Sometimes an idea that looks good on paper can be abused and turned into something horrible. This theme has been portrayed in all sorts of media such as films, TV shows, and even video games. The Caligula Effect: Overdose is an enhanced re-release of The Caligula Effect, which was released on PS Vita back in 2017 (2016 in Japan.) The Caligula Effect: Overdose portrays this theme well, while also shaping up to be a pretty solid, interesting RPG.

The Caligula Effect: Overdose takes place in Mobius, an Idyllic world meant to give people a reprieve from their pain and suffering in the real world. Mobius was created by a sentient Vocaloid called Mu, who has turned it into a place where the people within it can live out their high school years in “bliss.”

There is a slight problem with this plan, as the protagonist (which you name yourself) discovers that something is wrong with the supposed paradise. He (or she) then meets others, who also see the strange and sinister dark side of Mobius, and bands together with them to find a way back to the real world.

Personally, this premise hit me in a rather interesting place. I find the prospect of being endlessly trapped in a high school scenario to be a special sort of hell, so it adds an interesting level of sympathy to the plight of the characters. People say they would go back to High School if they could, but if you ask yourself honestly, I think that’s a lie a lot of people tell themselves because they wish they were young again.

I should also point out that unlike the original game, The Caligula Effect: Overdose has two particularly interesting additions that I find intriguing. The first is the option to play a female protagonist, something that was lacking from the first game. The second is the addition of new scenarios, endings, and something called the “Forbidden Musician Route,” which essentially allows you to side with the villainous Ostinato Musicians, to prevent anyone from leaving Mobius.

There are also new playable characters, and two new Ostinato musicians to fight in the game. This adds a lot of content to an already massive experience. The dev team at NIS America also advertised that choosing the female protagonist changes the story in some ways, and allows you to go to areas your male protagonist could not.

Overdose has a very similar vibe to the Persona series, in which the protagonists are able to unleash their inner will to fight against their foes. This game does something similar thematically, however, as the gameplay is fairly different despite both games being turn-based RPG’s. For example, combat plays out in a circular arena, and your characters are able to issue attacks, support abilities, and other utilities on their turn.

This is where the similarities end, however, because in The Caligula Effect: Overdose you have use of something called the Imaginary Chain. The Imaginary Chain allows you to pick an action, and see an estimated projection of how your attack will land, and how the enemy will respond. You can then choose to chain another ability on top of that (up to two times) or you can back up and pick a different approach if you don’t like the estimated outcome.

The interesting thing about this combat system is that it allows each character to perform up to three actions in a single turn. Additionally, during the Imaginary Chain projection, you can adjust the timing of your attack to coincide with something another party member is doing, sometimes to a devastating effect. Add to that the ability to launch enemies in the air, or slam them into the ground, and you have dozens of strategic possibilities to work with.

I find the progression system in Overdose rather interesting as well, because it is multi-faceted and adds a sort of puzzle to the game. By finding Enigma items, various objects connected to the mysteries of Mobius, or by fighting enemies, you gain skill points. Skill points are used to upgrade existing skills, and as you level up you are able to unlock new ones. Some Enigma Items are tied to Trauma Quests as well, which we’ll get into in a minute.

This seems fairly straight-forward and probably not multi-faceted at all right? Well, that’s where the Causality Link system comes in. The Causality Link is a map that contains all 500 Student NPC’s in the game. By befriending these students and solving their problems (through what are known as Trauma Quests,) you unlock stat bonuses, new “stigmas” (equipment) or a variety of other useful things.

The challenging part about this is that in order to befriend some students, you either have to defeat certain bosses, befriend other students, or fulfill some other requirement. As you progress through the game, this mechanic encourages you to interact with as many NPC’s as possible, as well as growing your bonds with your allies.

Another interesting way to interact with students is the WIRE system, a text messaging app that allows you to talk to allies and other NPC’s you have befriended. You can use this helpful app for information on how to progress, or just to learn more about the various people you interact with. While there are some repeated bits of dialogue in the various NPC’s you encounter, they all have a unique “trauma” and a unique personality type.

This leads to something I found interesting. The title of the game refers to a psychological term known as The Caligula Effect, which is the desire to see and do forbidden or prohibited things. The themes surrounding the game support this, and deal with the subjects of repression, catharsis (healthy release,) and coming to terms with trauma.

This is also a good time to mention that each of the 10 playable allies you can recruit into your party has a different “role” in battle. Some may be more suited for ranged attacks or support, while others may be suited for launching enemies in the air, or doing massive damage. There is a lot to do in terms of party customization, especially when you get into the “Stigma” equipment. Instead of weapons and armor, you have “Stigmas” which can be equipped in various slots to boost your characters’ stats.

Stigmas are named after various personality traits, some positive, some negative, to further carry on the theme of the game. However, I really like that the characters in The Caligula Effect learn to embrace their darker impulses and grow to become better people in the process. I found myself enjoying learning more about each character, and learning about the world as well.

You can also add NPC’s to your party as guest/temporary party members. Some of them are very strong if you build them up correctly, but I personally preferred using the 10 specific party members you can recruit along the story route instead. This was mostly because of their unique personalities, and my desire to see where each character’s storyline led though.

Before I get into the upsides and downsides of The Caligula Effect: Overdose, I should mention a few things. First of all, there is no English voice acting in Overdose. In fact, there is no English audio at all. The text is all in English of course, so it is easy to read and understand, but there is a lack of English voices to round out the atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that some people prefer subtitled anime and Japanese voices over the dub.

However, I personally feel like something is lost in translation here because you can’t really understand the voices that you hear unless you speak Japanese. I found myself muting the game to play because the voices were distracting, and in some places annoying.

Otherwise, the atmosphere of the game is gorgeous. The use of color to convey emotion is done very well in every dungeon area, and all of the environments are unique and interesting. Even the city itself (which is very clinical and white) conveys an “Idyllic” idea that hides the darkness beneath with a clean, almost pure, aesthetic.

I mentioned this before as well, but I still can’t get over how well the developers characterized each of your party members. Some of them have traumas and negative traits that make them (arguably) terrible people, and yet as I played I found myself rooting for them; not because of who they were, but because I was eager to see their growth.

The themes in The Caligula Effect are dark, but there is still humor in the game as well. From blatant references to the gaming industry to breaking the Fourth Wall, there were plenty of moments that I found myself amused and chuckling to myself, sometimes in inappropriate situations.

I have very few problems with the way The Caligula Effect: Overdose plays. The biggest one is that there isn’t a way to simply tell party members not to act. For example, if you’re in a battle, and you know that the first two members of your party are going to kill the enemies by themselves, you can’t just tell the other two to wait, or not do anything.

Instead, you have to issue them commands as well, which gets somewhat annoying if you’re fighting to try and get to the end of an area. The second issue I had with the game was with the way the “World Rewards” mechanic worked. The World Rewards mechanic is an area in each dungeon that has high-level enemies and great rewards.

The issue with this is that each “World Reward” requires three passwords. The mechanic is meant for you to coordinate with other people playing the game, and share passwords until you have the missing pieces. However, this becomes irritating if you don’t know anyone else that is playing. For the sake of honesty, I should mention that I googled until I found the official Japanese wiki for the game, which had a list of all the passwords, so I could actually review this section.

The third and final issue I had with the game revolved around the fact that you could only accept a single Trauma Quest at a time. There are 500 NPC’s, which means 500 Trauma quests in total. Having to pick one Trauma Quest to do at a time, rather than accepting a ton and doing them as you encounter the requirements, gets somewhat frustrating and takes more time than necessary.

Other than that, my issues with the game are minor. The difficulty options are varied for multiple skill levels, the mechanics are easy to learn and challenging to master, and overall the game is just plain fun. If you’re a fan of the Persona franchise, you’ll love this game, even despite its differences. If you’re looking for a unique RPG experience, you’ll find one here as well.

I also find myself rather impressed by the fact that instead of porting the game over exactly, they added new endings and an entire “dark route” for your player to take. Being able to play the bad guy without your “allies” knowing it, adds a sinister tone to your interactions with the Go-Home Club members. It also adds a large variety of replay value options, and I could easily see RPG enthusiasts putting hundreds of hours in the game.

In summary, if you are looking for a complex RPG that does things differently than the average JRPG, then I would highly recommend The Caligula Effect: Overdose. While the retail price might seem steep at $49.99 USD, there is so much content crammed into this game, that it practically pays for itself if you put enough time in.

While I wouldn’t recommend this to an RPG newcomer, I would say that with enough time invested, anyone can make the mechanics work to their advantage. As far as ports go, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is a great sleeper title that I hope winds up achieving cult-classic status. I applaud the team at NIS America for releasing such a unique and interesting RPG.

A Nintendo Switch Review Copy of The Caligula Effect: Overdose was provided by NIS America for this review.

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The Caligula Effect: Overdose

$49.99 USD
9

Score

9.0/10

Pros

  • Deep Progression System
  • Strategic Combat
  • Tons of Replay Value
  • Complex Story and Characters
  • Multiple Difficulty Options and Paths to Take

Cons

  • Can only take one Trauma Quest at a Time
  • No way to make Party Members Wait in Battle
  • World Reward Mechanic is Flawed
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Alexx Aplin

Alexx has been writing about video games for almost 10 years, and has seen most of the good, bad and ugly of the industry. After spending most of the past decade writing for other people, he decided to band together with a few others, to create a diverse place that will create content for gaming enthusiasts, by gaming enthusiasts.

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