America - Front
America - Back
By Thomas Froehlicher 03rd Nov 2018 | 3,512 views
Having shipped 50,000 copies of The Caligula Effect on PSVita in Japan, Furyu realized it had finally created a series with strong potential. The next natural step was to expand it into anime, before releasing it on the PS4, in order to take advantage of the platform's immense install base. Solicitous of its current fanbase, the publisher even went above and beyond creating a simple port.
The beginning of The Caligula Effect Overdose is pretty sudden: the main character finds himself in an unknown school, in the middle of a ceremony where he doesn’t recognize anybody. Startled, he tries to run away, but comes across a student with a grotesque face. He quickly understands that he’s not in the real world any more, and will meet a strange group of students calling themselves the Kitakubu. The members of this club are more intelligent than their fellow students, and are aware that the world they inhabit is pure illusion. Thus, they seek a way to go back to reality. Kitaku literally means “going back home”, which is a great pun, since the word Kitakubu generally describes students who don’t belong to any school club and who return home directly after class.
Members of the group have a special power called Catharsis Effect; a metamorphosis that will alter their look and make them almost a misshapen as their enemies. The Catharsis Effect is a symbol of The Caligula Effect Overdose’s general design, which is purposely dark and based on layers of grey. This is in-keeping with the main themes of the game - death and illusion. The trance gives these characters the strength to accomplish their goal of killing μ, the creator of this false world which is called Moebius.
But before reaching μ, they’ll need to defeat the fearsome Gakushi, who approve this world and help maintain it by composing music. μ is actually a female AI singer who lures students by singing. Every villain and every dungeon has its own music - and not just some random music either, because The Caligula Effect Overdose is actually an allegory of Hatsune Miku and every track consists of Vocaloid music. For this, Furyu made deals with famous Vocaloid artists like CosMo@暴走P and 蝶々P, who had worked on Project Diva F. Distorted Happiness by CosMo@暴走P has accents that are close to Sadistic Music Factory in Project Diva F.
This ensures a powerful soundtrack that makes fights dynamic, notably so thanks to Sin and Cosmo Dancer. More impressively, the lyrics actually fit the personality of the bosses. And with its new villains, the PS4 version adds three new music tracks as groovy as the original ones, plus brilliant remixes of the existing tracks.
However, The Caligula Effect Overdose’s greatest quality is its remarkably well-written story. It deals with extremely serious topics (illness, loneliness, professional future, and so on), but the point is the thinking behind it. The Caligula Effect Overdose calls out to the player through the debates between the heroes and the Gakushi. Those conversations ask interesting and relevant questions, such as 'do virtual worlds and social networks cut us from reality too much?' Or 'is reality necessarily better than fiction?'. The Caligula Effect Overdose does an impressive job of bringing up social issues like those and this makes it fascinating from start to finish.
Despite the weak graphics, the general direction is clever enough - thanks to, for example, strong camera work - to deliver a great narrative. The somewhat disturbing design also emphasises events in the game and makes for a very unique experience, such that I will remember it for a long time to come.
That's where the PS4 remake really shines as well, because you can now side with the bad guys. The main protagonist (male or female - you have the choice now) is approached by Son, the leader of the Gakushi, during the story and if you share her views you can choose to defend Moebius. This storyline is as long and rich as the main one, essentially making The Caligula Effect Overdose twice as long as the PSVita game.
This storyline cleverly inverts the roles of Good and Evil, revealing that the true criminals might not be the ones you think they are. The Gakushi storyline also includes major surprises and reveals, which kept me hooked throughout. But the most striking fact is that you actually don't have to choose, or at least not before the very end. Thanks to an impressive narrative stunt, the progression system actually has you fighting for both factions alternatively. The player can therefore enjoy all of the new characters in the same walkthrough. Hats off to the developers for this!
As with any Persona-like, all of your party members have their own stories, divided into various chapters. Some of these are side stories, but they're as well told as the main scenario and include plenty of surprises and a degree of suspense. The clever writing is accompanied by an equally clever use of humor and the jokes that characters throw at each other are excellent. Beside the main characters, the game also allows you to recruit any NPC into your party, a feature already used by developer Aquria in Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment, for example. But given those NPCs are duplicates of your own partners in terms of abilities, the option quickly turns out to be meaningless.
New characters means new character events. The Caligula Effect Overdose includes plenty of anecdotes that tell the story of these new party members, as well as new dialogue both before and after battles, which is as fun as ever. Furyu successfully includes a lot of meaning and emotion behind these side stories.
The progression system is unfortunately where Furyu’s RPG is far less impressive. Dungeons come one after another in a very linear way, without any side-quests or activities to allow you to unwind. The lack of overall content here wouldn’t be so bad if The Caligula Effect Overdose had interesting dungeons or solid game structure, but unfortunately that's not the case. The Caligula Effect Overdose is in fact a corridor game, plagued by uninspired level design and very unclear maps. Those maps are often nothing more than a long chain of repetitive battles that culminate in a boss.
It’s pretty easy to get lost in these areas too, and to lose patience with the large number of enemies contained within tiny corridors. The very last stage is symptomatic of this, featuring nearly identical sectors with no clear landmarks. I’m OK with mazes and searching in JRPGs, but the gameplay progression here is more tiring than motivating. The PS4 version runs a lot more smoothly, without any framerate drops to report, but doesn't fully renew the graphics. Characters still look a bit rough around the edges and have next to no facial expressions.
Despite such tiresome dungeon progression, The Caligula Effect Overdose does at least succeed in the fighting department, featuring an ATB/turn-based system that allows you to chain attacks like you’ve never seen before. More importantly it shows you the future - when choosing your next move, you have an indication of what type of move the enemy will take, allowing you to adapt your strategy. Depending on the type of move they're about to make, you’ll have to choose from different counters to get the upper hand.
Once you’ve started a counter-attack, you can build complex combos by throwing opponents into the air (and then use moves with aerial bonuses) or onto the ground (and launch moves effective against downed enemies). On the other hand, the timing to chain powerful moves is tricky and you’ll have to adjust the start of your turn on the ATB line to get your attack bonus. The remake has a few good ideas to make the fighting more comfortable, like removing the walls around you or pre-calculating the ideal timing to chain attacks. The new characters also possess a relevant skill panel. For example, Ayana is specialized in interrupting foes and countering with destructive electric discharges.
Last, but not least, all enemies have a “risk” level that makes them increasingly dangerous. But it’s first and foremost an important gameplay leverage because your attacks benefit from the risk level of the opponent in front of you. Mifue, for example, will only be able to use her moves if the enemy is of risk 2,3 or more. Similarly, some special attacks can be used only when the enemy has reached risk level 5, the highest level possible. Building the perfect combo is thoroughly enjoyable, even in the long run. In The Caligula Effect Overdose on PS4, risk management is no longer the only way to deal lots of damage either - a bar of special has been added and allows every character to perform a powerful super-attack when full.
With a lot of great content, much of it new, including added characters and a high volume of additional story elements, The Caligula Effect Overdose is a remarkable example of a valuable remake. Despite technical improvements that come in under expectations, Furyu's title certainly deserves its Overdose subtitle. And with so much new and exciting stuff to enjoy, even the fans of the original PSVita version should be delighted.