What do you get when you cross The Matrix, Persona, and Hatsune Miku? Something interesting I’m sure, and The Caligula Effect: Overdose is a remake of a PlayStation Vita game that attempts a blend of those three things. While it is certainly ambitious with many of it’s mechanics, it also suffers from an abundance of bloat in content that mostly feels superfluous.
What do you do if you suddenly come to the realization that you live in a virtual world repeating the same three years of high school in an endless loop? This is the plot of The Caligula Effect: Overdose as you play a group of characters calling themselves the Go-Home Club seeking a way to escape this world. Unfortunately, a vocaloid named µ (Mu) oversees the entire program and believes she has trapped everyone there for their own benefit in escaping the harsh realities of the real world. Fighting on her behalf is a group titled the Ostinato Musicians who very much love who they have become in this VR world. Thus the clash begins.
I did find myself enjoying the story even if it is littered with anime tropes. You’ll get your share of pervert talk, character cliches and even a bathhouse scene which receives one of the few video cut-scenes; but if it’s easy enough for you to overlook, you shouldn’t have a problem here either.
On the topic of clashing, the battle system in The Caligula Effect: Overdose showcases a high point in the game. While it is a turn-based system, there is a level of strategy involved not typically found in combat similar to this. Once battle starts, the player has the option to input up to three commands. This ranges from attacks, healing, dashing and more. Between each selection, the game will play out how that move will work in what is called an Imaginary Chain. This allows a sort of projection fortune-telling aspect to the combat, although it isn’t guaranteed to happen exactly as shown.
Since these commands are based on SP points, management of these actions are key. Some commands have a higher SP cost than others, so in an attempt to keep the action flowing, it’s pertinent to pay close attention to them as they dwindle before performing the skill to replenish them. This will of course leave that character open for an attack, so it can be beneficial to not do this with every character during the same turn.
Each of these commands also take a certain length of time to perform. For example some attacks can knock an opponent into the air, while others perform better while the enemy is airborne, it adds in an extra layer of tactic to each battle. Issuing the latter attack after the opponent is launched and in a vulnerable state will lead to more damage. This is just one possibility to do more damage during combat. To better use these to your advantage, each character performs their action during set times each “round”. So it’s possible to perform a stronger attack on downed enemies by selecting a skill for said scenario and altering the time in which the move is performed until after they are down. Again, this is best figured out while using “fortune-telling” to decide what actions are best and when they are best to use.
Many will join your quest in the Go-Home Club and each of them have their own skills and abilities during battle. Some prefer to be in the face of enemies while others like taking shots from afar. The Caligula Effect: Overdose allows for four party members to be in battle, so mix and matching what works best can be some experimental fun. Thankfully, even if they are not in combat, the members will still gain experience points albeit to a lesser amount. So while they may get left behind, it won’t be to such a detriment that they won’t catch up.
Despite the depth of the combat and how much fun I had with it, I would heavily suggest testing out the difficulty to suit your needs. I usually like to go the easy route in combat since my life doesn’t give me a ton of time to play games, but for the sake of review, I went with the “normal” standard. Even then, it will probably be too easy for some. For the typical enemies found in the world, I ran into very little challenge as I dispatched them within one turn, usually before the enemy could attack. Even the concerns of HP and SP were negated due to them replenishing after each battle.
Boss battles were another story and actual strategies could be explored, but even then, very rarely was I threatened with death. A bigger disappointment would be no flair to the battles. They honestly felt like any other enemy outside of the design of the location you fought them and their increased difficulty.
To engage in these battles, the player traverses through a linear dungeon with enemies called Digiheads walking around. These Digiheads have an erosion rate above their heads (more on that later) along with a level if you decide to battle them. Many travel in groups but it is still possible to blindside them and attack them from behind leading to an advantage during battle. Once you level up enough past them however, there’s no need to even try to avoid them as they will ignore you entirely.
Once engaged, a circular field will surround you for your combat zone. One thing to pay attention to though is that not everything is kept out. Enemies still move outside of the field, and if they come close enough, can actually join the battle as well putting the odds against you.
Not all Digiheads will be easy to defeat. Depending on the section of the dungeon you decide to pass through, many Digiheads will simply be far too difficult to fight. They are obviously out of your league based on the bold red text above their bodies. While I found myself able to take down some 10 or so levels higher than myself, once I was pushing 20 or more and it became downright impossible.
Speaking of the dungeons, they are greatly unimpressive. Some are broken out into various sections all on the same level while others are built more vertical. There are plenty of branched out areas to find items and attachments, but other than that, the dungeons themselves are bland, somewhat empty and lack personality. Considering how often you are in them, one would have hoped for something to make them stand out more. Even the music, while good, became as repetitive as the design the longer you were in them.
Another thing about the dungeons is that they also include the NPCs in the game. The Caligula Effect: Overdose boasts an impressive 500+ number of mostly identical students that the player can speak to and ultimately become friends just by a few conversations. Not all students want to immediately be your friend however, so befriending the ones that do will spread the word of who you are and give the students denying your friendliness a reason to interact with you.
The way to see how this works is the comprehensive and intimidating relationship flowchart called Causality Link. Each student is connected to another student. As one becomes your friend, that “unlocks” the person with whom they are linked. Sadly, there isn’t much to unlocking each individual. If you find a student with a zero next to their name instead of a lock icon, talk to them a few times in what feels like a very vapid conversation.
The conversations are made even more frustratingly pointless with the inclusion of the WIRE system. This is a text-like option with your friends (both NPC and in-party) that is mostly served as a way to locate friends on the Causality Link. The Go-Home Club members can text each other though, and while it may occur while you run around the dungeon, it’s the direct contacting that is especially bad. It usually results in dull one sentence questions and answers completely irrelevant to anything. I take it as a way to increase character appreciation, but it’s so poorly done.
Each student who becomes your friend has a trauma quest they can partake in. This is where you address the reason people became infatuated with the fake world and solve the problems. After accepting their mission, with the parameters being found on their profile page, you can have them join your party. Don’t fret, because they are capable of fighting as well. No escort mission woes here. These quests can be as simple as locating items in dungeons or equipping items to the mission giver. Others are more involved such as solving the problems of the students to whom they are linked.
The issue with including over 500 NPCs to do these tasks isn’t a lack of content concern. Instead there’s too much content there, and almost all of it isn’t particularly engaging or well-told. The rewards aren’t particularly worthwhile in most cases and a lot of it feels more like busy work than being fun. I would much rather have had far fewer NPCs to work with with a more extensive story told with them along with better crafted mission objectives.
For instance, what they do with your main party members is closer to what one should want. Much like the Persona games, your party is also part of the Causality Link, but their stories are far more personable. This shouldn’t come as a shock considering Persona alum Tadashi Satomi is the writer for The Caligula Effect: Overdose. The story beats with each member dives into their own insecurities and why they felt the need to hide in the real world themselves. It’s some of the best moments of the game, so it would have been nice to see that extended into more NPCs.
Since this is a remake of a PlayStation Vita game, there are additional features not in the original release. First off, they did do work on the visual front. Playing on the Nintendo Switch though showed two sides of this however. While undocked, the look puts the poor in portable. Faces look low-res and the frame rate dipped considerably during moments of battle when many attacks popped off at once or even in the main areas if there were too many NPCs around. I didn’t notice the same problems while docked.
The Caligula Effect: Overdose also includes two additional members to join the Go-Home Club facing new Ostinato Musicians along with the option to play as a female protagonist. Not having played the original, I can’t offer direct comparisons, but NIS America does note that the game also includes additional scenarios and endings along with a new route of sorts as you can become a “Forbidden Musician”.
Overall, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is full of great ideas plagued by too much unneeded content. Refinement and cutting the fat would go a long way for this game along with boosting the charm in aspects such as level design and boss battles. Don’t expect to hit the highs some JRPGs will give you, but you will certainly see the promise showing through. It was enough for me to like the game and see it through, but there are also enough problems to push some players away.
Score: 3 out of 5
*A review code for the Nintendo Switch was provided by NIS America*
The Caligula Effect: Overdose releases on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC on March 12, 2019 in North America and March 15, 2019 in Europe.