The world is not what it seems to be and nothing could be closer to the truth in The Caligula Effect: Overdose. Penned by Persona series veteran, Tadashi Satomi, The Caligula Effect was originally released for the PlayStation Vita in May 2017. The highly anticipated remake, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is finally available for the PS4, Switch and Steam in March 2019. At the heart of this JRPG is a superficially perfect world free of hardship and suffering but as the old saying goes: If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.
The Caligula Effect: Overdose is centered on the lives of high school students living in a virtual world called Mobius that is created by μ, a vocal synthesizer software program. Wishes are granted to all residents via creative song energy composed by a group named the Ostinato Musicians. Many people lose their grasp of reality as they experience the high school era on their lives indefinitely in a state of ignorance and bliss. If any resident becomes fixated or excessively reliant on μ in Mobius, they are corrupted and transformed into “Digiheads.” Upon realizing the hard truth that they are living in a fantasy world, a group of students band together to form the Go-Home club to locate and confront the world’s misguided virtual idol μ. Along the way, they are assisted by Aria, a tiny and spunky virtuadoll created at the same time as μ, who assists the Go-Home club’s efforts to stop μ ‘s widespread influence in Mobius. Two new characters, Ayana Amamoto and Eiji Biwasaka are part of the world with the option to play as the long awaited female protagonist in Overdose.
Battles are turn-based with an interesting twist on tactical gameplay via the Imaginary Chain system. By selecting a character’s actions, you are given a simulated illustration of how the attacks might play out with an estimated hit ratio percentage. This allows you to tailor your strategy by combining attacks and unleashing combos on enemies in your immediate surroundings. Be warned that the perfect strategy is not guaranteed and predicted scenarios may not come to pass due to enemy tactics and circumstances. Forming a skill chain is key to saving skill points and defeating more difficult enemies in tight quarters and areas. Four difficulty settings, Easy, Normal, Hard and Extreme are available at the start to ease players into the game’s simple and intuitive battle system and for those that want a real challenge. Your states of mind, known as Stigmas, are utilized in battle to engage your enemies in place of the traditional weapons and armor. They can be acquired by obtaining them on the open field or as victory spoils for defeating your foes.
Overdose features renewed stats like Attack, Defense, Accuracy, Evasion and Critical. The character’s qualities in the original Vita version have been dropped in favor of more simplified parameters. This shift in focus allows players to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of each party member to strategically position them into stronger battle formations with your party members.
Relationships are cultivated with students in Mobius through a web of student connections found within the Causality Link. As you speak, listen and converse with many students on campus, you build rapport and relationships that changes them from strangers to acquaintances to friends. Rather than selecting students at random, some individuals will only trust you once you have befriended a friend of theirs in their close network of friends. Helping them with their troubles and concerns raises their affinity level and there are over 500 characters to explore in Mobius with unique personalities. Unveiled at the start of the game, these students escaped to Mobius with μ ‘s help to live a carefree and idyllic high school life. The Causality Link grants you access to student profiles where you can learn about their backstory and the trauma that they face on a more personal level. In strengthening your relationships with others and boosting their affinity levels, you can invite them to join your party to fight in battles. You can also acquire new skills as a reward for nurturing your relationships with other students. Advancing character episodes is achieved by increasing your affinity levels with other Go-Home members to give you a deeper understanding of their lives in the real world. Diving into the heart of a fellow teammate reminded me similarly of the gameplay and story arcs in the Ar Tonelico series.
One of the highlights is the new Musician Route that allows you to live a double life and to acquire insights and perspective about μ as an Ostinato Musician. The Ostinato Musicians are composers who maintain the Mobius world by creating songs for μ with their ultimate goal of destroying the Go-Home Club. This will lead to the inevitable decision for the path you take in the end: The Go-Home Club or The Ostinato Musicians.
The game feels refreshing as a JRPG title as there is so much to see and do that boosts the replay value significantly. The sheer number of NPCs you can recruit to your cause is enormous and the battles remain engaging even after hundreds of encounters. Many of the challenges ranging from the completion of collecting stigmas, checking WIRE to chat with your party members to honing the perfect strategy in battle is immensely gratifying. Where the game shines is its musical score with catchy tunes and songs by celebrated Japanese artists like OSTER project, 40mP, 164 and cosMo@Bousou-P and more. You can definitely see the psychological themes and issues that permeate the game from the Persona series veteran, Tadashi Satome who has infused The Caligula Effect: Overdose with a Persona flavor.
The Caligula Effect: Overdose manages to take a conventional story of students trapped in another world and make it inspirational as it tackles personal and controversial issues many people can relate to. Where other similar titles have tried and failed, the blend of the game’s battle system, party recruitment and relationship management makes this JRPG feel unique. Unfortunately, the game is held back greatly by its repetitive grind and cliché characters. The bland environments are a disservice to the game as many of the rooms appear to be one and the same. Even though it’s an improvement over the original Vita game, Overdose is a game with promising ideas that doesn’t quite reach its full potential.
PROS (+): Intricate Battle System, Engaging Soundtrack, Recruitable NPCs
CONS (-): Cliché Characters, Random Encounters, Bland Environments
SCORE – 7.0/10
This review is based on a digital copy of The Caligula Effect: Overdose on the PlayStation 4 provided by NIS America.