The Virtuadolls Return
A few years ago, NIS America published Caligula Effect: Overdose, a PlayStation 4 port of a PlayStation Vita JRPG about a virtuadoll that captured the ‘souls’ of people – rendering them comatose – and kept them ‘trapped’ within a world of her making. It was a game that I enjoyed, and it featured a unique take on turn based combat and a deep dive into some of the more disturbing aspects of human nature and society. I gave the original an 81%. It was a strong outing that left me thoroughly intrigued and disgusted at its content.
In Caligula Effect 2, the virtuadolls have returned – this time in the shape of one named Regret. Regret has constructed a world called Redo, meant to allow people with various forms of regret a chance to live out their dreams. Regret is helped by her Obbligato musicians, led by the mysterious Bluffman, who are treated like Japanese idols and create ultra popular music that the inhabitants of Redo thoroughly enjoy. You play as the unnamed protagonist – who has his imaginary world interrupted by X (pronounced ‘chi’) – a Virtuadoll set on tearing down Regret’s world and sending all of its inhabitants back to their real lives. She’s also the ‘daughter’ of Mu, the Virtuadoll villain from the original Caligula Effect.
During your time as the protagonist, you quickly meet a number of individuals who share a similar desire to escape Redo. With the power of the Catharsis Effect – innate abilities and their corresponding weapons – you’ll battle your way through the Obbligato Musicians to hunt down Regret and disband Redo. Of course, things don’t always go according to plan, and you’ll spend a lot of time sifting through a winding narrative.
Caligula Effect 2 features upgrades in a majority of categories when compared to the original. Combat is very similar to Overdose. Characters have action bars and sets of abilities (they learn more as they level up) that you can string together with other characters to blow through enemies. What makes the system interesting is the ability to foresee how your actions will play out. Each character has particular abilities that can counter enemy actions, so your combat potential is pretty significant. For example, I could be battling a group of three digiheads (that’s what they called inhabitants of Redo who fall under the heavy influence of the Musicians). As I choose which ability to attack with, the screen will shift and show me the exact attack pattern my character will embark upon. It will also predict the ability the enemy will employ – and I can change my attack to counter or dodge the incoming attack. Additionally, I can strategize my combat in order to build relatively extensive combos that deal massive amounts of damage and devastate break bars. It is a system that is both simple and complex, easy to hop into but needing time and consideration to master.
My biggest complaint with Caligula Effect 2 is its inability to tackle the same serious issues the original did. What stuck with me from Overdose was some of the disturbing content the denizens of that world participated in – it sometimes shocked me so much that I still remember the specifics. But it was effective, and it created a powerful and memorable experience. Caligula Effect 2, while very interesting and well put together, does not explore its tough topics with the same level of commitment as the original (at least, that’s how I felt).
This isn’t to say that it completely shies away from sensitive material. No – it certainly wouldn’t reference the debaucherous Caligula if it didn’t. As you continue to recruit more members of the second iteration of the Go Home Club, their regrets are remembered. While you build your rapport with your teammates, you slowly learn about what their regrets and why they were whisked away into Redo. The material, maybe, felt a bit more personal – the regrets of most of the characters were relatable – but not necessarily as powerful as the original. While this is an important complaint, it doesn’t take away much from the overall experience.
Visually, Caligula Effect 2 is similar to the original, featuring cel-shadedish character models in a variety of colorful and unusual settings. There’s nothing special here, and it’s perhaps a bit dated, but it works. Hell, who am I to say that it doesn’t look exactly like Regret wanted? As for the sound aspect of the game, the music was both pleasant and obnoxious in equal turns. The Obbligato Musicians would pound the halls of whatever setting you were exploring with obnoxious music on repeat, and X didn’t offer much in her own performances (and half the time, I swear I heard Thank You Scientist’s cover of “Party All the Time”, originally written by Rick James and performed by Eddie Murphy). Everything, however, mingled together to create an atmosphere I’m sure I won’t forget any time soon – and it certainly amuses me. That being said, the game only comes with English subtitles. For me, that’s typically a negative, as it’s difficult to read dialogue while actively engaging in gameplay, but that isn’t the case here. For the most part, dialogue is only exchanged during conversation and story progression, not during the middle of combat or action sequences, so nothing should be lost there.
When you put it all together, Caligula Effect 2 is a much improved game from its original (with the exception of some of its material). Combat flows more smoothly, the game plays at a much more enjoyable pace, and there’s content galore for gamers looking to sink at least 40-50 hours into the game if not more. While I appreciated the disturbing content of the original a bit more, the overall experience of the sequel is much improved. If you’re a fan of NIS America RPGs and JRPGs in general, Caligula Effect 2 should provide you with a good time and set you up with plenty of content to keep you busy.