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Review

Review: The Caligula Effect – Overdose

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The Vita has always had a vast libra­ry of niche and uni­que games that suf­fe­red due to the system’s lack of popu­la­ri­ty. The Cali­gu­la Effect was one of the­se games, though its pro­blems exten­ded far bey­ond just being on the Vita. Over­do­se was a chan­ce to not only fix the ori­gi­nal game’s many issu­es, but also expo­se it to a far wider audi­ence. Unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly, this is still an incredi­b­ly fla­wed game and the chan­ges made in this updated release may have done more harm than good.

The Cali­gu­la Effect: Overdose’s sto­ry starts of the same as befo­re, with the main cha­rac­ter atten­ding their school’s gra­dua­ti­on cere­mo­ny. Howe­ver, this school is actual­ly just part of the vir­tu­al world Mobi­us, whe­re peop­le are stuck repea­ting the same few years of school with their ori­gi­nal memo­ries era­sed. This fake world was crea­ted by the vir­tu­al doll – think Voca­lo­ids like Hats­une Miku – Mu in an attempt to free humans from their pro­blems in the real world and uses her songs as a form of brain­wa­shing to stop the stu­dents from try­ing to return. The prot­ago­nist ends up teaming up with the Go-Home Club, a group of stu­dents who have also found out the truth, and tri­es to escape from this vir­tu­al world.

In theo­ry, the set­ting for The Cali­gu­la Effect: Over­do­se should allow for some inte­res­ting sto­ry­lines. Each cha­rac­ter ent­e­red Mobi­us of their own free will, and have to come to terms with the real life issu­es they were dealing with. But the way the game hand­les many of the­se serious pro­blems can often come off as hea­vy-han­ded and the wri­ting is often very incon­sis­tent. One moment cha­rac­ters could be having a serious dis­cus­sion about how phy­si­cal appearan­ces don’t chan­ge what you’re like on the insi­de, to sud­den­ly making fun of a cha­rac­ter for what they loo­ked like in the real world. It’s hard to real­ly con­nect with most of the cast becau­se of how they act during the main sto­ry, espe­ci­al­ly when genui­ne men­tal health pro­blems are just used as run­ning jokes for most of the game.

Side events are slight­ly less awful when it comes to hand­ling the­se issu­es, but not by much. Cha­rac­ter epi­so­des are simi­lar to the soci­al links/confidants from the modern Per­so­na games, giving each cha­rac­ter their own set of events. Unli­ke Per­so­na, the­se events are often incredi­b­ly short and feel like 4-5 sce­nes stret­ched out to 9. Some cha­rac­ter epi­so­des do a decent job at sho­wing why that cha­rac­ter deci­ded to enter Mobi­us and how they try to work on their faults, but others have very litt­le sub­s­tan­ce.

Cha­rac­ter events are the least of the story’s pro­blems though. Over­do­se intro­du­ces a new set of sto­ry events that have you working with the Osti­na­to Musi­ci­ans, and the­se real­ly ruin the pacing of an alrea­dy fla­wed sto­ry. In the­se seg­ments you play as the main character’s Musi­ci­an alter ego Lucid, see­min­gly undo­ing all the work done as a mem­ber of the Go-Home Club. The con­stant flip­ping bet­ween both sides makes no sen­se, and it just feels like you’re accom­pli­shing not­hing throughout the ent­i­re­ty of the sto­ry. Com­bi­ning this with the short length of the game – around 20 hours at most inclu­ding cha­rac­ter epi­so­des – leads to a sto­ry that just ends up being a was­te of time with a quick­ly rus­hed con­clu­si­on.

Game­play is just as bad, slight­ly twea­king cer­tain sys­tems wit­hout doing enough to make explo­ra­ti­on and com­bat actual­ly enjoy­a­ble. Each area of the game gene­ral­ly con­sists of bland cor­ri­dors that all look the same. Map lay­outs feel ran­dom and with litt­le thought put into them, and it’s hard to stay inte­rested for the hours that you’ll likely spend in each area. The­re are puz­zles occa­sio­nal­ly, though non of them are par­ti­cu­lar­ly hard and end up being repeated more than necessa­ry.

Batt­les don’t make things less tedious eit­her, sin­ce very litt­le was done to chan­ge how they works. The Cali­gu­la Effect: Over­do­se uses a hybrid turn-based and real-time batt­le sys­tem. Cha­rac­ter can chain up to three moves at a time, and the­se will play out in real time. The idea is to inter­rupt ene­my attacks with coun­ters and com­bo dif­fe­rent moves tog­e­ther that have dif­fe­rent pro­per­ties. So you can use a melee coun­ter to launch an ene­my into the air, then ano­t­her par­ty mem­ber can attack with a move that does extra dama­ge to air­bor­ne enemies. This sys­tem sounds com­plex, but it’s easy to under­stand after a coup­le of batt­les. Under­stan­ding how it works doesn’t make it fun though, sin­ce batt­les can take way too long if you actual­ly try to time attacks or set up com­bos. On nor­mal dif­fi­cul­ty and below you don’t even have to plan anything, sin­ce enemies (inclu­ding bos­ses) will be defea­ted if you just spam each character’s nor­mal attack.

Skill unlocks are also unor­tho­dox thanks to the cau­sa­li­ty link, a giant web of con­nec­tions bet­ween all the NPCs (non-play­er-cha­rac­ters) in the game. Regu­lar attack skill can be unlo­cked with skill points gai­ned during level up, but to unlock pas­si­ves and other bonu­ses you need to seek out NPCs and help them in various ways. The­re are two major pro­blems with this: The first is that actual­ly fin­ding the right NPC can be a huge pain, sin­ce you can only call them to you once you’re alrea­dy fri­ends with them. The second is that the­re are only a small hand­ful of quests that they give, mea­ning that you’ll be forced to repeat the same types of objec­tives over and over again. Most of the rewards don’t even end up being very use­ful eit­her, but you have to help out cer­tain NPCs befo­re you can unlock others with poten­ti­al­ly bet­ter skill unlocks. It’s a ter­ri­ble sys­tem that should have been chan­ged in Over­do­se.

Not even the gra­phics were updated to an accep­ta­ble level, though they do at least look bet­ter than the ori­gi­nal Vita release. Cha­rac­ter models are dull, rare­ly chan­ging faci­al expres­si­ons and ani­ma­ted incredi­b­ly stiff­ly. Cuts­ce­nes lack emo­ti­on due to this, and it’s hard to care about what’s hap­pe­ning when cha­rac­ters are just star­ting blank­ly at each other most of the time. Batt­les suf­fer even more from poor ani­ma­ti­on, espe­ci­al­ly the over­do­se moves which are sup­po­sed to be flas­hy but end up loo­king goofy. At the very least the 2D art­work is gre­at, always being more expres­si­ve than anything the 3D models can deli­ver.

All the­se pro­blems with the game’s gra­phics are made far wor­se by the medio­cre Switch port. The frame­ra­te is locked to 30 FPS (frames per second) but will often drop when the­re are a decent amount of NPCs in view or just near­by in cer­tain are­as. One area also has tex­tures that would eit­her load in slow­ly or occa­sio­nal­ly not at all until you lea­ve and re-enter. The­re are also times whe­re the main cha­rac­ter would be clip­ping through the floor during a cuts­ce­ne, though this seems too be con­fi­ned to a sin­gle set of cha­rac­ter epi­so­des. It’s hand­held mode whe­re this port real­ly drops the ball though. As with many Switch games hand­held mode makes use of varia­ble reso­lu­ti­ons to try and keep the frame­ra­te sta­ble. But as men­tio­ned ear­lier, the frame­ra­te is alrea­dy rather poor in docked mode, so natu­ral­ly the reso­lu­ti­on takes a hit most of the time even when litt­le is hap­pe­ning on screen. It gets so bad at times that it can be hard to even see a cha­rac­ters face wit­hout having them be right in front of the came­ra. For how ugly The Cali­gu­la Effect: Over­do­se is, it’s unac­cep­ta­ble just how poor­ly it runs, even if it is bet­ter than the Vita ver­si­on.

The only saving grace for The Cali­gu­la Effect: Over­do­se is its phe­no­me­nal sound­track, which has only got­ten bet­ter in this release. Each of the Osti­na­to Musi­ci­ans has their own the­me song that dou­bles as an area the­me for the place they resi­de in. Songs tran­si­ti­on from instru­men­tal to vocal ver­si­ons once you enter batt­le which is a sty­lish way of tran­si­tio­ning into a batt­le the­me, com­pa­red to other JRPGs (Japa­ne­se role-play­ing-games). Over­do­se also intro­du­ces a decent amount of new songs, with Lucid’s the­me being the high­light of the ent­i­re sound­track. Some tracks don’t qui­te match the the­mes of the area they play in, and hea­ring one song for an ent­i­re dun­ge­on does have the poten­ti­al to be annoy­ing, but for the most part it’s far more con­sis­tent than the rest of the game.

Conclusion

The Cali­gu­la Effect: Over­do­se is a mas­si­ve disap­point­ment in near­ly every way. Many of the chan­ges don’t go far enough to fix what was wrong with the ori­gi­nal game, and the sto­ry feels even less cohe­si­ve due to the poor­ly imple­men­ted new con­tent. This, com­bi­ned with the poor Switch port, makes it hard to recom­mend the game to even die­hard JRPG fans.

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