Will you take the red pill or the blue pill? One of the most memorable choices in movie history is now yours to make in The Caligula Effect 2, a JRPG that combines effortlessly the dual world of The Matrix to an Anime high school drama.
Originally released as a digital-only PlayStation Vita title in 2017 from Persona scenario-writer Tadashi Satomi and Director Takuya Yamanaka, The Caligula Effect was remastered for modern consoles in 2019, as The Caligula Effect: Overdose, overhauling the title for newer consoles. Copying and pasting virtually all of the gameplay mechanics from the rerelease, the sequel goes a step further to improve the game by removing previously ‘unnecessary’ elements and providing a more interesting story with a more unique cast of characters than its predecessor.
Created by a pop music idol, this digital world consists of fans with regrets large enough to be pulled from the real world and has them relive their high school years. With each and every character holding onto a secret it’s interesting finding out what that might be for each character and seeing their character progression throughout.
Like The Matrix, the world will sometimes change its form and provide some weird and wonderful environments to have its sometimes bizarre narrative play out in, but due to the slice-of-life element of the game, the characters remain grounded by their normal routines, which allows the change in their lives to be more profound, especially as you learn about the characters’ lives in the real world, which are often completely dramatically different and makes for some tremendous storylines for the main playable characters.
The best part of this RPG though is not its concept, but its thrilling battle system that places your 4 characters’ actions on a timeline, with each action taking an allotted period of time to complete before pausing when the next character’s waiting period is up. What makes this system click superbly is a preview feature that plays out the entire timeline before you commit to your move, allowing you to synchronize your team’s moves to perfection for some great combos or to avoid enemy attacks with split seconds to spare.
With satisfying moves that launch enemies up into the air and a great soundtrack with lyrics that appear in an eclectic background design, this is by some way the most enjoyable battle experience I’ve had with an RPG battle system. Its dynamic flexibility to change a battle on its head, while not affecting the enjoyable flow of action is top-notch.
Also carried over from the original is the social bond system which links a large number of interactable characters via a social web called its ‘Casuality Link’. Each character has their own profile, specific conversations, and an associated quest, the completion of which improves your stats.
While this is certainly impressive on paper, it only carries a tenuous link to the world, as its entirely separate from the main story and has little to no effect on other characters, meaning that the characters’ list of generic answers to random questions seems a bit pointless in the larger scheme of things. It is interesting as unrelated side content, but considering that you could recruit all those NPCs as team members to fight within the original, it seems like a step back.
Another missed beat is the inconsistent visuals. The UI is sleek and smooth and the character design is more varied from the original, but the cutscene animation, which the game relies on heavily, is quite poor considering the platform this particular game is now native to. The protagonist’s entire range of movement, for example, seems to feature in the opening cutscene alone, and his woodenness is hardly aided by making him/her intentionally mute in a game with near full voice acting.
Regardless of these faults, with a concerted effort to offer up something new throughout, The Caligula Effect 2 constantly feels fresh and enjoyable. New characters add twists to the story and add an extra ingredient for varied battles and new moves for existing characters ramp up the action.
Most aspects are also integrated well into the game – the excellent j-pop/Vocaloid soundtrack is relevant to the story as the fake world’s creator is a pop music idol who is supported by a band of musicians, and whose music plays in the background. Integrating excellently with the battle system is the same music – but with a small adjustment – the lyrics kick in when battles start. It doesn’t sound like it would make much of a difference but it raises the excitement for the battle ahead and is just one small added detail of many that make this game seem like a labor of love for the developers.
With a concept and a battle system that rivals the best in the genre, The Caligula Effect 2 punches high above its weight, only to then disappoint with its average visuals and a world lacking depth. Assuming that you haven’t been dissuaded by its inconsistent qualities, however, following the story is still very much a good time, and overall, is an easy recommendation for JRPG fans. Hopefully, the series is allowed to build iteratively in further sequels, as better visuals, an expanded world, and a more meaningful social bond system could make this something special.