Of the many things that can cause a blip on a gamer’s radar, hearing about an upcoming release that is comparable to a favourite game of theirs is far in the upper echelons. For example, see me when I heard that FuRyu’s “The Caligula Effect: Overdose,” a remake from the Vita, was being described as “Persona Lite.’ My deep adoration for the Persona series being what it is, I could hardly resist looking into this game that had wholly flown under my radar back in the days of the Vita while, as usual, taking just about any excuse to turn on my Switch.
The events of Caligula Effect are set entirely in a virtual world called “Mobius,” a place designed to be ideal to its residents as an escape from reality. In the high school setting of the world, our unnamed protagonist and their companions form the “Go-Home Club,” determined to find their way out, while the ‘Ostinato Musicians’ hinder their progress believing that it would be best if everyone remained within Mobius. It’s a plot that’s full of potential, and while there are definitely some memorable moments, most of the story fails to make much use of this set-up. I wouldn’t recommend stepping into this one for the story alone.
On the other hand, a prime reason to consider playing Caligula Effect, as featured prominently in advertising, is the extensive student body of this world. Firstly, we have the main party of the “Go-Home Club” who you’ll spend most of your time with, but they’ll do little to earn your affection. Their lines fall strictly into one of two categories: devoid of any character, or completely dripping with a heavy-handed emphasis of their primary character fault, sometimes to a degree that can border on uncomfortable.
This unfortunate lack of deep character building is only amplified in the rest of the game. The villains share the same style of dialogue, mostly used as a tool to drive home their unique obsession or character trait. The extensive student populous initially seems interesting: over 500 students each with their own personal struggle and each able to be recruited to your team. This quickly falls apart in practice as you realise the limited uniqueness of each member of the student body. Their dialogue is shared from a small pool, their struggles are often shallow or silly, and their usefulness to combat is minimal. The system feels like an additional hassle to consider, especially when you can mostly disregard it to proceed.
The other unique system from Caligula Effect comes in from its combat, which had me intrigued from the moment I’d heard about it: turn-based positional combat, with the additional kicker of a predictive animation of how the move will go before locking it in. This is a lot of fun to experiment with, especially once you’ve got your complete party together. Experimenting with positioning each party member around the battlefield and how their various move chains will interact is a delight, especially when it all goes to plan.
You’re going to need to have it go to plan, too: difficulty has been well implemented to keep your attention and ensure the time and commitment you put into preparing your turns is worth the investment. I had to pull back my difficulty to Normal merely to continue making prompt progress. It’s also worth observing that this does have a counterpoint to it: this style of combat is naturally much slower, and the enemy variety is as close to zero as you can really push it, so it will soon begin to drain on you until something new comes in to shake it up for a bit.
The soundtrack is particularly catchy, but also appeals to my own personal enjoyment of the diverse style that comes naturally from any vocal synthesiser program, such a program being central to the plot of Caligula Effect. The music plays consistently throughout any given level, with the vocals only coming in during combat and then naturally fading out afterwards. While this effect is quite aesthetically pleasing, the unending loop can become maddening after enough time: likely a deliberate choice for story-reasons, but no less monotonous for it.
Unfortunately, performance is shockingly low and really inexcusably so given the visuals on offer. While the game’s Vita origins are evident from a cursory glance, the movement to the Switch apparently did nothing to improve the frame rate. I had to stop upon entering of the early hub-areas, shocked at the notable camera stutter, and move to docked mode, only to find it just as bad when docked. While I can’t say if this is present on the other iterations of this remake, I’ve seen more visually complex games run far more smoothly on the Switch before so I don’t consider this to be a necessary fault.
One last minor complaint I would bring up: on my preliminary research, I watched some videos of the original Caligula Effect for comparison’s sake. I was amazed to see how much more visually appealing the old UI was. Combat screens, which now take place in a giant white bubble, used to merely take place in the destination proper. Combat menus were large and full of colour, unlike the drab presentation we have now. Naturally, this is just a personal taste, and your own opinion may vary here.
Speaking of differences to the original, there’s plenty of new content in here for returning fans. New characters and an entire flip-side storyline to explore, and some refinements to the combat system to include some new high impact attacks. Based on my investigations, it seems that fans of the original would likely have a lot to enjoy here (assuming they don’t share my opinions of the interface.) The performance may be just as rough as it was for the Vita, but it didn’t stop you back then!
The Caligula Effect: Overdose has a lot of interesting design elements to set it apart from the crowd: the combat, the story premise, the recruitable school body. While these sort of unique elements are normally enough to secure my interest, the performance issues and poor character development make it difficult to get invested in. It’s certainly far from approaching the lofty heights of the Persona series, but it may still be able to catch your interest.