Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: May 2nd, 2017
Disclaimer: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
I was pretty excited to get my hands on The Caligula Effect. It’s an exclusive PlayStation Vita game that’s an Atlus-published JRPG which includes a story led by Persona series veteran Tadashi Satomi (Persona, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment) — so this game pretty much had my name written all over it. Much to my surprise, the game brings a lot of nuance to the table. However, some of its minor shortcomings are enough to bog down the experience.
Timing is Everything
Leading up to launch, I saw a handful of concerns about The Caligula Effect regarding how the game runs. Lately, we’ve been seeing a ton of JRPGs make their way to Vita and run just terribly. Most of that is due to game makers developing from the ground up for the PS4, and then porting over a wonky PS Vita version. Luckily, The Caligula Effect was developed specifically for the PS Vita — therefore the game actually runs pretty smooth. I didn’t experience framerate drops very often. Unfortunately, some glitches did occur. Whether it was me walking through walls, or seeing NPCs floating, I sensed a lack of polish throughout the game. With all that being said, it’s not an ugly game, especially for running on 6 year old hardware.
The Caligula Effect has a unique story, to say the least. It’s about a group of students who are trying to escape from a virtual world called Mobius. What’s interesting is the world is designed to be the perfect place to live, but these student just aren’t satisfied, which I personally thought made for a really interesting dialog. The world is run by a virtual pop-star named ? (pronounced Myoo), along with her group of evil music producers and army of Digiheads. Overall, there’s a lot of dark themes and enthralling story pieces that I was constantly engaged in. I won’t dive deep into what these are to avoid spoiling the game or tarnishing your experience of it.
The main cast of students call themselves the Go-Home Club, and they’re your typical cast of characters set in a Japanese role-playing game. There’s the ‘bro’ dude, the brains guy, and the pretty girl that kicks ass (and more) — all of the main cast is actually pretty fun to hangout with. Not only is there the main cast of students, but along with them, there’s over five-hundred NPCs that you can have relationships with and recruit into your party to be used in combat. There’s only four character slots though, so you have to choose wisely.
Persona Social Links! ….Kinda
The game offers social relationships similar to the Persona series. These relationships are called your Causality Links. However, they’re not nearly as intricate, or thoughtfully crafted as the Social Links in the Persona series. I didn’t find many of the side-stories to be as emotionally heavy as the story arcs in the Persona titles, which was a pretty big let down. Not to say there’s a lot wrong with the Causality Link system, it’s just not very entertaining overall. I do think it’s a nice touch though, it’s changes up the pacing of the game which I appreciated, not to mention offers some funny conversations via phone texting.
Another interesting element of the story — keep in mind, this is a virtual world, so no one is actually how they seem. A tenth grade girl could actually be a forty year old dude. And sometimes, you can actually figure out who someone really is, which is a lot of fun, but I’ll let you discover this aspect of the game for yourself.
Seeing Things Before They Happen
Now, on to the most important aspect of The Caligula Effect; the gameplay. This is where I thought the game shined the brightest. The Caligula Effect offers a turned-based battle system like one I’ve personally never played — where timing is literally everything. In these battles you can see how your string of attacks will work out before you actually make them. Strategically planning out your attacks with all four teammates is a lot of fun. You can even string together different fighters moves perfectly using a time slider to match them up, and that results in critical hits. Example: one fighter will use uppercut on a Digihead lunging him into air, and another will use (Skill) Rapid Fire with dual pistols weakening the enemy, then, another fighter will do a final blow (Skill) Dead Eye with her bow and arrow. It’s all extremely dynamic and full of possibilities.
Nothing feels quite better than executing a boss using your whole squad’s unique abilities, or taking out a swarm of enemies in one turn by performing a string of critical hits. There’s also a bunch of skills you can unlock for each type of fighter. These are obtained by getting skill points from fights, so there’s always new attacks and strategies to think about while progressing the levels of your characters. If I had to say one thing negative about the gameplay, it’s that sometimes battles can go on a little long, which can get annoying if you’re just trying to get across the map.
One thing I personally loved about the game was the soundtrack. Each new area in The Caligula Effect has a new song, and most of them are really catchy. If you’re familiar with the Persona series’ J-Pop songs, these are very similar, and sometimes even better! There’s two different versions of the song in each area — one with vocals, and one without. The vocals will fade in when you’re in battle, and when outside of battles, it’s usually a synth or piano instead. While I love the songs featured in the game, they can get a bit repetitive as you’ll be in the same area for long periods of time. Either way though, great sound design overall.
It’s easy to compare The Caligula Effect to the Persona series given the story writer and Atlus association. While the game does hit the same tone and sometimes charm of the Persona series, they’re wildly different from one another most other areas. The Caligula Effect falls short in terms of offering interesting side-stories, and meeting the same polish standard that the Persona franchise has set. But the game still offers fun characters, an interesting main story, and unique, engaging turn-based gameplay.