Why The Caligula Effect: Overdose isn’t just another JRPG

FuRyu’s The Caligula Effect was one of the best games of 2017, a role-playing game in the vein of Persona that dealt with issues of perception and what constituted reality. However, the very existence of the game is a bit of a perceptual quandary in and of itself. After all, if a title releases exclusively for PlayStation Vita in 2017 and nobody plays it, does it exist? By putting the game on platforms people actually use like the Switch, PS4, and PC, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is addressing just that when it comes out. And only then will people see how noteworthy of game it truly is.

While releasing on the Vita so late in the handheld’s lifespan was pretty much a death sentence, the release was also colored by a pretty negative reception from critics. Many found the story to be a poor attempt at emulating Atlus’ brand of RPGs. It was a surprising complaint considering that it was authored by Tadashi Satomi, who penned Persona and both Persona 2 entries.

Throw in some technical issues and lengthy load times, and even the few gamers that were still loyal to Vita island didn’t bother to check it out. The enhanced port coming to the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC will look to fix many of these issues and give The Caligula Effect a chance to finally be appreciated by Western audiences for what it is.

What makes the original The Caligula Effect so underappreciated

Caligula Effect: Overdose

Despite sharing a lot of similarities on a base level, The Caligula Effect tells a story quite unlike anything found in Persona. While everyone might look like high school kid and there is an academic setting, the game actually takes place in a virtual reality world where people go to in an attempt to escape from their painful lives. This gives everyone a new form that they’re happy with and they live their delusions out in a never-ending scholastic experience.

It’s a premise that many can relate to, as school is often thought as the “glory days” of our lives and many reminisce about what could have been different if they had a second chance. Rather than just thinking about living in an idealized past, these broken people are allowed to actually live it out.

The entire game is a brilliant deconstruction of anime storytelling tropes. If you can think of a character archetype, then they’re probably represented here. From the stuck-up and beautiful girl to a guy that is obsessed with machismo, everyone seems one-note at first. However, this is the entire point that the game is making. They don’t feel like fleshed out characters because they are pretending to be something that they actually aren’t. By denying their true selves, they have nothing to show but a superficial personality that lacks depth. It’s an indictment on how fake the world can be.

Eventually, these characters do get fleshed out in the later parts of the story as the player discovers each character’s true selves from before they escaped into a virtual world. It’s these segments where the role-playing game deals with mental illness in a surprising and passionate way. Every single character that seemed generic at first is transformed into an actual human with struggles and their own set of positive qualities. While their weakness ultimately led to them running away from their issues, they also show the strength and resolve to better themselves and overcome adversity.

Beyond the excellent story, The Caligula Effect also has a unique battle system that is unlike any other RPG. The turn-based game has players commanding characters to chain different attacks together. However, there’s a simulation aspect where players can carefully plot out attacks. For example, rather than simply using the most damaging opening attacks, they can come up with a strategy where the first character knocks the foe into the air, then the second hits an aerial attack that sends the opponent right into a finishing maneuver. Incredibly complex strategies can be thought up and it’s a blast to play even if simple battles can last a bit too long.

The enhanced port of The Caligula Effect fixes several flaws

Caligula Effect: Overdose

While there is a lot to like about The Caligula Effect‘s original Vita version, there’s no denying that it had its fair share of issues. The story’s purposefully slow start works for the end payoff, but others clearly checked out early on. Overdosed will look to fix that by adding a new playable character, and an altered plot to accommodate the changes. This should make the game more interesting from the get-go, rather than having everything culminate later on. Considering how touching many of the later story beats are, it’s only good thing that more players will stick around to experience them.

The other major issue is that it was pushing the PlayStation Vita’s hardware and it resulted in a series of technical issues. From a poor framerate that impacted exploring the virtual world’s dungeons to lengthy load times that proceeded battles, it was clear that the game was hurt by being on the handheld. Now on home consoles, The Caligula Effect: Overdosed features enhanced graphics and runs much better. This isn’t a simple case of porting a game over to a system just for profit, but so the art can be enhanced in all aspects as well.

Considering how under the radar the first release was, The Caligula Effect: Overdose will hopefully manage to find an audience on its second go. For a genre that typically deals with serious issues poorly, its depiction of mental health issues is one to be applauded. Throw in a fantastic battle system that brings something new to the table rather than trying to imitate the great JRPGs of yesteryear, and it’s truly a title that deserves to be played by fans of the genre. While it’s easy to become overly cynical whenever a game gets re-released, this is exactly when it should be done as its issues can be fixed and it gets a second chance at finding an audience after failing to grab one the first time around.