The Caligula Effect is a psychological term referring to the desire and compulsion to do and see prohibited things. The Caligula Effect: Overdose is an enhanced release of “The Caligula Effect” released on the PSVita in 2016, and it certainly does try to hit the psychological definition.
Before I start describing what type of game Caligula Effect is, I should note that this game flew completely under my radar when it first came out. Heck, I almost ended up turning down the opportunity to review it, and let me tell you I would have regretted it. While I didn’t play the original, I took some time to check out what the original was like, and I can say the developers certainly fleshed it out a lot more. The battles are smoother, the interface isn’t as ugly or cluttered, and they introduced new characters and options.
So what is Caligula Effect: Overdose about? Well, I think the best way to describe it would “vocaloid Persona”. Essentially, a bunch of people have been “kidnapped” into the virtual world of Mobius by an artificial intelligence music program “µ”. The thing is, all the people that have been “forcibly invited” to Mobius have some sort of mental issue. While the game implies that they’re all “traumas”, I’m pretty sure a bunch are moreso “psychological conditions” rather than specifically “trauma”.
Either way, everyone in Mobius is being brainwashed by µ’s songs, in order to make them “happier than in the real world”. And for some reason, regardless of age, everyone looks like a high schooler, and is in a “fake high school”. Upon graduating a year, you start again in the first year. Supposedly this is because you gain a form fitting your “ideal self”, but eternal high school sounds more like a hell than utopia to me. Your main character realizes there is something wrong with the world, and thanks to a spunky sprite (another vocaloid who helped build Mobius), you and the members of the “Go-Home Club” try and, well, get home. But µ doesn’t want you to leave, and neither do the “Ostenatio Musicians”, who act sort of like µ’s generals. Using the power to draw out your trauma as a weapon, it’s up to you to fight to leave this virtual world, or maybe fight to stay in it?
Right off the bat you get introduced to something I was rather fond of: the ability to make your character’s backstory. Well, to an extent, anyway. You are given a few questions, and how you answer them determines why your character is in Mobius. Also, you get an animated opening scene, regardless of whether you choose a male or female character, which is some nice production value right there. You’re free to name the character, although you’re limited to six characters, which is the exact length for my standard default name I choose, but then you get to choose a last name, and I didn’t know what to do with only six characters. Thanks to a fellow reviewer, I soon started my adventure through Mobius with my newfound protagonist: Rhea Lystik.
You’re introduced to combat right out of the gate, and while the tutorials are always there and quite helpful, the problem is that you’re going to need them. A lot, most likely. Heck, I’m still not entirely sure what “Risk” is. Essentially combat takes a “sort of turn-based” approach, where you can choose up to three actions, whether it be attacks, field movement, skill casting, or performing a special type of move. Each move has a different “time” it takes to employ, and you’re given a preview of up to three seconds of what the predicted battle will play out like. Keep in mind, this is only an “ideal-ish” scenario.
The enemy could have a skill that counters your moves that you don’t know about, or you could miss that guard break attack you need to hurt the enemy. After choosing you moves and starting the “round”, your up to four characters will perform their moves, indicated by dark grey, pink, and light grey “bars” in the action gauge. A dark grey zone is a “preparation” stage, where the character gets ready to use the move selected, and can be knocked out of the move if hit during this part of the attack.
The pink portion is the actual “action” portion of the move, and the light grey is your “cooldown”. Once the cooldown on the final skill has passed, you can choose moves for that character again. But keep in mind that each move costs action points that will keep being used. If you run out, you need to refill your action points via a “special action” skill. Unfortunately the game isn’t super smart, so if you’re out of action points, you can’t assign the “refill” to a move and then choose two others since your action points should be recovered, but at least it’s a pretty fast action.
Another aspect I liked is that each main character has their own weapon, skills, and fighting type. I used all of the characters in my party at some point, and they all have their own roles and areas of expertise. Except the main character, who is basically just all around useful. While you start with a limited number of skills and spells, you can learn more by levelling, and then spending skill points to learn/upgrade your skills. Here’s the thing though, you get three skill points anytime a character levels, and the skill points are applied to THE WHOLE PARTY. So yeah, the game doesn’t clue you in to that. Queue me spending all the skill points on the MC and wondering why everyone else has none for, like, two full dungeons. This brings me to one of the more interesting, but pain in the butt aspects of a game I have ever seen: the causality link.
Essentially, there are over 500 people trapped in Mobius, and anyone you can view in the Causality Link (read “relationship chart”) you can have join your party if you make friends with them. I have mixed feelings about this for a number of reasons. At it’s core, it’s a really interesting idea, where you can talk to classmates, make friends with them, and then help “resolve” their traumas for MC stat increases or passive equip rewards, and the chance to invite them to the party. Needless to say, the non-important classmates are pretty generic, and can’t use a lot of skills. Additionally, there are a lot of “repeated” traumas, where you do the exact same thing to help the person for the exact same trauma.
As an example, the solution for “Self-Harm” is to raise that character to level 20. Any character with self harm needs that same requirement, although the rewards will differ. Another interesting aspect is that characters may not talk to you right away. If you’ve ever known someone with a mental condition or trauma, you may know that they can tend to be guarded against new people. In order to commence helping them, you need to first make friends with someone else that they are friends with. While this system is really interesting, it ultimately feels a little shallow, as all you need to do to make friends with someone is to talk to them three times. While I certainly am not expecting super in-depth character arcs for more than 500 people, a little bit more variation would have gone a long way.
So, let’s talk a bit about the main group of protagonists, and by extension antagonists. They’re all messed up. Seriously, in some way or another, EVERYONE in Mobius has some sort of issue. For instance, that cute girl you just saw could be an 80 year old grandmother that enjoys making her children argue with each other, or that guy over there could be a 46 year old and a real life molester (true in-game example, btw).
The “Go-Home Club” and “Ostinatio Musicians” are no exceptions to this, which may be why I felt a lot more drawn to them than characters in most other games. They don’t go spouting off about “love, justice, and friendship”, they’re all flawed, and they fail miserably to hide it most of the time. They feel a lot more “real” than most standard protagonists and main characters that feel as they exist for no other reason than to advance the plot. Let me tell you, I found myself seriously vested in figuring out my virtual friends secrets and traumas.
Now, what is a game with a virtual idol that doesn’t have a musical focus in some way? I had some mixed feeling here as well. I hope you like vocaloid tracks, because pretty much every time you enter battle the vocals start going. I wasn’t a fan of the first two songs, so that made the first two dungeons a bit of a slog for me. Thankfully, it picked up a bit, and I started really enjoying it. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference, but the theme for “Lucid” is still super badass. Seriously, go have a listen to “Suicide Prototype”. But I digress, the songs can feel really overdone and annoying, especially if you’re stuck in an area too long, and you can’t really sub them out, which is a little disappointing.
The graphics are rather smooth, and the characters look, well, sharp enough in battle, and pretty good outside of battle. Everything is anime-themed, so yeah, it’ll be another niche type title, although with how popular Persona 5 was, I’ve got higher hopes for more of these styled Eastern games.
So, now that the basics are laid out, let’s talk a bit about some points I liked and didn’t because this is a game that really revolves around what you prefer to do in games more than anything else. Perfectionist like me? Grinding through all the Causality Link will feel like a mini-nightmare. Only here for the main storyline? Then you’re missing so much in character backgrounds.
So first up: the combat can get seriously tedious rather fast, especially since there isn’t much of a “quick select” for skill usage, although this is solved in two ways, sort of. First of all, enemy AI when on the field map is really dumb and generally rather passive. You can sneak by the vast majority of enemies no sweat, which you may start doing rather often, most notably if you’re at or above the enemy level, most fights become a joke anyway. Heck, even the bosses can be push overs if your whole party is a level or two above them. The second “solution” is the fact that you fully recover between fight. This is the reason you may have enemies beating the piss out of you, because as long as you make it out, you’re now full health and action points. I’m not sure I’d be super happy if it didn’t work like that, as sometimes other enemies will walk in mid-fight. And they could be level 7, or 97.
As I mentioned earlier, the songs can get repetitive, so I hope you like them. While the trauma system is really interesting, and kind of messed up when you find a 12 year old “homicidal maniac” who you need to take to the library to find and read “a guide to lust murders”, things get a little sketchy. The rather blatant copy/paste type traumas also tend to downgrade the impact, although some trauma “resolutions” may give some pretty big WHAM comments. It’s super nice that every time you get in a fight the battlefield expands to a circular arena, regardless of walls in the way. To my understanding, this wasn’t the case in the original release. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way to turn the camera, so you’ve got to make deal with the default, at least at the time I’m writing this. I believe they added a camera patch in the original, so they might add it here too.
Speaking of changes form the original, the “world rewards” passwords are different. Actually, the “world rewards” themselves are completely different. I’m still not 100% sure how they work, but I think it’s a ridiculously low chance to have an enemy drop a piece of a three part password after battle. My first one should be pictured here somewhere, as long as the site editor doesn’t goof. You can also feel free to post the passwords you’ve seen in the comments, and I’ll do the same if I ever see any more.
Having trouble keeping track of where people are? Well, as long as you’ve talked to them once, you can send them a message asking where they are, and their name will be highlighted in blue, which is super handy. I did have one soft-lock crash, so be careful not to talk to a person you just solved a trauma for before the game does the “resolution” cutscene, otherwise you could be stuck with a blacked out screen. You can still do stuff, get into fights etc, just won’t be able to see anything. Like I said though, if you resolve a trauma for a person and they aren’t in your party, don’t spam the talk button on them and you’ll be fine.