The Caligula Effect 2 Review (PS4)

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Our Score: 7.5/10

Our review of the game will contain no spoilers. I will only provide a brief overview of the first half hour of the plot in this game, and I’ll also discuss some of the plot points and characters introduced in this title’s predecessor, The Caligula Effect: Overdose, but I won’t spoil the plot of that game either.

In The Caligula Effect 2, you learn as part of the premise of the game that you’re in a strange virtual reality world, where all characters including yourself is using an avatar. The first game’s remaster, The Caligula Effect: Overdose, had a similar plot as well, and featured a large variety of characters who were insecure about themselves and were using a fake character avatar to avoid the real world and dealing with their insecurities.

These kinds of issues addressed in the previous game included someone uncomfortable with their weight, a misandrist character, and someone with severe social anxiety, to the point where he was not even able to order food out at restaurants, just to list a few. In this virtual world, however, when they used their fictional avatar character, they were able to do a good job at disguising themselves and tricking people. There was one character who hated overweight people, who was actually self-hating of her own body in real-life, for example.

In the first game, you had extremely nuanced and brilliantly written characters who had a completely different side to them, and without mentioning specific spoilers, this sequel has more of the same in store for you.

I’ve never seen a piece of media before The Caligula Effect that made great use of “fake” characters before, except for the .hack//SIGN anime, which many consider a precursor to the popular Sword Art Online franchise. In that .hack anime, the characters played together in an MMORPG world, but it was really just an avenue for the group of people to get together and discuss real-life topics. From watching, you’d eventually realize that the major characters’ real-life personas were extremely different from the avatar they used in-game. Though it’s a completely different franchise, I’d strongly recommend giving it a watch, it’s a really unique piece of media and has a very similar tone and atmosphere to The Caligula Effect games.

Back to The Caligula Effect: Overdose, it did social character events really well, to the point where I’d even say it did it better than the social links found in the later Persona games. When I say “character event”, I’m referring to optional events the protagonist has with characters in the plot, usually where they just socially interact and learn more about each other. In fact, Overdose was written by Tadashi Satomi, who was the writer for Persona 1 and 2 games.

The reason I liked the character events in Overdose was because it they actually mixed them in with the overarching main plot of the story, whereas in most other games the character events are completely separate from the main plot. Overdose was also unique because it was a remaster of the original game, and included extra characters on top of the base game and the ability for the protagonist to go undercover and have character events with the team of antagonists, called the musicians.

In Overdose, I was able to max all of my characters’ character events and the antagonists’ character events, and in some of these events I found many clues in a conspiracy. This led to me being able to find the identity of a traitor early and I was able to prevent a major character death.

Interestingly, I’d talk to other fans of Overdose after it had released, and they told me that their game had a completely different plot because they didn’t find the traitor in time, resulting in the death of a major character on your team. This always impressed me because I don’t see games that mix optional character events into the main plot, and it’s very nonobvious to most people unless you played through the game multiple times or discussed the game’s plot in a community environment.

With a basic summary of what the original game in the series was about and what made it a unique game, let’s explain how the sequel compares to it.

You may be wondering if it’s required to play the first game before playing The Caligula Effect 2. In my opinion, no, you don’t have to play the first game, but I’d strongly recommend you to do so because you’ll enjoy a lot of references to both previous characters, such as the characters Mu and Aria, who are mentioned frequently in the second game.

The second game takes place after the events of the first game as a direct sequel, and does spoil the events that happen in the first game. A lot of the plot of the first game is covered in the introduction of the second game and your character is able to choose dialogue options. If you purposely choose options such as “I don’t know what that means,” when you see characters talk about plot points from the original game, then these characters will do a good job of summarizing the plot points in the original game.

In The Caligula Effect 2 you’re able to choose your avatar and gender. You start off in a school named Tatefushi Academy as a new transfer student. This school is part of a mysterious new setting called Redo. Your protagonist hears a voice in their head, who reveals herself as Chi, a virtual idol, or “virtuadoll”.

Chi reveals herself as a later iteration of one of the virtuadolls from the previous game. She gains her own form and begins sharing her body with the protagonist’s body, leading to an awkward situation.

She explains to you that world you’re in is actually a virtual world, and you see a giant crack in the sky. Instead of living in real life and having fantasy dreams, it’s the opposite: we’re in a virtual world and are dreaming about real life. The protagonist agrees that escapism is not the solution to real-life problems, and you lead a team of other students you find in school as the President of the Go-Home club. The Go-Home club itself is a reference to the previous game, and is a term used to describe people who don’t participate in after-school extracurricular activities, but it’s also a pun because they also want to “go home” to the real world instead of stay in the virtual reality world.

Your goal is to defeat Regret and her group of musicians. As you progress through the storyline, you’ll gain access to more hub areas, where you can do activities such as solving side characters’ problems, doing character events to learn more about the real life of the main characters, as well as buying weapons, armors, accessories and items with either currency or Chi points, which are both collectibles in the dungeons.

The voice acting in this game is all in Japanese. All of the main story dialogue is voiced, but all side quest content is unvoiced. As well, certain dialogues such as explanation of dungeon mechanics (such as how switches work) and some casual conversations between characters in the dungeons don’t have voicework. It’s not a criticism though because all the major story scenes have terrific voice acting.

In particular, I really did enjoy hearing the voice actor (or seiyuu as voice actors are called in Japan) for Chi who was played by Mayu Mineda. Chi’s voice really does sound like an enthusiastic idol who wants to go back to the real world and she certainly puts a lot of passion into the role.

The cutscenes are done with 3D models on the screen as well as detailed 2D character portraits which convey a wide range of emotions for the characters.

the caligula effect 2 mu character portrait
Although the 3D models are nothing to brag about, I really liked the 2D artwork for the characters’ facial expressions. They were often very detailed and had a wide range of emotions for each character.

The game features a very useful dialogue autoplay option to automatically advance the cutscenes in the game. The game does rely a lot on its narrative, and often you’ll have lengthy cutscenes to watch which explain the lore and the characters of the story.

Be warned that the introduction of the game is lengthy and has a lot of dialogue (two hours’ worth), but when you get to play the game through exploring dungeons and fighting enemies it becomes significantly more fun.

While playing the game, you don’t necessarily have to progress the storyline at once. The game is very forgiving, and with a few exceptions you’re generally allowed to teleport in and out of dungeons, and you can also teleport between different save points of a dungeon to quickly get through areas already explored.

The story has major missions and will let you take a break between these, but you can also take a break almost any time in a mission by warping out. Your main hub area is the Chi Express train, unlocked about an hour into the game’s story. You can relax in the train, as well as go shopping in Okitama or you can talk with students at Tatefushi Academy.

While you’re not exploring dungeons, you can interact with your team. As the story progresses, you will recruit more and more characters. The protagonist has an affinity with each of their team members, represented through a scale from 1 to 9, and if it’s high enough you can see a total of 9 character episodes for each character, though you will need to progress the story to see more of the character episodes.

Though it may sound grindy, it’s actually not grindy at all. I was able to raise affinity with all my characters very easily by swapping to new party members whenever they were recruited. It only takes an hour or two of grinding to raise a new recruit’s affinity to level 9.

In these character episodes, you need to make several choices on what to say to the other character, and sometimes giving a bad choice will “lock” the character episodes. Thankfully the game is forgiving about it because it’ll immediately notify you that you made the wrong decision, and you can either use collectible Chi points to rewind time and redo the conversation, or you can just reload an earlier save.

I strongly recommend you to check out the character events for all the characters in this game. Remember that this is a virtual world, and the characters you see here are probably completely different in real life. Without spoiling anything, many of the characters have amazing backstories and like the previous game, there’s a lot of hidden details to the characters. If you pay attention to the plot, you can likely figure out these kinds of details based on how they handle problems and how they behave.

The character episodes start off basic and tropey, but after several character episodes you’ll have the option to “dive deeper into their heart”, which you should do for all characters. This will result in a big revelation about the character’s identity in real-life.

I was extremely impressed with how the developers handled one character whose dilemma dealt with having gender dysphoria. They were a non-binary person who was unable to fit into binary genders. It was handled extremely maturely in the game and the plotline really taught me a lot about the issue that I will be applying to real life.

As for the gameplay, it has many of the elements you’d find in a typical JRPG. It is turn-based combat, but the turns aren’t discrete so to say. Rather, there’s a continuous music bar, and the moves you and also your party members’ take a certain amount of time to play out, depending on the move used. You pick all of your characters’ moves, and the enemy will pick a move to use as well, and then you watch it play out.

You need to be careful and move according to what the enemy is doing. For instance, you may have a powerful move that’s slow. If you try using it, it’s possible the enemy will move out of the way. As well, if you see an enemy about to use a powerful skill on you, you may want to use the guard command instead of attacking.

Using this system, you can actually make combos to use to your advantage. For example, a simple combo involves using one character to launch an enemy into the air, and another one attacking the airborne enemy with arrows for bonus damage. It sounds complicated, but it’s really not, and you can set AI to have characters other than your protagonist act. In generally, the automatic battle AI is not bad at all, and you really only need to choose each characters’ moves for a difficult boss, not for regular encounters.

Each skill your character uses costs SP, but in this game SP management is very easy. SP regenerates automatically during the course of the battle, but you even have a command in battle you can use to restore all your SP at once with the only cost being a turn’s worth of time in battle. You can also use items to restore SP, but in general I’ve never had to do so except in an emergency. You can restore your health with skills or items, and fallen characters can be revived with spells or items as well.

In this game, you have a number of passive skills you can equip to each character. You learn passive skills from equipment used. You can get new equipment by buying them in shops with currency, buying them from Chi with Chi points, or just through finding them in the dungeons you explore throughout the games. Weapons are generally interchangeable with all characters with the exception being weapons exclusive for certain characters.

Although my inventory became flooded with many kinds of equipment, the game had a great built-in sorting of the equipment from best to worst, so skill management on all of my characters was not stressful at all. Very useful equipment allows you to upgrade your skills with upgraded versions of the skill, which will be denoted with a plus sign at the end.

The battles happen when you physically encounter on-screen enemies, who you can sneak attack to act first. You can usually run from enemies, or you can choose to fight them to gain experience points and level up. The game is not grindy at all, but I chose to fight about half of the enemies I encountered just to ensure I wasn’t severely under-leveled. The battles themselves were very quick to complete on the normal difficulty.

The loading time is very quick, barely taking only a few seconds, and the battle itself would also be finished within 30 seconds. If you manage to land high combos, you’ll even get bonus experience. Some areas of the game have more powerful enemies guarding good rewards if you’re able to beat them, which in my opinion wasn’t too hard at all.

The enemy designs are not that impressive and there is a lack of variety. Like the previous game, The Caligula Effect 2 generally has humanoid enemies who may have different weapons to mix up the gameplay, but that’s about it. There are also several bosses you can encounter through the plot, but they are also humanoid enemies.

The level design is also fairly simple, but the game still managed to be fun. The dungeons play like a simple dungeon crawler, with many hallways making up a dungeon. Examples of early-game dungeons included a train station, a flower garden, a hospital, and an art exhibit. The puzzles in these dungeons were very easy, such as collecting keys in the train station to unlock other doors, or rerouting the water system in the flower garden. Because the dungeons aren’t hard, this is an extremely accessible game for newcomers.

Unfortunately, in the late-game I did notice that some dungeons were set in the same areas, such as the train station again and the hospital, where the developers started recycling assets more and more. After a while, the game started recycling bosses as well, especially in the last area of the game. It’s not game-breaking at all, but the game did start to fizzle out after a certain point after having such a powerful introduction.

Another one of my criticisms is the way the sidequests are handled, which many had an issue with in the first game as well. To put it simply, the sidequests are done like how sidequests were done in the original Xenobalde Chronicles. That is to say, the sidequests have numerous non-playable characters (NPCs) without any other role in the story with a lot of generic dialogue.

There are some unique sidequests such as the restaurant workers and the Hustlers gang, but in general they do get repetitive very quickly. You can get good rewards such as new equipment and stat increases from choosing to pursue these optional quests, but I didn’t like the approach the game had with these. I would’ve preferred having a smaller but more tightly-knit cast of NPCs who gave out sidequests. NEO: The World Ends with Us is a good example of a game with a smaller group (maybe 50) of NPCs (mostly shopkeepers) that you could talk to and get bonuses from having a good relationship with them that didn’t feel repetitive at all.

The Caligula Effect 2 NPC quest dialogue
One of the earliest sidequests you’re introduced to is helping Sakura deal with rude customers at a fast-food restaurant. It’s great to see extra lore in the world, but at the same time it doesn’t affect the overarching plot at all and can be a time sink.

In this title, there are dozens of unremarkable NPC’s in this game giving out sidequests, and it’s very overwhelming. On many occasions I’d find myself mashing through the sidequest dialogue because the plotlines weren’t interesting. The way all the NPCs and major characters are connected is through the causality link system, a small sample of which from the beginning of the game is shown below.

the caligula effect 2 causality link
Although it starts off very small, you will end up with networks involving dozens of groups of people.

You also have the ability to level up your causality links with NPCs by talking to them, and then they might give out a quest. To complete everything, you’ll need to talk to these NPCs many times, skipping through a lot of “meet-and-greet” kind of chats between characters. Thankfully though, you can complete and enjoy the main story and all the character episodes of the game without having to do any of these kinds of sidequests.

The game has multiple endings, but you’re able to make saves beforehand and the game is clear when you have to make a major choice. I maxed out all of my characters’ affinities and viewed all of their events, but you should be able to get the good ending without those requirements. Making a bad decision will lead to a bad ending that ends the game prematurely, but you can always reload an earlier save afterwards. I was impressed with the bad ending because it did lead to extra boss fights and additional plot scenes, with fully voiced cutscenes.

Overall, The Caligula Effect 2 is a great game with only a few flaws. The combat system is very unique and addicting, and the developers have learned from their missteps of the first game. Don’t let our criticisms of the game stop you from enjoying this title.

The Caligula Effect 1: Overdose was such a great title for its time that it’s hard to reach that level of acclaim again, such as being able to have character episodes with actual antagonists of the game. In contrast, The Caligula Effect 2 has a bit more of a narrow scope, but it isn’t bad at all. I do wish that they took more risks with the plot because the plot of The Caligula Effect 2 is very similar to the plot of the original game and is rushed near the end.

The combat system and the skill system is very addicting because it’s fun to tweak builds and perform combos on the enemies. I was impressed with how the characters revealed such a different and serious side to them in the character episodes. The characters would all start like typical anime tropes, but by the end of the game if you did the character events you’d see completely realistic sides to them unlike most other JRPGs on the market. If you’re looking for a unique JRPG that breaks the mold, I strongly recommend you check out The Caligula Effect 2 as well as the original game if you haven’t played it already.

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