The Caligula Effect 2 Review: Not Hiding Its Influences
It’s hard to think about The Caligula Effect 2 without thinking about Persona, because this is a game that wants so badly to be Persona. It has a similar setting, similar themes, and characters that remind you of those in Persona. It even has its own more basic version of social links. If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then The Caligula Effect 2 is in love with Persona. That said, for a game so in love with a more well-known series, The Caligula Effect 2 is a surprisingly strong imitator, well worth the time of RPG fans who have checked out the obvious options and want another game in this vein.
The Caligula Effect 2 lands you in the world of Redo, a virtual world created by a virtual doll named Regret. Everyone in this world is supposedly getting what they most wanted in the real world, living out exactly what they asked for. Your main character, whose gender you choose, is just one of the many people living their perfect life when another virtual doll named χ creates a bond with you in an opening that feels a bit rushed. She’s the daughter of the virtual doll from the first game, which set off everything that happened there. She’s determined to shut down Regret and not let her make the same mistakes her mom did. She forces your protagonist into a life-or-death struggle to escape this world.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in the story of The Caligula Effect 2. Little of it has much to do with the main plot, however, which is mostly generic and only serves to move things around. It’s not even particularly well executed, frequently rushing through what should be important moments and displaying strange pacing throughout. The good news, however, is that all the decisions the writers made around that core story are much stronger, starting with an excellent cast of characters.
An Appealing Cast
True, none of them are going to go down as RPG legends, but the entire cast is filled with appealing characters dealing with some surprising issues that have landed them in this virtual world. The Caligula Effect 2 touches on some surprising subjects for a Japanese game, and while it doesn’t handle them perfectly, it mostly shows grace with them. I like how despite appearing as a bunch of high schoolers within the world where they could be anyone, we find that many of them are anything but and how this comes across in their characters. This surprising depth extends to your enemies throughout the game as well. While none of them are saints, they’re not all a bunch of mustache-twirling monsters either. They have their reasons for wanting to retreat into this world as well, and they don’t blindly try to destroy you. Well, some of them don’t.
Fight It Out
Once you start exploring The Caligula Effect 2’s various dungeons, you’ll find a fascinating combat system that combines elements from a lot of different games I like into a whole which I really enjoy, even if I’m not entirely sure it works. You choose various attacks and powers that all take a certain amount of energy, which slowly recharges on its own or can be fully recharged by using a turn. Choosing which attacks to use is a balance between not only what moves are best, but also where you are in the battle, what you need to achieve, and how much energy you have. It’s an interesting system, even if your moves aren’t as well balanced as they could be. A lot of them just seem to cost way too much or too little, which leads to leaning on the same set of moves too frequently. Some new moves are unlocked simply by leveling up but equipping different items also unlocks them temporarily, with the moves tied to these items being unlocked for good once you use them long enough.
There’s a timing element to all of this too. Before each attack, you can simulate the timing of your own party and your opponents, choosing the exact moment you’ll attack. This allows you to disrupt your enemies, or if you time things wrong to be disrupted. This is enormously useful against bosses, though it’s not usually needed against the rank and file enemies you’ll face throughout dungeons. It would have been nice to see this mechanic more consistently necessary, but it does help bosses stand out more as the true threats they are. You can also speed the many mechanics involved along by putting your teammates on auto-control when facing random enemies. It’s a quick change to take control of them again when you need to.
A Winding Path
The many dungeons you explore are varied, and while some of them turn into a series of generic hallways, there are a few that have rather clever puzzles, such as an early one set in a series of gardens. You aren’t going to confuse this for Golden Sun or Lufia, but it’s more than just fighting enemies and opening a chest now and then. I also loved how random battles are visible on screen, and you could sneak up on enemies for an advantage in battle, one of my very favorite RPG mechanics.
Outside of battle, you’ll have a few things to keep you busy, but little of it is interesting. I liked The Caligula Effect 2’s version of social links, where you get to know your party members and have to pick the right options with them to progress their story. These give you additional insight into the characters and let you see their full motivations. You unlock additional steps in these links by using the characters in battle, which gives you an incentive to keep mixing your party up. In practice, though, these segments are a little too basic for their own good, especially some of the early ones, which can be over before they’ve barely started. It felt like for some characters, the development team had a hard time coming up with ten events, but they didn’t want to vary how many each party member had.
Stick To The Main Story
There are also a huge variety of random people running around the world who you can speak to and open up quests with, but in practice, these are mostly boring. There are a lot of fetch quests, or stories that lock you out unless you have a specific ability that you may not get access to until much later in the game, giving you time to stop caring about the quest. Before long, I stopped bothering with these at all unless I happened to have what I needed to complete them already when I checked them out. It just didn’t feel worth my time. These side characters have no personality and aren’t interesting.
From an aesthetic standpoint, The Caligula Effect 2 looks nice, even if it isn’t going to impress anyone. Everything has a smooth, clean look which works and will likely let this run on a wide variety of systems, but which looks nice enough. A bit more style would have made it more interesting to look at, but I’m not complaining. The music, thankfully, is more interesting. A wonderful soundtrack with a wide variety of styles, reflecting the various musicians in the game and their differences, meant I always wanted to keep the volume pumping. I especially like how the music in dungeons changes and evolves when entering combat, it’s cool. The only time I regretted the volume being way up was with some of the voice acting. The Japanese voices are mostly okay, but a few characters get to be a bit much, and everyone could use to stop yelling out the same phrases repeatedly.
The Caligula Effect 2 is far from unique. It wears its influences front and center and isn’t quite on the same level as any of the modern Persona titles. There are only a few of those, though, and if you’ve played them and want something more, then The Caligula Effect 2 is absolutely worth checking out. With an interesting battle system, appealing characters, and a killer soundtrack, I consistently had a good time until the credits rolled.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Switch; Publisher: historia Inc.; Developer: historia Inc., FURYU Corporation; Players: 1; Released: June 23rd, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: TBA
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of The Caligula Effect 2 provided by the publisher.