It’s been a while since The Caligula Effect first released on the PS Vita in Japan. FuRyu and historia’s JRPG finally made it’s way to the west with the new Overdose edition for PS4, Switch and Steam in 2019. Since then, players finally got their hands on what would become a new series of RPGs. Lots of mixed reception came but there’s so much in The Caligula Effect that has fans hopeful and excited for the upcoming sequel. With The Caligula Effect 2 coming out this fall in the west, now is a great time to look at its predecessor.

Stuck in a Hellish Paradise

The Caligula Effect’s protagonist arrives in Mobius, a virtual paradise created by the virtual dolls Aria and μ (Mu). This world is created with the memories of people but the citizens that inhabit it live their dream lives anew. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the world is distorted and false. The people sent to this world faced trauma in the real world and desired an escape in μ’s music. Regardless of gender, they become high school students in Mobius with secrets and trauma in the back of their mind. The protagonist is enrolled in Kishimai High School but soon awakens to their Catharsis Effect. The Catharsis Effect is a weapon and manifestation of their will to see through this distorted world and live with their trauma. The protagonist later meets Shogo Satake and establishes The Go-Home Club with the goal of making back to reality.

More members with their newly awakened Catharsis Effect join the club and fight together against Ostinato Musicians. These Musicians wield power through μ’s music and in turn, serve μ and Thorn as overseers of Mobius. Early on, the protagonist is invited by Thorn and given an alternate persona, Lucid. Lucid is a new Musician with outfit that disguises the protagonist. From here, players get to know the Musicians and learn their reasons for wanting to stay in a virtual world. This is while they continue as the Go-Home President with the other main party members. With progression, it becomes apparent that characters have a lot of depth and troubles that games rarely touch on. This includes topics of mental health, crime and severe trauma that shape character’s motives. Later on, choices become more important as the player deals with weighing people’s lives and ultimately deciding the fate of the world.

The Foundation for a Great RPG System

The Caligula Effect uses a traditional turn based RPG system with a twist. Players organize the order of how party members attack like notes on a script. This is great as players are essentially a conductor of action instead of music. For instance, the protagonist may use a shield breaking attack on an enemy and launch them in the air while Suzuna follows up with a timed spear attack. Shogo then follows up with his rifle and shoot them out of the air. This is possible with learnable skills in-game as certain skills can break shields, counter ranged/melee attacks or even launch an enemy in the air. This adds major “risk” to an enemy’s risk meter. Once it’s filled up, the enemy is successfully stunned. Additionally, each character’s “stress” meter fills up and can be used to unleash an “Overdose” skill.

Throughout my 55 hour playthrough, I found a lot of enjoyment upgrading skills and using them in combo-like fashion in turn based action. The Caligula Effect 2 is bound to improve about this RPG system too. For instance, it seems like the virtual doll of that game may use their own super attacks to assist the player’s party. This is not present in Overdose and should spice up gameplay even more. One area of improvement that should be considered is stunning as even a single hit landed against a party member ends their whole chain of attacks. I understand the risk/reward style system of chaining attacks but it gets annoying when a single attack from a mob stops a powerful attack from my party member. Some adjustments would be welcomed in the sequel and we can expect them to be made.

The Tedious Nature of the Causality Link System

The Caligula Effect: Overdose incorporates a “causality link” system where NPCs are connected and branch out in groups. It’s similar to Xenoblade’s affinity system where completing quests gains affinity and rewards from NPCs. Unfortunately, it’s not fun in The Caligula Effect. Players have to listen to troubles from these NPCs and fulfill certain criteria via trauma quests. For instance, many characters request to be put into the party, equip a skill and complete the quest upon leaving the pause menu. This is done for hundreds of NPCs and it becomes really tedious. Many quests request a NPC to meet another NPC with a corresponding trauma to alleviate their trouble. For example, a girl with Love Addiction trauma needs to meet a boy with Love Aversion to complete their quest. It was insane trying to find that boy in a list of 200+ NPCs I met up to that point.

WIRE sorts NPCs the player met onto their phone and like it sounds, it gets filled up really fast. It’s a messaging app that allows players to talk to NPCs through generated responses and let them meet up at an entrance to an area or dungeon. By doing this, it makes having to find NPCs for certain trauma quests less frustrating but ultimately doesn’t help too much. For those wanting to play Overdose, it’s worth noting that the game can be played without having to spend a lot of time doing these quests. If The Caligula Effect 2 begins this system back, the game should have less NPCs with trauma quests or have more engaging quests that don’t rely on having to put members in a party. This remedies the tedious nature of the system while still rewarding players with skills and stat upgrades.

A Steady Paced Story with Complex Characters

As previously mentioned, the world of Mobius is filled with people who wanted to escape their past trauma and troubles in the real world. People are oblivious to this but many start to realize Mobius is not the world they belong in. The Go-Home Club members know this and come to terms with this. The party members have serious trauma like severe fear of men, eating disorders, fear of blood and outright denial. The protagonist helps them cope and recover through storylines (social links) as the main story progresses. By doing so, the player learns the true extent of their trauma and learns how to “dive deep” into a character’s heart. Of course, players also have the option of doing so with the Musician’s and going down a sinister route.

The Caligula Effect’s story revolves around the goal of getting back to reality but the Musicians put up a complex fight. The party doubts their motives upon meeting the Musicians at times and have to make tough decisions on their own. How can someone who watched an entire family burn to the ground go back if they can live in peace now? It’s hard to say, but the prospective that The Caligula Effect gives also influences my own motives as the protagonist. It differs from player to player and the story intensifies in many ways both plot and character wise. The trauma that each character faces is put front and center within the story. Even the music that plays reflects the trauma of each Musician. This is all while the story progresses at a pace that feels just right as I explore Mobius with the Musicians and the Go-Home Club.

Anticipating the Sequel

The Caligula Effect: Overdose left a lasting impression on me. The game’s visual appearance could have been improved. There are a few animated cutscenes that I wish the game had more of. Throughout the flaws I encountered, the game’s characters, story and gameplay left me wanting even more. The Caligula Effect 2 looks to push the series forward with a stronger visual appeal, improved gameplay and even more memorable characters. FuRyu and historia have to bring their all and so far, The Caligula Effect 2 is looking to impress me in more ways than the first game could!

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