The Caligula Effect showed a lot of potential back when it released in 2017 worldwide. From the mind of Persona 1 & 2 writer Tadashi Satomi, the games are set in digital worlds where people live in blissful ignorance of their real world trauma and idolize the tunes of the Musicians. In the world of Mobius, a group of students would come to realize that it’s more like a prison and the Musicians are out to make sure they remain complacent in a world that is slowly killing them. Although the story, characters and combat were great, it was clear that budget limitations and time were against it. The game lacked polish, valuable content and features that players would have welcomed with open arms. Fortunately, FuRyu and Historia are back with a sequel that delivers on most fronts for an awesome JRPG experience!
A World Without Regrets
The Caligula Effect 2 begins with Regret, a virtuadoll with impressive singing talent. Regret sends the protagonist into Redo, a Tokyo-modeled digital world without regrets. In Redo, people forget their past and live out seemingly normal day-to-day lives. The protagonist attends Tatefushi Academy and notices strange disturbances throughout class. Cracks in the sky appear and students become strange creatures, seeking a victim throughout the school grounds. The protagonist eventually gets cornered but suddenly another virtuadoll, χ (pronounced Ki), arrives on the scene. χ is the “daughter” of μ (Mu) and bestows the power of the Catharsis Effect while fusing herself with the protagonist. With the awakening of the Catharsis Effect, the protagonist is able to combat the creatures but quickly becomes exhausted. Local classmate Gin Noto sees the commotion and quickly helps them make an escape into the Okitama subway system.
The Musicians notice that a strange entity (χ) entered the world. This isn’t possible without Regret’s consent so the group decides to investigate. The protagonist and Gin escape via χ’s train which allows acts as a new hideout in Redo. Okitama subway tracks reach a dead stop and the team must head out on foot toward the other subway lines. Music begins to play throughout the subway to signal the arrival of a powerful Musician, the cyborg Machina. Machina decides to spare their lives instead of slaughtering them as χ reveals herself. In exchange for their lives, χ and the protagonist must turn themselves in. Gin feels hopeless and as his doubts rise, the power of his regrets and real world memories awaken. His Catharsis Effect awakens with a high-powered bow and shoots Machina, temporarily paralyzing him as the trio escape. A game of deception and hidden truths is afoot..
A Redo In More Ways Than One
Although The Caligula Effect 2 builds upon the foundation of the original game, it feels so brand new. The game’s design is greatly improved with a lot of quality of life improvements. For instance, character models for party members are expressive and detailed which was sorely lacking in the original. More improvements include warping between save points, a notification list for unlocked skills, quests and more. Character portraits during dialogue are also smaller since scenes between party members play out naturally. These improvements help with immersion in character episodes (fully-voiced social links). Additionally, the game looks more vibrant and polished. NPCs now have distinct side-quests and questlines that reward the player with money and items. In fact, the Causality Link system is now streamlined so that players can view objectives and quest-lines for NPCs they’ve met. These objectives range from acquiring certain items, defeating optional bosses and meeting certain challenges.
Combat feels very enjoyable and creative in The Caligula Effect 2, providing a mixture of turn-based with ATB elements. Thanks to the stellar music by the composers, players can jam out to vocals by Arisa Kori and Mayu Mineda. The Risk system returns and it’s easier to break opponents with attacks this time around for additional damage. Characters have more skills, counters and ways of becoming stronger by equipping Stigmas. In addition, characters can wield an additional set of Stigmas learned through combat called Passive Skills. These skills range from stat buffs, enhancements and modifiers such as absorbing HP. The new Voltage meter adds a new dynamic called χ-jacking. When the meter fills up, χ may be summoned to perform a song that empowers the party in combat. Various songs have different effects like boosting stats. Voltage and χ-jacking may be upgraded from the pause menu by using χ points.
Accepting the Bleakness of Reality
The main reasons I enjoyed The Caligula Effect: Overdose was the story and characters. The sequel heightens that with a new cast of characters and issues. Each character deals with complex, emotional struggles in a world that promises to get rid of their pain. However, they realize that Redo doesn’t solve their problems. Their trauma manifests into the Catharsis Effect, the pain they feel is weaponized. Go Home Club deals with accepting reality no matter how bleak in an effort to go back home. At the same time, they want to support each other in their struggles. The Musicians are similar although their motives are vastly different. When given what they wanted in life by Regret, they fight to keep that in the world of Redo and control the collective unconscious. The amazing soundtrack of the game conveys their unique circumstances in across various dungeons and scenes.
As the protagonist, players deep dive into each of the party members with character episodes. It’s similar to social links/confidants from Persona but with the uncertainty of who that character actually is. Are they actually a high school student? What are they struggling with? As the episodes progress, players begin to see what picks away at the psyche of each character and their lives before Redo. Dialogue choices matter here, even more so when the time comes to discover their hidden truths. The Caligula Effect 2 incorporates social and psychological issues such as gender identity, paranoia and dissociative disorder into relatable characters that just want a life that doesn’t eat away at them. Coming to terms with that is a major driving force behind the narrative of the game and it makes this JRPG cast one of the best I’ve played as in recent memory.
The Caligula Effect 2 is a huge step in the right direction for FuRyu and Historia. There’s still work to be done for the series that will make it even better if (and when) a third game comes. Performance on the Switch is a huge improvement this time around where as the previous game suffered from plenty of frame dips and stutters. With proper optimization like this, FuRyu’s next JRPG Monark should be a promising display. NPCs and some environments are lacking in terms of visual appeal and textures so that’s another area that should be addressed. Thankfully, The Caligula Effect 2 is a serious upgrade across visuals, gameplay and overall content.
After completing the game, New Game+ unlocks with the ability to play through the game with a cleared save. This includes retaining character levels, skills, money, χ points and more once the game starts up again. By the end of my playthrough, I believe Historia finally developed the game that they would have wanted the original game to be like with a decent backing behind it. A polished, well-developed and robust game that brings a new and refreshing take for a “high-school” JRPG. On Switch, performance is nearly flawless so it goes to show that genuine effort went into this version. I expect performance of the PS4 version and backwards compatibility on PS5 to be just as great. The Caligula Effect is a proper series going forward and I can get behind it with excitement.
A Major Triumph
The Caligula Effect 2 is a triumph for FuRyu and Historia. It’s a major sequel to The Caligula Effect: Overdose in nearly every regard. That being said, it’s still worth checking out Overdose for the lore going into the sequel. From creative turn-based combat and incredible music to a colorful cast of characters, The Caligula Effect 2 is a great JRPG to get into and one of the most fun games I’ve played in 2021. I’d love to see The Caligula Effect series get another entry as I believe it can only get better from here on out. With this momentum, it looks like Monark is going to impress eager JRPG fans as well!