When ‘The Caligula Effect’ first released in the West in May 2017, responses were mixed. Towards the end of 2017, a ‘plus’ version was announced, promising enhanced visuals, new characters (including a female MC) and an entirely new story route. About a year and a half later, FuRyu (Japan) and NIS America (EU & US), have re-introduced us to the world of Mobius with ‘The Caligula Effect: Overdose’. The game opens with our MC realising that the world around them is not real. Mobius is a separate reality controlled by the virtual singer μ (Mu), and the musicians who craft her songs. The MC joins a group of people named the ‘Go-Home Club’. The club aims to break out of the world of Mobius and return to their original bodies. And that task if just as wild and difficult as it sounds!
I’m reviewing the PS4 version of the game.
Character Customisation: Play as either male or female nameable MC
Replay Value: Some
Total Play Time: ~35-40 hours
One of the biggest draw cards for me (and I’m supposing many other players), was that ‘The Caligula Effect’ was written by Tadashi Satomi, who has previously worked on the ‘Persona’ series. However, while the game does feature quite a few hallmarks of the ‘Persona’ series – releasing your inner turmoil, fighting against society, etc. the game does stand on its own unique foot. The game is more about overcoming one’s own insecurities and struggles. Even the Ostinato Musicians are given the chance to overcome the fear of the real world, and the strength to stand on their own feet outside. There’s a clear commentary on the seduction of a virtual / fake world which appears perfect and being able to survive and thrive in the real one.
I will concede that the beginning of the game is jarring. You do feel like you’ve been dumped into the game mid-story. But you hit the ground running, quickly piecing together the world around you, and the loyalties and motivations of the various characters. This is by far helped by the numerous tutorials which explain the varying mechanics of the game. These mechanics are what truly make this an exciting playing experience. The key one is called the ‘imaginary chain’, where you can preview attacks and allocate the timing of movements. I have to admit, it’s meant to be quite an intuitive system but I didn’t get the hang of it until I was well into the second dungeon. But when I did, strategising and battles got a whole lot more fun. The game’s social system is also quite fun, I really enjoyed being able to text other members of the ‘Go-Home Club’ and the group chat messages that would pop up.
However, the other key social component was not quite my cup of tea. Besides getting to know the ‘Go-Home Club’ members and the Ostinato Musicians, there’s also 500 other students in Mobius. You have the opportunity to make friends with these students, and uncover their ‘trauma’ to get a reward. This seems like a cool idea in theory, but in practice didn’t turn out as intended. To solve a character’s traumas you have to go on a mini-quest, either finding an item, or introducing them to someone. These aren’t marked on the maps, you either have to remember where you found something or just go around all the areas searching. I once found a bracelet on the ground that I knew was part of a trauma but for the life of me could not find who it belonged to. I ended up not really engaging with this aspect of the game, and suspect if I had my playtime would have doubled.
Perhaps my favourite part of the game was the music. As I mentioned in the introduction, μ is a virtual singer. To re-summarise the game, it’s like if Hatsune Miku trapped us all in a digital world and the people who made her songs were treated like gods. Each of the songs are meant to reflect the inner character of the musician and they really do. The songs playing during the musician battles really helped immerse me into the game, and almost made the battle feel a bit more badass. I do wonder if the game cut out the aforementioned 500+ social links, and instead had a rhythm game component it would have worked better. The music is definitely the star of this game.
While I haven’t played the original game, I though it might still be beneficial to look at the new additions that stood out to me. First up, the Musician Route. I honestly can’t imagine playing this game without their inclusion. Without the musicians breaking up the story, the original game must have felt like working your way down a check list. I also found the musicians to be the more interesting characters in the game. While the ‘Go-HomeCclub’ felt a bit one dimensional and goofy, there was something quite intriguing about each of the Ostinato Musicians. So I definitely loved this! However, what I didn’t love was the female MC. I was really excited to play as her but ultimately found her design a bit boring. Especially compared to the other characters who all looked so dynamic and fun.
One of the biggest issues I’ve found with the game was how tedious the dungeons were. The puzzles weren’t particularly imaginative, and often dragged on far too long. The worst offender for this was Shonen Doll’s level. His chapter was set in a library, once you enter with your group of friends you’re separated. You then spend about an hour – hour and a half trying to get your friends all back together. I just felt like I was going around and around in circles, and answering tedious riddles (which characters gave the answer for) for no real reason. Whenever I play a game, it’s important to feel like each puzzle you solve, each trap you escape brings you closer to the end goal and gives you some interesting information. In these dungeons, I just felt like a dog chasing its own tail.
I would also like to make a small note on the translation, as I try to with every game I review. NIS America did a fantastic job with the translation of this game. I didn’t notice any grammar or spelling mistakes. But, perhaps a bit more importantly, it was really interesting to see how certain ideas and phrases were ‘localised’, notably words like ‘normie’, and various references. I also really appreciated how characterisation was communicated through sentence construction and what words were used.
Overall, ‘The Caligula Effect: Overdose’ left me with some mixed feelings (we’ve come full circle since the intro!). There was a lot that I enjoyed about the game. I though the story was interesting, I adored the musicians, their music and some of the gameplay. Other parts of the game play I was not fond of. In fact, I struggled with the core component of it, which was the dungeon crawling. But ultimately, what it comes down to was whether or not I enjoyed it. While, those dungeons were painful to get through, the sweet spots at the end of them were really sweet. So I will say, I did enjoy the game. But I’ll say that knowing that not everyone might.
Thank you to NIS America for providing me with a review copy for this game