The Caligula Effect: Overdose Review
Release Date: March 5th, 2019
Developer: FURYU Corporation
Platform: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PS4, PC
While the Vita had been considered "dead" for quite some time, long before Sony officially ended production on cartridges and units earlier this year, it was still receiving RPGs monthly that were worth playing and still made it the go-to location for RPG lovers around the world. Vita had plenty of exclusives that were still coming by the way of third party developers, and the love was still there with localizations for tons of these future JRPG classics. One of the games to make waves in 2017 was The Caligula Effect, a new school-set RPG by the writer of Persona's birth and first few subsequent entries, Tadashi Satomi, and the reason why they're still so memorable to this day. The Caligula Effect had a lot of appeal around it, thanks to its vibrant color usage and idol-inspired dystopia that gave it a unique look by giving darkness and corruption bright colors - a palette that is typically used as an indicator for things that are heroic, harmless, or good. While Caligula Effect overall was an acceptable title and one worth looking at for JRPG fans, it suffered from repetitiveness, performance issues, and a lot of quality-of-life mechanics that simply were not there. It made for a jumbled experience that, while memorable, was more frustrating than it was worth. It wasn't a bad game by any means - on the contrary, actually - but it left a lot to be desired, despite a great foundation that could easily be improved upon with sequels and further releases. Fast-forward to 2019 and Caligula Effect loses its Vita exclusivity and makes its presence known now on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 as The Caligula Effect: Overdose. Surely with an increase in power on both of these systems, all the issues that held the Vita version back should be cleaned up and addressed, but unfortunately all we really get here is a feeling of déjà vu made to be covered up by a new story route, avatar, and content that are practically negligible.
One of the biggest differences that's seen right away when booting up the game is that you now have a choice in choosing a female avatar in this new Overdose port. The user interface is made exponentially better with a cleaner, more refined look that keeps things a lot more appealing visually while being significantly more intuitive rather than the explosion of icons on screen before, particularly in battle. While Overdose made it sound like this would be almost like a Caligula Effect 1.5, the narrative is ultimately the same, and the progression doesn't veer much from how it originally was even with the female avatar. The setting for Caligula Effect is in a virtual world known as Mobius which quickly becomes corrupted, with an infestation known as Digiheads that are in every corner of this world. Female or male, your avatar starts out in a school ceremony where they're graduating, but because of this endless loop everyone is in, people tend to repeat their school experience. Third years revert back to new students in their first year while you find yourself becoming the class representative for Year 2. Things take a wild turn continuing with Mobius's corruption, but I noticed right away that, much like the original, you're given an option to give a speech, but even with the female avatar nothing changes. Each choice remains the same with the same dialogue output and cutscenes that follow. You don't actually start seeing differences until over an hour in, and these differences are so minor it's hard to warrant using the word "enhanced" for the Overdose port of Caligula Effect.
A large portion of Mobius is inspired by music, with idols, producers, and musicians playing as bosses, weapon inspirations, NPCs and much more. Mobius's creator and star vocaloid, Micro, stylized as μ and pronounced "Myoo", as you can imagine plays a large part in you and everyone not being able to leave. She's unsure why anyone would want to leave given all of the great music and vibes that go around. Any sort of rebellion upsets her, and it's one of the reasons why the Digiheads exist to begin with, furthering the corruption of Mobius. She leaves as she unleashes them upon your avatar but miraculously, yet oddly, her partner Aria comes in to help you out and take hold of your newfound power. Things go deeper from here, and while it may seem a little convoluted, it slowly but surely brings itself together. The animated cutscenes that were on Vita are still present in its Overdose port, albeit at a slightly higher resolution, though while character art, text, and anything HUD or UI related is clean and sharp, the game itself leaves a lot to be desired as it's a blurry mess with the same performance issues that kept the Vita version from being truly enjoyable. It varies from location to location, as you won't always be inside of Kishimai High School, but it's consistent throughout.
Still, however, years later, Caligula Effect has a battle system that remains unique and untouched by other RPGs. Back in 2017 I had mentioned that Caligula Effect had a very intricate system in which you unleash your moves, go about using your turns, as well as how items are handled. For starters, there are no items. Items are essentially replaced with moves that your teammates can do that more or less accomplish the same thing. Any buffs, passives, healing or replenishment can be done in battle or at save points. Moves are categorized into three distinct areas: Catharsis Effect, Battle Effect, and Affection Effect. These separate areas help organize your moves and make your thought process more tactical by dividing them essentially into physical/magical attacks, buffs/passives, and defensive/evasive techniques respectively. On top of this, your biggest usage and mechanic will be the Imaginary Chain, where in 2017 I had said "before you execute your moves, you can get a 'glimpse into the future' of how the outcome of your choices will end up like, so you can get a good idea of roughly how much damage you'll be doing, as well as if the enemy will be countering your moves at all." This still remains true and is a big part of seeing how things will play out before you commit to any choices that may or may not have repercussions. With its fleshed out UI and HUD in Caligula Effect: Overdose, what I felt was the game's strongest point is made even stronger with a more intuitive layout that's easier to grasp and more pleasant to look at. This makes new players and veterans of the genre alike able to better understand how Caligula Effect plays, since it does have a slight learning curve to it. Ultimately, it is still a turn-based RPG, so it's simply a matter of coming to terms with going about a different execution of your "end turn" phase.
For those that have played Caligula Effect when it initially released on Vita 2+ years ago, there's not really enough here to entice returning players unless it was a game you absolutely fell in love with. Despite the quality of life enhancements - the biggest being a UI overhaul that is much more appealing - it largely feels the same and, in an odd way, dated. While the PS4 version doesn't suffer as much, the Switch version, of which this was reviewed, almost feels like a step back from what originally was given through its western Vita release back in 2017. The resolution is low, performance is still as bad as it was back then, and it feels low budget given the massive difference in power between PS4/Switch from Vita. Caligula Effect was a good handheld RPG that still made a statement and stood out despite its flaws and technical mishaps years ago, but even with enhancements, the additions are marginal and yet still, somehow, there's DLC despite being a "definitive version". The port is lazy and borderline questionable, but for new players that may not have owned a Vita, it's worth giving a shot, though the price NISA is asking for a 2+ year old game pretending like it's new and "definitive" isn't something I would advise paying unless you're absolutely in need of a Persona-esque experience on the Switch to quench your thirst before Shin Megami Tensei V comes out (or we finally get Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE ported).
The art is still wonderful, even with adjustments and new characters
The dungeons are well designed and clever
Movesets, combos, and weapons are satisfying to look at and use
Hundreds of students at your disposal make for an immense amount of possibilities for strategy and combat
Dialogue can a lot of the time feel redundant and unneeded, even with the slight slice-of-life elements, a lot of it just seems like it's meant to prolong certain scenarios artificially.
The resolution in both handheld and docked is horrendous, making the Vita version look somehow sharper.
Performance issues are still present in its Overdose edition.
Thank you to NIS America for supplying us with a copy of Caligula Effect: Overdose for the purposes of this review