The Caligula Effect Review

By Shawn Collier on June 30, 2017

After a surprise localization announcement at the end of E3 2016 by ATLUS, and the talent brought into the game with names such as Tadashi Satomi of Persona fame, many were wondering just how The Caligula Effect would turn out upon its release in the west, especially with a digital-only release by ATLUS. So how does the game fair?

Tadashi Satomi's influences are easy to spot here, as within minutes upon starting the game the main protagonist realizes the “world” he’s living in is an illusion created by the virtual diva µ that wishes to protect people from the hardships of life, by keeping them in a world where everyone is manifested as their ideal self. While some in this virtual world are okay with that, the protagonist surely isn’t and wants to find a way back to the real world.

What’s interesting about this game’s approach to its narrative, though, is that instead of the traditional Japanese RPG large-scale plot with its grandiose plot arcs and sweeping narrative, The Caligula Effect focuses more on the insecurities of the characters inside the game’s world, called Mobius. If you’ve played any of the earlier Persona titles, this will feel quite similar as the same writer was behind both, although that isn’t to say the game still doesn’t have an overall narrative to it.

It was mentioned previously that the protagonist wanted to escape from Mobius, but to do that he needs help. And in the game that comes in the form of the Go-Home Club. Like the protagonist, they also realized something was amiss. The mention of “insecurities” was touched upon earlier, and that becomes important as it’s something they need to deal with before eventually being able to face off against µ and escape Mobius.

While not spoiling everything, some of the insecurities touched upon in the game are quite dark in terms of subject matter. One in particular stood out to me as it dealt with someone dealing with survivor’s guilt after backing out of a suicide pact. Somewhat similar to S-Links in the Persona games, you build up camaraderie with your team members over time and help them through their internal strife. ATLUS did an excellent job tackling this subject matter with their localization and it’s a real highlight of the game.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a JRPG without battles, and in this game it comes in the form of battling against other citizens of Mobius who have been brainwashed by µ and the Ostinato Musicians, her elite squad of composers who are determined to keep things as they are. Battles utilize a unique time-based system in which players can plan out their attacks, as your team is intended to work as a group with their various abilities and attacks.

This sounds a bit complicated in theory, but thankfully the game lets you preview what the attack will look like before activating it, so you don't waste turns on attacks and combos that are ineffective. It essentially lets you do cool fighting game-like combos where you can knock an opponent into the air and then keep going, for instance. There is a “Beginner Mode” that dials back some of these complexities if you desire, but for most players I imagine it won’t be too difficult to grasp all of the mechanics after some trial and error.

There are some issues that drag down the experience a bit, however. While the battles themselves are a blast, the dungeons outside of them are not in the slightest. The game somewhat “humorously” mentions why this is the case, but they’re just plain confusing to traverse and you’ll often run into dead-ends for no good reason. And when it comes to bosses, “unlocking” the path to them often involves trekking back to the opposite side of the dungeon to hit some sort of a button/switch and then going all the way back again to fight them. It just feels like unnecessary padding. Frame rate also drops noticeably during more hectic battles and when entering new areas, and loading times are longer than expected.

On the flip side, if you don’t care about New Game+ content, the main story is roughly around 20-25 hours for most typical JRPG players. And for those wanting to continue, there’s additional enemies, dungeons and the ability to finish any remaining side quests you didn’t complete originally.

Aa far as audio goes, there’s no English dub in this game, so you’re stuck with the original Japanese audio. The music features a number of popular Japanese indie composers, although the looping is a bit odd in dungeons as the background loop of the music is quite short and might get on some people’s nerves if they’re used to longer looping like in some other JRPGs.

Final Thoughts

While it’s a bit rough around the edges, I enjoyed my time playing The Caligula Effect. How much one will enjoy it depends heavily on how you weigh character development versus plot development, as this game is weighed heavily in favor of the former. If you’re okay with that and can overlook it’s issues, this is a worthwhile title to pick up for your PlayStation Vita.

The Caligula Effect was reviewed using a digital code provided by ATLUS. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
The inner struggles of the characters are handled maturely and their growth over time felt natural.
Great localization by ATLUS.
Battle system, while initially complex, has a lot of room to experiment.
Dungeon design is unnecessary complex, and bosses often make you backtrack unnecessarily to be able to face them.
Frame rate can drop noticeably at times.
Loading times are noticeably long.
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