Review: The Caligula Effect: Overdose – An overdose waiting to happen

Whether it’s for better or for worse, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is here and seeks to expand upon the shortcomings of the PlayStation Vita version to deliver a truly meaningful experience, but does it fall short, or does it actually deliver?


Pros:
+Visuals have been updated to match the use of Unreal Engine 4
+Extremely smooth frame rates even in the most intense situations
+Each stage has uniquely designed music that coincides with remixed versions for bosses
+A unique angle on character development and combat systems
+Addition of a female protagonist

Cons:
-Each stage becomes repetitious after exploring a couple of the dungeons
-The social links need to be redesigned due to 500+ possible Causality links
-Drops the ball on some truly meaningful story elements


During the PlayStation Vita’s initial heyday for JRPG fans, I wasn’t scared to pick up any and every title Sony’s unique little handheld had to offer. To be honest, I am still not scared to do so to this day, but I do so with a bit more caution anymore. During that time, I was given the chance to review the 2017 JRPG, The Caligula Effect. My review, was somewhere in the sense of a middle ground, ultimately stating that the game itself was flawed by design, that it had plenty of room for improvement since the day it had launched.

But now that I’m here, with a PlayStation 4, PC, and Nintendo Switch remaster of sorts, I have to ask myself: Can a re-release with added content, a new graphics engine, and some minor fixes to the story and gameplay mechanics fix the problems I had before or is it the same-ol-same-ol story all over again? Well, let’s take a look.

The story remains the same, with only a few added bonuses

If you’re wanting to know how much of a difference there is in the story, I’m going to be rather blunt. Not a lot has changed from our initial visit to the digital world of Mobius. What hasn’t changed is the fact your character, yet again, is a silent protagonist who could have actually seemed a bit more alive had voice actor Chiharu Sawashiro reprised his role as the male protagonist with the possibility of voice actresses such as Rina Kitagawa or Miyuki Sawashiro.

However, the storyline premise remains largely the same, unaffected in any sort of way. You’ve once again taken on the role, as I mentioned a few seconds ago, as a silent protagonist who’s trapped in the digital world of Mobius once again. The reason behind it remains the same and unchanged. μ (pronounced Mu) has created a digital world to help forget the pains of the living world, one where we truly live and she offers incentives to those who stay trapped inside the VRMMORPG that is Mobius.

Except for one thing has happened: Your character has awoken to the fact they’ve been trapped, unable – until now – to see through Mu’s facade and that she uses the Ostinato Musicians to help keep control of those who inhabit Mobius. Your character, along with a few pals, creates the Go-Home Club, who fights back in order to try and get back to reality. Just like before, Mu isn’t about to let that happen. In Caligula Effect: Overdose, there is one subtle change that happens.

The Go-Home Club can become apart of Mu’s group, you can join the Ostinato Musicians. You can help keep retain control over those who are beginning to awaken to the truth about the false narratives they’ve been given. The downside here, the dungeons you’ve visited before as a part of the Go-Home Club are largely re-used and nothing remains changed at any given point in time. Truly, it was an intriguing idea, one I’d become captivated with pushing my way through my second playthrough of the game.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed when it came to a conclusion. Without spoilers, I’d rather them have focused on new story elements and brand-new dungeon content. That’s not the case and it’s seemingly wasted potential to bring something truly enjoyable into the fold. Hell, even just basic dungeon exploring could have used a decent upgrade of its own.

Dungeon exploring can be a bit of a headache, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoyable

One of my biggest complaints is the dungeon system, which doesn’t feel it has been overhauled by any means, and it’s a shame that this is the case. Dungeons themselves work as one might assume, they are filled to the brim with digiheads (enemies), various hidden items, and intricate mazes that are delivered as multi-floored experiences.

With only a handful of layouts, you’ll find that each dungeon feels almost uniform to the previous with only small variations that set them apart. Aesthetically speaking, all the dungeons are unique, and not a single one works the same, as far as some of the encounters go, but overall, they’re the same. There’s very little change in how enemies work and there’s very little change in their overall appearance.

The biggest issue I have with each of these dungeons is where the save spot locations are. You’ll typically find them somewhere near the beginning, near the end, and that is it. Provided you can actually make it from one to the other without dying. You’ll find that enemies have unruly elevations in their levels. For example, in the second set of dungeons, you’ll find that enemies vary between levels 12 all the way up to level 29.

It’s odd, it’s difficult, and it pushes a sense of “if I don’t get this later, I never will”, which will deter some from actually enjoying the game to its fullest. Then there’s the fact that every enemy uses the exact some pallet, skin, and appearance with only minor changes to their hair, face, gender, and physical stature. That aside, it’s a rather copy-and-paste affair, which is rather bothersome for an HD remake. Not to say this isn’t a bad title, but its Vita history shows just a bit. It’s a real bummer, to say the least. Don’t think this is the only problem though, combat is up next.

Combat has changed, a bit, and it’s somewhat simplified compared to before

One thing I liked about The Caligula Effect on the PlayStation Vita version, to some extent, was the combat, which is where the game truly feels that it begins to shine. Luckily, The Caligula Effect: Overdose does things a tad bit better here thanks to the fact it has simplified a few things, but it has also received a preview system, which gives you an idea of how your team’s attacks will play out when selected.

The coolest thing about it, I’ve noticed, doesn’t get mentioned often: It helps you plan out your attacks. It’ll allow you to better combo your team’s abilities in synchronization, allowing you to make the most of a problematic situation, and turning the current state of affairs to your advantage.

It allows for a sense of strategic placement and ability usage. Even with the chance to use offensive, defensive, and stat boosting abilities, you’ll find that ultimately, the sense of strategic play doesn’t really matter. You’ll constantly stay at the level of your enemies, or slightly higher, and even then, you’re always at an advantage against those you are fighting.

Even with a plethora of skills at your disposal, a rather diverse set of party members, a huge array of equipment items to use, and even a skill upgrade system that ties into your social links, you’ll find that you’ll never fully get to see it all play out in a single scenario at any given time. Depending on your team build, you’ll often find that your best-case scenarios are comboing abilities together, such as ensuring that characters such as Mifu Shinohara can use a combo set such as Crushing Stomp alongside Kotaro’s Shining Uppercut in order to get a solid ability combo off.

The other unexplainable design flaw to combat is the AI controlling your characters, letting it choose every action your team makes, allowing you to just breeze through combat itself. A design choice that could have been passed on, in the end, to allow players to feel more engaged with the game itself.

The game sounds and looks as good as it did before

One of the best parts about the original was its graphics, its animations, and the music. Every dungeon has its own theme alongside that of what you’ll hear when encountering the final boss to each and every zone. Each song is unique, often composed by popular Japanese musicians such as Tsukasa Masuko, the former composer for the Shin Megami Tensei series and three-person J-POP group featuring Eriko Nakamura, Emi Nitta, and Yuka Ōtsubo.

Every song has both a vocal and instrumental track with special remixes that are in place for when a boss is encountered. As the songs do feel unique, beautiful, and enjoyable, they offset the slowness of each and every dungeon, which comes off as slightly repetitive after nearly thirty hours or so of gameplay time.

But that doesn’t take away from some very noticeable enhancements that have been made since the games PlayStation Vita launch. The Switch to Unreal Engine 4 is very noticeable thanks to the newly added shaders, lighting, and particle effects. While it is noticeable that ambient occlusion, etc, is there, the visuals are absolutely beautiful when said and done.

Unfortunately, character models still feel stiff, lacking, and barely animated in any shape or form. The Vita’s remnants still remain, leaving a lot to be desired in the animation department, as The Caligula Effect: Overdose could have benefited greatly from the time spent porting the game over to a brand new engine and having a chance to add in a few finer touches on the characters.

The social link system is actually fun but it’s insanely time-consuming

One of the things that might deter some from fully enjoying the game is the social hooks and how it affects your overall story, rather, how little it actually affects your overall adventure. As the social links do offer new abilities such as more HP, special abilities, and Character Episodes for each of the Musicians, I find that the game itself could have done with a bit more simplified social net than the one you will come to use.

Let me put it this way. It’s bigger than the sphere grid in Final Fantasy X and has more complexity to it than the skill web in Path of Exile. Even the writing isn’t half-bad in every aspect of the game. The Musician’s themselves having seemingly got the better hand of it all, but it doesn’t mean it’s actually bad.

Truth is, I’ve enjoyed the new characters, both consisting of two Musicians and two new party members you get to enjoy. You’ll find yourself deepening your relationship as you go, speaking to each and every NPC that you can, along with your very own party members to prolong your friendship with them.

Unfortunately, there are few that matter and fewer that you’ll even spend time getting to know due to how one-dimensional most of them actually are. Sure, they are characters, their stats matter, and some actually of potential to truly shine with rather adequate storylines that drive the overall emotional story forward. Since the game doesn’t truly seem to be able to handle the weight of the situation, their stories just don’t have enough heft to them to really matter.

The game does touch on some rather… Well, touchy subjects ranging from eating disorders to self-harm and even pushing a narrative with gender identity issues along with suicide. Sadly, some of the stories could have been handled better, pushing a truly meaningful impact, and raising awareness about those societal and personal topics. It was a missed opportunity that needs to be brushed up on in a future title – if there is another.

Fin.

When it comes to wrapping up a title like The Caligula Effect: Overdose, it’s hard not to be left with a sense of mixed feelings about the game. Many of the PlayStation Vita’s fundamental issues remain such as inconsistent storytelling elements, gameplay issues (repetition), and rather stiff character animations. A part of me wonders if it was the fact that it is a PlayStation Vita port, just using a brand new engine to bring it up to speed, or if this was in fact – an intentional design choice at the end of the day.

The Caligula Effect: Overdose
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Developer: FURYU Corporation
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: Available Now
Cost: $49.99

I won’t lie, there are lots of great ideas, especially with the game’s narrative being focused on escapism and offering that indefinite escape from the realities we all must face when it’s time to leave our game. Unfortunately, there’s just too much that overshadows the good about the game and leaves it as a jumbled, uninspired mess that could have been improved upon with an HD remaster of sorts – which this is.


Editor’s Note: Due to the game being fully story-driven, we’ve opted to only allow screenshots from the first two chapters of gameplay in order to prevent any major or minor spoilers.


Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.


 


About the Writer(s):

dustin_batgr_prof

Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.

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