µ-sic to my Ears
It’s safe to say that The Caligula Effect didn’t do so well when it originally released. Hot on the tail of Persona 5, and touting an overall clunky style of gameplay that wasn’t free of technical issues, The Caligula Effect came and went without raising much of a hubbub. Not surprisingly, many people ended up thinking that that was that — after all, not every game’s destined to make it. However, the folks on over at FuRyu had different plans. They knew that their game had potential, and they wanted it be the best that it could be. So, after two years and what I’m sure was plenty of hard work on FuRyu’s end, we’re finally able to come face-to-face with the new-and-improved The Caligula Effect: Overdose. And, after getting a chance to dive into the game myself, I’d say that all of that hard work has actually paid off quite handily.
It might sound weird to call The Caligula Effect: Overdose a complete remake, as opposed to calling it an “expanded version” (akin to the Kingdom Hearts Final Mix games), but that’s honestly what it is. FuRyu didn’t spend two years just to add in an extra dungeon or a few new conversations; there’s so much new content packed into this game that the subtitle “Overdose” is truly one that fits (in a good way, of course), and I’m very happy that The Caligula Effect is able to shine as brightly as it is now thanks to this new moniker.
Peter Pan Syndrome
Remember how I mentioned that The Caligula Effect: Overdose is teeming with changes? Hopefully — I literally just mentioned it. Anyway, you don’t even need to any further than the game’s own story to begin noticing them. Overdose does begin in the same way as the original Caligula Effect, with the player (who can now either be male or female!) realizing that Mobius — the utopian city guided by the vocaloid µ (pronounced “mew”) in which they live — is literally nothing but a giant digital prison in which their consciousness is trapped, thrusting them into an endless cycle of repeating high school over and over again. And, after meeting with a of individuals known as the “Go-Home Club”, they decide to band together with them in order to fight their way back into reality. With a digital goddess overseeing nearly every aspect of Mobius, and the rest of the populous being haplessly, and happily, under the spell of µ’s seductive tunes, the Go-Home Club’s chances of succeeding would normally be absolutely zero. Fortunately, thanks to the intervention of µ’s once-partner Aria, the wokest kids at school actually have a chance to make their escape. All of that, of course, is easier said than done, but, with literally no other alternative, the Go-Home Club will have to jump at every opportunity should they actually wish to succeed.
While much of Overdose‘s story does play by the same rules as the original Caligula Effect, they’re far from the same — a fact which is largely true thanks to the introduction of a slew of new characters. From the mysterious-yet-imposing Eiji, to the boy-crazy Ayana (as in she sees a boy, goes crazy, and wants to kill them), the Overdose‘s rendition of the Go-Home Club features a newer, and even more profound dynamic than before. And let’s not forget the game’s female protagonist, either. Rather than being a simple model-swap of her male counterpart, playing as this FeMC Fatale actually has a sizable impact on the game’s dialogue — specifically in regard to personal relationships. Considering that The Caligula Effect‘s cast of leading characters was already pretty full, adding even more characters into the mix was a risky move. But it’s one that I feel paid off in the end. Sure, Eiji’s dangerous allure comes across as being much more appealing than Ayana’s consistent freak-outs, but it’s still a net positive at the end of the day.
The new content doesn’t stop there, either! An expanded main story may sound nice, but what about the inclusion of a brand-new one? Can’t be done with a game that’s already been released, you say? Well think again, because Caligula has done just that! While players are free to play through the story as they normally would, there comes a chance when they are presented to view things from the perspective of the Ostinato Musicians — the very group of people working with µ to keep everyone trapped inside of Mobius. Should you accept, you’ll join their ranks as the newest Musician, Lucid. Oh, and you’ll still be working with the Go-Home Club, too. Talk about traitorous!
Now, this may a little weird at first. After all, who would want to side with the bad guys? Especially when it means double-crossing your friends? Well, there’s something that I probably should have been more upfront about. You see, everyone is in Mobius for a specific reason. While that reason varies from person to person, they all have something in common with one another; they all revolve around some kind of trauma. From the physical to the emotional and everything in between, everyone in Mobius has been scarred in one way or another; and its Mobius that is allowing them to escape that which is ailing them so. And the Musicians? They make up some of Mobius’ most traumatized denizens. Are their actions justified? In my opinion, no, they’re not. But that hasn’t stopped me from empathizing with them. Being hurt, being traumatized, leads to a desire to protect oneself at any cost. And, when you finally understand just how desperate the Musicians are to maintain that level of personal safety, it’s hard to hate them. Overdose may have added a lot of cool things, but the ability to see into the lives of the people who were once relegated to only being your enemy in the original Caligula Effect (plus a few new faces, too!) has got to be the most appealing piece of new content overall.
Things are looking a lot better for The Caligula Effect: Overdose when it comes to the actual gameplay as well. Dungeon-crawling, the game’s bread-and-butter, is a much smoother overall experience this time around thanks to the jump to the Unreal Engine 4, boasting better controls, smoother character movement, and a much shinier coat of graphical paint (not to mention the plentiful UE4 motion blur). However, while improved controls and aesthetics are always nice, it’s the dungeons themselves that matter the most. To that end, things turned out pretty nicely. To be fair, they aren’t as robust as some of the other, heavier-hitting, 3D dungeon crawlers of our time, primarily due to the fact that they feel like first-person dungeons placed in a third-person environment, they are nicely designed and fun to explore. They also tend to get more complex later on, either due to design or the inclusion of a fun gimmick, making it almost as though the game is attempting to improve itself as it continues onward — something which it’s ultimately successful in.
Ironically, what stands out the most about Overdose‘s dungeons is how nondescript they are. I don’t mean that in a bad way, either. Rather than trekking through a dangerous cave or the castle of an evil king, you’re walking through a high school or taking a trip to an aquarium. You’re literally visiting everyday locations — locations which other denizens of Mobius are found wandering around in. It isn’t very often that I’ve played a game that allows me to slaughter my enemies and then immediately follow that up by talking to a random high schooler about how they forgot to ask their guidance counselor a question (all while jamming out to any one of these game’s phenomenal tunes, might I add). It’s a bizarrely unassuming setup. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t even realize that I was in the first dungeon until I got attacked by something. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. Like the rest of the game, dungeon-crawling is very much a distortion of reality… or rather, a distortion of a distortion of reality. And, honestly, I love it.
The Caligula Effect: Overdose has plenty of unusual things crammed into it but, even then, its battle system might still be the most unusual of the bunch. Although technically consisting of ATB-like turn-based combat, Overdose turns battles on their head thanks to the addition of the Imaginary Chain mechanic. Just what is this Imaginary Chain, you ask? Well, it’s the ability to see what a perfect scenario would look like. Before confirming your actions, the Imaginary Chain allows players to view what will happen within the next few seconds of combat, should all of your desired attacks hit their intended target. While this might seem like cheating at first, I can assure you that it isn’t. Overdose very much relies on the player to set up combos — most of which involve either launching enemies into the air, or countering enemy attacks (which then launch enemies into the air) — and, if you don’t pay attention to the flow of battle, then you won’t be able to set up combos very well. And I can tell you from personal experience that, even the game’s easier enemies, a lack of combos can very quickly lead to a Game Over (and continues don’t exist.
Combat, and the Imaginary Chain, are kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, the battle system is very intuitive. I quite like the idea of having to carefully plan out each of my moves, and like that the game actively shows me how things will play out in the best-case scenario. The downfall, however, is that setting up combos can be a time-consuming process. From character placement, to the attacks themselves, and even to the timing of said attacks (yes, you can delay them in order to help set up a combo), planning the perfect combo takes a lot of time. And do you know what shouldn’t take a lot of time? Normal encounters. Fortunately, all party members sans the MC can be set to Auto at any time which, while far too incompetent for battles against harder enemies and bosses, generally works nicely while you’re clearing out hordes of Digihead (those are bad guys, by the way) drones.
Have I mentioned yet that The Caligula Effect: Overdose allows players to befriend and recruit over 500 different characters, most of whom appear to be incredibly unstable? No? Great! Let’s talk about that right now. Acting as a watered-down version of the iconic Persona Social Links (or Confidants, I suppose), Overdose‘s new-and-improved Causality Link allows players to make friends like never before. By chatting it up with people that you meet (whom, as I’ve already said, are all over the place in this game), you can befriend them. While making friends isn’t necessary, it is highly advantageous in two primary ways. First, it allows you to recruit them in battle. That’s right, this game literally has over 500 unique party members. Before you start celebrating (or panicking), however, let me bring down the mood a bit — most of these characters are simply clones of your primary party with different builds. Kind of a disappointment, I know, but it’s not all bad. The fact that there are so many different builds for each weapon type means that, if you’re really into creating the perfect party to suit your needs, then you absolutely can! And, for those who aren’t so into this kind of things (because the Causality Link is honestly a little overwhelming), the Go-Home Club members are more than capable of handling things on their own.
Secondly, and most importantly, each person in the Causality Link comes with their own Trauma Quest. By becoming friends with a person and re-opening the trauma which which they were trying to escape, you can then help them to tackle what seems to be ailing them the most. And, should you successfully complete that task, you’ll be rewarded with unique equippable passives and permanent stat boosts. I won’t lie; this aspect of the game is really morbid. I mean, you’re literally re-traumatizing over 500 people in order to benefit yourself (or to help them, if you’re into role-playing). This game is so incredibly forward when it comes to sensitive matters, but it fits the overall motif of the game very well — something which I respect a lot. And, so long as it doesn’t bother you too much, it can be a very worthwhile endeavor… Just make sure that you’re willing to set aside a good 50+ hours to get through everything.
Just µ and Me… Forever
Without a doubt, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is a great example of how adding a bit (or a lot, in this case) of polish to an already existing game can make it truly shine. To those of you who are new to this game entirely who are looking for a unique, and very macabre, spin on the school days JRPG trope, then look no further than this game right here. And, to those who took a trip with the original Caligula Effect and didn’t like where they ended up, I’d suggest having another go-around with Overdose; you just might like where it takes you this time!
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch, PC ; Publisher: NIS America ; Developer: FuRyu ; Players: 1 ; Released: March 12, 2019 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of The Caligula Effect: Overdose given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.