Review – The Caligula Effect: Overdose

Some of you must have had a nightmare consisting on being trapped on an endless high school cycle for the rest of your life. Have you ever imagined that this could have been caused by a rogue virtual pop diva who wanted to save people from the hardships of real life, and the only way to escape this theoretical hell is to embrace the darkest pieces of your personality to the point they literally become weapons you can use to defend yourself? No, I swear I’m not on drugs. That’s the premise of the latest JRPG offering for the Switch, NIS America’s The Caligula Effect: Overdose.

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It’s just like Bully, but in Japan. With guns and a villainous pop diva…

The Caligula Effect: Overdose is a “soft remake” of a game previously released on the PS Vita in 2016. It’s a game that really walks a fine line between remake and remaster. It has a vastly improved UI, some visual enhancements, new characters, additional sidequests, and so on, but the core story and gameplay remains the same.

I’ll try to be as spoiler-free as possible in here, as the story is one of The Caligula Effect‘s highlights. You control a group of Japanese highschoolers trapped in a virtual dimension created by a rogue digital personification of a vocaloid pop diva, just like Hatsune Miku, in which they are forced to live an endless loop of a three-year school cycle. Your characters need to embrace their inner demons in order to awaken their real powers so they may defend themselves against the tons of brainwashed pop music groupies who are sent out to attack you.

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I am clearly the master of flirting.

When you hear the expressions “Japanese highschoolers” and “embrace your inner demons”, it’s hard to not to compare The Caligula Effect: Overdose to another famous JRPG with a similar premise. Yes, this game feels like Persona-lite at times. The game even features the same writer from the first three Persona games, as well as the same composer from a bunch of Megami Tensei games. It’s hard not to compare The Caligula Effect as a smaller, less flashy version of Atlus’s hit series, but there are enough elements in this game that makes it stand out on its own merits.

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I tried to recreate Abbey Road’s cover art but the NPCs ended up doing a better job.

The main difference here lies on the gameplay. While Persona‘s combat system is simplistic and occasionally too straightforward, The Caligula Effect provides players with one of the most innovative systems I’ve seen in a JRPG. The game features a turn-based system in which you can select up to three movements per character per turn, and rearrange them just so you can perfectly choreograph where your characters will move on the field, who they’re going to attack, who should wait for an opportunity to land a critical hit on an airborne enemy, and so on. It’s a very complex system, maybe too complex at times, but once you get a hold of it, you’ll get hooked. It’s hard for me to fully enjoy a turn-based JRPG combat system, but The Caligula Effect‘s is so fast-paced and open-ended that I actually started looking for enemies to fight not due to the necessity of grinding, but because I actively wanted to fight as many people as possible. I also liked the reduced emphasis on items and equipment. You don’t need to buy potions, as there is no in-game currency and your health is restored at the end of each battle.

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I’m not gonna lie, this is going to hurt.

Another neat feature is the possibility to create social links with other students and earn new attacks and abilities once you’ve reached a certain affinity level. You can increase your friendship with the nearly five hundred NPCs scattered throughout the game by talking to them, befriending their friends in order to gain their trust, and completing some sidequests.

The game’s story is also a high point. Once again, it did remind me a lot of Persona‘s plots, with the emphasis on creating social bonds, the hardships of teenage years, and also featuring many taboo subjects such as depression and suicide. On the other hand, I appreciated its uplifting message of actually overcoming your inner demons in preparation for a more hopeful adult life, as well as its duration. The Caligula Effect: Overdose doesn’t last for hundreds of hours like Persona 5, nor does it hold your hand or put you under a time limit. You can beat the game in about twenty hours, depending on the amount of sidequests you decide to tackle. Add in the fact you can play this game on-the-go and that makes up for a JRPG you can quickly beat in a few satisfying sessions.

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Definitely not a fan of the excessively muddy visuals.

Then again, not everything is perfect. I really enjoyed my time with The Caligula Effect, maybe even more than my previous experiences with Persona games, but the game is still very flawed.

One little issue I have with it lies in the sound department. Despite the good compositions and well-performed voice acting, I got fed up with how repetitive the battle songs ended up being. Unlike the rest of the game, which features instrumental pieces, the battle songs are fully sung bubblegum J-Pop tunes that don’t fit that well with the mood of the game, even though the game’s main villain is a pop diva.

The game’s main issues, however, are its graphics and performance. Simply put, The Caligula Effect doesn’t run or look much better than a Vita game. The visuals are incredibly muddy, lacking in detail and extremely repetitive. I spent the first three hours inside a high school comprised of the same rooms and corridors. The resolution isn’t anything to write home about, either. The framerate is also very inconsistent; the game can barely maintain a steady 30fps, especially when you are outside of the dungeons.

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Easy there, Professor Oak.

Despite its embarrassing presentation and performance, I was mostly surprised with how much I ended up enjoying The Caligula Effect: Overdose‘s premise and gameplay. It’s a shorter, more streamlined, and less exaggerated take on what made Persona so popular to begin with. A JRPG with not a lot of hand-holding or exploration, but featuring a fantastic combat system and faster pacing to make up for it. A perfect addition for your JRPG catalogue while you wait for the more than inevitable port of Persona 5 for the Switch later this year.

 

Graphics: 5.0

The Caligula Effect‘s graphics are beyond unacceptable. Despite the nice anime character profiles, its overall presentation is extremely blurry and the framerate is all over the place.

Gameplay: 9.0

The Caligula Effect‘s saving grace is its excellent combat system. It actually excels due to how complex it is, as it allows you to basically choreograph your attacks in a near-infinite amount of ways.

Sound: 7.5

The voice acting and some of the tunes are really good, but the battle music is irritating and very repetitive.

Fun Factor: 7.5

The game’s story follows the same premise as the Persona games, though less dramatic and exaggerated. It’s also much shorter, slightly better paced, and with a more complex combat system. It makes up for its disappointing presentation.

Final Verdict: 7.5

The Caligula Effect: Overdose is available now on PS4, PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of The Caligula Effect: Overdose was provided by the publisher.

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