Thoughts on The Caligula Effect

I'm Back Y'all!

I'm taking a break from the intense anxiety of graduation. And I'm here to give my thoughts on a new game. The hottest game to come out in months. A true trendsetter, with maximum hype surrounding it. And it was released by Sega Atlus!

Not that one.

Not that one.

There it is!

My "Thoughts On:" posts tend to be informal reviews. I don't attach numbers to them, mostly because I want you to read my words. Which is good, in this case, because the number I'd give The Caligula Effect is a ???/10.

The Caligula Effect, released on the Playstation Vita, is about a group of high school students stuck in a world created by a virtual idol named "μ" (think Hatsune Miku). As the kids try to escape μ's world and defeat a bunch of evil musicians wanting to keep them there, they confront their deepest secrets and darkest thoughts.

If you're thinking, "wow, that last part kinda sounds like Persona," the coincidence is not unfounded, as the game's story is penned by Tadashi Satomi, who was the writer for Persona 2. And he does a good job here! The themes surrounding the story of the high schoolers and their "Go-Home Club" are engaging. They're in this virtual world for a reason, hoping to escape some dark aspect of their lives, whether they want to be noticed or to change their physical appearance. In a way, I was reminded of The World Ends With You, one of my favorite JRPGs. I can also personally relate to the concept of wanting to withdraw from the negative aspects of society, seeing as I'll be personally entering that society as a full-fledged adult soon. 

Unfortunately, that intriguing story is wrapped up in a shell of some mediocre gameplay.

Between cutscenes, you'll be dungeon crawling through the world μ has created, and this is where things start to get messy. You and three other classmates must fight other students who don't want you to disrupt μ's world, turning aggressive and corrupt in the process. Combat is turn-based, with the twist being that you can see the results of your attacks in advance. This allows you to chain combos together with your party members. 

There's an emphasis on performing knockdowns, launches, and counters on enemies in order to do any significant amount of damage to them, but the problem is that, depending on your pace, you won't easily be able to pull these set-ups off until you get your 6th or 7th party member about 5 hours into the game. Once you do, combat becomes much more entertaining - seeing your moves come together after setting them up ahead of time can be satisfying. 

Unfortunately, it doesn't do much to offset the game's other issues. For one, while seeing attacks ahead of time is an interesting mechanic, it can get repetitive, and it slows things down to a crawl when you're just trying to get from one area of the next. Environments are equally repetitive, starting to blur together and make your eyes bleed when playing for more than an hour or so. 

Then there are the technical aspects. This game runs...poorly. It chugs in the menus. It chugs in empty hallways. It really chugs in combat. Battles take place on the field, which means that every asset is still present, including the other students that walk through your battles in the hallways. This, plus combat effects, lead to the framerate hitting the sub-20s. I tend to not be a stickler when it comes to issues like this, especially in budget RPGs, but it reminded me of trying to play Skyrim on my busted up laptop years ago - it just gets in the way and makes the experience of playing the game a nuisance.

There's also a system of interacting with the other students stuck in the world with you. There are 500, all with unique names that can be befriended - if you've played Xenoblade, this is similar to that game's Affinity Chart. However, unlike Xenoblade, there's not much in the way of unique dialogue with these students. You simply press "X" to talk to them, the screen fades out, fades back in, and bam, you're friends now! 

I got sick of this system very quickly. There are quests you can take from these students when your affinity with them is high enough, and you can recruit any of the 500 students to replace your key party members in combat. But the quests are usually generic and not worth the effort, and as far as I could tell, none of the generic NPCs were any stronger than the members of the Go-Home Club, making the whole system a flop.

Which sort of sums up my feelings about The Caligula Effect as a whole. It is ambitious in its themes and gameplay elements, but it doesn't have the technical knowhow to execute those elements. I'd say The Caligula Effect is worth playing for the story...but I wouldn't say it's worth paying full price for. Pick it up when it goes on sale, though, and you'll find yourself with a fun, if majorly flawed experience.