There’s nothing wrong with developers getting ambitious and delivering a product with so many good ideas, but also working with limited hardware and budget. However, many of these titles have become some of my favorite games to date. Developer FuRyu often takes this approach by delivering unique titles and new IP when other developers tend to stick with tried and true series with recognizable names.
2016’s The Caligula Effect was exactly this. A PlayStation Vita exclusive that pushed the hardware of the handheld with a unique battle system and the cast of characters. Sadly, the game didn’t live up to expectations as it suffered from framerate issues and graphical downgrades. However, the team hasn’t given up on the IP with the release of The Caligula Effect: Overdose, a remaster of the title with updated systems. While the game still resembles its handheld counterpart in many ways, this updated version does a great job and becoming far more accessible to players.
The Caligula Effect: Overdose begins with the premise that a school full of students are unhappy with reality and so an AI idol known as u’s creates a virtual world known as Mobius where they can truly be happy. However, some students see past this facade and group together in an effort to escape back to the real world. The player assumes the role either a male or female protagonist as they join the Go-Home Club and look for a way out.
There is a ton of story in The Caligula Effect: Overdose, which isn’t a bad thing at all. The story focuses on the idea that these students who are trying to escape the virtual world understand the real world isn’t necessarily better, but they still fight to escape. With that said, the cast of characters also fights their urges to fall in love with this fantasy as they face their natural fears. Such as coming to terms with your weight or lack of friends. The themes can get rather dark and adult, but the game does well with presenting that to the player. I enjoyed the story for this and felt that it was enough to want to see the game through until the ending.
The Caligula Effect: Overdose has an additional storyline following the game’s antagonists known as The Musicians. This group wishes to stay in this the virtual world and forget about their outside lives. Similar to the characters of the Go Home Club, The Musicians each have their own reasons for wanting to forget about reality and stay in this dream. This extra storyline made me care about these characters and their respective situations more.
Enemies in The Caligula Effect: Overdose can be seen roaming around dungeons. The battle system in the game is quite unique in that players can strategically plan out their actions and chose when to execute them. When an action is chosen, players will see a preview of the battle and what the enemy will do. This allows the player to react to the enemy’s moves by either breaking a block or moving out of the way of an attack.
I learned that this battle system is best played on higher difficulties given the strategic nature of it. Sadly, on lower difficulties, players can just spam the same attack over and over to get through every fight which makes the game feel repetitive. There’s not a huge reason to grind in the game, but becoming stronger early on in the game is an option and there are tough enemy encounters found in dungeons that yield rare Stigmas.
Customizing characters in The Caligula Effect: Overdose is easy to understand but offers enough deep systems that players are able to spend extra time learning the ins and outs to get the most out of it. New equipment is regularly found in the dungeons so it’s possible to consistently become stronger by finding “states of mind” known as Stigmas that are hidden throughout the dungeons. These Stigmas replace the standard equipment in RPGs and offer stat increases. What’s new about Stigmas in Overdose is that they don’t have a negative effect attached to them any longer, which makes the game a bit easier.
The Caligula Effect: Overdose also has an interesting feature where aside from the main characters, players can invest the help of students who they’ve met. However, this feature is mainly for side quests and the students who join the party aren’t unique and simply mirror the main characters in terms of skills and weapons. Players are also capable of raising affinity with students and party members by chatting and fighting with them. There’s also a text messaging feature that I didn’t really use too often, but it’s there.
Dungeon design in The Caligula Effect: Overdose is an uninspired copy and paste mess that can get quite large so having the map displayed prominently on the screen at all times was the only way that I could get around without getting lost. Players can expect to get through the game simply by going from point A to point B. Each destination will lead to a new story event and then a new destination will be given.
The structure of main story missions is nothing special and simply feels like the game is padding on time by having the player run around in circles until they get to the boss fight. It becomes tedious and boring after a few hours and weighs down on the otherwise strong premise. I would have enjoyed more variety in the missions than simply, “Go here and then come back here”. Especially when the dungeons are as large as they are and more than half of the players’ time spent in the dungeon is consumed by running back and forth between areas.
With that said, audio design is actually pretty well done and the character’s Japanese voiced tracks were delivered with a great deal of emotion which helped with the immersion of the game. However, not all sections of the game have audio recordings, but the additional story routes do add a bit in terms of content for players who previously played the Vita release.
What The Caligula Effect: Overdose offers players is a unique battle system that revolves around strategical planning during the game’s tougher enemy encounters. If you don’t see yourself interested in the story or premise then I’d probably keep my distance because it’s definitely the best part about the game. Playing through The Caligula Effect again on stronger hardware provided a more optimized JRPG experience that the Vita version lacked.
Sadly, the updates to the game don’t fix the lacking dungeon designs and graphical presentation found in some areas of the game that I would have expected from a remastered title. However, the added storyline and characters were enough for me to play through once again. I really enjoyed The Caligula Effect: Overdose for its ambitious ideas and storytelling.
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