I heard a fair few mixed feelings about The Caligula Effect: Overdose on its release back in March, but since then I haven’t heard a peep so here I am reviewing my experience from April. I’d had my eye on the game a few months previous to release, ranking it 2nd on my Most Anticipated Games of the Year list, so I guess you could say I was intrigued – mainly due to the unique combat system and the strong presence of vocaloid music. I’ve not really taken much interest in JRPGs until recently and I’ve never actually got round to finishing one entirely… Until now!
The Caligula Effect, written by Tadashi Satomi (Revelations: Persona, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment), was first released on the PS Vita in 2016 with an updated version, The Caligula Effect: Overdose, being released on Steam, PS4 and Nintendo Switch on 12th March 2019. The rereleased Overdose edition features all the content the original game had to offer as well as a few extras. This additional content includes a route for the Ostinato Musicians, over 500 interactive NPC students and the option to play as a female character. The Ostinato Musicians’ route was a welcomed addition in my books and it was also nice to play as a female character, but I didn’t rate the student interactions – they seemed very unnecessary and only there for poor filler content.
The game takes place in Mobius, a virtual world created by u? as an escape from the real world where inhabitants are able to relive their highschool days without any concerns. The Mobius residents believe they are living in reality and are continuously brainwashed by the music within the world as to not find out the truth about their so called life. The story follows a small group of students in Mobius, known as the Go Home Club, who have uncovered the truth. As they attempt to break out of the world revealed to be nothing but a mirage, the protagonist joins them on their mission.
The story had a fairly interesting concept with decent character progression although there was nothing particularly impressive or outlandish about it. Certain characters were more likable than others, some with detailed character arcs but others seemed fairly generic. The voice cast was well chosen and all the voices suited the characters well, portraying their personalities as intended. More characters were added the further you progressed and these characters could then be switched in or out of the party at the player’s request. All the characters had different combat styles, with a range of unique weapons and abilities, all providing their own strengths. Adding a character to your party also increased your friendship level which was needed to unlock and progress the bonus character scenes between each dungeon.
The Ostinato Musicians were essentially the villains of the game, or were they? They wanted to create music to keep Mobius alive as they didn’t wish to return to reality themselves, ultimately establishing the exact opposite of the Go Home Club’s goals. Added as bonus content for the Overdose version, this set of character routes was far more interesting than the Go Home Club’s and it was intriguing to see all their fates intertwined. The gameplay was realistically the same but mirrored with a boss fight consisting of Go Home Club members at the end of each dungeon instead of the Ostinato Musicians.
The combat system was one of the main initial selling points as it seemed unlike anything I’d seen previously. Before selecting an attack, the player could preview the outcome with the idea of being able to set up neat combos and chain attacks together. This preview had a percentage chance to let the player know how likely it was for the outcome to go as planned, but if the combo failed, the player would often be left in a sticky situation. During the early stages of the game, I messed around with the combos this feature provided. It was fun at first and I remember the first boss taking a while to defeat. However, that didn’t mean it was difficult, in fact, it was the opposite. I found that the use of the combat system made the pacing of the game much slower than it should’ve been and trying to set up combos with the foresight tended to hinder rather than help, especially later on.
This combat system also made the fights very time consuming as you had to select and move all the attacks to fit together alongside rewatching the preview over and over to make sure you’d got it perfected. The majority of the time, I just mashed ‘A’ on all the preset attacks just to get it over with as planning every single encounter became dull and repetitive. This wasn’t just during dungeons either, in most cases it actually worked for the bosses too. Now that the challenge was taken away from the gameplay, I was basically just here for the mediocre story… and of course, the music! But it’s not like I even selected the easy difficulty either… I was playing on standard difficulty the entire time.
Now onto the best part; Caligula’s soundtrack. This was insane, making the music the highlight of the game by a few thousand miles. The soundtrack fit my music taste to a T, even including some of my favourite vocaloid artists – DECO*27, PinocchioP and MikitoP. These songs were specifically written for the game too which made it even more special for fans of the vocaloid genre. I still listen to the soundtrack often and I think it will always deserve to be a standout choice as a top OST.
Aside from the soundtrack being astonishing, the way in which the music was used was a factor I greatly appreciated. The structure of the game associated one song with each dungeon, the song also being incorporated into the story itself as being fictionally written by a specific Ostinato Musician. The song played throughout the level reflected the character involved during that level, essentially providing a solid character theme for each of the Ostinato Musicians. The way the music worked in and out of combat was also superbly arranged, featuring an instrumental version of the track during roaming which then evolved to the vocal version during combat. How these tracks were then remixed for the boss fights at the end of each level was also really effective, providing familiarity with an added freshness about it.
Achievements are available for those people who want to get more out of the game although most of these achievements followed the story. I decided to go for 100% completion to see what else the game had to offer, although I now feel that was a mistake. Other than egging myself on to an additional playthrough to experience the Ostinato Musicians’ routes (I didn’t realise both routes could be done on one playthrough), I didn’t get any further story or bonus content from following the actions the achievements prompted. I felt quite disappointed and I honestly felt like I’d wasted a good 10 hours finishing these off for no reason.
Overall, I did enjoy the game (particularly my second playthrough with the Ostinato Musicians’ route) but would I recommend it to JRPG fans? In fairness, probably not. As an introduction to JRPGs, I found it pretty decent but I can imagine fans of the genre getting fed up with it pretty early on. For that reason, I’m pleased I played this when I did as it’s spurred me on to want to try other games I’ve had sat in my backlog for a while, but I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this one in the future.
Have you played The Caligula Effect: Overdose? Let me know your thoughts!