Aria, a virtual doll, in their mission and in harnessing Catharsis Effects, which develop from tense situations and, in her absence, which could have turned their character into a Digihead. Instead, the emotional reactions become weapons that manifest in radical alterations to their character’s body.
Parenthetically, The Caligula Effect: Overdose boasts of a unique system triggered when members of the Go-Home Club do battle with the Osinato Musicians and brainwashed Digiheads en route to Mu. For every turn-based cycle, gamers can line up three courses of offensive or defensive action and then preview the timing of these courses via an Imaginary Chain. Period- and position-specific adjustments can be made to unleash effective combos, although the presence of mini bosses can stunt progression as initially envisioned. The flipside, to be sure, is that preparations take a while even for seemingly perfunctory combat. The math is clear: the Club’s party of four requires 12 choices per turn, even during random encounters.
As with other turn-based role-playing games, The Caligula Effect: Overdose compels gamers to go through no small measure of grinding to earn Stigma and skill points and get ahead. Thankfully, there’s an auto-battle option that can be turned to at any given instance, not to mention a more indicative map that allows for better location and level navigation. There is likewise the Causality Link, which, in a nod to the Persona franchise, enables the main character to develop social relationships with party members and over 500 non-playable characters. These, in turn, open up side quests aimed at solving personal problems and requiring quirky solutions.
In this regard, The Caligula Effect: Overdose shines in comparison to others in its genre. Even Osinato Musicians have Character Episodes that gamers can delve into, thereby enriching their appreciation of the overarching narrative. Heavy themes are tackled, in the process showing the marked differences between the lives of the protagonists and antagonists in Mobius and in the real world. They may be high school students in Mu’s structured handiwork, but, in truth, they actually live more complex, and complicated, lives. Where are they happier? And where are they truly better off?
In any case, The Caligula Effect: Overdose’s technical superiority vis-a-vis its predecessor is a plus. Gone are the frame drops that marred the presentation of The Caligula Effect on the Vita, as well as the soft tones and washed-out colors that then prevailed over the graphics. In their place are sharp outlines and distinct blends, and striking animation effects benefiting from its use of the Unreal engine. Notably, the soundtrack retains its appeal; original Japanese voices are backed up by music that draws the appropriate emotions for the moment. On the more powerful PS4 and Switch, though, their impact is pronounced.
In the final analysis, The Caligula Effect: Overdose makes good on its promise. It’s what the original was envisioned to be. In fact, it’s better, if nothing else proving that developers can, indeed, take criticism constructively and come up with improvements that lift up the overall experience. It’s still far from perfect; among other things, Casualty Links involve too many characters for gamers to keep up with, and the presentation of their backstories can come off as heavy-handed, particularly when stereotypes are promoted. Still, it’s a notch above the dregs that permeate the RPG landscape, offering notable features not found in supposed peers. Two thumbs up, and, whether at home on the PS4 or on the go with the Switch, well worth its $49.99 list price.
• Compelling narrative
• Unique gameplay characteristics
• Technically superior to predecessor
• Use of Unreal engine allowing for graphical improvements on more powerful platforms
• Grinding required, and not always providing the desired rewards
• Can come off as heavy-handed
• Relationship-building component can prove too taxing for comfort