The Caligula Effect 2 Review – No Regrets

    Title: The Caligula Effect 2
    Developer: historia Inc
    Release Date: October 19, 2021
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: NIS America
    Genre: Turn-Based JRPG

The Caligula Effect is an obscure series that might have flown under your radar when it was initially release. Through an updated version titled, The Caligula Effect: Overdose, players were able to enjoy the game on more powerful hardware. It seems the developer isn’t prepared to leave this game to obscurity as The Caligula Effect 2 continues to expand the universe with new mechanics and characters.

The Caligula Effect 2 stars a nameable protagonist, who has been pulled into the world of Redo. The world is an illusory one, kind of like the matrix, and people who have strong regrets in life are drawn into it by the songs of a virtuadoll named Regret, essentially a Vocaloid like Hatsune Miku.

Your new virtual life is interrupted, however, by the appearance of another virtuadoll named χ (pronounced ‘Key’) who is out to break Redo apart. She can’t do anything by herself, but by forcibly enlisting the help of a random passerby and using them as a soul jar? There’s a shot. That’s where you come in.

Of course, it doesn’t take long for the Obligato Musicians to come knocking. As Allies of Regret, they compose the music she sings. These songs keep people in their dreams, which can also be used to turn the world’s denizens into monsters that fight for her. Though, with the help of χ, you can even the playing field. Those who begin to notice the faults of the world are able to awaken to personality powers, known as the Catharsis Effect, to fight.

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Combat works in a pseudo-turn-based style with up to four party members on the field at once. Each one is able to select from what builds into a variety of unique skills and abilities, and you select from them in pseudo-real time. Party members move around the field as they attack in a Chrono Trigger-esque fashion. You target your foes and if someone else just happens to be in the way, then they’ll face your blade too.

The most vital and thought-provoking part of this system though is the ‘Imaginary Chain’, which allows you to preview how your attacks play out. Make the most of this to block, counter or dodge your opponents’ attacks, build up their risk gauge with carefully prepared combos to ‘break’ it, and maximize your damage. There’s little more satisfying than carefully selecting an attack that has an animation allowing you to carefully sidestep enemies, or allowing you to knock up and juggle foes. It’s an incredibly fun and rewarding system, with lots of elements to play with, especially when you throw buffs, debuffs, and ailments into the mix.

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And this combat is backed by some of the coolest songs in video games. Each Obligato Musician has their own theme song, composed by different Vocaloid artists and are sung by Regret. They respectively function as each chapter’s battle theme. Additionally, when you clear a dungeon, you’ll gain the ability to use that battle song in χ-Jack. This mechanic allows you to summon χ to give your team a power boost for a limited time, with different stat boosts coming into play for each song. These songs are sung by χ’s voice actor though, and take on a fun new vibe when used as your own theme music power-up.

Then we get the boss remixes which had me headbanging from the outset. It is a shame that we don’t have translations for the song’s lyrics, because I’m sure they would provide additional insight into the characters of the musicians.

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In the first game, the dungeon design was infamously bad. The game attempted to justify labyrinths of copy-paste assets that funneled you into unavoidable enemy encounters, but that didn’t make them fun to play. Whilst practically anything is a step up when compared to that, The Caligula Effect 2 has dungeons, besides having designs that are visually appealing, that are actually really fun to run through. The first dungeon, for example, has you run through a train station, hopping onto the tracks, jumping between trains. As you traverse, you can read little skits between your party members which add to the scenes they surround.

I played on Nintendo Switch and there are a couple of points in which the framerate drops, but they’re extremely minor. A particular boss fight towards the end of the game has a needlessly explosive attack that tanks performance, and there’s a few moments of lag when you enter the main hub world. If anything, I was amused by the lag and it never negatively affected my experience. The visuals aren’t the best, but I think the higher resolution when docked makes the title seem a lot more ‘budget’ graphically, so it’s best played in handheld.

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I adore the cast of this game. The character models and animations can come across as a bit janky, but they ooze personality. The voice acting and character writing is stellar, and the fantastic narrative gives every party member time to really shine. Then these characters have entire movesets that connect to who they are as people. As opposed to something like ‘wow, the hot-blooded character uses fire attacks’, we get ‘the girl who hides how diligent they are fights using samurai-esque slashes.’ I’d be spoiling things if I discussed them any further.

In most JRPGs, I’ll pick out a squad easily based upon my favorite characters, and find some way to have the teamwork. In The Caligula Effect 2, I was spoiled for choice and had to really wrack my brain to figure out which character’s I wanted to bring in at any given moment.

You’ll need to use characters to increase their affinity, which is what will allow you to enter their ‘character episodes’, so I constantly shuffled around my party to make sure I could max everyone out and discover what their respective deals are. After all, everyone in Redo has their own regrets. That’s the theme of the game. Regret.

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Whilst you’ll likely guess most of your party members’ regrets in advance as the story progresses, that’s not the point. Your protagonist is there to be a friend to these souls, someone they can talk to and help, but it’s incredibly important that this happens without reducing their individual subplots to ‘protagonist steps in and saves the day.’ They’re very intense, to say the least. I cried during one and was stunned by others.

They’re characters who are intrinsically tied to subcultures that don’t get a lot of airtime. If you’ve managed to find this review, there’s an extremely likely chance that you are going to relate heavily to at least some of these characters. It also helps that this is one of your fabled ‘adult cast member’ games, with only one minor in the 8 party members.

Now there is a crucial question you may be asking. Do you need to play the previous game first? And whilst you can, as there are references to its events, there is also a really good plot thread that was constructed with all players in mind (even those who read an untranslated sequel light novel). At worst, you’ll be missing a few details, but nothing dramatic that actively changes your understanding of the story. And you’ll also get an experience that I would like to see.

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The Caligula Effect 2 is an incredibly modern game that encroaches on territory like no other JRPG. With a stunning soundtrack and an extremely fun battle system, it’s a riot to play.  But it also has a cast ingrained into the narrative that leaves a very strong impression, and I really feel they’ll stick with me for a while.

Score:
9.5/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jacob Kavanagh

Staff Writer - Illusions to illusions. Will solve murder mysteries for money so he can buy more murder mysteries. @JacobPFZE on twitter