Platforms: PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Publisher: NIS America
Release: 12th March 2019
The Caligula Effect in its original form seemed to be the typical example of having an ambitious dream, interesting artworks and a promising concept but never delivering on it in the end. So, I never decided to give it more of my time than needed. At the same time, NIS America´s decision to port the game to modern platforms, as well as adding significant content updates like the campaign from the villain side of the story.
We´re literally the protagonist yet again, finding us in a virtual world called Mobius created to provide a peaceful, happy life to all its inhabitants. Unfortunately, when we find out about this false world, it´s not long until we encounter a group of similar students, leading to the foundation of the “Go Home Club” with the goal, well, to go home and resist the ever present idol AI μ .
Even though the basic premise doesn´t sound all too exciting in a world where Isekai is flooding the market along SAO clones and the existence of Matrix, The Caligula Effect attempts to add its own flavor with the big focus on music and idol throughout its soundtrack, premise and presentation. Unfortunately, often the actual plot focuses too much on the Slice of Life adventures of this club, trying to recruit new members and finding a way to escape through the most cliché and ordinary dialogues and plans you could think of. Occasionally μ pops up and is actually quite entertaining with her conflict of trying to make everyone happy but also being confronted with the fact you can´t hide reality … or can you? Unfortunately, this also leads to one of the biggest problems of both the main cast and antagonists: Their conflicts are either super flat or nonexistent. The bad guys all feature similar problems to μ, just without any unique attributes or point of views, so I often felt like I listened to the same piece of dialogue, justt slightly rewritten. On the other hand, all your friends seem to be taken directly from the Matrix or other shows with this setting, we have the bro, the tsundere, the guy who knows how to be smart and so on… None of them are so unique, to the extent of entertaining me through their personalities alone. They´re just … there, trying to offer some text. Even worse, since it features two campaigns and takes 20-30 hours for the first run alone, you´ll be spending a ton of time with all of them and until the end I couldn´t remember individual character names well or identify with any of them, especially not the mute non-acting protagonist.
And honestly, a lot of that can be applied to the gameplay too, which just tend to drag and drag without being engaging or extraordinarily new. In theory, Aquira had some neat ideas for The Caligula Effect: While everything is turn-based in a “big” arena, every turn gives you the possibility to execute several moves or spells. The goal is to create a sort of “combo” system, where different attack combinations and movement options lead to stylish maneuvers to destroy legions of enemies in a few rounds. With the addition of a useful interface, that shows exactly how much HP you´re gonna take with an attack, all possible movement options, options to freely chose which one to attack and all that, it actually works quite well on first glance. Depending on the time in your turn and amount of turn points you use, your attacks become stronger or weaker, granting an extra layer of timing specific combos too.
So, what´s the problem? Well, in the end, the whole thing just doesn´t amount to much in practice. For one, I never felt challenged enough to try out those mechanics out of sheer necessity. As a result, the game itself never forces you to understand it, except in certain more challenging hiccups, where I always wished for a more consistent difficulty curve on normal. Nonetheless, even if you take the time to try some stuff, there aren´t really a lot of combinations possible and I often felt like I´m seeing a very similar game to other generic JRPGs with this turn based, free movement combat. Given, occasionally it feels really damn cool, when everything falls into place and you deal a ton of damage in a single turn by jumping around, changing directions with abilities and generall execute a lot of dumb, over the top moves.
What I liked for the most part though are the really extensive skill systems for the different party members, offering a huge variety of different things to unlock. Naturally, there are some “generic” attributes like increasing attack power or the rate you´re gaining experience but for the most part, it´s a really customizable system.
What I found surprisingly fun too was the typical school life you´re living, similar in many ways to the Persona series. Given, at no point can it live up to this series, alone because all of the characters didn´t really resonate with me and it doesn´t offer the sheer variety of activities but as long as you have a fetish for these type of experiences because there are so few of them in this world, it´s actually quite enjoyable to hng out with friends, do something with them and read the quite amusing dialogue. Probably because I have fable for that kind of experience while I didn´t enjoy these segments in the club or during story segments.
During the rest, everything is either quite repetitive or very stiff, since the technical side doesn´t hold up too well either, especially on Switch. Honestly, it doesn´t look good on Switch, mainly because The Caligula Effect Overdose doesn´t seem to be optimized for its limited computing power and
The Caligula Effect Overdose sounds like a truly great idea, reworking a flawed game to deliver something better while making it run on other platforms as well. Content-wise, this actually worked quite well as it offers a ton of more stuff than the original. Unfortunately, it still feels like an experience not worth the time in many cases, considering how bland everything feels, combined with the below average Switch visuals.
[A Review Code was provided by NIS America]