Bringing the darkness out of everyone
Caligula. The word means ‘little soldier’s boot’, but it was a nickname given to the Roman emperor Gaius Caesar – a man known for his cruelty, sadism, hunger for power, and sexual perversion, and lust for extravagant things. He worked to strengthen the power of the emperor while abusing his subjects. His eventual assassination ended his roughly four years of rule, but he became legendary for his unflattering traits. Much has been made in regards to Caligula, including an insane and graphic near-pornographic self-titled film.
Enter FuRyu, the publisher behind the successful and entertaining Lost Dimension, and developer Aquria. The Caligula Effect marks their first return to the PlayStation console in North America after partaking in the wonderful The Legend of Legacy and The Alliance Alive. Published by NIS America, The Caligula Effect: Overdose tells the tale of a large group of students permanently stuck living out their high school years in a virtual reality program created by μ (pronounced Mu) – an incredibly powerful AI program. Within, they experience the struggle of dealing with the various taboos of society.
You play the silent protagonist with a name of your choosing who is quickly recruited into the Go-Home Club, a group of students who realize they’re stuck in μ’s world and want to go home. In order to do so, the Go-Home Club deduces that it must eliminate each of the Ostinato Musicians to find clues to reach μ. Each musician represents his/her own rejection of society and provides an interesting insight into the Japanese culture. In fact, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is a game that requires you to go in with the knowledge of what the Caligula effect is, else you’ll leave quite offended quite quickly.
The second story arc within The Caligula Effect sees the Go-Home Club scouring a mall to find Sweet-P, the Ostinato Musician ‘in charge’ of this area. Each of her closest allies are all physically obese and proud of it. Mifue, one of the more quiet members of the Go-Home Club, loathes the obese and makes some of the most insensitive and crass remarks about their weight that surprised me. In context, however, it makes sense, and it works. It works so well that it makes you feel something, and it surprises and repulses you, too. It’s the literal epitome of how a well written video game can stand up against a good piece of art, film, book, etc. I’ll be curious to see how others respond to the ideas in this game, but it certainly provides a platform for the examination of our cultures.
Gameplay in The Caligula Effect: Overdose is a mixture of strategy and turn based action. Before each turn, you can command your characters to attack enemies on a circular battle arena. Here, you can chain attacks, delay your turns to create powerful combinations, and strategize your overall combat. Unfortunately, most of the common enemies are easy to dispatch and require little strategy. These battles usually saw me smashing the same or similar combos in order to eliminate my foes. The only real strategizing I required was against enemies guarding treasure chests who were 20+ levels higher than me or the Ostinato Musicians. Everything else was typically eliminated within a turn. It’s a system that, when utilized to its fullest, is incredibly unique and requires some strong strategization. Those battles are, however, few and far between. Conversely, if each battle required the type of patience and time that these stronger enemies needed, the game would definitely drag, as enemies are aplenty.
On the bright side, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is an Unreal 4 update to the original title, meaning everything looks better and shinier. The game played, in my mind, anyway, like an anime series (and the story arcs reminded me of them, too). The in-game music was perfect and fit each arc well. My biggest gripe with Caligula Effect was the Japanese only voice acting. I get why people like it, but it will never be for me – though Dynasty Warriors 9 sure as hell made a strong case for it.
It isn’t often that I feel a game is as deep as The Caligula Effect: Overdose. With the blunt examination of culture, the countless students you can befriend, and the hours upon hours of gameplay, you’re in for a game worth its cost. Combat can grow stale quickly, though the intermittent challenges breathe life into the gameplay every so often – but it’s a shame based on the potential the combat had. Still, for those of you intrigued by an intricate plot and being exposed to some pretty harsh subject matters, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is certainly a unique experience. Fans of this style of game will love it, and those who typically aren’t will be pushed even further away by its premise. Still, the final product is something that stands on its own, looks and sounds nice, and plays well with a fairly innovative combat system. It sure isn’t a perfect JRPG, but it’s not a bad one, either, boosted, at least, by its brazen Caligula effect.